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The lessons of Iraq
As we prepare to mark the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, said John Burns in The New York Times, the war's "staggering burden" is a "rebuke" to anyone who thought we could topple Saddam Hussein "at acceptable cost."
 

W

hat happened
Vice President Dick Cheney hailed what he called "phenomenal changes" in Iraq since last year's U.S. troop surge as he made an unannounced trip to Baghdad on Monday ahead of the fifth anniversary of the invasion. Cheney visited a year ago, and may compare his conclusions then to his fresh impressions to judge the impact of last year’s surge of U.S. troops. "There's still a lot to be done,” said a senior administration official, “but I think he's going to be able to say we're on the right track." (Reuters)

What the commentators said
Five years into this war, “death and combat no longer make the front pages,” said Jules Crittenden in The Weekly Standard. “The drama has been bled out of it.” Despite some “terrible errors” and disappointing setbacks, the decision to invade was unavoidable because Saddam Hussein had convinced the world he had weapons of mass destruction, and wasn’t afraid to use them. The “antiwar camp” now insists that our problems will disappear if we just withdraw, but if we leave before fulfilling the promise to build a free and democratic Iraq “we simply plant the seeds of further conflict.”

“At the fifth anniversary,” said John Burns in The New York Times (free registration), “the conflict’s staggering burden is a rebuke to any who hoped Hussein’s removal might be accomplished at acceptable cost.” Was it worth the lives of 4,000 Americans, or of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians? Was it worth pushing a million refugees into neighboring countries? “In time, those who launched the war will answer in history, as much as they will claim the credit if America ultimately finds a way home with honor, and without destroying all it went to Iraq to achieve.”

As we enter the war’s sixth year, said Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, coauthors of The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict, in the Los Angeles Times (free registration), the costs will only continue to grow. The “burn rate” is $12 billion a day, and, “all told,” the cost in today’s money will reach $3 trillion. “This number assumes that the U.S. begins a pullback from Iraq after the election in November but retains a small presence there for the next decade.” We can’t escape the costs, but we can “keep them from rising further” by withdrawing “as soon as is reasonably possible.”

“By now everyone sees what he wishes in Iraq—a disaster of many proportions, a necessary war that will still be won,” said Victor Davis Hanson in National Review Online. To opponents of the war, its “dividends”—“a constitutional government in Iraq and a stunning defeat of radical Islamic jihadists—happened by accident, while the 4,000 dead are the responsibility of our leaders, not the tenacity of the enemy or the costs of waging war in general.” So forget about honest appraisals of progress. “Iraq, you see, long ago has become a mirror in which we all see only what we want.”
 

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