Six months before the invasion of Iraq, Taki Theodoracopulos, Scott McConnell and this writer launched a new magazine, The American Conservative. Goal: Convince our countrymen that invading Iraq would be imperial folly.
In the first column, in mid-September 2002, I wrote:
"If Providence does not intrude, we will soon launch an imperial war on Iraq with all the 'On-to-Berlin!' bravado with which French poilus and British Tommies marched in August 1914. But this invasion will not be the cakewalk neoconservatives predict. ...
"(For) what comes after the celebratory gunfire when wicked Saddam is dead? ...
"With our MacArthur Regency in Baghdad, Pax Americana will reach apogee. But then the tide recedes, for the one endeavor at which Islamic peoples excel is expelling imperial powers by terror and guerrilla war. They drove the Brits out of Palestine and Aden, the French out of Algeria, the Russians out of Afghanistan, the Americans out of Somalia and Beirut, the Israelis out of Lebanon. ...
"The only lesson we learn from history is that we do not learn from history."
And so it came to pass. And as 90 months of war in Iraq come to an end for America, what was won? And what was lost?
To stampede us into war, the neocons told us that Saddam was tied to al Qaeda and had a role in 9/11, that he had VX gas, botulism, mustard gas, sarin and anthrax, and was acquiring nuclear weapons. What further proof must you have, demanded Condi Rice, "a mushroom cloud over an American city"?
The truth. Saddam had no tie to al Qaeda, no role in 9/11, no chemical weapons, no biological weapons, no nuclear program.
We attacked a nation that did not attack us, did not threaten us and did not want war with us -- to strip it of weapons it did not have.
We were misled. We were deceived. We were lied to.
The cost: 4,400 dead, 35,000 wounded, $700 billion sunk.
"Much has changed since that night" we marched into Iraq, said President Obama. "A war to disarm a state became a fight against an insurgency. Terrorism and sectarian warfare threatened to tear Iraq apart. Thousands of Americans gave their lives. Tens of thousands have been wounded. Our relations abroad were strained. Our unity at home was tested."
Estimates of Iraqi war dead run from 70,000 to 100,000, which means hundreds of thousands of Iraqi widows and orphans. Christians have seen priests murdered, churches burned and half their number driven into exile. Four million Iraqis have left or lost their homes. Two million are in exile, as Baghdad has been cleansed of Sunnis. Al Qaeda was not in Iraq under Saddam. It is there now.
"Time to turn the page," said President Obama.