Prologue: The war in Iraq was launched on March 20, 2003. It wasn’t over until all U.S. troops were taken out on Dec. 15, 2011. During that time, 4,487 American troops were killed and another 32,223 were seriously wounded.
Approximately 109,000 Iraqi military and civilian personnel were killed in the war. The war cast U.S. taxpayers $757.8 billion. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq and no evidence was ever discovered connecting Saddam Hussein with the terrorist attack on the U.S. on September, 11, 2001.
The article below appeared in this column on March 12, 2003. I urge my readers to reconsider this column when discussions come up about possible pre-emptive strikes on Iran, or even North Korea.
Robert Frost wrote about it in 1916 in “The Road Not Taken.” One of his verses reads:
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Who among us has never looked back at the road not taken and not necessarily wished, but wondered (with a sigh maybe), where it would have taken us and whether it would have made all the difference.
As this article is being written, we are still at peace awaiting a decisive vote in the Security Council of the United Nations. But we’ve decided to go to war no matter how the vote turns out — go it alone if necessary. But by the time you read this, our America will have taken a turn in the road toward war in Iraq and we will be dropping bombs on Baghdad. That decision was made long ago and what the United Nations inspectors found or didn’t find in Iraq had nothing to do with the decision to invade.
It needs to be said that patriotic Americans support our entry into this war and other patriotic Americans oppose it. Some believe that all the patriots are on one side or the other of this issue, but when we are at our best, we are able to disagree on fundamental issues without doubting the patriotism of those with whom we disagree, without calling names and without spitting on one another. When we are at our best we’re able to respect those we disagree with.
It is possible, as some have done, to carry a sign that says on one side, “No War With Iraq” and on the other “Support Our Troops.”
We have gone down the road of peace before. It is a rocky road and scary. From 1945 to 1953 we were in a mutual standoff with Joe Stalin of the Soviet Union, an evil dictator who ruled by terror. Stalin had already murdered millions of his own people and had weapons of mass destruction. After Stalin’s death, the next great Soviet powerhouse was Nikita Khruschev who said, “We will bury you.” We spent over 40 years of “cold war” glaring across the iron curtain at the Soviets until they came apart at the seams in 1989. We co-existed with them not because we respected them, but because they were strong and so were we. But we were stronger and we outlasted them.
Other brutal dictators have come and gone, dictators who slaughtered thousands of their own people. Some strong, some weak. Fidel Castro has ruled Cuba for nearly 45 years. Other than our fumbled Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, we have left him alone, attempting to influence Cuban policy by economic sanctions alone. We will outlast him.
The road of peace is uncomfortable. We have been uncomfortable with North Korea since 1953 when the Korean War ground to a close without a peace treaty. North Korea has been ruled by a series of cruel dictators who don’t care if the Korean people starve to death and now they are flexing their nuclear muscles and they are scarier than ever. But we’re not bombing them. We’re planning to “engage them” through diplomacy. There are nuclear weapons in India, Pakistan, China, Russia and Israel as well and we will watch them all but we won’t bomb them.
We have been uncomfortable with Saddam Hussein for the last 12 years. He is a savage dictator who murders his own people. But is he an immediate threat to the United States? What has he done in the last year to cause us to select him for special treatment? If there is an answer to that question, it has not been shared with the American people. We can’t rid this world of every dictator — there are too many — we have to co-exist with some of them and outlast them.
We have come to a choice of two roads. Both are hazardous and the choice is not simple and not comfortable. The majority of the free world would prefer the road of restraint and patience — the road of peace, at least for the time being. President Bush has chosen the road less traveled — the road of bull-in-a-China shop-diplomacy and the road of war. That will make all the difference as we shall see.
We will support him, but even patriots don’t have to agree with him.