New York Times senior foreign correspondent John F. Burns (left) reflects on the cost of the war in Iraq in terms of blood and treasure, the unstable country left behind and the possibility of civil war–consequences that were not apparent to all reporters at the start of the invasion (they certainly were not apparent to George W. Bush, who declared "mission accomplished" two months after unleashing "shock and awe"):
We could not know then, though if we had been wiser we might have guessed, the scale of the toll the invasion would unleash: the tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians who would die; the nearly 4,500 American soldiers who would be killed; the nearly 35,000 soldiers who would return home wounded; the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who would flee abroad as refugees; the $750 billion in direct war costs that would burden the United States; the bitterness that would seep into American politics; the anti-Americanism that would become a commonplace around the world.
...the current drawdown – and the continuing withdrawals over the next 16 months – will come at high risk of an accelerating deterioration in security. Already, the drumbeat of suicide bombings, including attacks targeted at Iraqi army recruits and other army and police installations, is on a sharp rise. In July, nearly 400 Iraqi civilians were killed, the highest number in three years, according to Iraq’s Interior Ministry.
Iraqi politicians, and the sectarian interests most of them represent, continue to squabble among themselves, unable to form a government nearly six months after a general election. They seem little closer than they were at the outset of the American occupation to agreement on the fundamental issues that must be settled if Iraq is to grasp the opportunity the American invasion brought them – the opportunity to construct a civil society, and a functioning if far from flawless democracy, on the ruins of the charnel house that was Mr. Hussein’s Iraq.
...What Mr. Obama will do if the current spike in attacks worsens to the point of threatening a full-scale resumption of the insurgency or, worse still, a civil war, is something all but the insurgents and the militias must pray does not arise. For Iraq, and for America, the price has already been much, much too high, corrupting those long-ago hopes that rode with American tanks into Baghdad.