WASHINGTON -- Should critics of the U.S. attack on Iraq hang their heads now that the United States has won the second Persian Gulf War?
People who opposed the attack on Iraq never had any doubt that the United States -- the world's lone military superpower -- would roll over a pitiful Third World country. That wasn't the point.
Instead, it was a question of why should the U.S. military kill thousands of innocent Iraqis, maim thousands more and ruin their country to take out one man. All of that, for questionable U.S. motives.
Under its historic principles and treaty commitments, the United States does not invade sovereign countries, unless it is attacked. That was the old way of looking at our national values, pre-Iraq.
Americans who disagreed with the Bush policy were guided by their consciences. They saw an unprovoked war as simply wrong, as judged by our national traditions and values, including the Golden Rule: "Do unto others. ..." etc.
Administration officials told the American people that we faced a direct and imminent threat from Iraq. Who believed that?
We dropped tons of bombs on Iraq but many of the victims were civilians. The much-touted Iraqi Republican Guard disappeared without putting up much of a fight. The U.S. military's invasion force romped in what has been likened to an elephant stomping on a gnat.
We will never know how many Iraqis perished and nobody in the administration seems interested in finding out. "We don't track that," a Pentagon spokesman said.
Of course, no one is unhappy that the "shock-and-awe" campaign is over and that it was relatively brief and successful. Success doesn't make it right for those who don't necessarily agree with the late Vince Lombardi that "winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."
The war is far from over for the Iraqis. They are grieving over family losses and trying to cope with the presence of yet another occupier after having lived past centuries under other "liberators" -- not to mention a ruthless dictator.
The New York Times reported Monday that abandoned munitions in northern Iraq have wounded dozens of Iraqi children. Unexploded U.S. bombs, including cluster bombs, around Mosul are a problem.
Even in victory, we Americans have a price to pay in the loss of our prestige as a peace-loving nation, once known for its magnanimity in victory. We used to spread democracy with the Peace Corps, the story of our inspiring struggle for independence, our values, our Constitution, our ideas, exchange students, the Voice of America, cable news, etc.
In diplomacy, old friends now fear us and wonder whether they can deal with us. We have alienated longtime allies who felt that Iraq already had been reined in over 12 years under tight trade restrictions and U.S. and British enforcement of no-fly zones. They worry where our pre-emptive attack policy will take us next.
Feeling newly empowered, Bush and his Cabinet officials have been sternly warning other nations to toe the U.S. line or face "serious consequences." It's diplomacy with not-so-veiled threats.
The United Nations is another casualty of the war, weakened because the United States rejected its authority and took unilateral military action.
On May 7, 1918, President Theodore Roosevelt wrote in an editorial in the Kansas City Star during World War I that standing by a president when right or wrong "is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
He said it was his duty as a citizen to get as much information as he could "to keep the government in check."
Roosevelt also said "patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official...."
The adage "my country right or wrong" is a deeply embedded tradition with Americans. It is also a dangerous one when our government is pursuing the wrong goals.
If the new Bush doctrine of pre-emption means more U.S. armed attacks on countries perceived as potential threats, we will incur more bitter enemies and continue to deeply disappoint our remaining friends. This policy carries a steep price.
Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers.
Copyright 2003 Hearst Newspapers