Iraq at Four Years: The Past is Indeed Prologue

So here we are, four years into the greatest foreign policy debacle in U.S. history. Four years, and still no end in sight.

The past and the future. There are some -- mostly those inside the White House and their shills in the media and on Capitol Hill -- who would have you believe the two have nothing to do with each other. "Let's not look at the past," they say, "let's focus on where we go from here."

Richard Perle, one of the chief architects of the Iraq war, offered his spin on the "don't look back" mindset on Meet the Press:

RUSSERT: Mr. Perle, is the war in Iraq worth the price we've paid?

PERLE: Forgive me for saying it, but I think it's the wrong question. It's a bit academic for one thing. But the question is what is in our national interest now, what is going to make Americans safer."

"Academic"? Looking back at how we got to where we are is anything but academic. Especially when the same people responsible for this disaster are still in power. Or still on Meet the Press telling us what to do next.

Everybody in Washington has got an opinion about how to move forward in Iraq, but whether or not we should listen to them can only be determined by taking a look backward. Have they
shown the ability to learn from their mistakes or haven't they?

At this point in the war -- four years, 3216 soldiers' lives and nearly half a trillion or so dollars later -- it's time to look back as we look forward.

Does this mean only those who were right then should have a voice now? No. But it does mean that if you were wrong, you should fully and unequivocally acknowledge that you were wrong (Hillary Clinton, meet Jack Murtha). Otherwise, you should have no say in how we go forward.

Here's what Richard Perle said in September of 2003: "A year from now, I'll be very surprised if there is not some grand square in Baghdad that is named after President Bush."

When former Congressman Tom Andrews, now director of the Win Without War coalition, reminded Perle of this on Meet the Press, the Prince of Darkness said: "Well, I'm, I'm not going to debate your characterization of the history of our previous exchanges, which I think are... not accurate. I never anticipated a five year occupation..."

But Andrews was quoting him accurately, so why are we still listening to Perle, a man clearly incapable of admitting he was wrong?

Let's make it a rule: until someone is willing to take responsibility for their past mistakes, they should not be allowed to consume precious media oxygen offering advice about the future.

On March 26, 2003, just days after the U.S. invaded Iraq, I wrote a column about Perle ("the frothing pit bull of the Bush administration's dogs of war,") in which I detailed his myriad conflicts of interest in having a financial stake in the war effort and advising the Pentagon on policy. "Perle's abuse of the public interest," I wrote, "is in a class by itself." It was enough to make me ask, "And this is the guy our president is putting his trust in when it comes to waging war on Iraq?"

And, as a country, we're still listening to people who should have lost all credibility by now. If you were responsible for getting us into this mess, and you still won't acknowledge it, then how can you be part of the solution? If you refuse to see the past clearly, how can we trust you with the future?

On this inauspicious anniversary, here is a look at the past -- and the people -- that brought us to this point, as I saw them in columns and blog posts:

September 26, 2002: Taking unilateral action against Iraq will only solidify the fragmented opposition, pushing our enemies together (and many of our friends away), and leaving us to go it alone -- not just against Iraq but in the much wider war on terror.

September 30, 2002: It appears that Bush is so intent on getting Saddam, so obsessively tightly gripped by a need to succeed where his war hero dad failed, so determined to lay the murderous 9/11 assault at Baghdad's door, that he's regressed to that level of childhood development where fantasy, reality and wish fulfillment are all mixed up. Except that this time, things like nuclear weapons and the safety of the world for the next few decades are involved. Now, I'm no psychologist, but I believe there is a clinical term for this condition: going off the deep end.

February 19, 2003: To hell with worldwide protests, an unsupportive Security Council, a diplomatically dubious Hans Blix, an Osama giddy at the prospect of a united Arab world, and a panicked populace grasping at the very slenderreed of duct tape and Saran Wrap to protect itself from the inevitable terrorist blow-back -- the business of America is still business.

March 19, 2003: Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner in Iraq. Yes, I know that the first smart bomb has yet to be dropped on Baghdad. But that's just a formality. The war has already been won. The conquering heroes are not generals in fatigues but CEOs in suits, and the shock troops are not an advance guard of commandos but legions of lobbyists. The Bush administration is currently in the process of doling out over $1.5 billion in government contracts to American companies lining up to cash in on the rebuilding of postwar

April 16, 2003: From the moment that statue of Saddam hit the ground, the mood around the Rumsfeld campfire has been all high-fives, I-told-you-sos, and endless smug prattling about how the speedy fall of Baghdad is proof positive that those who opposed the invasion of Iraq were dead wrong. What utter nonsense. In fact, the speedy fall of Baghdad proves the anti-war movement was dead right... Almost everything about the invasion -- from the go-it-alone build-up to the mayhem the fall of Saddam has unleashed -- has played right into the hands of those intent on demonizing our country.

May 21, 2003: I've been racking my brain, trying to reconcile the ever-widening chasm between what the White House claims to be true and what is actually true... The best explanation I can come up with for the growing gap between their rhetoric and reality is that we are being governed by a gang of out and out fanatics. The defining trait of the fanatic -- be it a Marxist, a fascist, or, gulp, a Wolfowitz -- is the utter refusal to allow anything as piddling as evidence to get in the way of an unshakable belief... That pretty much sums up the White House m.o. on everything...

May 28, 2003: The Democrats sit idly by, their thumbs otherwise engaged, while the administration's Iraqi tar baby grows stickier by the day... The Democrats are going to have to jettison their reliance on the consultants who botched the 2002 midterm elections by advising Party leaders to avoid taking on the president on tax cuts and Iraq and, instead, offer an unambiguous alternative to Bush's well-crafted image as a straight-shooting man of conviction.

July 2, 2003: If more proof of the hypocritical selectivity of Bush's moral outrage were needed, look no further than the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, when, in the name of liberating the Iraqi people, the White House gladly linked arms with a host of countries its own State Department had castigated for significant human rights violations. The suddenly fashionable humanitarian justification for the war in Iraq is nothing more than yet another White House deception designed to cloak the fact that the original justification -- Iraq as an imminent threat -- hasn't panned out.

July 16, 2003: When faced with using explosive but highly questionable charges in vital presentations leading up to a possible preemptive war, both Powell and Tenet gave the information they were handed a thorough going over before ultimately rejecting it. But not the commander in chief. Apparently, he just took whatever he was handed, and happily offered it up to the world. He was, therefore, little more than the guy in the presidential suit, mindlessly speaking the words that others had debated and polished and twisted and finally agreed he would say. And then when the uranium hit the fan, our stand-up-guy president decided that the buck actually stops with George Tenet. As the Niger controversy -- Yellowcake-gate -- is turning into a political firestorm, the question should be: What didn't the president know -- and why didn't he know it? And why does he know less and less every day?

April 21, 2004: Colin Powell believed in his heart that war with Iraq could -- indeed, should -- be avoided. But instead of making a principled stand, he made like a Good Soldier and fell into line. He was further out of the war loop than the ambassador from the home country of 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers -- but when the president asked him to carry his sample vial of anthrax at the United Nations, Powell was so flattered he dutifully set out to hoodwink the world.

May 12, 2004 Always a master of understatement, Rummy termed the Abu Ghraib scandal "unhelpful in a fundamental way." The time has come for him and his cohorts to admit that the situation in Iraq has become untenable in a fundamental way.

June 2, 2004: The central question, then as now, was whether the invasion of another country was a war of choice or a war of necessity. If the answer is a war of choice -- and it is for both Henry and W -- then the inevitable conclusion is that they were both immoral wars. For there can be no moral war of choice... The verdict on Iraq is already in: George II has lost the war, emboldened our enemies and made America bleed.

December 15, 2004: The time has come to stop being cowed by accusations that criticizing the war is the same as criticizing the troops and to start speaking the truth: Tens of thousands of young American men and women are having their lives destroyed because of the Bush administration's willful negligence.

January 19, 2005
: The Democratic leadership has a responsibility to act as the loyal opposition and not just throw up its hands and sign off on the funding. I realize that they are outnumbered and can't actually stop the White House from getting its way -- but the moral power of making a stand is critically important, especially coming after an election in which even staunch Democrats sometimes wondered what precisely their party stood for. What better way for Democrats to set the stage for the 2006 campaign than by forcing the Bush administration to level with the American people?

February 2, 2005: Quick, before the conventional wisdom hardens, it needs to be said: The Iraqi elections were not the second coming of the Constitutional Convention... Let's never forget this administration's real goal in Iraq, as laid out by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and their fellow neocon members of the Project for the New American Century back in 1998 when they urged President Clinton and members of Congress to take down Saddam "to protect our vital interests in the Gulf." These vital interests were cloaked in mushroom clouds, WMD that turned into "weapons of mass destruction-related program activities," and a Saddam/al-Qaida link that turned into, well, nothing. Long before the Bushies landed on freedom and democracy as their 2005 buzzwords, they already had their eyes on the Iraqi prize: the second-largest oil reserves in the world, and a permanent home for U.S. bases in the Middle East.

May 25, 2005: After John Kerry lost in November, the conventional wisdom was that he hadn't been "me-too" enough about Iraq. Actually, the truth is the exact opposite. This war is a quagmire, and if the Democrats don't know it, the American people do - 57 percent don't believe the Iraq war was worth it.

May 27, 2005: Senator Clinton, if you are not "comfortable setting exit strategies", can you direct us to someone who is? Because our soldiers are dying every day waiting for someone who is comfortable setting an exit strategy.

June 21, 2005: Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld can give all the rosy "last throes of the insurgency" predictions they want, but the Iraqi people know differently. And it's their hearts and minds that need to be won before this war can ever be said to be won. But with every passing day -- and every fresh episode of mayhem inflicted on Iraqi civilians -- we're getting further and further from having any chance of winning that battle.

June 30, 2005: It's too bad Bush and his political troops don't put as much thought into effectively fighting the war on terror as they do into crafting smoke-and-mirror justifications for the mess they've gotten us into in Iraq.

April 24, 2006: As if the job of building a stable Iraq (let alone a truly democratic one) could be accomplished by the use of military force. If that were the case, wouldn't we have gotten our employee of the month plaque three years ago and moved on to spreading democracy to the next county?

July 18, 2006: Where have you gone Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Doug Feith, et al? A nation turns it anxious eyes to you... These men were the architects of the administration's imperialist policies in the Middle East. It's time to hold them accountable for the fatally flawed blueprint and the woefully shoddy workmanship.

July 19, 2006: While those in the midst of the mayhem see a dark tunnel, those in the Bush administration continue to see nothing but blue skies. Even as suicide bombs explode and the 2006 civilian death toll races toward 15,000, for the Bushies it's all relaxation and optimism. Unbelievable. And sickening. And clueless, clueless, clueless.

August 30, 2006: Along with comparing his critics to Hitler appeasers, the beleaguered Defense Secretary has spent the early part of this week making the case that the horrific state of affairs in Iraq is really just a case of bad PR.

December 27, 2006: Before the escalation becomes inevitable, it must be made clear that this reckless strategy is being dictated by the White House and not by the military commanders who are being poked, prodded, pushed -- and bribed -- into backing it.