As Iraq War Ends, Was It Worth It?

Today marks the formal conclusion of U.S. combat operations

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Today marks the formal conclusion of U.S. combat operations in Iraq. Though 50,000 troops will remain in the country for another year, and though they will certainly play a combat role, both their mission and the U.S. role in Iraq have been downgraded significantly from the last seven years of war. More than 4,400 U.S. military personnel have been killed in the war. Looking back, many are evaluating whether the endeavor was worth it. An ABC News poll found that 41 percent of Americans believe it was, with 50 percent saying the war improved their own security. Experts and pundits are expressing a somewhat less optimistic opinion. Here's what they have to say.

  • Yes, Successful Nation Building  The New York Times' David Brooks boasts, "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." Brooks cites growing GDP, several measurements of living standards, and national security forces. Obama must now "safeguard an American accomplishment that has been too hard won."

  • No, Suffering Just Too High  Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria tells CNN, "So far at this point it's very difficult to make the case that the benefits have overridden the costs. As I said, you have 2.5 million Iraqis who fled, thousands, maybe tens of thousands who were killed, thousands of Americans who were killed, enormous expenditure, and there's not much to show for it. ... To the average Iraqi, it's been a really, really difficult, unstable seven years, which has been plagued by violence, the collapse of their living standards, constant interruptions in their normal daily life from things like power outages. ... In the long run, if Iraq does stabilize and becomes a workable, even a flawed democracy, then I do think that perhaps that judgment will change in the long view of history. But right now, if one were being honest, one would have to say it wasn't worth it."

  • Yes, Saved Kurdish Minority From 'Genocide'  The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg recently told a critic of the invasion, "If he were to meet with representatives of the Kurds -- who make up 20 percent of the population of Iraq and who were the most oppressed group in Iraq during the period of Saddam's rule (experiencing not only a genocide but widespread chemical gassing) -- I think it might be possible for him to understand why some people -- even some Iraqis -- supported the overthrow of Saddam. Also, as a bonus, I'm reasonably sure we could meet with Kurdish intelligence officials who could explain to him why they believe Saddam was secretly supporting an al Qaeda-affiliated Kurdish extremist group. ... We would also be able to visit Halabja, and the other towns and villages affected by Saddam's genocide."

  • No, Made Terrorism Worse, Not Better  The Center for American Progress's Matt Duss takes "an opportunity to reflect on one of the most dubious and, frankly, profane justifications for the Iraq war: 'Taking the fight to the terrorists' — fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here. ... The basic idea was that a U.S. presence in Iraq would distract extremists from trying to attack America. Because, presumably, a bus ticket to Baghdad is less expensive that a plane ticket to New York. But while it’s probably true that at least some of the extremists drawn to Iraq would have attacked elsewhere, the  evidence is overwhelming that, for the majority of foreign fighters in Iraq (who, in any case, represented a small minority of insurgents), the U.S. occupation of Iraq itself was the decisive factor in their radicalization and mobilization."

  • No, War Today Seldom Is  The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson writes, "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."

  • Maybe, We Won't Know for Years  Writing in the Washington Post, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker sees "not a record of failure but an illustration of the enormity of the challenges in Iraq." He says this chapter of U.S.-Iraq history really goes back to Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait and will not close for years. "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."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.