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."

Post by:
Filed under: Barack Obama • Iraq • Military
soundoff (498 Responses)
  1. ScottMansfield

    Every time you look at the fed taxes on your pay stub, when you see homeless vets talking to themselves on the streets, when we argue about how many teachers and police to lay off….remember that there will ALWAYS be warmongering politicians in both parties who want to lead us into these insane and counterproductive wars.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Johnny

    These reporters have no b@lls. This war was launched on lies, and we were stuck over there because we created the mess and couldn't just pull out and have the world condemn us. This withdrawal date is random and means nothing. In two years, Iran will have invaded Iraq and we will be negotiating with a two-state fundamentalist regime.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      Iran's not invading anyone. They wouldn't dare give us a reason to use our Carriers in the Gulf and our 150K+ troops in Afghanistan. Every one of their airbases would be a smoking hole in the ground within a week or two of their invasion. Their invasion force would be cut off from resupply and either starve or be killed. Think about it. We've been trying to provoke the Iranians to do something stupid for decades now. I hope they are too smart to fall for it. So far they've stuck to saber rattling and some really lame weapons demonstrations. Hopefully they're not all as crazy as "I'm on a Jihad." If they start a war, no one will feel sorry for them anymore.

      August 31, 2010 at 6:30 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Zhang

    The war started from a lie, and it is definitely not worth the precious lives lost and almost a trillion spent. I am glad and thankful that Obama corrected the wrong of Bush.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  4. vegas01

    We cannot unequivocally determine if this military action was worth the costs, because we cannot be sure of the costs if we had left Iraq alone. At the time, the details provided to the WH and Congress was persuasive enough to win approval by a wide margin agreement to invade. (Senate 77-23) (House 296-133) This was stronger than the passage of health care reform where the House was divided 219-212 and the Senate at 60-39.
    If it was a dumb idea to permit the Iraq invasion, how much more of a bad idea might it to have passed health care reform? Congress knew what was in the rather short Iraq war authorization bill, but never even read the health care bill.
    Bush was later accused of having an personal vendetta against Saddam, and having lied to Congress to get the authority to use military force. If they could get duped then, even though they had all of the data resources Congress reviewed and had full knowledge of the bill, how much more able to be duped if you do not even bother to read the bill? Would anyone dare accuse Obama of having a personal vendetta against the health insurance industry since his mother supposedly died because she could not get coverage for the care she needed?
    Let it rest. Whether wise or not, Congress authorized the use of military force and continually re-approved it by virtue of the subsequent war funding bills they passed even after Democrats took control of Congress in 2006.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:51 pm | Report abuse |
  5. roshev32

    Well, it wasn't worth it in terms of the originally stated purpose to eliminate weapons of mass destruction. Maybe there will be a long term strategic benefit to the US, but that is not clear at this time. Maybe the Iraqi's will think it is worth in the long run, though I am sure there are mixed feelings at best right now. Families of deceased and wounded servicemen will want to believe it was worth it. But I imagine that families of Iraqis killed in the sectarian violence are going to find a hard time finding consolation right now. Overall, if you look at all the cost and all the bloodshed, it's a pretty hard sell that it was all worth it. It will be a long time before a final judgment can be made.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jce3227

    Don't laugh too hard at the NEOCON's, at first glance, granted, they appear crazy as loons. But I was surfing through the cable channels earlier, and I came upon Rev. Hagee, this dude was talking about Iran, and the fact that they will let off a nuclear bomb in major cities in America, and talking about my cell phone not working, when I heard that about my cell, that scared me too. You can't blame the idiot NEOCON's too much, they're being adequately manipulated, once they start threatning cell phone service, that's fear mongering that will wake you up there. Then I turned the channel, and my brain came back..LOL..

    August 31, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. roger in Harrisonburg, Virginia

    I never thought it was worth it. So many times when we saw reports of bombings in Baghdad and other areas we saw all these young Iraqui men milling around. They hid in corners knowing when the bombs would go off and 4,500 of our young men and women died fighting those young men's battles. Hundreds of thousands of our families torn apart for a country we shouldnt have been in and who werent willing to fight for themselves. No it was NOT worth it.

    August 31, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Thomas (Denmark)

    Yes, it was worth it! The end of the terror regim of Hussein. I feel deeply sorry for the loses of your Amreican troops and for their familes. At the same time I thank them, I thank, respect and hail the US for being the most responsible nation concerning world peace and human rights. You should be proud of that!

    August 31, 2010 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      Oh come on...left to their own devices, the Saddam Hussein regime would eventually ended and the people of Iraq could have had some sort of destiny. We ruined their country, defiled their water, cut off their electricity and destroyed a way of life. Not only that, world opinion has put this country at an all time low. And while you're sitting there comfortably with a caring socialist government in Copenhagen, we out here fighting off rabid capitalists and lsing our homes.

      I an't even get into the military lives lost, the civilian lives lost and the treasury of our country that has disappeared. Please, put a little more thought into this.

      September 1, 2010 at 3:50 am | Report abuse |
  9. Hey Friendo

    You can not predict the outcome of any war any more than you can measure the cost of losing a single innocent life. Therefore, "Was it worth it?" is not the right question to ask. The right question to ask is whether or not this was a legal war that we had a moral imperative to start.

    August 31, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      No such thing as a "Legal War." War is when all of the niceties of society, including law, go away. Was WWII legal? The Civil War? Taking up arms and killing your fellow man is always illegal, except in War. All's fair in Love and War, eh?

      August 31, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Report abuse |
  10. corkpuller

    1 perspective: There is no official casualty figure for D-Day. It is estimated that more than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded, or went missing during the battle. That figure includes more than 209,000 Allied casualties. In addition to roughly 200,000 German troops killed or wounded, the Allies also captured 200,000 soldiers. Captured Germans were sent to American prisoner-of-war camps at the rate of 30,000 per month, from D-Day until Christmas 1944. Between 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed during the battle.

    August 31, 2010 at 6:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jerome

    Now it's out of the frying pan and into the fire with Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, and Yemen.

    August 31, 2010 at 6:08 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Brett

    Don't believe this State stenography fluff piece. There will be tens of thousands of US troops and mercenaries left in Iraq for the foreseeable future. There are numerous military installations around the country that are quite permanent in nature. The so-called embassy in Baghdad is a 100+ acre colonial administration complex. Look into it.

    August 31, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Marcelo

    You must consider that we didnt just dethrone Saddam, but fought al-qaeda directly, and defeated them both on the field and also in idiology. Al-Qaeda was gaining a lot of support in the early days of the war, but eventually they showed their true colors. Their murderous and barbaric acts turned off the arab street and showed everyone that they did not offer anything better. Support for al-qaeda has diminished tremendously, and the U.S. proved that it was not the "paper tiger" that they claimed. Unfortunately for the Iraqi's these war was fought on their land and it did bring a lot of death and destruction to their country, but they do have a chance to figure out what it is that they are going to do with their country, it was always known that once saddam was removed from power, you risked a civil war, but that is something that neither the US nor anyone else can resolve, it must be resolved by the Iraqi's themselved. Hopefully they do, and restore their country, so that they can be proud of it again.

    August 31, 2010 at 6:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      We were fighting al quaida in Iraq? Do tell us more about this revelation! I think you're quoting reason number 34B for the invasion and it was popular in September of 2006.

      September 1, 2010 at 3:53 am | Report abuse |
  14. lcr

    Over half the Afghanistan US Troop deaths have happened in the past 1.5 years- 1008 deaths... I hate to see what they will be after obozo finishes with his "plan" – each month is breaking records for the number of deaths we have (not that the press reports it)... These are needless deaths as well – as they are directly due to obozo's administration's stupid pansy rules of engagement tying our soldier's hands. Of course – obozo hates the military – so he doesn't care how many of his troops die. He only acknowledges them when he is backed into a corner and has to.

    August 31, 2010 at 6:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • tbrnotb

      Oh yeah....let's bash the man trying to get us out of Georgie Boy's mess. That shows real intelligence.

      September 1, 2010 at 3:55 am | Report abuse |
  15. InMyOp

    Can someone tell me the estimated number of Iraqis who were killed?

    August 31, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19