A War’s Woeful Results

The first anniversary of the war in Iraq provides an inevitable and appropriate time for reflection. The Bush administration deployed its top officials this week to argue its case. President Bush on Friday took his turn, telling diplomats from scores of countries gathered in the East Room of the White House that Iraqis are better off now and that the world at large is safer than it was a year ago.

At least the president might score a debatable point in asserting that life in Iraq is far better without Saddam Hussein. But he’s the president of the United States and leader of the free world. So it’s fair to ask whether the war has made life better for this nation and its allies. In our assessment, it has not. Although ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction was the administration’s major selling point for the war, it is now clear that Hussein’s regime no longer possessed those weapons. And European allies, including Poland -- which Bush on Friday used as a post-communist model of how Iraq could evolve -- feel misled and more worried than ever about their security.

Hussein’s Iraq played no part in 9/11, even as the administration insisted that the war in Iraq was an inevitable consequence of the 9/11 attacks. Al Qaeda followers, perpetrators of the assault against the United States, were and still are more likely to be found within the borders of U.S. ally Pakistan than within the borders of Iraq. Islamic radicals were able to portray the war as an imperialist ploy of the U.S. and its reluctant followers, invading Iraq because it was a Muslim nation with a stand-up Hussein as leader. That propaganda, which the Bush administration helped mightily to feed through its hubris and miscalculations, has spawned a new generation of recruits for terror. Those recruits have joined Hussein’s followers to kill U.S. soldiers and Iraqis cooperating with the occupation forces. More than 570 U.S. troops have died in Iraq, along with soldiers from Britain, Spain, Italy and other nations. The war has killed thousands of Iraqis as well. Nations must retaliate for attacks like those on the World Trade Center and Pentagon and expect casualties in war. But the invasion and occupation of Iraq -- a nation that did not pose an imminent threat -- and the shameful underfunding of homeland security have not lessened U.S. vulnerability. The U.S. grows increasingly isolated from its allies, and that gives comfort and strength to its enemies.

Last October, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld asked his generals: “Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the [Islamic schools] and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?” The answer was obvious as Islamic radicals killed more than 200 in Spain this month and scores more in Turkey, Morocco and Saudi Arabia earlier.


Meanwhile, troops are still in Afghanistan, hunting Al Qaeda and remnants of the Taliban while Pakistanis chase Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman Zawahiri.

In March last year, before the invasion, this editorial page agreed that Iraq would be better without Hussein. We still believe that. But we worried that the war would do far more harm than good. We were concerned that combat would fuel a myth of American bullies come to wreak havoc on Muslims, would cost us billions of dollars, not to mention the rebuilding costs, and would divert attention from attempts to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We desperately hope to be wrong in our trepidation about the consequences here and abroad,” we said then. Today we regret that our fears are being realized.