A ceremony Thursday in Baghdad marked the final end of the Iraq war. The conflict lasted almost nine years, cost $800 billion, took about 4,500 American lives and wounded 32,000. In the end, it was a success.
The war was fought for four primary reasons: to prevent Saddam Hussein's regime from being able to use weapons of mass destruction, to end its support for international terrorism, to prevent further instances of aggression against other countries in the region and to end human rights abuses perpetrated against the Iraqi people. All four of these objectives were achieved.
The war was an experiment in regime change. It tested the proposition that a dictatorship in the developing world could be overthrown by force and replaced by a Western-style democracy. Saddam was driven from power, and in his place, Iraq has a representative government elected by its people in the freest series of elections held in the Arab world. Whether the Iraqis can maintain their democracy is up to them.
The war taught some painful lessons. The heady days of the initial conventional conflict, in which the Iraqi military was vanquished in six weeks, gave way to a less certain unconventional struggle. This phase was made more difficult by serious blunders made by U.S. leaders, such as the decisions to disband Iraqi forces, to end pension payments to former regime officers and to treat all former members of the Baath party as pariahs - all of which drove thousands of well-trained, well-equipped and motivated men to support the insurgency. The abrupt decision to delay the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people raised the specter of colonialism and severely damaged the coalition's popular legitimacy.
During the insurgency, Iraq became the central front of the war on terrorism, a fact affirmed by coalition and terrorist leaders alike. Foreign Islamist fighters streamed into Iraq under the al Qaeda banner and sought to seize control of the country to establish their envisioned caliphate. But Iraq became a killing ground for the terrorists. The tribal leaders who initially had given them support and shelter turned against them when they realized that life under al Qaeda's rule would be much worse than that in a free and democratic Iraq. With this "awakening," coalition forces finally were able to work with local elements to break the back of the insurgency, eliminate radical leaders and kill the terrorists or drive them from the country.
Iraq also was a test of U.S. leadership. When conditions in Iraq worsened from 2003 to 2006, President George W. Bush came under increasing pressure from anti-war groups, opportunistic politicians and some of the American public to abandon Iraq to sectarian violence and civil war. Instead, Mr. Bush stiffened his resolve, brought in new advisers and launched an ultimately successful counterinsurgency strategy. He made a tough choice, but it was the right choice.
The more than a million troops who served in Iraq can take pride in their achievement. They did what many thought couldn't be done. They fought, they bled, they suffered, but they persevered. They kept going when many called for them to cut and run. And they won.
The Washington Times
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.