This week, the last U.S. combat troops left
Yet it may be years before we can fully assess the sacrifice our men and women in uniform made during America's longest and most unpopular war since Vietnam. A total of 1.5 million U.S. troops have served in Iraq since 2003, and the cost of the war has been staggering: Nearly 4,500 dead, some 32,000 wounded and $1 trillion from the federal treasury that added to the national debt and weakened our ability to respond to the current recession. On the Iraqi side, casualties numbered in the hundreds of thousands.
All this for the creation of an Iraqi state that remains at best politically fragile, deeply divided and threatened internally and externally by violent sectarian conflict and the machinations of Iranian mullahs determined to reduce it to the status of a vassal of Tehran.
The weak and fractious government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki remains far from fulfilling America's early hopes that Iraq would become a seed of democracy in a region dominated by autocrats. It has not even been able to restore electricity in Iraqi homes for more than a few hours a day, let alone rebuild the country's shattered infrastructure, ramp oil production back up to prewar levels or provide a model of stable, democratic self-governance for the region.
True, the hated
Meanwhile, American attempts to bring the conflict under control were repeatedly frustrated by the errors and arrogance of policymakers in Washington.
That blunder was compounded by Mr. Bremer's insistence on fashioning a civilian government based on proportional representation of ethnic and sectarian blocs. That virtually guaranteed whatever parliament eventually emerged would be dominated by Islamist Shiite parties aligned with
America's reputation was sullied throughout the Arab world when the horrible abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison complex outside Baghdad became public. It was further damaged by the Bush administration's repugnant policy of waterboarding captured enemy fighters to extract information, and the equally indefensible practice of "extraordinary rendition," which sent captives to be tortured in friendly third countries known for their willingness to violate human rights.
And though American troops fought valiantly despite such missteps, in many cases performing acts of heroism and sacrifice well beyond the call of duty, they weren't always treated well by the country that sent them to war. For years, wounded veterans were housed under deplorable conditions in the old Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington until a public outcry forced its closure.
For all the problems Iraq faces, it must now stand on its own, and its people should be given the chance to try to make their new yet imperfect democracy work. We can't fight their battles for them anymore, or dictate what kind of society they should build. Our combat role there has ended, even though thousands of U.S. private contractors, aid workers and diplomats will remain in the country to provide economic and technical assistance.