How depressing to look back on the months before the war in Iraq -- that nearly nine-year misadventure that left thousands of Americans (and more than 100,000 Iraqis) dead, that failed to deliver on even the simplest of promises of its progenitors -- and take note of how few public figures stood in its way.

There were rare moments. In late September 2002, a few months before American troops would topple the government in Baghdad and set the U.S. on course for nearly a decade of insurgency and internecine conflict and improvised explosive devises, a wizened Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) stood on the floor of the Senate and urged his fellow lawmakers to pace themselves on the way to war.

"The war fervor, the drums of war, the bugles of war, the clouds of war -- this war hysteria has blown in like a hurricane," Byrd warned.

A month later, Sen. Paul Wellstone, the progressive icon from Minnesota, rose to the podium to object to a resolution that would authorize President George W. Bush to wage his war, absent the support of the United Nations. Gesturing forcefully, and punctuating his words with a deep knee bend, Wellstone warned that acting unilaterally would eventually be regretted.

"The pre-emptive, go-it-alone use of force, right now, which is what the resolution before us calls for, in the midst of continuing efforts to enlist the world community to back a tough, new disarmament resolution on Iraq, could be a very costly mistake," Wellstone said.

He'd never know how right he was. A few weeks later, Wellstone's life was cut tragically short in a plane crash in his home state.

By then, the two senators had earned the support of just 19 Democratic colleagues (and a lone Republican) in voting against the Iraq war resolution.



The video above of those who, like Wellstone and Byrd, got it right in Iraq is short. A handful of lawmakers, some anti-war activists, some cooler heads at the U.N. who had been to Iraq looking for weapons of mass destruction and saw that there were none. A young state senator named Barack Obama, speaking before an anti-war rally in Chicago, said he didn't oppose all wars, just the "dumb" ones. They are joined by the small cadre of allies in print -- the Washington Post's Walter Pincus, the national security bureau of Knight-Ridder -- who dared to doubt the mise en place of intelligence being hand-delivered to the press by an administration already girded for combat.

Less short is the video of those who got it oh-so-wrong.

How depressing to look back on those days and see not just the obvious -- Douglas Feith, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice; those who promised America would be "greeted as liberators" (Cheney), and who threatened nuclear "mushroom clouds" (Rice) if action didn't come imminently -- but to also see so many still-popular and prominent figures who got it wrong.

We now know that the strongest war advocates had just about everything wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Saddam Hussein had no links to al Qaeda. The U.S. was greeted not as liberators, but as occupiers. And nearly 1 million troops would be required to fight in the years of war.

Still, can we forget Joseph Biden, then a venerated senator from Delaware, telling his colleagues in 2002 that "the world would be a better place without" Saddam Hussein?

"I do not believe it is a rush to war," Biden said at the time. "I believe it is a march to peace and security."

Or how about Hillary Clinton, then a first-term senator from New York, telling the Senate that "Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members. ... Any vote that may lead to war should be hard, but I cast it with conviction."

It was their fault, and the copious mainstream media columnists and journalists who joined them, as much as anyone, who paved the way to nearly nine years of war -- a war of choice, an unnecessary and costly war, without which the world most certainly would be a better place.

How depressing to think that so many who should have known better, so many who perhaps even did, fell on the wrong side of history's ledger.

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  • George Washington (1789-97)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/georgewashington">1st President</a> of the United States (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)

  • Thomas Jefferson (1801-09)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/thomasjefferson">3rd President</a> of the United States (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • James Madison (1809-17)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/jamesmadison">4th President</a> of the United States (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

  • James Monroe (1817-25)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/jamesmonroe">5th President</a> of the United States (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Andrew Jackson (1829-37)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/andrewjackson">7th President </a>of the United States (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Abraham Lincoln (1861-65)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/abrahamlincoln">16th President </a>of the United States -- Lincoln was assassinated on April 14, 1865, after being inaugurated second term. (Photo by Alexander Gardner/Hulton Archive/Getty Images) <em><strong>Correction:</strong> A previous version of this text misstated the amount of time Lincoln had served during his second term before his assassination.</em>

  • Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/ulyssessgrant">18th President</a> of the United States (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Grover Cleveland (1885-89, 1893-97)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/grovercleveland22">22nd</a> and <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/grovercleveland24">24th President</a> of the United States (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

  • William McKinley (1897-1901)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/williammckinley">25th President</a> of the United States -- McKinley was elected to a second term, but it came to a tragic end when he was assassinated in September 1901. (Courtesy of the National Archives/Newsmakers)

  • Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/theodoreroosevelt">26th President</a> of the United States -- After McKinley's assassination, Roosevelt completed that term and was then elected to his own term. (Photo by George C. Beresford/Beresford/Getty Images)

  • Woodrow Wilson (1913-21)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/woodrowwilson">28th President</a> of the United States (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Calvin Coolidge (1923-29)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/calvincoolidge">30th President</a> of the United States -- After President <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/warrenharding">Warren G. Harding</a> died of a heart attack in August 1923, Coolidge completed that term and then earned a term of his own. (Photo by National Archive/Newsmakers)

  • Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/franklindroosevelt">32nd President</a> of the United States (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • Harry Truman (1945-53)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/harrystruman">33rd President</a> of the United States -- after <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/franklindroosevelt">FDR died</a> in April 1945 of a cerebral hemorrage, Truman completed that term, and was then elected to an additional term. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-61)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/dwightdeisenhower">34th President</a> of the United States (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

  • Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/lyndonbjohnson">36th President</a> of the United States -- after John F. Kennedy's assassination on Nov. 22, 1963, then-vice president Johnson took over. He completed Kennedy's term and was then elected to one term of his own. (AFP/Getty Images)

  • Richard Nixon (1969-74)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/richardnixon">37th President </a>of the United States -- Nixon was elected to a second term, but resigned in August 1974 over the Watergate scandal. (AFP/Getty Images) <em><strong>Correction:</strong> A previous version of this slide incorrectly listed Nixon as the 25th President of the United States.

  • Ronald Reagan (1981-89)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/ronaldreagan">40th President</a> of the United States (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Bill Clinton (1993-2001)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/williamjclinton">42nd President</a> of the United States (LUKE FRAZZA/AFP/Getty Images)

  • George W. Bush (2001-09)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/georgewbush">43rd President</a> of the United States (SCOTT OLSON/AFP/Getty Images)

  • Barack Obama (2009-Present)

    <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/about/presidents/barackobama">44th President</a> of the United States (SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)