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What Was Gained, And Lost, In The Iraq War


Today in Baghdad, a former - a formal ceremony marked the official end of the war in Iraq. The U.S. flag was lowered, rolled up, encased and wrapped in camouflage to be brought back stateside. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke during the ceremony about what we lost and gained.

SECRETARY LEON PANETTA: The cost was high - the blood and treasure of the United States, and also for the Iraqi people. But those lives have not been lost in vain. They gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq.

CONAN: With the last troops scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of this month, millions of Americans may be reflecting, today, on the impact of a conflict that lasted almost nine years. You probably know the somber statistics - four and a half thousand American dead, many more thousands injured, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis in those same categories. In some ways, we won't know the outcome for years, but today, the question has to be asked: What was accomplished? What was lost? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website, go to npr.org and click on TALK OF THE NATION.

We have this email from Virginia. In answer to the question what was won or lost with the Iraq War, I lost my faith in the U.S. as a positive moral force in the world. I had direct insights into the run-up to the war in July 2002 that indicated that, regardless of the investigations of Hans Blix or others, we were going to war in the spring, period. So I watched my country invade another under false pretenses. The U.S. has pulled its military in harm's way, has drained its coffers fighting unjustified war, has caused the deaths of many civilian Iraqis and destroyed the way of life of many others.

Today, as I watch the sickening pomp and circumstance of victory surrounding the so-called end to this war - and I know that my dear Iraqi friend in Baghdad is at risk for working with Americans - I just feel worse. We also got this from Byron in Tucson, Arizona. Coming of age in the new millennium, my father was gone for most of the time, serving much of the time when I was in high school. To me, it was bittersweet not having my father present for many milestone accomplishments - NHS induction, prom, making varsity tennis, even graduation.

While we still have my father, he came a different person when he came back, and it's taken years to not hold him responsible for things that were out of his hands. While I feel like I lost my father, I cannot express the new challenges imposed in connecting him with at present - with him, at present. Whenever anyone talks about what was lost in 9/11, I think of the potential dad my father could have been and then think about those who lost their lives. I hope Iraq can recuperate, so I can feel less guilty about the man my father has become.

He won't understand. I just wanted to say that I love my father dearly. It is, of course, going to be difficult to hear Iraqi voices on this question, but we wanted to read to you from some interviews that were done by The New York Times in Baghdad and other places. These are various people in different neighborhoods in Baghdad. This from Atamia, a Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad, Khalil Ibrahim, 46, government employee. I'm so concerned about the U.S. withdrawal.

I am one of those who want them to remain. Many things will gradually deteriorate in Iraq, especially security, which will be affected by Iran's influence once the Americans has gone. America has already taken what it was looking for, but I don't think they achieved all their goals before it withdrew. The benefits that we gained were the elimination of the militias and the bringing of democracy to Iraq. Let's see we get a caller in on the conversation. We'll go to Van, Van on the line with us from Richmond.

VAN: Good afternoon. How are you?

CONAN: I'm well. Thank you.

VAN: Good. Thank you. From what can I tell, the real goal going into Iraq that was accomplished was a sustained American presence in the region. And if you look at "The Grand Chessboard" written by Zbigniew Brzezinski, he predicted back in '94 that that area of Eurasia was going to be a highly contested area because it controls - well, it doesn't control - but it has three-fifths of the world's energy resources. And if a superpower can control that, it can therefore dictate prosperity throughout the globe. So it is the case of American imperialism dressed in something else.

CONAN: Those calculations have changed somewhat due to discoveries and uses of oil in various places, but still a very large percentage of the world's oil in the Persian Gulf area. Van, thanks very much for the call.

VAN: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go next to - this is Jim, Jim with us from Simsbury in Connecticut.

JIM: Hi. How are you? And thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

JIM: The thing that I think we lost is our prestige as reasoned leaders, a great deal of our economic and soft leaderships in the world, our ability to be respected as someone who would not invade another. We looked literally like cowboys going into a fight when we hadn't really settled another one. And so the outcome of both Iraq and Afghanistan is very much in question, simply because when we're not there to support them, who knows what's going to happen? In Iraq's case, Muqtada al-Sadr went over to Iran, where I'm sure he's got further support and so on. When the Americans leave, is he, all of a sudden, persuaded against what he had his people do? We're in an environment where there are tremendous amount of willingness on the part of people to bring faction against faction and destroy these countries.

I speak as the father of four current active military who've watched this very carefully. And I absolutely am convinced that although all of my children are safe and sound - and hopefully they will continue as such - that this country suffered a tremendous lost in our own self-image, as well in the self-image of the world. And we lost the finances that we - that would have stayed us through the mess we're in today, and uncountable horrors on families both Middles Eastern and American.


JIM: Hello?

CONAN: Oh, you're still there.

JIM: Yes.

CONAN: Are you done?

JIM: Yes.

CONAN: OK. Thanks very much for the call.

JIM: Thank you. Bye.

CONAN: This email from Steven in San Rafael, California: The widespread PTSD among American soldiers has made me wonder about the mental health of the Iraqi population with all they've been through: the bombings, the huge number of dead and wounded, the millions of displaced individuals. How can the population, as a whole, not be traumatized? I wonder what the effects of this will be on their progress.

Let's get another caller in. This is James, James with us from Scottsdale.

JAMES: Good afternoon.

CONAN: Go ahead, James.

JAMES: My perspective on this is to try to be positive. And I think what our nation has gained was unintended (unintelligible) get out unknowingly on a mission of nation building and basically displaced a very repressive entity that hated us and was dominated by the Baath Party. And I think one of the stories that really hasn't been told that a lot of what we did in Iraq was dismantle the Baath Party. And the Baath Party still exists today in Syria with a lot of the same characteristics as the Baath Party in Iraq.

And so I just wanted to make that comment. Another thing I think that goes unrecognized is Iraq is bigger than California. I think if more people thought of it in that context, they would realize the enormity of what we undertook to accomplish, and also realize that when our leaders told us that we are going to be in and out of there in a short time, it was unbelievable, very - not (technical difficulties).

CONAN: James, your phone line is betraying you, but thank you very much for the call. Appreciate it.

JAMES: Thank you.

CONAN: Another one of the Iraqi voices, again from Amadiya, interviewed by The New York Times, Hassan Essa, a 49-year-old businessman. I think America accomplished its mission by achieving its goals concerning Iraq's oil, destroying Iraq's infrastructure in order not to be an obstacle to Israel's plans in the future and taking revenge on Saddam. America is less hostile than Iran. I think America will remain in Iraq secretly, and one reason is to move against Iran in the future. That is our hope.

And let's see if we can go to another Iraqi voice, this from Rani Basil, a Christian taxi driver in central Baghdad, Karada District. Iraq will be a great place if the U.S. withdraws, though I do not think the US will leave Iraq because they are about to attack Iran. You can see recently all countries that have a connection with Iran, such as Syria, are witnessing sanctions and are about to change their government. The U.S. government and Army achieved their mission exactly as they wanted and planned. They made all the Iraqis hate each other, and they created sectarianism in our once-united nation. Now the way is clear for them to stay to attack Iran or Syria. I lost my dignity. In 2003 when they occupied Iraq, they raided my house. When I asked the American soldier to stop searching in my wife's clothing closet, he stepped on my head with his dirty foot.

Let's see if we can go next to Caroline, Caroline with us from Anchorage.

CAROLINE: Yes. Good morning. Good afternoon. I wanted to mention, first of all, a personal lost. My stepson was killed in Iraq. And the thing I've heard most recently, because of the damages that's done to our country financially, Ted Koppel's report finally explained to me what a trillion is. A trillion dollars is a million dollars a day for 3,000 years. And we managed to squander that money killing people, going in for false reasons within nine years. And that figure of a trillion dollars lost in Iraq - only Iraq, not Afghanistan - cover - does not cover the cost of all the people who come back maimed, the cost of taking care of all of the soldiers that were sent over there. This whole thing has been a disaster.

And as your first caller said, your lady caller, I'd lost faith in this government and faith - almost lost faith in our system. And I have been an ardent watcher and supporter of our government since I was six years old in 1950. And I can't begin to tell you how much damage this illegal war did to this country. Thank you so much for this show.

CONAN: Caroline, we're sorry for the loss of your stepson. Thanks very much for the call. We're talking about - we're talking with listeners today as the United States hauled down its flag and encased it for transport back to the United States in Iraq. The last remaining U.S. soldiers will be out of that country before the end of this month. You're listening TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

Chris is on the line, Chris calling us from Pittsburg.

CHRIS: Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

CHRIS: Yeah. I served in Iraq in 2008, 2009. I was part of the last - part of the surge over there. And I was serving in - as an infantry soldier. And, you know, we gained a lot over there, I think. We made - we trained the troops over there. We took out a dictator out of power. And, you know, and we're putting in a democracy. I don't know if that's going to last, but it's up to the Iraqi people to make that last. And hopefully - hopefully, they'll be able to take that on and do good with it. And on top of that, you know, we're advancing a lot of different things, industries in the United States because of lessons learned in Iraq. So hopefully now, you know, with what (unintelligible) doing in Pittsburg with the (unintelligible), you know, might create a whole new industry because of the things we learned out of the war.

Remember, after World War II, a lot of things happened in this country. Not to say war's a great thing, but sometimes a lot of positive comes out of it. And just because we spent a lot doesn't mean that, you know, in the future, the things that we learned, you know, we'll be able to gain a lot from it (technical difficulties).

CONAN: Chris, thanks for the call. I'm glad you made it back OK.

CHRIS: Thank you.

CONAN: Let's go next to - this is Rosie, Rosie with us from Toledo.

ROSIE: Hello. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Go ahead, please.

ROSIE: Yeah. My comment is - I've been listening to a lot of the news stories today about, you know, America is the only, last superpower, and how there was an element of hubris getting into this war. And it seems to me that with so much in this country in disarray in education, in finance, that there is going to have be a long soul-searching in order to find out whether A, it's still important to be a superpower, B, there's still the moral authority to call oneself a superpower when you can go into other countries to sort them out, but you can't keep your own country in any form of good shape as a result of spending all that money over there, and whether it's been worth the sacrifice for so many people. So that's my comment.

CONAN: A lot of people, Rosie, would not measure superpower by moral standards, but by - rather by standards of economic and military power. But I think we get your point.

ROSIE: Well, you know, it is the economic power still, and, you know, I mean, in a country where so many people are either on or, you know, below or teetering towards the poverty line, you know, there's a lot of things in disarray in this country. And, you know, coming from a country that was once a superpower and lost that, then, you know, it's - there's a lot to be learned from history. And I don't know whether that has happened. I think it still has to happened.

CONAN: OK, Rosie.

ROSIE: So...

CONAN: Thanks very much. Appreciate it.

ROSIE: Ok. Thank you. Bye-bye.

CONAN: Jim in Cincinnati emails: How quickly we forget the events of 9/11. Many of us agreed with President Bush and support to this day the war in Iraq. We likely left too little in place to maintain the freedom we fought so hard to achieve.

Let's see if we can go next to Ken, and Ken's on the line from St. Louis.

KEN: Hi. Thanks for having my call here. I was with the initial invasion force when we were in - in 2003, when we went up through Umm Qasr. We were stationed in Umm Qasr to keep security and port security there. And one of the things that I - really astonished me was the men that were working the ports under Saddam Hussein, they wanted to work. They wanted to provide for their families. And even though I haven't talk to these guys since then - we left in August of that year - but that's what they wanted. They wanted freedom. They wanted to work. They wanted to provide for their families. And that's a thing that I will always, always remember.

CONAN: And we're glad you made it back safe.

KEN: Thank you.

CONAN: Ken, thanks very much for the call. And let's see if we get one last email in. This is from Mora(ph) in Smyrna, Georgia. Both sons served a total of five tours in Iraq. Knowing my eldest would be one of the first in, I watched in vain waiting for reasoned proof to be presented to the U.N. Security Council to justify our inevitable invasion as a just war. We all know what happened there. I watched my sons lost their innocence, and they and so many other troops sent there to serve lost a great of their soul. A fellow military mom said her son worried he would go to hell for what he did. What good did we do when a generation of young men and women who served fear for their eternal lives?

We'd like to thank everybody who called and emailed to us today as the U.S. flag came down on the nine-year war in Iraq. More on that later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan, in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.