President Barack Obama marked the end of the Iraq war today in a speech to U.S. troops in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He welcomed the troops home and hailed their “extraordinary achievement” in a war that, just a few years ago, appeared to be a quagmire. “I want to speak to you about the end of the war in Iraq,” Obama said. “The final work has been done.”
Watch a clip of the speech:
While the work did yield an “extraordinary achievement,” it also came at a significant cost in U.S. blood and treasure, as well as to the Iraqi people and their society. Yesterday, Center For American Progress analysts Matt Duss and Peter Juul released a briefing updating “the Iraq War Ledger” in “A Look at the War’s Human, Financial, and Strategic Costs” (PDF or online).
Duss and Juul tally the costs of the war in human casualties, financial burdens, and to U.S. strategic posture. The pure numbers are staggering. This chart, from the brief, weighs the heaviest of costs to Americans and Iraqis, that paid for in human lives:
But those numbers for civilian deaths don’t tell the full story for Iraqi human costs: at least 10,000 members of Iraqi security forces fighting alongside the U.S.-led coalition also lost their lives; 1.24 million people were internally displaced; and more than 1.6 million Iraqis became refugees from the war.
Then there was the financial cost to the U.S., both for fighting the war ($806 billion) and for caring for the more than 2 million U.S. soldiers who did so (projected to total between $422 and $717 billion). Those figures include treatment for an incomprehensible human psychological toll of more than 150,000 troops with post-traumatic stress and a suicide rate for veterans of both Iraq and Afghanistan at more than three times the national average.
Lastly, the war created a burden on the U.S. and the international community by exacerbating other problems, such as “fueling sectarianism in the region,” “creat(ing) not only a rallying call for violent Islamic extremists but also an environment for them to develop, test, and perfect various tactics and techniques,” and hurting the U.S.’s international standing, among other issues.
“Iraq has made progress but still struggles with insecurity and deep political discord,” write Duss and Juul. “Still,” they continue
the end of former Iraq President Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime represents a considerable global good, and a nascent democratic Iraqi republic partnered with the United States could potentially yield benefits in the future.
But when weighing those possible benefits against the costs of the Iraq intervention, there is simply no conceivable calculus by which Operation Iraqi Freedom can be judged to have been a successful or worthwhile policy. The war was intended to show the extent of America’s power. It succeeded only in showing its limits.