By Teresa Welsh |
To ask that question is to answer it.
Let's just tally up the costs: 4,400-plus American soldiers dead, and well over 100,000 Iraqis killed. The war's direct financial cost is over $800 billion, with the indirect costs of caring for wounded veterans likely to make the total cost well over $1 trillion.
Then there's the strategic costs: a new Iraqi government that, whatever its inclinations otherwise, is much more closely aligned with Tehran than Saddam Hussein ever was. American military power and diplomatic prestige tied down over a mission launched on dubious grounds for the better part of a decade, likely enabling the situation in Afghanistan to deteriorate to the condition President Obama found it upon taking office in 2009. It let al-Qaida's core organization regroup in Pakistan while opening up Iraq to its ideological supporters, who are now taking advantage of the civil war in Syria to expand there.
And the benefits? Saddam Hussein's regime—one of the most notorious dictatorships of the late 20th century—is no more. But the war didn't replace it with a flourishing liberal democracy, as some of the war's architects and supporters hoped. While Iraq holds elections, power is concentrated under an increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and both government security forces and private militias continue to commit abuses against the Iraqi people. The war may have delivered the Iraqi people from the clutches of Saddam's noxious regime, but it then put them in the hands of a new authoritarianism that benefits from a veneer of democratic legitimacy.
The United States sunk tremendous blood and treasure into Iraq from 2003 to 2011, first to eliminate the non-existent threat of Saddam's supposed nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs and then primarily to build a democracy in the heart of an undemocratic region. Neither of these goals has been accomplished, and both the way the war was conducted and the war's very existence worked against the United States and its interests. Getting rid of Saddam Hussein, brutal as he was, did not and does not justify these costs or the absence of benefits to the United States.
No, the Iraq war was not "worth it" in any sense.
About Peter Juul Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress
Jessica Stern Fellow at the FXB Center for Human Rights at the Harvard School of Public Health
Evan Moore Senior Policy Analyst for the Foreign Policy Initiative
Michael O'Hanlon Senior Fellow and Director of Research for the 21st Century Defense Initiative at the Brookings Institution