Were the Wars Worth It?
Asking questions of justice, responsibility, stewardship, and security ten years on.


I’m a third-generation retired soldier. I don’t believe in “optional” wars. I did not want to invade Iraq. I was mindful of the lessons of Vietnam and Malaysia, which suggested that, absent a truly existential reason to go to war, less is usually more. That is, unless you’re willing to pound the enemy flat as we did with Germany and Japan — which wasn’t going to happen. I thought the original plan Shinseki supported was better than Rumsfeld’s plan, which was based on a faulty understanding of the situation in Iraq (of society and culture, not of WMD) — the enemy gets a vote. As they are prone to do, both wars have showed great flaws in our military culture and preparedness, while showcasing the inherent flexibility and inventiveness of a soldiery that has not been as well served by their senior leaders as their senior leaders have been served by them. (Not enough generals were fired for my taste.)

My beloved Army has lost its way and forgotten how to effectively fight a large-scale combined-arms fight — they’re aware of it and will adapt over time. The greatest upshot? A generation of young men and women have proved they are every bit the equal of the soldiers who preceded them — and better than most. Would that we could find the senior leaders to match them.

 John Donovan blogs at Argghhh!

The war started years before September 11. Desperate to believe that we faced isolated criminal gangs rather than the multi-headed manifestations of radical jihad, we absorbed terror attack after terror attack with minimal response. Then one day came an attack that we could not absorb, with losses that were too much to bear.

Wasn’t it high time that we fought back — choosing our battles according to our timetables and our strategy rather than merely reacting as the jihadists hit us time and again? As we survey the Middle East and see a free Iraq, terrorists in hiding from Predator drones in Yemen and Somalia, and pitched battles in the mountains of Afghanistan, we see the picture of a region dominated not by our pinprick retaliatory responses but by an offensive military campaign.

Presidents decide whether we’ll be on offense or defense; whether we use boots on the ground or drones in the air (or both). But presidents do not decide whether we’re at war. The enemy made that decision decades ago.

 David French is co-author of Home and Away: A Story of Family in a Time of War.

On 9/11, my office was on the 82nd floor of the World Trade Center’s Tower 2. In 2003, I traveled with the 101st Airborne Division during the invasion of Iraq. Since then I have been over to Iraq on multiple occasions. On each visit I ask myself: Are we doing anything here that is worth the cost in blood and treasure? My answer has changed over time. A decade ago the answer was easy. Al-Qaeda was, and remains, a vile organization that is dedicated to America’s destruction. As such, it needs to be hunted into extinction. A similarly strong case can be made for the justness of deposing Saddam Hussein’s evil dictatorship. The world is better off without a man who was responsible for murdering a million Iraqis and launching two unprovoked wars on his neighbors. That the Iraq government also maintained close ties with global terrorist groups and was rapidly reconstituting its WMD programs made its removal all the more imperative.

Now, a decade later, the world has changed and the nation confronts new challenges. We have given Iraq and Afghanistan their best possible chance for democratic growth and future prosperity. It is up to them to grasp it. This is not a time for America to withdraw from the world and retrench. But it is a time to realign our priorities, reset our military forces, and position ourselves to meet the dangers and grasp the opportunities of the future.

 Jim Lacey is the author of The First Clash and Keep from All Thoughtful Men.


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