Turning the page in Iraq

Iraq is not as healthy as the president would have us believe

In his speech Tuesday (Aug. 31) marking the end of combat missions in Iraq, President Obama walked a rhetorical tightrope between his sense that the war had been misguided from its outset and his conviction that it was “time to turn the page,” as he put it, by focusing more intently on solving America’s domestic economic problems.

While he acknowledged the cost in treasure and lives lost (more than 4,400) of the occupation, he said little about the far greater cost in Iraqi lives lost (more than 100,000). Nor was mention made of the millions of Iraqis displaced from their homes, only a few of whom have returned, or the lingering—and potentially explosive—tensions between Sunni and Shia factions.

Iraq remains a terribly wounded nation. Its infrastructure is shattered (Baghdad still has only a few hours of electricity each day), it’s plagued by terrorist bombers, and its parliament is so deeply divided it has been unable to form a government for five months. It would be naïve to think that there won’t be more fighting in Iraq, some of which will involve Americans.

For now, the 50,000 troops remaining there offer at least some assurance of stability, should civil strife break out. But what will happen at the end of 2011, when they all are scheduled to leave?

And—most important—was it worth it? Yes, it freed the Iraqis from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein. But was that worth the billions spent and the lives lost? Perhaps it was. Many Iraqis certainly think so. Only time will tell.

In the short term, though, the occupation has empowered Iran in the region, served as a recruiting tool for al-Qaida, cost the U.S. more than a trillion dollars, and failed to foster a healthy Iraq. No wonder the president wants to turn the page.