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.
How does Iraq turn the page, as we retreat to secure bases and prepare to bring home the last 50,000 troops?
Terrorism has returned. Iraq's casualties are back up to where they were before the U.S. surge. Electricity is off much of the time. Six months after elections, no government exists. The Iraqi dead, wounded, widowed, orphaned, homeless and exiled are surely not better off.
What about those we leave behind? What happens to Iraqis who worked with us when we leave? How did our Vietnamese friends fare? What kind of future will Iraqis have, if civil and sectarian war return?
That our soldiers, Marines, diplomats and aid workers did their jobs bravely and honorably is understood by their countrymen -- and attested to by the fact the U.S. military is the most respected of our institutions.
But was the war worth it? Some 72 percent of Americans said in a recent CBS poll that it was not worth the price in U.S. war dead.
What does the secretary of defense think?
"It really requires a historian's perspective in terms of what happens here in the long run," says Robert Gates. "How it all weighs in the balance over time remains to be seen." A seven-year war, and our minister of defense cannot declare that it was all worth it.
But if America is not a certain winner from this war, who is?
Iran saw its great enemy Saddam removed and its Shia allies come to power in Baghdad. Osama bin Laden saw America bled by wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and perhaps Iran, as al Qaeda has spread to Yemen, Somalia and North Africa.
And as America was tied down in the Long War, China emerged as the world's No. 1 auto producer, No. 1 manufacturer, No. 1 exporter and No. 2 economy.
Meanwhile, The Washington Times reports,
"The federal government has posted signs along a major interstate highway in Arizona, more than 100 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, warning travelers the area is unsafe because of drug and alien smugglers, and a local sheriff says Mexican drug cartels now control some parts of the state."
What does it profit America if we save Anbar and lose Arizona?