Commentary: Iraq war taught us a lesson

The Rock Hill HeraldMarch 28, 2013 

“President Bush, driven by his own moral certainty, has guided the nation to a point where, he claims, the consequences of inaction are worse than those of war itself. But in doing so, he has gambled American treasure, prestige and lives. And, we think, in his zeal to convince the world of the need to invade Iraq, he has neglected to adequately prepare Americans for the potential hazards that lie ahead – not only during the battle itself but also in the aftermath.”

That’s part of an editorial that appeared in The Herald on March 19, 2003. That same day, U.S. forces surged into Iraq, and the nation was at war.

It goes without saying that the Herald’s editorial board at the time was not privy to any special inside information about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq or other false reasons used to justify the war. Whatever the board knew about the run-up to the war was what members learned from news reports and analysis accessible to anyone.

Our concerns, expressed in more than 20 editorials written before and after the war began, were spurred by ordinary skepticism about the wisdom of invading Iraq, doubts about the motives, and mistrust of President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and their neocon cohorts who were clamoring for war.

There were others who opposed going to war – including then-Sen. Barack Obama – but, as we noted in another editorial at the time, “it looks as if the United States may be in the middle of a war before Americans start to give serious thought to the implications.”

In another editorial, we asked: “Who, now, will step forward and at least ask the tough questions and demand more than bellicose rhetoric from the administration?”

Now that the war in Iraq is so widely deplored, it’s hard to remember a time when it seemed politically dangerous to speak out against it. But 10 years ago, the war hawks had effectively framed the debate on Iraq as a measure of patriotic fervor. Bush routinely accused those who opposed the war of being apathetic about national security.

And certainly, there was some political calculation involved among those who might have had misgivings about the war. No one doubted that the U.S. would prevail in any war against Saddam Hussein, so why rock the boat?

That, in the end, might have been the most seductive reason for supporting the war, not only for politicians but also for much of the American public: Winning would be easy.

A decade ago, only about 20 Americans had died in Afghanistan. U.S. troops had fought in the Balkans, in Haiti and other various encounters around the world with little American blood spilled. And the first war with Iraq had been an overwhelming U.S. victory accomplished in a matter of weeks.

Why should the next Iraq war not be a “cakewalk,” as Kenneth Adelman, one of the prominent neocons, put it?

Well, it wasn’t. And now, 10 years later, as Iraq still is jolted by violence and carnage almost daily, and we have yet to pull our troops out of Afghanistan, the lesson appears to have been absorbed.

But while the consensus now is that Iraq was a mistake, will we have the sense to apply that lesson to the next proposal for regime change, the next cakewalk? We hear cries for greater U.S. involvement in the Syrian uprising, for a pre-emptive strike to destroy Iran’s capability to create a nuclear weapon.

We should recall the assumptions about Iraq, the complacency and the unwillingness to question those prodding us to go to war. Don’t forget history, lest we repeat it.

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