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The Iraq War: Cost Plus, Years Plus, Lives Plus

What a difference seven and a half years make. In the spring of 2003, the United States invaded Iraq, nominally to suss out weapons of mass destruction being amassed by the killer-dictator Saddam Hussein.

No such weapons turned up. Saddam Hussein was toppled, then hunted down and hanged. And the United States slogged through its long and costly commitment to Iraq: early three-quarters of a trillion dollars, nearly 5,000 American lives, and the lives and livelihoods of many tens of thousands of Iraqis.

U.S. combat troops have just left Iraq, as President Obama’s Oval Office address noted, but today we talked about what the United States and Iraq have gained from this. Not much, is what most of you think.

Former U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker agreed that it would be a long time until Iraq can achieve a recognizable and stable democracy and the United States can reap any benefit from that – years in which the U.S., as the Washington bureau chief of Al Jazeera International pointed out, has lost standing and much of whatever support it had in the Mideast.

Do please go to the Patt Morrison page and read the many comments there, sad, skeptical and dispirited, for the most part, over a war that to your way of thinking cost so much and netted so little. The good-versus-bad casting of Saddam Hussein is out of synch with the West’s nuanced history when it comes to his longstanding and bloody tyranny in his own country, a reign that nonetheless sometimes provided a counterweight to Iranian ambitions and to Muslim extremism, like banning most Sharia courts. Those were among the reasons the U.S. had a rather a cordial relationship with Iraq during some of the 1980s.

Many of you questioned why, if the United States was committed to defeating murderous tyrants, it didn’t try to oust Pol Pot in Cambodia, or Moammar Qadafi in Libya -- and why the coup attempt the United States had urged Iraqis to stage against Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf war was not backed to the hilt by the U.S. government, and failed.

This week’s departure of combat troops is not, as has been so widely pointed out, an occasion for high-fiving or ‘’mission accomplished’’ declarations, but a somber watershed in the history of a war whose costs are immediately obvious but whose benefits to this country leave much still to be understood, much less realized.

I’m still being buttonholed by listeners who were tickled at our coverage last week of the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution – by one vote, cast by a young Tennessee Republican who said doing what his mother asked him to.

The 19th Amendment meant that American women finally got the right to vote almost 150 years after the Declaration of Independence. It’s hard for women now to imagine the legal status of women in the 19th century – which is to say, virtually none. Not being able to vote was only one of many bars. Women could be denied legal rights to property, to contracts, even to their own children; husbands could abuse them with virtual impunity, control their comings and goings.

Women who crusaded to get the vote were mocked, reviled, arrested and tormented in prison – and while nowadays American women are as negligent about exercising the franchise as men [GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman’s lackadaisical record of not voting in the state she wants to govern is a contentious campaign point], women’s suffrage has meant [hello again, Ms. Whitman] that women have been elected to public office in slowly – very slowly – growing numbers. Still, women hold fewer than 20% of the seats in the United States Congress, where California Democrat Nancy Pelosi holds the powerful speakership of the House of Representatives.