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John Hughes

After US withdrawal from Iraq, a tallying of the balance sheet

The cost of the Iraq war was high, in lives and treasure. Families who lost loved ones can take heart that Saddam Hussein, one of the worst dictators since Hitler, is gone. But the final answer to whether this US effort was worth it still awaits history.

By John Hughes / December 20, 2011

US withdrawal from Iraq: In this Saturday, Dec. 17 photo, US Army Maj. Jerrold Castro, from Guam, right, plays a ukulele while waiting for a flight moments before his unit leaves Iraq.

AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo

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Was it worth it?

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The US war in Iraq is officially over and the cost in human life, both American and Iraqi, was high. It was also a financial drain on the US Treasury, contributing substantially to current American budget deficits.

The war was triggered by concern that Iraq was nuclear-weapons capable. Various foreign intelligence agencies, including that of Saudi Arabia, warned that Saddam Hussein’s regime had acquired, or was close to acquiring, nuclear weaponry. The CIA concluded the same.

After his capture, millions of jubilant Iraqis went to unrigged polls for the first time and waved purple fingers at the TV cameras, demonstrating their new freedom.

Does this make worthy the American sacrifice on their behalf? It certainly must be weighed as a factor.

Mr. Hussein himself contributed to the thesis by playing a dangerous shell game. Largely to convince his then-enemy Iran, he whispered that he did have such weapons. Even some of his own generals believed it. But to the United Nations and the United States and other worried nations he offered assurances that he did not.

President George W. Bush believed that Iraq’s nuclear threat was real. The war was launched. Although Hussein had dabbled in a nuclear program in the past, the weaponry was not there.

The families of those who sacrificed or were wounded should take heart from this achievement: The US eliminated arguably one of the worst dictators since Adolf Hitler. Hussein put to death hundreds of thousands of his own people for political reasons. He eliminated many thousands more Muslims in a war with Iran and an invasion of Kuwait.

Freedom is the very foundation on which the American ethos is built.

The US has a long history of support for oppressed people around the globe, even when its own national security is not immediately threatened. Americans gave their lives in World War II although there was no real German threat to the American homeland. They fought again on behalf of South Koreans, although no North Korean legions were landing on US shores.

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