Web Forum: Was It Worth It?

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Three years into the Iraq war, TIME asked a variety of thinkers the question at the heart of the debate over the Iraq War — Was It Worth It? Here are some additional responses that did not appear in the print magazine.

Senator Joe Biden (D-Delaware)

We got rid of a brutal dictator. That's good. But if the end result will be to trade him for chaos and a new haven for terror in the middle east, that's a bad bargain for America's security.

That outcome looks increasingly likely because of the dangerous incompetence of this administration. We went to war without letting the weapons inspectors finish their job, without the support of our major allies, without enough troops to prevent a security vacuum, and without a plan to win the peace.

None of this was inevitable. At every critical juncture, many of us predicted the problems we would face and offered constructive ideas for overcoming them. The administration failed to listen.

Now, without acknowledging it, the administration has begun to draw down our troops. We'll be under 100,000 Americans by the end of 2006 and probably at half that number by the end of 2007.

The critical question is this: as our troops come home, what will they leave behind? From here, the only way to salvage our fundamental security interest in a stable Iraq is to make a full court political press for a unity government and constitution that hold Iraq together.

The President should be on a plane to Europe and to the region. He should insist that the major powers and Iraq's neighbors join us in putting maximum pressure on the Iraqis to compromise. He should summon the Iraqi leadership together — and not let them leave until they reach agreement on a unity government.

When the stakes were this high, past Presidents put their prestige on the line with no guarantee it would work, like Ronald Reagan at Reykjavik, Jimmy Carter at Camp David and Bill Clinton at Dayton. The President must show that same kind of leadership. If he doesn't, instead of trying to build stability in Iraq, we will be forced to try to contain chaos.

Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.)

No. There are three things that should exist before we go to war. One, there should be a threat to our national security, which Iraq wasn't. We should go with overwhelming force, which we didn't. And we should have an exit strategy. We violated all three principles. There have been nearly 20,000 American casualties and none of us know how many Iraqi casualties. All the information we receive has been erroneous or mischaracterized. We've been misinformed, either on purpose or by mistake.

As the President's father wrote in his book, in 1991, we needed Iraq there as a balance against Iran. A big concern at the time was this idea that Iraq might break into three parts and wouldn't be nearly as influential against Iran. Look at who wants us there now: Iran wants us there; al Qaeda wants us there; and China wants us there. And why? Because we're depleting our human resources. We're depleting our financial resources. This war will have cost us $450 billion by the end of the year, for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Afghanistan was completely legitimate.)

The delicate thing, and the thing we've all tried to portray versus the Vietnam War, is separating the warrior from the war. You're not fighting for a policy or an administration. You're fighting for the country. When the country sends you to war, you can't ask if it's right or wrong, you just go to war. We as policymakers have to ask that question. We have a duty, an obligation, when we think it's a mistake to say that. So I have to say it was a mistake.

The only answer in my estimation is to redeploy as quickly as possible to the periphery of Iraq. A number of people are beginning to recognize that that's the only answer. That would give the Iraqis the incentive to take over their own country.

Murtha served 37 years in the Marine Corps and has held a seat in Congress since 1974.

Bronislaw Geremek

Three years ago I had no doubt that removal of Saddam Hussein, one of the world's most blood-thirsty despots, is the just and well-founded venture. I haven't changed this opinion. I have also believed then that if the USA was saying that Iraq had the mass destruction weapons and the world security was threatened because of that, it was true. It appeared that it was not true. I thought that when the world's superpower undertakes a war, it has not only a plan how to win a military operation, but also a plan how to end the war and how to win the peace. It appeared that the USA did not have such a plan. Therefore was it proper to start the Iraq war? Unfortunately not.

Geremek, one of the leaders of Poland's historic Solidarity movement, is a former Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs and currently Polish deputy to the Europarliament.

Jeffrey Sachs

Absolutely not. It's the biggest debacle in foreign policy this country has seen since Vietnam. It's money and lives down the drain. It has cost hundreds of billions of dollars with billions more to come. It has destabilized the Middle East. It has cost more than 2,300 lives of Americans and probably 100,000 lives of Iraqis. It has enflamed the Islamic world. This was a misconceived war. It has cost America standing in the world since it was launched under false pretenses. This war has been a disaster from the start. We ought to get out. We should never been in there, and now that we're in there is not a reason to stay in. It's time to get out. The situation is only getting worse. We're learning again that America cannot be an occupying force in the Middle East. That was obvious before the war even started and has nothing to do with how the war was planned or implemented. We cannot be an occupying army in today's Middle East and expect decent political results from that. I wrote before the war that we were going to find ourselves in a shooting gallery and that's exactly what we see today. This debacle was utterly predictable and not only that, predicted.

Sachs is Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and author, most recently, of "The End of Poverty"

Ron Silver

First a disclaimer. Not having lost a loved one in the conflict I approach the question with a deference, and respect and profound humility to those who have. Was the war worth it? Yes and a qualified No. Yes in that, in view of our shared vulnerabilities after the mass murders we experienced, some version of the Bush Doctrine (pre-empting threats before they fully emerge and promoting and advancing civil society and democracy when we can) must be institutionalized as our national geopolitical strategy. It is an existential question. When we faced a similar global, ideological threat sixty years ago we forged a common policy. The world order we've gotten used to over the last 60 years has crumbled and the institutions set up in 1945 are anachronistic and badly in need of repair. President Bush is challenging the world with a new world order. Profound change always provokes passionate opposition. The threat America poses to the world is not projecting its power but rather withdrawing from crises, No other nation has the ability we have. In a contemporary film featuring Pres. Eisenhower's warning about the might of the military-industrial complex might be added another insight from that underrated President when he warned "History doesn't long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid".

The qualified No is that the war has polarized us and precluded a bipartisan consensus developing with regard to policies that all future Administrations must grapple with in protecting us.The threat is real and it's all the more lethal because, paradoxically or not, it's driven by religion and nihilism and a civilization's very unhappy encounter with modernity. We must get beyond the venom and second-guessing and find common cause. We owe it to the men and women putting their lives at risk in order to protect us. We owe it to our children. We owe it to ourselves.

Forty three summers ago Martin Luther King stood in our National Mall and told us of his dream. A little more than four summers ago we all experienced a nightmare. Yes, it was perhaps worth it if we can find our unity as one nation, under G-d with liberty and justice for all. If we don't, we all lose.

Actor Ron Silver is former president of Actors' Equity Association and co-founder of the Creative Coalition