News / Middle East

Soldiers, Pundits Debate Whether Iraq War Was Worth It

A northern Iraqi woman sits in front of her house with her four children, in the bordertown of Chamchamal, Iraq, March 30, 2003. Writing on wall reads: "This house is for sale."
A northern Iraqi woman sits in front of her house with her four children, in the bordertown of Chamchamal, Iraq, March 30, 2003. Writing on wall reads: "This house is for sale."
Cecily Hilleary

Of all the campaign promises U.S. President Barack Obama made, his pledge to pull troops out of Iraq is among the most memorable.  Last Friday, Obama made good on that pledge, but not necessarily by choice.

For months, Shi’a Muslim leader Muqtada al-Sadr had been warning U.S. troops to get out of Iraq or face “resistance.”

US Marines of the 1st Division walk to a briefing prior to a mission outside Fallujah, Iraq, November 1, 2004.
US Marines of the 1st Division walk to a briefing prior to a mission outside Fallujah, Iraq, November 1, 2004.

Al-Sadr’s anti-Western movement enjoys a strong following, and many believe that pressure from Sadrists is what drove Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to disallow any further U.S. military presence in Iraq.  By New Year’s Day, 2012, an approximate 41,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq will have returned home. They, along with observers across the globe, will likely be scratching their heads for years, asking whether the invasion of Iraq and ensuing conflict were worth their $800 billion price tag, the loss of more than 4,400 U.S. troops and the deaths of as many as 112,000 Iraqis.

In a September 20 article in Foreign Policy, Peter Van Buren, State Department Foreign Service Officer and author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, argued that things do not look well for Iraq, at least in the short term. There has been, in his words, “no resolution to the Arab-Kurd issue, no resolution to the Sunni-Shia issue, no significant growth in the oil industry, a weakened U.S. presence more interested in a Middle East land base and profitable arm sales than internal affairs, and an increasingly influential Iran seeking a proxy battleground against the United States and a nicely weak buffer state on its formerly troublesome western border.”

Michael Rubin
Michael Rubin

Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School takes issue with such grim assessments. “The Iraqis, for the first time, really had a shot at freedom,” Rubin said, “and while Iraq today isn’t perfect, for the vast majority of Iraqis, life is much better than what it was under Saddam.”

Rubin points to the same issues - Kurds, religious sectarianism, Iran’s looming influence - were not resolved during Saddam Hussein’s regime. “The issue that many people forget is that Saddam Hussein didn’t bring stability. Indeed the Kurdish Civil War started in 1961, and what we learned after Saddam’s fall was that the Republican Guard may have controlled the streets in southern Iraq during the day, they didn’t control things at night.”

In short, Rubin says, the status quo in Iraq was falling apart. “Too many people in hindsight will look at the issue as a choice to either go to war and unseat Saddam, or simply to have stability and sanctions. The sanctions were falling apart, and what all of Saddam Hussein’s doctrines show, he had every intention of reconstituting the worst aspects of his force and his capabilities, as soon as the sanctions collapsed.”

The scholar says President Bush had two choices: “Either to unseat Saddam or see him re-empowered to the fullest. I do think that most people in the region are glad he made the former choice, even if they disagree with how the war was conducted.”

As for the troop pullout, Rubin is among those who have felt strongly that the U.S. should retain a military presence in Iraq.  He says he would have preferred a lasting military presence in Iraq, “as long it takes to fill the vacuum, as long as it takes to bring stability.”

Karen Kwiatkowski
Karen Kwiatkowski

Karen Kwiatkowski, Ph.D, is a retired United States Air Force lieutenant colonel, who for four years prior to her retirement in 2003 worked in the Pentagon’s Near East South Asia Policy Office (NESA). While there, she wrote a series of articles accusing neoconservatives and other interest groups of kidnapping U.S. Middle East policy. She retired from the Air Force a year later; today she teaches, writes about defense issues and is running for Congress. She is as outspoken now as she was a decade ago.

“It’s pretty sad, really,” she said, “that almost ten years have gone by since stories were told to justify the invasion of Iraq, a country which was very weak militarily, very weak economically, that had been suffering under sanctions that we enforced for many years, over a dozen years, and had no air force, had no navy, had nothing to do with 9/11, had nothing to do with associations with al Qaeda… and yet we were able to basically drum up a war and invade, topple their government, destroy not just their political system, but their society - you know; we went for the infrastructure, the water and electrical grid.  And yet, to this day, we have not yet repaired that. And now, we’re drawing to a close and leaving behind what? Not a victory, but probably multiple generations of hatred for Americans - and oh, are we pumping oil there yet?  No, we’re not.”

Harlan Ullman
Harlan Ullman

What about the man who many credit with being among the architects of the Iraq War? Dr. Harlan Ullman, co-author (along with James P. Wade) of the “Shock and Awe” doctrine, which was implemented in the 2003 Iraq invasion.  Today he is a Senior Advisor at the Atlantic Council and also a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the National Defense University. “Iraq was probably one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our history,” Ullman said, “and in terms of the damage that it has done and will do to the country, far exceeds the Vietnam War.”

He still supports the doctrine of “Shock and Awe,” which he says has gotten a “bad rap.”

“’Shock and Awe’ was used to characterize the strategy we used in Iraq in 2003,” he said.  “But that was not ‘Shock and Awe.’ That was Desert Storm on steroids.”

The problem, Ullman says, lies in what he calls America’s “national DNA”, an ideological view of the world is framed by what Americans think the world should be, not the way it really is.

Ullman says the point of “Shock and Awe” was simple:

“You decide what is the outcome you want to achieve, then you work back to get it. The outcome we wanted to achieve was to destroy the Iraqi army and destroy Saddam Hussein. That’s fine. But that’s not a tactic, that’s a strategy.  And what we would have done if we were going to employ ‘Shock and Awe’ correctly was to say, ‘OK, what do we want to see? We want to see a stable Iraq, under the rule of law, with a new form of government.’ If we had established that from the very beginning, we wouldn’t have had to defeat the Iraqi army. We could have simply made the attack. I think the army would have deposed Saddam Hussein; we could have forced them to surrender more quickly.”

Perhaps the greatest American experts on the success or failure in Iraq are those who are not as easily heard from: the tens of thousands who already served in Iraq and the more than 40 thousand war-weary troops who will shortly begin straggling home to adjust to lives as civilians in an uncertain economic and political climate. After the saga of the Iraq War appears more fully in the rearview mirror, these men and women – who have sacrificed so much personally for the conflict – may speak out about lessons learned, and whether or not wars like the one that took place in Iraq was indeed worth it.

الجنود ومناقشة الخبراء ما إذا كانت الحرب على العراق تبلغ قيمتها الأسعار مع ما يزيد على 4,400 الأمريكية الأرواح التي أزهقت و 800 بليون دولار أنفقت، تلوح أسئلة كبيرة ما إذا كان لها ما يبررها في الغزو والصراع التي تلت ذلك.
Follow our Middle East reports on Twitter
and discuss them on our Facebook page.

You May Like

Video Experts Warn World Losing Ebola Fight

Doctors Without Borders says world is losing battle against Ebola, unless wealthy nations dispatch specialized biological disaster response teams More

Video Experts: Rise of Islamic State Significant Development in Jihadism

Many analysts contend the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years More

US-Based Hong Kongers Pledge Support for Pro-Democracy Activists

Democracy advocates call on Chinese living abroad to join them in opposing new election rules for their home territory More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearancei
X
Elizabeth Lee
September 02, 2014 8:57 PM
Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Larger Than Life Chinese Lanterns Make Southern California Appearance

Chinese lanterns with a long history are lighting up in 21st century style at the Los Angeles County Fair in southern California. Visitors can see traditional lanterns that hang, but also lanterns in the shape of animals, iconic landmarks and many other objects, all created by artisans from a place in China known for its lanterns. Elizabeth Lee has the details from the fair in the city of Pomona.
Video

Video Experts See Rise of ISIS as Significant Development

The Islamic State’s rise seems sudden. It caught the U.S. by surprise this summer when it captured large portions of northern Iraq and spread its wings in neighboring Syria. But many analysts contend that the group - which grew out of al-Qaida in Iraq - has been rebuilding for years. VOA's Jela de Franceschi takes a closer look at the rise of ISIS and its implications for the Middle East and beyond.
Video

Video Israel Concerned Over Syrian Rebels in Golan

Israeli officials are following with concern the recent fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces near the contested Golan Heights. Forty-four U.N. peacekeepers from Fiji have been seized by Syrian Islamist rebels and the clashes occasionally have spilled into Israel. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video Ukraine Schools Resume Classes, Donate to Government Forces

A new school year has started in Ukraine but thousands of children in the war-torn east are unable to attend because of ongoing clashes with pro-Russia rebels. In Ukraine's capital, patriotic education has become the norm along with donations to support injured security forces fighting to take back rebel-held areas. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video US Detainees Want Negotiators for Freedom in North Korea

The three U.S. detainees held in North Korea were permitted to speak with foreign media Monday. The government of Kim Jong Un restricted the topics of the questions, and the interviews in Pyongyang were limited to five minutes. Each of the men asked Washington to send a representative to Pyongyang to secure his release. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti has our story.
Video

Video Turkmen From Amerli Describe Survival of IS Siege

Over the past few weeks, hundreds of Shi'ite Turkmen have fled the town of Amerli seeking refuge in the northern city of Kirkuk. Despite recent military gains after U.S. airstrikes that were coordinated with Iraqi and Kurdish forces, the situation remains dire for Amerli’s residents. Sebastian Meyer went to Kirkuk for VOA to speak to those who managed to escape.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.

AppleAndroid