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Iraq war 10 years later: Was it worth it?

A war that lasted far longer and was more costly than Americans were told to expect by their military and political leaders has led to much public questioning as well as private soul-searching.

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Regarding the human toll on both sides, Mr. Hadley admits that "clearly the situation got away from us."

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But, he said in the NPR interview, "I think this is a country that is taking responsibility for its security both internally and externally.”

Responding to the Brown University “Costs of War” report, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said that the US and Iraq have forged a "strategically important bilateral relationship."

"Compared to where we were in the Saddam era, we now have a bilateral security agreement,” she said, according to several press reports. “We have deep economic interests and ties. We have a security relationship. We have a political relationship.”

Still, stability in Iraq remains a serious concern.

“Ten years after the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, talk swirls in government circles of Sunni protesters planning to destabilize the country,” Monitor correspondent Jane Arraf reports from Baghdad. “While many discount the possibility of a coup, rising sectarian tension and an ongoing political crisis have raised fears that there is a new battle looming between Baghdad and the provinces.”

In a column last Friday titled “Five Myths About Iraq,” Washington Post associate editor and former Baghdad bureau chief Rajiv Chandrasekaran notes the latest violent news from Iraq: “On Monday, a suicide bomber drove his explosives-laden car into a police station, killing five people; the same day, six more people were killed in various militant attacks in Baghdad. Three days earlier, 19 people died in a string of attacks targeting security personnel.”

Andrew Bacevich has what is perhaps a unique view of the Iraq war, its outcome and its aftermath. Dr. Bacevich is a West Point graduate who served in Vietnam, a career US Army officer who retired as a colonel, and a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Bacevich's son, a 27-year-old US Army 1st Lieutenant, was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb. The loss weighs heavily on Bacevich. (He wrote about it movingly shortly after his family's loss.) But he was speaking and writing critically about the war before his son was killed in 2007, and he continues to do so today.

In a long Washington Post essay earlier this month (“Ten years after the invasion, did we win the Iraq war?”), Bacevich puts the Iraq war in the context of earlier conflicts ranging back to the War of 1812 through World War I to Vietnam, writing that “battlefield outcomes thought to be conclusive often prove anything but.”

“A challenge facing historians of the Iraq war … will be to gauge what senior members of George W. Bush’s inner circle were actually trying to accomplish,” he writes. “The justifications offered for the invasion were all over the place, including supposed weapons of mass destruction, claims that Saddam Hussein had collaborated with al-Qaeda and visions of democracy throughout the Arab world.”

“Eventually, only this last – Bush’s Freedom Agenda – remained,” he continues. “Yet, as the war dragged on, expectations of transforming the Middle East gave way to more modest definitions of success. When it came to advancing the cause of liberty, the Bush administration set out to build a cathedral. In the end, the Obama administration declared itself content with a shaky two-car garage.”

Politicians may argue vigorously about the conduct of the war and its outcome, as Sen. John McCain did in charging that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel would be found to have been “on the wrong side of history” regarding Iraq in general and the “surge” in particular.

But Bacevich argues that “judgments rendered by history tend to be tentative, incomplete and reversible.”

“More than occasionally, they arrive seasoned with irony,” he writes. “This is especially true when it comes to war, where battlefield outcomes thought to be conclusive often prove anything but.”

Just as it was in Vietnam – and back and back through previous wars – the outcome of the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq remains unclear. “Was it worth it?” is a question impossible to answer.

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