The last of the American combat troops have been withdrawn from Iraq, and by the end of this month 50,000 U.S. soldiers will remain — those tasked with training Iraq’s armed forces. But the sad question lingers in many Americans’ minds: Did this war achieve anything, or was it waged entirely in vain?

No one in the U.S. — not even those who so vehemently championed the war in its early days — still talks about an “American victory” in Iraq.

The original objective of this seven-year conflict was to find suspected weapons of mass destruction. But despite confident assurances from President George W. Bush and his top advisers that Saddam Hussein’s government had
obtained and developed these extremely dangerous weapons, it now seems clear that all the talk of WMDs was simply an excuse for invading and occupying Iraq.

As we all know, the weapons were never found. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s now infamous speech to the United Nations in February 2003, during which he pinpointed the exact locations of those supposed hidden weapons, was pure fiction.

After that, the mistakes and half-truths only escalated. U.N. inspectors were denied the extra time it would have taken to confirm or contradict the United States’s suspicion that Iraq possessed such deadly weapons. The decision to invade had already been made: The Bush administration had set its sights on dismantling Saddam Hussein’s government.

The war began on March 20, 2003. A few days later, I was at the Kuwait-Iraq border, and I witnessed firsthand the Iraqi people’s cold reaction as the American troops arrived. It was a very bad sign. Our servicemen and women were hardly greeted as liberators; contrary to Washington’s optimistic expectations, there were no flowers thrown, no music or dancing in the streets.

When it finally became clear that no weapons of mass destruction were to be found, the United States’s overall objectives in Iraq changed. Now the alleged purpose of the war was to overthrow Saddam.

Now, no one denies that Saddam was a despot and a bloodthirsty dictator. But he had absolutely nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that killed almost 3,000 people in the U.S. Nothing. And yet the Bush
administration made its case for the Iraq invasion in part by drawing a nonexistent line from Saddam to 9/11.

If one of the official responsibilities of the United States government was to overthrow foreign dictators, then there would be a rather long list of tyrants to choose from. Foreign Policy magazine recently published the names of 23 authoritarian leaders currently in power around the world: Kim Jong Il has led North Korea for 16 years; Robert Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe for three decades; Moammar Gadhafi hasn’t loosened his grip on Libya in 41 years. And the Castro brothers have dictated Cuba’s path for the last half-century. But, for some strange reason, the United States only went after Saddam.

Then, with Saddam locked up and no weapons of mass destruction uncovered, the war’s main objective shifted once more. Now the central goal, we were told, was to bring democracy to Iraq — to teach Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds the fine art of negotiation and compromise.

In March, amid the unthinkable violence of an ongoing war, Iraq finally held parliamentary elections. But the results were inconclusive and, five months later, the political deadlock has prevented any new government from forming. It would be foolish to think that merely holding elections somehow signals that Iraq is now a true democracy.

Meanwhile, more than 4,400 American troops and at least 90,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in the war since 2003, according to the Department of Defense and Iraq Body Count, respectively. And the war thus far is estimated to have cost more than $700 billion dollars. After all this, are Americans any safer?

No one can agree on the answer. Some say that rather than reducing the risk of a future terrorist attack on the United States, the Iraq War has actually multiplied it.

So today the United States is withdrawing from Iraq without having found weapons of mass destruction, without having introduced real democracy to the Iraqi people and without any kind of certainty that the war has reduced the risk of terrorist attacks on American soil — in short, without being able to claim victory.

After so much effort and sacrifice, when will we know whether it was all worth it?

By Jorge Ramos Avalos
Distributed by The New York Times Syndicate
© 2010 Jorge Ramos
(July 26, 2010)


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Jorge Ramos has been the anchorman for Noticiero Univision since 1986. He writes a weekly column for more than 40 newspapers in the United States and Latin America, and provides daily radio commentary for the Radio Univision network. Ramos also hosts Al Punto, Univision’s weekly public affairs program offering analysis of the week’s top stories, and Fusion’s AMERICA with Jorge Ramos, a news program geared towards young adults. Ramos has won eight Emmy awards and is the author of ten books, most recently, STRANGER - The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.

A survey conducted by the Pew Hispanic Center found that Ramos is the second most recognized Latino leader in the country. Latino Leaders magazine chose him as one of “The Ten Most Admired Latinos” and “101 Top Leaders of the Latino Community in the U.S.”