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Posted on Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 2:23 p.m.

Iraq: Was the war worth it?

By Wayne Baker

1219 Official casing of colors in Iraq December 15 2011.jpg

This is the official photo and caption chosen by the White House to mark the Dec. 15, 2011, taking down of U.S. flags in Iraq and "casing" them to protect and ship them home. At left in the photo with his arms raised is Gen. Lloyd James Austin III, commander of U.S. Forces in Iraq.

U.S. government photo in public domain

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. The troops have pulled out of Iraq, and this week, Dr. Baker is discussing whether or not the benefits outweighed the costs.

It's finally over. The last American troops have pulled out of Iraq. All won't be home for the holidays — some are staying in Kuwait, just in case — but we are officially out of the war that started in March 2003.

Was it worth it?

The costs have been immense. In his December 17, 2001 weekly address, Obama summed up the human costs for Americans:

"For nearly nine years, our nation has been at war in Iraq. More than 1.5 million Americans have served there with honor, skill, and bravery. Tens of thousands have been wounded. Military families have sacrificed greatly — none more so than the families of those nearly 4,500 Americans who made the ultimate sacrifice. All of them — our troops, veterans, and their families — will always have the thanks of a grateful nation."

But there's also the human cost on the other side. More than 100,000 Iraqis lost their lives as well. And there’s the financial cost of the war, probably more than $800 billion on the U.S. side.

Iraq is forever altered, and its fate is uncertain. We’ll discuss this historic moment all week on

To start, what’s your answer to these basic questions:

Was the Iraq War worth it?

Was it worth the cost in lives and money?

Are we safer now?

Please add a comment below ….

AND, Connect with other OurValues readers via Facebook!

Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.

Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.



Sun, Dec 25, 2011 : 4:45 a.m.

Yes, everyone loves those "simple answers" but they rarely align with reality. Your appraisal of the Iraq Liberation, while reflecting the 93% democrat press narrative found in the AA News, PMSNBC, CNN and other democrat "news" outlets, is deeply and tragically flawed. In fact, if your story was correct, we never would have liberated Iraq!! LOL ..good luck improving your search for the historical truth and George W. Bush's amazing leadership that we miss so much in this leaderless dark age.


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 7:07 p.m.

P.s. I wonder why so many veterans come home and as they age, turn into advocates for fortress America - something like Ron Paul. Once your service ends, our troops should suddenly become a home bound police force or something. These veterans seem to become selectively outraged when a Republican deploys our troops in the interest of national security. ...yet democrats like Carter and Clinton can endlessly abuse the forces with absurd one way death missions or turn them into nurse maids and there is hardly a peep.


Wed, Dec 21, 2011 : 4:02 a.m.

The simple answer is no. 4500 young American's killed, 10's of thousands of wounded and probably more like 100,000+ closed head injuries that we don't know how to deal with. This was a war started by a failed president that didn't have a clue why we invaded and tried to get the message across that Iraq had something to do with 911. Had we put our money and military force in to the Afghanistan (Pakistan) War, which by the way is where we knew Bin Laden was, then we could have concluded that war by now, saved lives and let Iraq go the way of many other Arab countries with brutal dictator leaders. The Arab Spring would have come to Iraq. The regime-change would have happened had we continued to contain Saddam Hussein. And we would not have lost the support of the international community. Few faulted us for invading Afghanistan. Many and in my opinion, most felt that we were wrong to invade Iraq. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Bush was incompetent with his yellow-cake (uranium) charges. A simple Google search would have saved a lot of money, time and talent but then from a president that didn't even read a newspaper, what should we have expected? Well, we got it. I'm a veteran. I'm proud of our troops. I stand behind them. Unfortunately, our president broken a basic trust -- don't send our troops in to harms way without just cause.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 10:06 p.m.

Well at least we got rid of some really bad leaders.

David Briegel

Thu, Dec 22, 2011 : 2:52 p.m.

We won't miss the Bush family!


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 7:31 p.m.

@ Gordon. I can't believe it is necessary to even remind people of this still, but I guess it is. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. There is no reason, whatsoever, to think that Iraq should have been invaded because of terrorism. @Shepard145 Iraq did not have nuclear weapons. Even the Bush administration did not make the claim that it did. The Bush administration did claim that Iraq was seeking materials to build nuclear weapons. The intelligence upon which they based this claim was loudly debunked as not credible by many voices from the intelligence community and other experts at the time.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 4:40 p.m.

Was the war worth it? The 'questions' begs the question. It turned to a war on terroism outside the USA. It did create a combination of agencies working together; but if knowledge is power then making that combination work is more difficult then the paper creating it. We should be better at 'finding terroists both in the USA and outside. Pubilicity is about foreign; but many have not forgotten one of our own killed more in the USA up to 9/11. Cause - WWI restructuring of the borders in the Middle-East by the Europeans & the US with no regard to tribe history, politics, and religion. It turned out to create a Hatfield & McCoy feud. WWII Nazi influence wasn't helpful. Well the terroists have moved on. They now reside in many places. Less organized then before. More people in the Middle-east with less education therefore lack the knowledge to defend themselves from the poor interpertations of politically motivated religous figures. I think for aal the Iraq people killed it will be better then the fear control Hussain used to supress them. Trouble is they another will try to do the samething. Neither Russia nor us want to be the worlds police force. China has enough internal problems to keep a host of politicans busy. Iraq, Iran, Afghanstan< and Pakistan will have to iron out there own problems. The US had the advantage of being just far enough away from Europe to be able to grow up on it's own. Can't do that anymore.

Joel A. Levitt

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 4:19 p.m.

Was the Iraq War worth it? No, and it was unjustified. Was it worth the cost in lives and money? No. Are we safer now? No, having lost our counterpoise to Iran and damaged our international reputation, we are less safe.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 5:03 a.m.

It bothers me that we can even sit here in the safety of our living rooms and ask a question like, &quot;Was it worth it?&quot; Instead, I will just provide some facts: The number of Iraqis killed in the war in Iraq is at least 600,000. This is according to a study published by the Lancet in 2006 and doesn't include figures for the years following that. Later attempts to estimate this using polling have suggested a million deaths. The US government's figures, figures we were long told they didn't keep, for just Iraqis killed by the U.S. and not including sectarian violence is 120,000 and is itself an incomplete set of records. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> The cost of the war in Iraq is over $800 billion, not including long term costs. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> There were no weapons of mass destruction found. 4,500 American soldiers were killed. <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> There were 4.5 million Iraqi refugees. Millions continue to be internally displaced or are living in difficult conditions in places like Jordan. Almost no money was budgeted to assist them. Several minority religious groups in Iraq were nearly entirely displaced. Infrastructure was badly damaged. Many places continue to lack clean water. The &quot;worth&quot; is a matter of opinion. The above, however, are the costs of this war.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3:17 a.m.

any fool can say &quot;ignore the rest of the world&quot; ( ala Ron Paul)....and any fool can blunder into something ,with bad/falsified information, that they can't get out of again so easily (ala george bush.)... It's a test of a good and competent leader to figure out the tricky business of wise and strategic engagement...but engagement nonetheless. And Obama's doing an O.k. job ( not great, given the rats nests he's both inherited and that have emerged on their own, but o.k.!!) The thought of any of the current republican candidates in his seat is a true apocalyptic nightmare that's alot more likely to come true than the babbling they do based on their fundamentalist, book of revelations beliefs..

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3:17 a.m.

shep wrote: &quot;How about asking if we think obama knows more than his Generals when he ignored their council and ordered them to leave the battlefield without peace keeping or training forces? &quot; Ah, the Faux Noise talking points. Yes, the military wanted soldiers left behind IF a SOFA were in place. But Iraq would not agree to a SOFA that gave the United States jurisdiction over any crimes allegedly committed by US soldiers. It is a basic component of all SOFAs the US has with nations in which US soldiers are stationed. No US general--none--suggested leaving US troops in Iraq without such an agreement in place. The current SOFA expired Dec. 31. US troops had to leave. So Faux Noise and John McCain are just making it up. And the factual inaccuracies in this assessment is echoed in the rest of Shep's piece. And it is worth noting what the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Martin Dempsey, thinks of the Republicans' &quot;we listen to the military&quot; mantra: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> Good Night and Good Luck


Sat, Dec 24, 2011 : 7:01 p.m.

Everyone loves those &quot;simple answers&quot; but they rarely align with reality. Your appraisal of the Iraq Liberation, while reflecting the 93% democrat press narrative found in the AA News, PMSNBC, CNN and other democrat &quot;news&quot; outlets, is deeply and tragically flawed. In fact, if your story was correct, we never would have liberated Iraq!! LOL ..good luck improving your search for the historical truth and George W. Bush's amazing leadership that we miss so much in this leaderless dark age.


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 11:51 p.m.

Congrats ghost, how was Paris? Yes CFE treaty was very difficult. Hard enough to negotiate with the rapidly flailing Warsaw Pact AND NATO at the same time. But we got it done. Excellent support from Washington and great delegation ambassador (Woolsey). And no, it's not a &quot;bow and scrape&quot;, we have many SOFAs. Elements of the Iraqi government wanted an agreement, but when you botch the play (ineptitude or on purpose), you get the same result, a pretty good skirt.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 10:54 p.m.

Wow!!!!!! And I was Henry Kissinger's aide when he negotiated the Paris Peace Accords. &quot;If it was the objective of this administration to get the agreement, it would have been done.&quot; Yes, because other nations simply bow and scrape to the US and sign any treaty we want them to. Yeah, that's diplomacy. GB&amp;GL


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 10:41 p.m.

Ghost, I am well aware is the importance of SOFA and the lynchpin of jurisdiction. Having served in Germany, and held once in Turkey for a SOFA &quot;violation&quot;. I also know how to do negotiation, and served on the US delegation to the Conventional Armed Forces Treaty and Confidence and Security Building Measures Europe agreement held in Vienna Austria 1990-1991. If it was the objective of this administration to get the agreement, it would have been done. What you got was a skirt, as the now so un-informed author (your assessment) pointed out as a &quot;tactical mistake&quot;. Obama could tell the military &quot;sorry, we tried&quot;, and tell adoring public &quot;we got out of Iraq&quot;. All said, I sincerely hope it works. There are reasons why the military wanted to keep a presence. I hope their reasons do not become reality.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 8:35 p.m.

Actually, that statement shows its author's ignorance. 1) The issue is not American immunity from prosecution, which the authors claim in the previous para. It is that US military courts will have jurisdiction over alleged crimes by soldiers. 2) And there is a similar ignorance on display in the passage you quote. US jurisdiction over alleged crimes by soldiers is the sine qua non of any SOFA. That was going to be in the agreement or there was not going to be any agreement. As I note above, I do love &quot;patriots&quot; who appear not to understand the danger the lack of such an agreement poses for American soldiers. GN&amp;GL


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 8:14 p.m.

Sure Ghost, help me out. From article: &quot;pushing for the meeting - in essence forcing the Iraqis to take a public stand on such a controversial matter before working out the politics of presenting it to their constituents and to parliament was a severe tactical mistake that ended any possibility of keeping American troops past December&quot;. The writer is being generous and contradicts his own last sentence. As it ended possibility, it was about as tactical as a nuclear weapon. It did keep Obama's telepromter free of one less footnote. He can now say, &quot;I fulfilled my campaign promise of 2008&quot; (footnote, while I implied I would do it sooner than my opponent is 2008, it took a while longer) and no US troops remain (no footnote needed).

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 4:26 p.m.

The above &quot;conversation&quot; is a total misrepresentation of the article. Nothing in the article suggests it. The article makes clear that the number of soldiers that the United States wanted to remain Iraq kept getting smaller and smaller in an effort to make their presence more palatable to the Iraqis. At no point did the US draw a line in the sand on the number. Nothing in the article says that the US required a public statement on the SOFA--though clearly such an agreement would have become public knowledge the minute it was signed and would have created huge political turmoil for the Maliki government. So, thanks again for making my point. Any more points from YOUR article that need clarification? GN&amp;GL


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 4:13 p.m.

And in the article I posted: US: you want some troops to stay? Iraq: sure, how many? US: we don't know, we'll get back to you. October 2011: US: it will be &quot;x&quot; many, and you need to make a public statement supporting the SOFA immediately. Iraq: no way. US: see ya' Yep, that's negotiation.

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:13 p.m.

From the article YOU posted: &quot;And for the negotiators who labored all year to avoid that outcome . . . &quot; --and-- &quot;Over the last year, in late-night meetings at the fortified compound of the Iraqi president . . . &quot; So let me see. This article was written in October 2011. Presuming this means negotiation started sometime in late-2010. Tough to see how this is &quot;waiting to the last minute&quot; unless one is looking to score cheap points. As for &quot;forcing the issue&quot;: Again, there can be no SOFA without immunity for US soldiers. Period. That's not &quot;forcing the issue.&quot; That is the most basic requirement of a SOFA. And the article makes clear that the Iraqi government's refusal to agree to that was the result of internal Iraqi politics. And, as the article makes clear, it was the Iraqis who took public the American demand, an action that ended any chance that a SOFA could be reached. So thanks for the link. Confirms my point exactly. But I do love how people who &quot;support our troops&quot; seem not to care about that very important issue. GN&amp;GL


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 12:43 p.m.

How NOT to do a negotiation: 1) dicker around until October 2011 on internal agreement of how many troops should stay. 2) then force a public announcement by the Iraqi government during the negotiations. Obama admin got what they wanted. <a href="" rel='nofollow'>;ref=statusofforcesagreement</a>

Edward R Murrow's Ghost

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3:51 a.m.

The SOFA was being negotiated to the very last minute. The Iraqis, for understandable reasons, would not permit the US to retain jurisdiction over alleged solider crimes. End of story--that's a poison pill--there can be no SOFA without one <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> See next-to-last para in above link. GN&amp;GL


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 3:44 a.m.

Takes two to tango ghost, or make a love seat SOFA. Per Iraqi accords signed by Bush, a SOFA was to be negotiated. As you know, they are complex agreements. You are correct, Iraqis raised a key objection. What's also apparent is the lack of effort this administration put into the talks. Makes sense though, you couldn't have a SOFA agreed to and have US troops remain in Iraq during an election year for Obama.

David Briegel

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:52 a.m.

America has tied a bow around the gift of a shiite satelite state for Iran. Aren't we proud?


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:14 a.m.

This is an un-story fishing for some lame leftist hackery from those trying to think back to the bumper stickers they drove around on their rusting custom vans. Was the Iraq liberation "worth it"? What is the measure of the value? To even start such a discussion, any competent would have offered readers insights into his President's view of Iraq, the weapons the world feared, the assassination attempt on his father during the Clinton years and something about the diplomacy that lead to the war's public and bi-patrician support. But that is not the purpose of such articles. This is more likely an intellectually lazy quiz for a UM leftist to measure the effectiveness of their corrupt attempts at historical revisionism. Certainly those who "forgot" why they originally supported the liberation a few years after it began have nothing but fog to offer today. Was it "worth it"? How much did the 9/11 attack "cost"? What is the value of an insane dictator with a nuclear weapon on the world economy, let alone an attack on US soil? Fools will write how that could never happen, believing the national defense they have so much contempt for is also perfect when it comes to protecting their liberal hides. How about asking if we think obama knows more than his Generals when he ignored their council and ordered them to leave the battlefield without peace keeping or training forces? ...or was he more likely pandering to his base in his hopeless attempt to win a second ill fated occupation of the White House? ....and is this likely similar to the equally pathetic democrat end to Vietnam when they undercut Nixon and blocked the promised peacekeeping forces? How many of our allies died then? So many questions......

David Briegel

Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 10:54 p.m.

America loves democracy. How about we take a vote. But only the following can vote: -3 Million Iraqi's who fled their homeland. -3 Million Iraqi's who were ethnically cleansed from their homes. -Almost a million who have died. All under the watch of the &quot;liberators&quot;! At the time I said &quot;the Chicken Hawk NEOCON's are tucking their tails between their legs and cutting and running for their folly in Iraq, sending a Christian army into the Muslim world with no allies, especially Muslim allies, on a &quot;crusade&quot; to avenge the guy that tried to kill W's Daddy was one of the most foolish things any President has ever done!&quot; A trillion dollars with 1-2 trillion more to be spent. And the tea drinkers wonder why we have a deficit! How about we cut the billionaire's taxes even more?

David Briegel

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 5:13 p.m.

Because of the schizophrenic nature of the party Ron Paul wants to lead! He is mocked and has no chance of winning. He is honest and true to his principles in an unprincipled party!


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:18 p.m.

@David Briegel IF Ron Paul is &quot;spittin in the wind&quot; then how much less are you doing? You castigate others for &quot;being silent&quot; yet when someone like Ron Paul takes a position that would seem to agree with yours, what is your comment? &quot;And poor Ron Paul is spittin' in the wind! &quot; So ask what's YOUR point?

David Briegel

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 12:47 a.m.

And poor Ron Paul is spittin' in the wind! So, what's your point?


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 11:07 p.m.

David, many so-called &quot;tea drinkers&quot; are supporting Ron Paul who never voted for us to go to War in the first place and is trying to tell us that we need to end our foreign dominations.


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 9:40 p.m.

Support our troupes and prosecute our leaders for the blood on their hands and minds. War Crimes Trials, Now!

Top Cat

Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 9:23 p.m.

Worth it or not, the situation in Iraq is already unraveling into sectarian conflict. This won't end well. Going forward, Ron Paul gives the best advise, &quot;we should mind our own business.&quot;


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 12:22 a.m.

@ hotsam: yeah...nutsness!!

Hot Sam

Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 11:28 p.m.

When both sides say someones nuts, he must have something going on...


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 11:25 p.m.

In the under- the -sand world (where his head is) Ron Paul may make some sense...but not in the above ground world ( and even undergorund he'd have to contend with those naked mole rats). God help us ( and the uninsured) if he were ever elected...but that's a no go in reality.


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 10:26 p.m.

Absolutely Top cat!!


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 9:22 p.m.

Nearly $1 trillion dollars and 4,500 American lives lost on a war started with falsified data by republican President GW Bush, searching for weapons of mass destruction that didn't exist. Was it worth it? Well - did the weapons exist? No. So, therefore - the answer to the question is no. It was not worth it because the basis for the war itself was false and there were no WMD to be found. Thank goodness for President Obama's leadership in ending this War and letting the Iraqi's go about their business, as he promised during his 2008 campaign. Both he and the Vice-President said publicly then that combat troops would be home by the end of 2011 and their promise has been kept. Now of course, the republican candidates for the presidency are salivating at the mouth about WMD in Iran. I guess we just got the wrong country ten years ago, or perhaps republicans just have to be at war with some country ?


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 12:20 a.m.

Rob, I suggest you google Clinton administration actions, his comments, and those of then Senator Hilary Clinton. I then suggest you look at Sadam's own statements of threats, his actions of kicking the arms inspectors out of the country and his firing on aircraft enforcing the no fly zone to keep him from killing the Kurds and Shia. I also suggest you look at the Iraqi accords, signed by Bush and the Iraq government in 2008 that mandated the withdrawal of US troops by December 2011. Obama didn't do anything but follow the agreement, despite his campaign promises.

David Briegel

Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 10:57 p.m.

War with Persian Iran. Maybe we can reinstate the Peacock Throne. That most noble American &quot;value&quot;!!


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 10:26 p.m.

Obama may be bringing troops home but he is replacing them with what is known as contractors. We all learned what they do. Let's not forget the 100,000 plus Iraqi men women and children that died as well. Ron Paul is the only candidate telling the truth about our involvements overseas.


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 9:09 p.m.

i will keep my opinion to my self to respect of all of those whom lost lives in this war. if anyone says it was not worth it. please think of those lives that were lost. lets honor the sacrifice and a silent thank you.

David Briegel

Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 2:51 a.m.

1bit. Why? They know they can get away with the lie because of the silence of too many good and otherwise decent people! I served during the era when we plastered 55,000 names on a black granite wall because too many remained silent. Including the very &quot;leaders&quot; sending them to their deaths!


Tue, Dec 20, 2011 : 1:02 a.m.

God bless those who serve this Country and my prayers are with the families and loved ones of those killed in the line of duty. I think remembering their service and valor would hopefully give scheming politicians pause in the future prior to engaging in military action.


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 10:23 p.m.

I honor them by pointing the finger at those who lied and sent them to die. Propaganda and lies. Bring them all home now!


Mon, Dec 19, 2011 : 8 p.m.

This was a war brought to the American People with unadulterated prevarications to sell and perfect the more perfect majorities in our government. Look familiar today? It should. Google Richard Dale Snyder.