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Debate: Was the War in Iraq worth it?

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Was the War in Iraq worth fighting?

Background and context

Throughout the War in Iraq, the world has speculated whether the war was worth it. And, as the official combat mission of the United States came to a close in 2010, nearly every editorial page in newspapers around the world addressed the question: "was it worth it?"
The question is whether, given everything we know today [including the fact that Saddam Hussein did not possess WMD], and the results we've seen on the ground to present, have the benefits been worth the costs? While some relevant factors remain undetermined in this debate, such as whether Iraq will evolve into a liberal democracy and whether its stability in recent years will persist, enough of the story has played out in order for fairly robust judgments to be passed on the overall worthiness of the war. Arguments surround questions such as: Is the world a better and safer place without Saddam Hussein in power? Are the Iraqis themselves better off? Is the United States better off? Did the war advance the interests of the War on Terror? Did it send a message to rogue regimes and help deter WMD development and state-sponsorship of terrorism? Did it improve or damage the United States' reputation and credibility around world, and in the Muslim world in particular? Was the war worth the lives lost, in terms of US troops and Iraqi troops, security forces, and civilians? Was it worth the monetary costs? These questions and the pro and con arguments and quotations surrounding them are presented below.
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Without Saddam: Is the world a safer place without Saddam Hussein?

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Pro

  • The world is a better place without Saddam Hussein Donald Rumsfeld said to NPR's Steve Inskeep in a February 2011 interview: "And a vicious, truly vicious regime that was shooting at our aircraft every day, more than 2,000 times when we were patrolling the northern and southern no-fly zones for the United Nations, that regime is gone, and the region is safer, our country is safer, and the world's a better place without Saddam Hussein."[1]
  • War in Iraq kept Saddam from acquiring nuclear weapons. John Bolton, U.N. ambassador under Bush, has argued that deposing Saddam's regime was "unquestionably correct" because it kept him from acquiring nuclear weapons. This, he believes, Saddam surely would have done given that the sanctions effort against him was weakening. "Achieving that objective was materially in the interests of the United States, and the world is a better place," he said.
  • If not a threat then, Iraq would have become one Saddam Hussein was a tyrant with a willingness to use WMD on his own people and in wars with other countries. Although he apparently had discontinued his active WMD program by 2003, he could have easily reconstituted this program, particularly with the sanctions regime against him crumbling. And, considering the regional threats posed by Iran and Syria and their active WMD programs, he probably would have. He was an inevitable threat, even if temporarily subdued in 2003.


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Con

  • Deposing Saddam was not worth immense costs of war. Francis Fukuyama. "Iraq May Be Stable, But the War Was a Mistake" Wall Street Journal. August 15th, 2008: "While everyone is better off without Saddam Hussein around, the cost was hugely disproportionate. If you don't believe this, ask yourself whether Congress would ever have voted to authorize the war in 2002 if it knew there was no WMD, or that there would be trillion-dollar budget outlays, or that there would be 30,000 dead and wounded after five years of bitter struggle."
  • War in Iraq replaced one dictator with hundreds. Qasim Sabti, an Iraqi painter, said to USA Today in 2010: "We had one dictator. Now we have hundreds of dictators."[2]
  • Saddam Hussein was a much smaller threat than believed. Saddam Hussein was not the threat that many war hawks have made him out to be. Without WMD, he posed no imminent threat to the United States or neighboring countries. And, having fully demonstrated the superiority of the US military in the Gulf War, he would not have attempted a new conventional war.
  • Many dictators are dangerous, but that doesn't justify war. Dictatorships in Iran, North Korea, Libya and many other countries pose a potential security risks to other countries. But, this alone does not justify going to war with them, just as the moderate risks from Saddam Hussein did not justify the War in Iraq.


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Rogue regimes: Has war helped send a message to rogue regimes?

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Pro

  • War in Iraq sent deterrent message to rogue regimes. Tony Blair wrote in his 2010 memoirs: "After 11 September, the thinking was this: if these terrorist groups could acquire WMD capability, would they use it? On the evidence of 11 September, yes. So how do we shut the trade down? How do we send a sufficiently clear and vivid signal to nations that are developing, or might develop, such capability to desist? How do we make it indisputable that continued defiance of the will of the international community will no longer be tolerated?"[3]
  • Show of strength in Iraq helped denuclearize Libya Donald Rumsfeld said in an interview with Steve Inskeep on February 14th, 2011: "Gaddafi was working on a nuclear capability. When he saw what happened to Saddam Hussein, he decided he would forgo that, admit that he was doing that, allow inspectors in. And that's one of the non-intuitive events that occurred that was positive."[4]
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Con

  • War in Iraq has achieved no core US objectives. Cindy Sheehan, an anti-war activist: "I don't think there's been any measurable thing that we could cite that this occupation of Iraq has made better. We achieved exactly nothing."[5]
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War on Terror: Did the War in Iraq help the War on Terror?

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Pro

  • War in Iraq became a battle front in War on Terror. The War in Iraq quickly became a battle front in the War on Terror, even if it originally was not intended to be one. It drew Al Qaeda terrorists in from the surrounding region, and created an opportunity for the US to kill or capture them. In addition, the intelligence gathered through interrogations of captured terrorists in Iraq proved valuable in the broader regional and global War on Terror.
  • War in Iraq teaches how to fight wars of 21st century. Richard Miniter. "Was the Iraq War Worth It?" Hudson New York. September 2, 2010: "The military also learned some big things, such as how to fight urban wars and small wars -- the two most likely forms of conflict that can be expected over in the 21st century. Thanks to Iraq, a Pentagon, mired in the thinking of World War II tactics, has learned how to fight on future battlefields. The surge in Iraq, and the use of light and nimble forces in Somalia, are among the benefits of our military leaders' Iraq education."
  • Victory better than letting terrorists win in Iraq. President Bush said in 2008: "No one would argue that this war has not come at a high cost in lives and treasure, but those costs are necessary when we consider the cost of a strategic victory for our enemies in Iraq."[6]
  • Drop in terrorism in Iraq demonstrates successes in War on Terror. Dramatic drops in terrorist attacks and civilian and troop casualties in 2009, 2010, and 2011 demonstrate successes in War on Terror in Iraq and the region. This is particularly true because many terrorist leaders claimed that Iraq was the battle field in their larger war against the West. If that is so, then they have clearly lost.


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Con

  • The War in Iraq distracted from the War on Terror. Malou Innocent. "The Iraq war: still a massive mistake." Christian Science Monitor. April 5th, 2010: "A fourth consequence of the war in Iraq – and one that should determine whether it is deemed a “success” – is that it did little to keep America safe from Al Qaeda, the perpetrators of 9/11. In this respect, what makes “Bush’s war” in Iraq arguably one of the biggest strategic blunders in US history is not just the litany of failures it caused but the opportunities America lost. The disaster in Iraq diverted badly needed intelligence assets, public attention, and congressional oversight from the forgotten war in Afghanistan."
  • War in Iraq was not mainly against terrorists. War in Iraq was mainly against "insurgents" that were fighting a "Western occupation". It was also focused around policing the near civil war between Shiites and Sunnis. Al Qaeda terrorists were a very small element next to these bigger "fronts", which were sparked by the war itself.
  • Solving problems created by war does not justify war. War in Iraq might have become, on a very small level, a front in the War on Terror, but this was as much a result of the act of waging such an unjust war and "occupation" as anything else - many locals were incited to fight the occupation and were subsequently labelled "terrorists." Fighting the terrorism that resulted from the war is clearly not a justification for waging the war in the first place; it nets no benefits.


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Lives lost: Was war worth the lives lost?

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Pro

  • Saddam Hussein caused a comparable death toll to War in Iraq Richard Miniter. "Was the Iraq War Worth It?" Hudson New York. September 2, 2010: "Finally, let us remember that Saddam Hussein's Iraq was not a very safe place. There were bombing and shootings at least on par with 2010 levels, if not higher. No official statistics were kept, and the bombings were not generally reported on state-run media; but anecdotal and other reports show a sustained level of violence in the Saddam years. People tend to imagine dictatorships as solid and stable things; instead, dictatorships are a relentless civil war by the rulers against the majority. A continuing civil war can turn hot, and, in Saddam's era, often did."
  • Number of US troops lost in Iraq is relatively small Richard Miniter. "Was the Iraq War Worth It?" Hudson New York. September 2, 2010: "What about the toll taken on the U.S. military? [...] While every soldier's life is precious, it is astonishing how relatively few Americans were called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice in the Iraq war. Total combat deaths for U.S. forces are 3,491 over eight years. More died in a single day of combat at Antietam (Sharpsburg, Maryland) or on the Normandy landings. [...] If you average the death toll of 57,000 over the 14 years of the Vietnam War, you get 4,071: one year of the Vietnam War was more deadly than all eight years of the Iraq war combined. [...] Clearly, the military has learned a lot about combat medicine, body armor, small-unit tactics and hundreds of other advances that save lives, both military and civilian."
  • War in Iraq was worth the lives lost In a 2009 interview between Jim Lehrer and Vice President Dick Cheney: "Q: But Mr. Vice President, getting from there to here, 4,500 Americans have died, at least 100,000 Iraqis have died. Has it been worth that? CHENEY: I think so. Q: Why? CHENEY: Because I believed at the time what Saddam Hussein represented was, especially in the aftermath of 9/11, was a terror-sponsoring state so designated by the State Department. … He had produced and used weapons of mass destruction, chemical and biological agents. He’d had a nuclear program in the past. … And he did have a relationship with al Qaeda. [...] And so I think given the track record of Saddam Hussein, I think we did exactly the right thing. I think the country is better off for it today."
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Con

  • War in Iraq resulted in too many dead or wounded soldiers. Jim Wallis. "The War in Iraq: At What Cost?" Sojourners. September 1, 2010: "The human cost of the Iraq War is literally breathtaking. I went to a website last night that has documented the number and published the pictures of those who died, 4,400 so far. I couldn’t stop looking at their pictures … so young … so many husbands and wives, fathers, mothers, and those still almost children themselves. I kept thinking about how much they will be so sorely missed by those who loved and needed them. Then I listened to so many stories of the 35,000 wounded, many who lost their arms and legs, their strong young bodies, their long-term abilities, or their emotional and mental health. I winced when I heard there are about 18 suicides each day among returning veterans."
  • War not worth roughly 100,000 Iraqi civilians killed. IraqBodyCount.org records that between 98 and 108 thousand Iraqi civilians have been killed in the War in Iraq between 2003 and 2011. Such a death toll is catastrophic, outrageous, and scandalous. Almost every person in Iraq - a country of 31 million - knows somebody that has been killed. No war of choice is worth this cost, especially when the benefits were completely speculative. And even in the worst case scenarios with Saddam Hussein staying in power, death tolls approaching this kind of figure are hard to imagine.
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Iraqis: Are Iraqis better off as a result of war?

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Pro

  • The war liberated millions of Iraqis from Tyranny. Donald Rumsfeld said in an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep that the war was worth it because "Millions of Iraqi people, millions of Afghan people have been liberated."[7]
  • Iraq War offered Iraqi people hope for new future. Retired Army lieutenant general James Dubik of the Institute for the Study of War said in 2010: "The war has brought the Iraqi nation a hope for the future that didn't exist under Saddam's rule. That's a huge thing."[8]


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Con

  • War worth it only if Iraq beats odds and becomes liberal democracy. Howard Dean said in 2010 to USA Today: "If Iraq should, against the odds, turn into a liberal democracy, then we would say it was worth it. The problem is, the odds are against it."[9]
  • Progress in Iraq does not mean war was worth it. Francis Fukuyama. "Iraq May Be Stable, But the War Was a Mistake" Wall Street Journal. August 15th, 2008: "Though Iraq remains a very troubled country, virtually all of the trend lines -- Iraqi and U.S. casualties, government provision of basic services, and the ability of Iraqi forces to provide order -- have been moving in a positive direction for the past year. What I absolutely [do] not concede, however, was the fact that this change meant that the war itself was worth it. By invading Iraq in the manner it did, the U.S. exacerbated all of the threats it faced prior to 2003. Recruitment into terrorist cells shot up all over the world. North Korea and Iran accelerated their development of nuclear weapons."
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Reputation: Did the war improve or damage US reputation/credibility?

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Pro

  • War in Iraq adds to US geopolitical and military credibility. Richard Miniter. "Was the Iraq War Worth It?" Hudson New York. September 2, 2010: "the war enhanced American credibility. At the end of any diplomatic process, there might be the implied threat of military force. Future presidents will benefit, in their diplomatic efforts, from the vivid memory of American forces confronting the fourth-largest army in the world and defeating its major units in a matter of weeks. The defeat of the insurgency, which was far more difficult, is also instructive to the leaders of other lands. If the world knows that you are not a paper tiger, you do not often have to roar."
  • War in Iraq sent message about WMD, sponsoring terror, etc. Tony Blair wrote in his 2010 memoirs: "After 11 September, the thinking was this: if these terrorist groups could acquire WMD capability, would they use it? On the evidence of 11 September, yes. So how do we shut the trade down? How do we send a sufficiently clear and vivid signal to nations that are developing, or might develop, such capability to desist? How do we make it indisputable that continued defiance of the will of the international community will no longer be tolerated?"[10]
  • Iraq War consistent with "better to be feared than loved." While it may be true that the War in Iraq irritated many, it is probably better to be feared than loved, as Machiavelli argued.
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Con

  • Iraq War undermines US legitimacy on international law Francis Fukuyama. "Iraq May Be Stable, But the War Was a Mistake" Wall Street Journal. August 15th, 2008: "There are deeper, intangible costs. The Bush administration this week rebuked Russia for its disproportionate military intervention in Georgia; many rightly suspect Moscow's real goal is regime change of the pro-Western, democratic government in Tbilisi. But who set the most recent precedent for a big power intervening to change a regime it didn't like, without the sanction of the U.N. Security Council or any other legitimating international body? Of course, there is no moral equivalence between Saddam Hussein's Iraq and Mikheil Saakashvili's Georgia. But the U.S. is scarcely in a position today to rally opposition to Russia on the basis of international law and norms constraining the strong from using force against the weak."


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Pro/con sources

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See also

External links

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