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.
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In the midst of war weariness, and a concern for the state of the American economy, there is understandably current discussion in the US about if, and when, and how, to undertake new military ventures abroad. This is wise.Skip to next paragraph
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But there is a legitimate national interest in the growth of freedom around the globe. Dictatorships are usually more dangerous than democratic nations that are stable and prospering.
Iraq’s postwar story is still in the making. It is a quasi-democracy, presided over by an autocratically inclined Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. There are three principal communities in the country – Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, as well as diverse tribes and factions. Harmony and cooperation among them will be essential.
It is not clear whether Iraq’s ultimate government will be a strong central one or a federal one with much local autonomy. But Iraqis’ immediate needs are security, jobs, and improved services like a reliable supply of electricity.
They also need freedom from interference from neighboring Iran. A large American diplomatic presence in Baghdad will be keeping a watchful eye on this. American military forces are not far away, notably in Bahrain and Kuwait. Though some Shiite politicians may find common cause with those in Iran, it seems improbable that having endured so much to achieve their own nation’s sovereignty and independence, Iraqis would subjugate that to Iran.
It is difficult to know what inspiration the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s embrace of freedom has played, or will play, in the awakening of the Arab world and the formation of new governments in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and ultimately Syria.
The final answer to whether America’s sacrifice in Iraq was worth it must wait for history’s unfolding. Iraqis must treasure democracy in their land, as strongly as Americans fought for it.
John Hughes, a former editor of the Monitor, writes a biweekly column.