War, but at what cost?

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War, but at what cost?

U.S. President Barack Obama officially announced this week in an Oval Office address that the combat mission in Iraq has come to a close. Many people around the world tuned into the live coverage of his address, making their own judgments on the losses incurred as a result of the war in Iraq and the overall success of the engagement.

So was the seven-year campaign even worth it? While combat forces have pulled out, 50,000 noncombatant soldiers will remain in Iraq as advisers until the end of next year.

It’s difficult to declare a victory for the Americans, who under the command of President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in March 2003 to ostensibly oust dictator Saddam Hussein, destroy the country’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, eliminate terrorist elements inside the nation and establish democracy.

The war cost the lives of more than 4,400 Americans and an estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians as well as $1 trillion in defense spending. At one point the U.S. had roughly 170,000 soldiers in the country.

Despite the massive expense - in both lives and dollars - the war was not exactly a resounding success.

The widespread reports spread by the U.S. government that the country had stockpiles of dangerous weapons of mass destruction proved groundless. Al Qaeda militant groups continue with their insurgency, launching frequent terrorist attacks across the region.

Six months have passed since Iraq’s national elections, but the country’s politicians cannot even agree on key aspects of forming a government. So much for lessons on democracy. Americans have paid too hefty a price to be content with simply overthrowing Hussein’s brutal leadership. Now the Americans are abandoning the country, leaving it up to the Iraqis to bring peace back to their country and restore order. The U.S., after all, can no longer afford to wage two wars, as the situation in Afghanistan poses a great danger. But the Iraqis are extremely uneasy with the power vacuum being created as the Americans leave.

The United States embarked on the war campaign as the world’s sole superpower but now must share the global stage with a surging China. If not for the hundreds of billions of dollars poured into the war, the U.S. might even have avoided its severe economic crisis.

The Iraq war has underscored the limits of U.S. power. Its military might cannot solve every problem in the international community without widespread support from other countries, and it must have a justifiable cause behind its actions. Americans can only take comfort in the fact that they learned this great lesson.
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