Adolf Hitler is supposed to have said, in a moment of lucidity, that he who starts a war opens a door into a dark room and cannot know what he will find on the other side.
No one ever went to war more certain about what was going to happen than George W. Bush and those who urged him to conquer and occupy Iraq, but he must now know, even if he refuses to acknowledge, what Hitler meant. Almost every preconception that the Bush administration had about the invasion turned out to be decidedly wrong. They even miscalculated on the ease of the victory over the Iraqi armed forces, which never sent a plane into the sky or fired a missile. When you have a 400-to-1 military spending advantage and you and your allies have pounded the enemy's defenses for 10 years it is not going to be much of a fight.
But the principled opponents of the war, including Bush family friends, proved Hitler wrong. Almost every specter they raised has materialized.
And it is not merely the missing weapons of mass destruction, which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney said before the war flatly existed. They said they knew exactly where they were. Every bit of real evidence we possessed - the words of the top Iraqi defector and our own and the UN's weapons inspectors - said otherwise.
Bush said this week that he would authorize a significant increase in the U.S. occupation force in Iraq. Knowing the history of that debate, the military command resisted calling for it until matters were desperate.
The generals at least had not forgotten what happened to Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff until he testified wisely before Congress before the war that a far bigger force than Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld planned would be needed to occupy and pacify Iraq after the war if the country was to enjoy any security. As many as 200,000 could be needed. An inadequate force, Gen. Shinseki said, would put soldiers and Iraqis in needless peril. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said Shinseki was out to lunch and that once the Iraqi army was conquered the U.S. could sharply pare down its forces. Wolfowitz said Shinseki was "wildly off the mark."
The general took his retirement soon afterward and Bush fired his secretary of the Army, Thomas White, for agreeing with Shinseki.
The field is littered with the casualties of those who raised doubts about the course of war.
One Bushie who was particularly prescient and who you thought might have been persuasive with George W. was his dad's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, who both hated and understood Saddam Hussein more than anyone else. Scowcroft and the first Bush, it will be remembered, wrote a book in 1998 in which they described the perils of conquering and occupying Iraq without international support. Scowcroft has tried to restore good terms with the family but his warnings bear recalling.
It was Scowcroft who first brought up the Vietnam analogy, so unconvincingly disputed by the president Tuesday night. Scowcroft said Iraq could be more catastrophic than Vietnam because when the United States finally decided to leave Vietnam the consequences were not horrific. If we decide we have to abandon Iraq, the consequences will be deep, he said. When there is a real election and radicals are elected, what will we do then? he asked.
Back in 2002, Scowcroft urged Bush not to go to war with Iraq without international support. To do so, he said, would distract us and the world from the real war on terrorism. Meantime, occupying a Muslim country would inflame the Arab world and magnify terrorism.
As evil as he is, Scowcroft wrote in The New York Times, "Saddam's goals have little in common with the terrorists who threaten us, and there is little incentive for him to make common cause with them."
Iraq had nothing to do with the war against terrorism, he said. The war and occupation have, in fact, made Iraq for the first time fertile for terrorists.
America's real preoccupation, Scowcroft said, should not be Iraq but resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which was the seed of terrorism. What if Bush had listened to him and not to Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz?
"If we were seen to be turning our backs on that bitter conflict - which the region, rightly or wrongly, perceives to be clearly within our power to resolve - in order to go after Iraq, there would be an explosion of outrage against us," he warned. "We would be seen as ignoring a key interest of the Muslim world in order to satisfy what is seen to be a narrow American interest."
Why are those who can see clearly into the dark room so rarely heeded - no, never - heeded in this administration?