Feeling safer now?

The United States was right to go into Iraq, President Bush said last week: “America is safer today because we did.”

Funny, we don’t feel any safer. Perhaps that’s because the government keeps putting us on yellow and orange alerts without telling us what to be alert for. If we’re so safe, why the alerts? In fact, just the day before the president told us we were safer now, senior Bush administration officials warned that Osama bin Laden and his chief henchmen were planning a terrorist attack in the United States sometime before the November election.

Remember bin Laden? He’s the mastermind of 9/11 whom we went into Afghanistan to get, in the president’s immortal words, “dead or alive.” Three years later, he’s still out there. Somewhere.

We had a chance to get him at Tora Bora. He was holed up in the mountains, on the Pakistani border, with a bunch of his Al Qaeda fighters. But instead of going after him hammer and tongs, we pulled back our troops and turned his capture over to the Afghans.

The administration was more interested in Iraq. Saddam Hussein was the real threat, the president insisted. He possessed chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, was building nuclear bombs and was playing footsie with Al Qaeda, the CIA said. (He also was sitting on lakes of oil, by the way.)

So instead of capturing Osama bin Laden we invaded Iraq, killed and injured a whole bunch of innocent civilians, including children, and drove out Saddam. Now he sits in a jail cell, while outside as many as 20,000 well-armed Iraqi insurgents do all they can to kill U.S. soldiers—the toll is pushing 900 now—and anyone who helps them, and elsewhere in the Middle East enraged young Muslim men sign up in droves to become jihadists.

Now we know there were no chemical and biological weapons, no nukes and Iraq and Al Qaeda weren’t in cahoots. Iraq was a basket case and Saddam was no threat to anyone except his own countrymen. We’ve dumped $100 billion in a bottomless hole, and people around the world hate us for it.

We’re happy for the Iraqi people that Saddam Hussein is no longer in power, even if so many of them don’t appreciate it much. But the cost—in lives, dollars and lost respect—has been grievously high, and America is not safer for having launched this unnecessary war, despite what the president claims.