Irag five years later: Success or failure?

Five years ago this month, the United States led an invasion of Iraq. Coalition troops toppled the tyrannical regime of Saddam Hussein, who was said by American officials to be developing weapons of mass destruction. No such weapons were found.

The United States has lost nearly 4,000 soldiers since the invasion began, trying to keep a lid on sectarian violence, defeat terrorists and shore up support for a fragile new Iraqi government. Critics say it is past time for the United States to withdraw; supporters say an Iraqi democracy is still possible — with our help.

What lessons can be learned from the choice to invade? Should we stay or should we go? Ben Boychuk and Joel Mathis, moderators of, weigh in.

Joel Mathis:

We lost the chance to “win” Iraq as soon as we realized there were no weapons of mass destruction. Without the (false) promise of such weapons, there would have been no invasion. And their absence has forced us to recast the war as an effort to defeat the terrorists.

But al Qaeda wasn’t in Iraq before we invaded, nor was it working with Saddam. As commentator Andrew Sullivan put it: “The current main goal of the war in Iraq is to defeat an enemy we didn’t have in Iraq before we got there. It is a war that has generated its own rationale.”

The past five years have unnecessarily drained America of blood, treasure and prestige. The reduction of violence accomplished by the troop surge has been a tactical success in the service of a strategic mistake — one that our military commanders say has stretched an already-overburdened Army to the breaking point.

There are, perhaps, no good ways to get out of Iraq; there are also no good ways to stay. So get out we must. We simply can’t put the lid back on Pandora’s box.

Ben Boychuk:

Iraq was never just about eradicating WMD. The rationale for war was more nuanced than that, which critics of George W. Bush might find hard to believe. It was about weapons, yes, and also about ending Saddam’s policy of funding and harboring terrorists, and about replacing a nasty regime that had been a thorn in America’s side with something resembling a democracy.

But five years on, there have been no surrender treaties, no Victory in Iraq parades down Fifth Avenue, no decisive end to terrorism and slow progress in creating a democratic government in Baghdad. And, heaven knows, there have been plenty of blunders along the way.

So Iraq is a “failure”?

Nonsense. Iraq is more stable today than it was a year ago, when the controversial surge strategy got under way. American casualties are down, and staying down. Sectarian killings are down. The Iraqi populace is fighting — and killing — al Qaeda. It’s progress, but not quite victory.

America wins when we have the will and the perseverance to win. Five years on, we’re not finished yet in Iraq. We’d better stay until the job is done.