Iraq: Assessing Worth

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DoD photo by D. Myles Cullen

Dempsey at the end-of-mission ceremony in Iraq Thursday

“We’ve paid a great price here,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said as the U.S. wrapped up its mission in Iraq on Thursday. “And it has been a price worth paying.”

This led to a piquant comment from former long-time Pentagon intelligence analyst John McCreary, who took a night off from filing his well-read, and usually lengthy, NightWatch blog to note only this:

The notion that the military should saying whether or not a war was worth fighting rubs some folks in and around the Pentagon the wrong way. The uniformed military’s job, after all, is to wage wars, not calibrate their worthiness. Last week, Army Lieut. General Frank Helmick dealt with the issue in the U.S. military’s final briefing from Baghdad. “Has this war in Iraq been worth the sacrifice by the United States?” he asked. He then assayed the costs and benefits, and concluded it was “a worthy endeavor.”

That’s “not really an appropriate topic for a operational field commander to be addressing,” one former senior Pentagon official says privately. “During the Rumsfeld era, one of many not-so-successful techniques to sell the Iraq war to the U.S. public was to cite polls showing Iraqis and U.S. military favored ‘staying the course’ — the idea being that if those closest to the action were for the war, then their views should be definitive, as opposed to nattering nabobs in the press and the Congress. Of course that’s not how our system is supposed to work when it comes to big policy matters.” As for the chairman declaring the war worth fighting? “Apart from misbegotten attempts to be `strategic communicators,’ when generals make these `worth it’ pronouncement they’re usually doing so with the morale of troops and feelings of military families in mind,” this official adds. “For someone like Dempsey, with extensive Iraq experience during the war’s worst years, I suspect it’s more personal, reconciling all the lives and limbs lost under his command. So the tendency to make these kind of pronouncements is understandable, but still problematic with respect to civil-military relations.”