On the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, what strikes me most is the fact that even when you're proven right, sometimes it doesn't matter.
Ten years ago this week a U.S. led coalition attacked Iraq after then President George W. Bush decided to launch Operation Iraqi Freedom, which he said was necessary due to Saddam Hussein's continuing refusal to give up his weapons of mass destruction.
Back in March 2003, the acronym "WMD" became the stated reason for America's attack on a sovereign nation that would last nine years with 4,480 U.S. soldiers killed, including 91 from Wisconsin according to WisconsinWatch.org. There were also 32,000 American soldiers wounded, with many of those who will need treatment for the rest of their lives.
And yes, we have to take note; more than 100,000 Iraqi civilians also lost their lives.
The Iraq war also cost about $806 billion to taxpayers, which doesn't include all of the health care costs of wounded soldiers or other costs related to the war.
Many of us can remember the way the Iraq War split the nation during the Bush administration. Just like today, it seemed half the country supported the president while the other half had serious questions about the rationale used to justify sending US soldiers into battle.
A Milwaukee schoolteacher who was opposed to the Iraq invasion remembered being called unpatriotic and much harsher names whenever she participated in local protests against the war.
"After all this time later, I bet nobody apologizes for being so wrong," she told me this week.
The main problem for folks like her – and me – back then was the lack of any real evidence of the WMDs that Bush and his war ministers seemed to mention in every public speech. A bigger worry was the transparent attempt by Bush and others to switch concern about Al-Qaeda terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001 to a Hussein regime that was guilty of horrible human rights violations but represented little or no threat to the US.
For some of us, it seemed like a classic "bait and switch" routine. We were astounded so many folks in town went along with it.
I remember writing columns in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time opposing the Iraq War and being blasted by the town's right-wing radio squawkers who had fallen in lock step with the WMD hype. I also remember being called unpatriotic by some readers who insisted – just like Dick Cheney did at the time – that American soldiers would be greeted as liberators when Iraq fell.
Well, that never really had a chance to happen. The invasion of Iraq quickly plunged the nation into a downward swirl of civic unrest and attacks on U.S. soldiers who were perceived as an invading army by Iraqi citizens, mainly because they were.
Ten years later, most agree serious mistakes were made by the people running the war that included everything from serious miscalculations about the ability of the Iraqi police force to maintain order to ignoring the myriad dysfunction within the population that prevented any meaningful coalition to emerge in support of U.S.-led coalition.
Even after Hussein himself was captured and killed, many came to the realization in the end it wasn't really worth it.
The revisionist thinking 10 years later has some people still making excuses about a wrongful war that never delivered on what the warmongers promised. Some conservative politicians claim the invasion of Iraq did spark democratic movements by citizens in the Middle East during a so-called Arab Spring in recent years but there's no real evidence of that by most diplomatic experts.
I still hear some people insist the WMD flap was no big deal; they remind me that Democrats like Bill Clinton believed the same faulty intelligence reports Bush did and viewed Hussein as a real threat.
They also remind me about all the Democrats in Congress who voted to approve the Iraq invasion under pressure from the Bush administration.
As if that matters.
Ten years later, it's clear to me the reason President Obama won so handily in 2008 was due to voters rejecting a Republican party that many came to believe had led the nation into such a disastrous military episode. Obama struggled with resolving the mess in Iraq and is still dealing with Afghanistan. True to form, many of his political opponents blast his economic policies and the tremendous federal debt while conveniently ignoring the cost of two wars mainly instigated by a Republican president.
Many Americans are fed up with war these days even as the same war-mongers in D.C. emerge from time to time to insist the U.S. get tougher with nations like Iran and North Korea that haven't attacked us yet. Some of them continue to beat their chests in an attempt to scare all of our enemies instead of reasoning with them.
I believe the only real lesson learned from the Iraq War was that sometimes our leaders can lead us to places we really don't want to go. That makes choosing the right leaders more important than ever.
Eugene Kane is veteran Milwaukee journalist and nationally award winning columnist.
Kane writes about a variety of important issues in Milwaukee and society that impact residents of all backgrounds.