HKS Authors

See citation below for complete author information.

Director, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of International Affairs


Ten years after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Americans, Iraqis and others are asking whether the past decade of U.S. involvement in Iraq was worth it. Some respond with a resounding yes or no, expecting the force of their reply to be sufficient justification for their judgment. The frustrating reality is that it is still too early to form a definitive answer. Rather than leave this emotional question at that, it is worth identifying what we are in a position to evaluate and to make preliminary assessments of the relevant variables, which are still too fluid to judge definitively. Let’s begin by considering the factors we can reasonably appraise. First is that Hussein is no longer in power. Although a minority of Iraqis would embrace his return if it were on offer, most have greater hopes for a more meaningful life with him gone. Although violence continues, most Iraqis no longer have to worry about the arbitrary arrests, disappearances and killings that touched huge swaths of society under the Baath regime. Iraqis in the new security forces have died in significant numbers, but nothing on the scale of the hundreds of thousands who met their deaths as fodder for Hussein’s ruthless wars. Concerns about Iraq’s instability affecting the broader region remain, but the regime that invaded two of its neighbors in little more than a decade no longer rules to plot a third.


O'Sullivan, Meghan. "Was the Iraq War Worth Its Cost to the U.S.?" Bloomberg, March 19, 2013.