Happy anniversary, Shock and Awe. What I remember about the first day of the Iraq War — it was early the morning of the 20th in Baghdad, really — is the attempt to kill Saddam Hussein with a massive opening strike. In a way, it’s an episode that’s emblematic of the whole course of the war: The CIA reported it had good inside information about Saddam’s whereabouts, and President Bush decided to try to “decapitate” Iraq’s government and perhaps abbreviate the war. Initially, rumors flew that the strike had narrowly missed Hussein — reports circulated that a grievously injured Saddam had been pulled from the rubble of a bunker. But that, like so much that was perhaps wishfully reported about the war, turned out to be untrue. Three weeks later, a U.S. air strike flattened a Baghdad apartment block that housed a restaurant where Saddam was supposed to be. After an intensive effort to identify the remains of the score or so of people killed in the attack, the conclusion was that if Saddam had been there, he was gone by the time the bombs struck.
Maybe we’re past all the illusions we had about Iraq at the beginning, all the shaky information about the threat Saddam and his henchmen posed, the premature projections of victory, the shortsighted decisions about how to handle the occupation. Maybe we have given an elected government a precious opportunity to take root, and maybe Iraq will flourish even after U.S. troops are no longer there to maintain a semblance of order. All I can be sure of is that, after spending two years, tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, Iraq and the United States are different from what they were when we launched that first strike, and it’s far too early to tell what all the consequences will be.