On Tuesday, at this 10th anniversary of the American Invasion of Iraq, we would do well to remind ourselves about some painful facts.
Keeping those facts in our collective memory may make it easier for us as a nation to prevent future mistakes. So, let us recall five unfortunate facts about the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
First, the leaders of the Bush administration were intent on invading from the beginning of their time in the White House. When the 9-11 attacks occurred, Bush cabinet members immediately discussed how that tragedy could be used to justify an invasion.
Bush himself asked me to try to pin the blame for 9-11 on Iraq. Vice President Dick Cheney propagated a myth that a hijacker had met with Iraqi intelligence officials in Prague, even though we knew at the time Cheney said it that the report was false and that the hijacker was in Virginia at the time of the alleged meeting.
Second, the Bush-Cheney team settled on the excuse for invading that Iraq was making weapons of mass destruction. They trotted out to Congress, the American people and the United Nations a series of fabricated intelligence reports.
Iraq was allegedly buying "yellow cake" uranium from Niger. The documentary proof used turns out to have been a forgery. Iraq had mobile biological-weapons labs. The eyewitness has been shown to be a liar. Iraq was allegedly training al Qaida. The only evidence of that were the ravings of a terrorist under extreme torture.
The proof that these and other fabricated intelligence reports were erroneous was available well before we invaded.
Third, the mismanagement of the war cost thousands of American lives and more than 100,000 Iraqi lives and disfigured, dismembered or traumatized tens of thousands of Americans. The financial and human cost of those casualties will be felt for decades.
The Bush administration had no real plan for occupying Iraq, but it dismissed the Iraqi army, despite the fact that the army had access to a trove of arms. An insurgency immediately followed, and for months thereafter, the secretary of defense not only refused to admit it, he banned the use of the word insurgency.
Fourth, those who profited most were Iran and al Qaeda. For years, Iran's aggression in the region was held in check by the Baghdad government. Since the U.S. invasion, Iran has gained greater influence throughout the area, undermining the U.S. and its allies.
Because we were busy in Iraq, U.S. military and intelligence assets were not available to end quickly the al Qaeda and Taliban presence in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus, the people who actually attacked us on Sept. 11 were free for years to regain their strength.
Fifth, the invasion and occupation of Iraq added between one trillion and two trillion dollars to our long-term debt, depending upon what costs are considered (replacing equipment, caring for veterans).
Defense contractors like Halliburton and Blackwater made huge profits. Those expenses were initiated at the same time as the Bush administration began a tax cut. The financial difficulties our government and economy face today are in large part driven by those twin decisions.
It is appropriate that we thank our veteran soldiers and civilians for their service in Iraq, for they did what was asked of them. It is, however, inappropriate that we thank for their service the senior officials who concocted this debacle.
We may have as a nation implicitly decided that we would be better off without trials or even without a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but we should not forget what those officials did to us as a nation, to our soldiers, to our finances, to our moral standing in the world. For to do that, to welcome them back as elder statesmen, would be to offend our fallen and our wounded, and to reward duplicity by those who swore a public trust.
One of America's great strengths is that it looks to the future, not the past. It may also be one of our greatest weaknesses. We often pay a price for our collective amnesia or ignorance of our own history. Instead, we must remember, we must teach the history, not cover it up, and never forget it.
Richard A. Clarke, the counterterrorism coordinator at the National Security Council from 1993 to 2001, is chairman of Good Harbor Consulting and the author of "Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror."
First published in the Orlando Sentinel.