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


It would have been a mistake to continue turning a blind eye to the fact that Saddam’s Iraq was technically at war with the United States. Saddam Hussein had a well-documented thirst for vengeance and a long history of using surrogate terrorist groups against Israelis, Arabs, Turks, and Iranians. After 9/11 and the subsequent anthrax attacks, it would have been a huge risk to continue to ignore Saddam’s escalating provocations. If he had been left in power, he probably would have provoked yet another war.

But after winning the war to remove Saddam’s regime from power, the U.S. found itself enmeshed in an Iraqi civil war stoked by Iran, which sought to radicalize Iraqi Shiites, and al-Qaeda, which sought to radicalize Iraqi Sunnis. Ultimately, this “third Iraq war” will only be “worth it” if it results in a stable Iraqi government that is an ally against terrorists, not a state sponsor of terrorism, as Saddam’s regime was.

 James Phillips is senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

On 9/11, I emerged from the subway shortly before 10:00 a.m. to see furious columns of smoke and flame churning from the towers. Moments later, the South Tower collapsed. And then the North Tower fell. Thousands of voices screaming “NO!” combined with snapping panes of glass popping from their jambs to form a bone-chilling cacophony. Each collapse sent hurricane-force waves of pulverized glass, gypsum, and steel through the canyons of lower New York, leaving a scene like some nightmarish Pompeii. I contacted my National Guard commanders who ordered me to go to the NYPD command post. I stopped a detective escorting Mayor Giuliani on Broadway. I asked for the location of the command center. “Gone, it’s all gone,” the detective said, tears and saliva clotting in the dust caked to his face. (The City’s emergency command center, in 7 World Trade Center, just to the north of the North Tower, was aflame, and collapsed later that day.)

I found a makeshift command post. There I provided liaison between the NYPD and the military for a few hours. Then, for 13 days and nights, my unit of 80 Army infantrymen and medics labored on Church Street. We worked for an FDNY chief, and alongside Urban Search and Rescue Teams and intrepid ironworkers, who climbed onto the smoldering rubble with nothing more than their torches and fuel tanks mounted on their backs. They cut holes into the pile. Hopeful rescuers descended beneath to search for survivors.

We found none.

Almost nothing remained of the chunk of civilization that al-Qaeda annihilated that day. The pile was mostly twisted I-beams compacted in ash. There were only traces of the people who had been slaughtered, mostly slips of paper scattered in the toxic waste: a scorched checkbook; the corner of a birthday card perforated by a thumbtack hole; a charred and torn commercial contract, its last page unsigned. To this day, more than half of the 9/11 families endure the pain of having received nothing of their loved ones’ remains.

As an American soldier, my reaction — then, as now — was a composite of rage and disgust; the former, directed at the craven savages who unleashed this mass murder, and then boasted about having done so in God’s name; the latter, at certain authorities who ignored and continue to ignore the plain truth that there are forces on this earth that labor to cast our entire civilization into the same inferno that we witnessed on Sept.11, 2001.