August 31st, 2010
01:09 PM ET

As Iraq combat mission ends, nation asks: Was it worth it?

Paratroopers return from their year-long tour in Iraq.

When President Obama sits down in the Oval Office on Tuesday night to address the nation about today's official drawdown in Iraq, he'll be speaking about the end of the U.S. combat phase and marking a new chapter in a war that has been controversial for seven years.

The combat mission in Iraq has been marked by many key events: It began with a declaration of weapons of mass destruction and was followed by a lengthy justification from the Bush administration, the capturing and execution of Saddam Hussein and a wave of sectarian violence.

The war so far has killed more than 4,400 U.S. troops among the thousands of casualties.

When Obama delivers his address, he won't say "mission accomplished," a top aide says. Instead, Obama will have a "change of mission" moment. Watch Obama live 8 ET: Web | TV | iPhone

As Obama prepares for his delivery, and the GOP prepares its own assessment, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki held a national address of his own Tuesday, during which he proclaimed Iraq as "sovereign and independent."

As the milestone nears - officially at 5 p.m. - politicians, columnists, editorial boards, soldiers and everyday citizens are seemingly taking the opportunity to ask one question that perhaps has no apparent answer: Was it all worth it?

Peter Bergen, CNN's national security analyst, lays out "what was lost and what it cost" for the U.S. to go to war with Iraq.

"There is no question that the United States liberated Iraqis from Saddam Hussein's demonic tyranny, but that argument was not what persuaded Americans that a preemptive war against the Iraqi dictator was in their best interests ...

"In short, the jury is still out on whether the Iraq War was the United States' most spectacular foreign policy blunder of the past several decades, or if, out of the wreckage, something resembling a coherent Iraq will eventually arise."

The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson wrote that these days, wars rarely are won - but instead end in a "fog of ambiguity."

"Now that the Iraq war is over - for U.S. combat troops, at least - only one thing is clear about the outcome: We didn't win. We didn't lose, either, in the sense of being defeated. But wars no longer end with surrender ceremonies and ticker-tape parades. They end in a fog of ambiguity, and it's easier to discern what's been sacrificed than what's been gained. So it is after seven years of fighting in Iraq, and so it will be after at least 10 years - probably more, before we're done - in Afghanistan."

Ryan C. Crocker, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, concurred, writing in The Washington Post that he, too, believes this "milestone" doesn't mean things are over yet, let alone that we can properly assess what happened.

"The exit of combat troops does not end the post-1990, non-polar disorder that Hussein's invasion launched. He illustrated an international paradigm shift; he did not create it. Nor does it mean that Iraq is now "over." All of the momentous events of the past 7 1/2 years notwithstanding, Iraq is still at the beginning of its new story, with a future that will be defined by events that have not yet taken place. We have a vital strategic interest in the shape of that future: a stable, pluralistic Iraq in close association with the United States and the West can fundamentally reshape the map of the Middle East. An Iraq that descends into chaos or a new autocracy will threaten the security of the region and the United States."

James Phillips and Lisa Curtis of the conservative Heritage Foundation said the war is "not yet won" and the country remains plagued by "a low-grade insurgency, chronic terrorism, and simmering sectarian tensions."

"President Obama’s televised speech on Iraq will mark the “official” end of U.S. combat operations in Iraq and the transition to an “advise and assist” mission. The President undoubtedly hopes to assure voters ahead of the November elections that he is winding down the war. The irony is that current progress in Iraq was enabled by the Bush Administration’s surge policy, which President Obama, Vice President Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and many members of this Administration opposed.

But the President should now make every effort to avoid squandering the hard-won security gains of the surge by withdrawing too many troops too fast. Iraq still needs substantial U.S. military, diplomatic, and political support to defeat various insurgent groups, stave off a possible return to civil war, and contain Iran’s expanding influence."

The New York Times columnist David Brooks argued there will be many successes (economic and social) that Obama will be able to tout in his address - but he'll have to do it carefully - "balancing pride with caution."

"In short, there has been substantial progress on the things development efforts can touch most directly: economic growth, basic security, and political and legal institutions. After the disaster of the first few years, nation building, much derided, has been a success. When President Obama speaks to the country on Iraq, he’ll be able to point to a large national project that has contributed to measurable, positive results.

Of course, to be honest, he’ll also have to say how fragile and incomplete this success is. Iraqi material conditions are better, but the Iraqi mind has not caught up with the Iraqi opportunity."

Rep. Mike Pence (R-Indiana), head of the House Republican Conference, wrote in a guest column for The Washington Times that Obama should give credit where it's due: to those who despite negative press stood for the surge and what the war meant. He further said Obama and certain Democratic officials should not hog the glory because they refused to support either endeavor.

"The Obama administration is attempting to rewrite history by taking singular credit for our accomplishments in Iraq. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. recently claimed it was President Obama who laid out the plan for a responsible end of the war in Iraq. But that's not the whole story.

As we mark this milestone, let us remember the real history of Operation Iraqi Freedom and give credit where credit is due – to the American service members, their families and a commander in chief who would not accept defeat in the face of withering criticism at home and abroad."

For those on the battlefield, the question is also real. Were their sacrifices worth it? Does this milestone mean people will lose sight of what needs to be done in Iraq? Those are some of the questions The Baltimore Sun posed to soldiers, including Army Spc. Craig Yingling, who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom and shared his thoughts.

"When we perform missions, we still wear full combat gear and go out armed? We still take incoming fire and the threat is still VERY REAL. Soldiers are still risking their lives on a daily basis.

I had an opportunity to talk to a few people this [past] weekend who were very [grateful] for my service and extremely happy that it’s over. It’s not over — we are still there and will remain there at least till the end of next year. That is the deadline for all troops: December 2011."

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Filed under: Barack Obama • Iraq • Military
soundoff (498 Responses)
  1. Max

    Since George Bush charged the entire war, lets all increase our taxes to pay for it!!!

    August 31, 2010 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Wayne G. Caddigan

    This was the invasion all of the other Countries told then President George Bush to leave it alone, But he went ahead on his own and invaded the Country of Iraq anyway. No weapons of mass destruction, no nuclear weapons,no new
    Democracy for Iraq, Billions of dollars spent and 4,400 soldiers dead. The County will probally end up in a war within its self. I think this time he was dead on.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Fred

    Strip away the uniforms, ID cards, etc. and there were 100,000 people dead. Humans are humans.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Keith_Chicago

    @Booser – President Barack Obama voted AGAINST the war in Iraq, and that's one of the main reasons he defeated Hillary Clinton and is now the President of the United States of America. And he's been able to finally end the combat mission in Iraq after 18 months in office.

    There was PLENTY of opposition to going to war in Iraq. Bush pulled out all of the stops to try to get the nation and the world to join in. He LIED in order to gain support. And you wonder why people no longer support it? BECAUSE THE TRUTH CAME TO LIGHT! There were no WMD's. There was no tie to Al Qaeda. There was NO REASON to go into Iraq in the first place! The Republicans created an atmosphere of fear and painted anyone who was against going into Iraq as unAmerican and soft on terrorism and national security. I believe the world learned a tremendous lesson as a result. It seems like you didn't.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  5. MToussaint

    Does anyone else see the irony in Bush's "Mission Accomplished" sign? What was the mission for invading Iraq? Invade and disarm a dictator who had WMDs, was seeking nuclear weapons materials, harboring Al Queda fighers, and had a hand in 9/11. Since all of those reasons for going to war were false then what "Mission" did we "Accomplish?"

    So then you ask the question: "Was it worth it'? Well to the average American 5000 miles away from Iraq it absolutely was not worth it because Iraq was no iminent danger to our country and had nothing to do with 9/11. If you ask an Iraqi who lives in a bombed out house, had most of his family killed by IEDs, sits in a house with no power, no sewer, no running wather, no public transportation, no working government programs, hides from insurgents at night, finds decapitated bodies lieing the the streets and worries about suicide bombers blowing up the super market....well I don't know. Most Iraqis live at a level WORSE now than under Hussein. Oh sure they have elections (if the election site doesn't get blown up before the votes are counted) but at least under Hussein there was no chaos.

    So was it worth it? If you can find someone who says it was please let me know.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:24 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Brian

    Did they ever find those WMD? That was the purpose of the invasion according to our president at the time.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  7. dutchblitz1

    According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Iraq war cost $709 billion and the stimulus cost $862 billion. We spent more on the stimulus than we did on the war.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Hugh

    Bush's war and his massive tax cuts for billionaires and corporations are the reason for today's Great Recession.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike Wong

      Yup that is absolutely correct!!!

      August 31, 2010 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  9. dutchblitz1

    According to the Congressional Budget Office, the Iraq war cost $706 billion and the stimulus cost $862 billion. We spent more on the stimulus than we did on the war.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      I don't believe you for a minute.

      September 1, 2010 at 3:41 am | Report abuse |
  10. Aurorasmith

    Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Pearl, Rove, ect. should all be dragged behind wild horses through Bagdad, then made to live there forever. The real US bill for this tragedy will come due when Israel moves on Iran in the next 90-120 days. The curtain has already gone up, when we moved into Iraq and the second act is about to begin. Watch out for $10 gas here, and armed insurrection next summer, which will be the start of Act 3. We are moving irrevocably to "State-ism", another word for fascism.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Tom

    Was it worth it?
    What did we gain?
    A terrorist free Iraq?
    Stability in the middle east?
    Democracy?
    Allies?
    Security?
    Oil?
    PEACE?

    At least some more of our troops get to come home now.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  12. beast

    Let's play a game of Back the Heck Up. Does anyone remember why we went into Iraq? We were told that it was to find weapons of mass destruction. So, how'd that turn out?

    This war was the result of Bush's ego combined with his stupidity. He didn't learn much from his dad. George H knew to pull out. He should have done the same before W was conceived.

    And before anyone comments about me being a left-winger, I'm conservative. But unlike the right wing herd, I like to think for myself.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. stubs

    CNN should have just put a space on their website that said "Bash Bush Here"... they wouldnt have had to pay someone to "write" an article.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Eddie

    I have stood in Walter Reed hospital with the wounded from Iraq and in Arlington National Cemetery among the dead from Iraq. I hurt in my soul that such precious ones could have been frittered away to uphold the word of one who lied to us. Our young ones deserve better. They deserve to die, if they must die, for noble causes. Now we soldier on in Afghanistan, ignoring every lesson of history there and destined to be the next chapter that sad book led by a president many of us voted for because we believed he was wise enough not to escalate that war.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      As a military member who has served in Afghanistan I agree that the loss of life and limb is heartbreaking. However, all who serve now are volunteers. No one forced them to join, they did so of their own free will, and usually because they waned t to try to do SOMETHING to make the world a better place. THAT is a noble cause to die for, even if you fail. Whether or not Iraq is better off now, well, that depends on who you ask. I would suggest you ask some Iraqis.

      August 31, 2010 at 6:18 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Nitrous

    Also – Golly gee! Thanks Uncle DICK!

    August 31, 2010 at 5:29 pm | Report abuse |
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