I hope that all of the people who helped push the UnitedStates to invade Iraq in 2003 read the front-page story in Sunday's New YorkTimes about a courageous soldier, Specialist Brendan Marrocco. It is heart-breaking. He lostboth arms and both legs to a roadside bomb in Iraq and is now in rehabilitation. Tens of thousands of others havesuffered or died in that unnecessary and foolish war. Marrocco's story, however, brings us face-to-face with war's horrible consequences and reminds us of the price that is paid when policymakers blunder into war.
I can't help but wonder what George Bush, Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, William Kristol, James Woolsey, and Doug Feith will think when they read about the damage done to Specialist Marrocco's life and his family? Do they feel a secret shame, which they are too proud or afraid to voice? Do they have any regrets for the pain that they have caused him? Do they still believe they were right, even though so many Iraqi and American lives have been shattered, and Iraq is still a wreck of a country? Or do they simply turn the page without reflecting on the consequences of their actions, and hope that the rest of us will forget the role they played?
Wars are sometimes necessary, but that was certainly not true of the Iraq war. War should always be a last resort, because many of those who get caught up in the maelstrom suffer and die. The decision to send our armed forces into combat should never be made in a half-baked way. The decision should only come after there has been a vigorous and serious public debate about the costs, benefits, and possible alternatives to fighting.
Of course, that is not what happened in the run-up to the Iraq war. Instead, we went to war on March 19, 2003 because a narrow clique of neo-conservatives dreamed up a bizarre scheme to "transform" the Middle East by spreading democracy across the region at the end of a rifle barrel, and eventually managed to sell that idea to a naïve and gullible president. We went to war because the Bush administration and its friends in the media and Congress deceived us about the dangers Iraq posed, and because they misled us about how easy it would be to win a decisive victory and exit Iraq. We went to war because the mainstream media, which is heavily into cultivating favor with influential policymakers, hardly ever asked our leaders hard questions about the case for war. Indeed, many influential pundits became enthusiastic cheerleaders for the invasion. We went to war because many politicians in both parties were so worried about their careers that they were afraid to raise doubts about the war, even though some of them had serious reservations about whether we would succeed. And we went to war because experts who craved influence in Washington or future careers in government wanted to show how tough and resolute they were.
The United States is a remarkably powerful and sheltered country, which is why it can afford to fight stupid wars in places like Iraq and Vietnam at only modest cost to its overall security. But we should never forget the human cost of these follies, which are paid by brave patriots like Brendan Marrocco as well as the 58,000-plus names on the Vietnam Memorial. And when the same people start telling us we need to attack someone else, we should remember just how foolish and ignorant their advice was in 2002 and remind ourselves that they show no sign of either learning or remorse.
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.