WASHINGTON -- As impossible as it seems, it's been 10 years -- an entire decade in which so much else could have been done -- since our leaders sent us off to Iraq to do what only their psyches and egos could answer for.
Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz -- they were largely the ones who reawakened their bitterness and anger at being stopped at the Iraqi border with Kuwait in the 1991 Gulf War, and not going to Baghdad to get the mass murderer Saddam Hussein.
They never really forgot that insult to their manhood, and when President George H.W. Bush nixed their desires to make the United States the only power in the world, they waited for the next, more pliable Bush to come along. And, of course, there were quite enough nutters in the radical Arab world to attack the U.S. on 9/11 and give the Washington cabal the opportunity to live again.
But remember, please, that that first Middle East war was successful simply because the first President Bush, a wise and prudent man, got an amazing amount of military and financial cooperation from the entire world, and then limited the war to its stated intention of clearing the Iraqis out of Kuwait.
My own favorite memory of those days was when a whole bunch of disheveled, dirty Iraqi soldiers out in the desert gave themselves up to American journalists. Talk about desperation!
So now we rush forward to the fall of 2001. The twin towers have fallen. Almost immediately, we invade Afghanistan because that is where al-Qaida is. Not until winter of 2003 do we invade Iraq, although that was NOT where al-Qaida was. In fact, despite Washington's claims, there was no al-Qaida working with Saddam at all.
From then on, what did we learn about the Iraq War?
First, we learned that almost everything the White House and Defense leadership claimed about Iraq was false. They said it would take six months to take over the country, that the people would throw flowers at the American troops and that Iraqi oil money would pay for the invasion. But only the opposite happened.
The people threw bombs and IEDs at the Americans, and the oil wealth has now largely gone to the Chinese. We only began to leave when President Obama, during his first term, gradually eased us out. The new Iraqi government did him an enormous favor by refusing to negotiate a status of forces agreement that would allow any remaining American troops to be tried only in American courts. We kind of crept out, while diplomats began to dismantle the massive embassy we had built there to fulfill the war lovers' dreams.
You have to read the papers carefully to get any news about Iraq today. Only the big East Coast papers carry much at all, and when they do, it is almost always about the two Islamic factions in Iraq -- the Shiites and the Sunnis -- fighting again. Then the Kurds in the north come in, not surprisingly wanting independence.
As I write, The Washington Post's front-page story is headlined, "Iran-Tied Group Is on Rise in Iraq: Former Militants Enter Politics." In short, Iraq has simply reverted to its historic warfare among tribes, among religious factions, among ambitions. Exactly what we, in our wisdom, were going to force them to rise above.
Even the very earth and rivers of Iraq express this obsessive division within the nation. Iraq is a country of great failed civilizations -- Ur, Babylon, Nineveh, Hatra, Samarra. All these great cities, with their incredible walls and artistry that still stand, were destroyed by wars, but also by enormous environmental change in which the rivers, sands and marshes constantly shifted through the centuries.
How could one possibly expect such a world to nurture men and women who would, who could, look with anything but suspicion and hatred upon "the other"?
The first lesson we should learn from Iraq is that wars are essentially won or lost not by battalions or tanks or drones, but by understanding the psychology of the enemy. The great Chinese strategist of centuries ago, Sun Tzu, wrote whole books about this. Douglas MacArthur employed distinguished American anthropologists to school him on the Japanese mind -- and, by his own account, won the occupation of Japan in that way.
Instead, we have learned no more from Iraq than we did from Vietnam -- that their interests are always infinite and that ours are always finite.
And now, Afghanistan: The president is doing all he can to get us out of this remaining Middle East/Central Asian war of choice or hypothesis ("If we do this, they will do that"). Amazingly, he's made few big mistakes. Yet, we are deeply engaged there, and anything can happen before 2014, when he says we will totally disengage.
Remember that before the British left in the 1840s, the historically ferocious Afghan tribesmen trapped thousands of them in a pass and killed everyone except one, left free to tell the story.
Our own story there remains to be ended. If only we knew who the Afghans really are.