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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
Qasim Sabti, an Iraqi painter, said to USA Today in 2010: “We had one dictator. Now we have hundreds of dictators.”
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.
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.
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?”
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.”
“Iran has emerged as the dominant regional power in the Persian Gulf once the U.S. removed its major rival from the scene and put its Shiite clients into power in Baghdad.”
“By invading Iraq in the manner it did, the U.S. exacerbated all of the threats it faced prior to 2003. […] North Korea and Iran accelerated their development of nuclear weapons.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
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.
“More than 2 million displaced Iraqi Sunnis, who fled into neighboring Jordan and Syria, are adding instability to an already politically precarious region of the world.”
“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.”