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What will history make of the U.S. mission in Iraq?

By Catriona Davies, for CNN
U.S troops combat troops have withdrawn from Iraq following the end of their seven-year mission.
U.S troops combat troops have withdrawn from Iraq following the end of their seven-year mission.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Opinion deeply divided as U.S. combat troops leave Iraq
  • Experts assess how history will judge mission
  • Success will depend on how Iraq fares in future, experts say

London, England (CNN) -- As the last U.S. combat troops leave Iraq, the success of their seven-year mission continues to spark furious debate.

CNN asked some prominent historians and political analysts to assess how history will judge the campaign.

Andrew Roberts, British historian and author of "The Storm of War:"

"It will be seen very differently by history than by the 24/7 news cycle. I think it was a noble mission and coalition forces did incredibly well.

"When historians look at this, rather than journalists, they will realize it was about more than weapons of mass destruction. It was about a vicious dictator who had to be overthrown because he ignored 14 U.N. resolutions.

Video: Rollins: Celebration in Iraq premature
Video: Goodbye Iraq: Last U.S. combat team gone

"When it became clear the U.N. was not going to do anything, and the U.N.'s Oil for Food policy was making the situation worse, it was obvious that a coalition of the willing had to act.

"It was an act of statesmanship by George W. Bush and Tony Blair to remove Saddam from Iraq."

Martin Navias, defense analyst at King's College, London:

"I think the war will be judged negatively, primarily because the world was sold on weapons of mass destruction. One of the main objectives was to rid Saddam Hussein of his weapons of mass destruction. That's why I supported it, I thought he had them.

"The fact that none were located undermined the rationale and credibility of the policy-makers who supported the war.

"That was compounded by disorganization and lack of planning for the future of Iraq, coupled with the insurgency campaign that took four or five years to quell.

"There have been achievements: Saddam is gone and Iraq has been given the opportunity to develop a democracy. But because of the weapons of mass destruction issue the whole enterprise becomes tainted.

"Had things gone more smoothly, if the war had ended quickly and Iraq had moved towards a stable political system, it might have been tolerated. But coupled with the way things have evolved, I think the war will be regarded negatively."

Ed Rollins, senior political contributor for CNN and former campaign director for President Ronald Reagan, speaking on "Rick's List:"

"What they didn't want to do is say 'mission accomplished' like President Bush did because that was far too premature.

"The man who deserves a great deal of credit is not just the President, but [Defense] Secretary [Robert] Gates, who has come through two administrations and got good generals and good war plans.

The Iraqi perspective is the most interesting and most important, but is often overlooked, and that perspective is not yet clear
--Robert Lowe, research fellow on the Middle East, Chatham House
RELATED TOPICS
  • Iraq
  • Iraq War
  • U.S. Army

"The thing that makes me feel good, having been around through the Vietnam War and Korean War, is this is the first time our troops are marching out with their heads held high and they accomplished what they set out to accomplish.

"They rebuilt the army, they put a government in there and it's now up to the Iraqi people to make this thing work.

"We have done everything we can possibly do. The key thing is we are leaving some support troops there but eventually they will be out too.

"One of the things this proves over and over again is that Americans on foreign policy can get beyond partisanship and have pretty consistent foreign policy and I think this is evidence of that."

Robert Lowe, Middle East research fellow at think-tank Chatham House, London

"The Iraqi perspective is the most interesting and most important, but is often overlooked, and that perspective is not yet clear.

"Iraqis have suffered terribly in the last seven years. The sheer number who are no longer living in their own homes is very telling alone, although some Iraqis are better off than they were seven years ago.

"There are some grounds for hope, but currently there's political stalemate in Iraq and if there's no agreement between the factions, it's hard to be optimistic at the moment."

James Boys, assistant professor of International Political Studies, Richmond American International University, London

"Because we live in a 24-hour news cycle it's difficult sometimes to get the long view. Looking at things today you could make a snap analogy: Has President Obama ended President Bush's war because it was a politically correct thing for a Democrat to do? Has America pulled out with the job half done?

"It's difficult to say at the moment that the coalition is leaving with the job well done. In five years time if we look back and Iraq has become a successful democracy and the structures are in place, then we could say it's a success, but it's too early to say this has happened.

"President Bush is praying that it will become a success and history will write him up more positively. When his memoirs come out they will attempt to portray Iraq as having liberated people.

"This is not, of course, the end of America's involvement in Iraq. The troops who are left might be exposed to militia attacks that wouldn't have happened if combat troops had been there to protect them. We could see the American death toll rising now for that reason."