"Worse than a crime, it was a blunder," was how the cynical Talleyrand famously described Napoleon's murder of the Duke d'Enghien.
The same may be said of President George Bush's attempts to murder the leader of a sovereign nation, Saddam Hussein, and his foolhardy eagerness to invade Iraq.
Thanks to Bush's blundering, nearly 50% of U.S. Army combat units are now stuck in a spreading guerrilla war in Iraq, costing $4 billion US monthly, that is becoming the biggest, most expensive, and bloodiest foreign mess since Vietnam. This when the U.S. is threatening military action against North Korea.
As the furor in Washington grows over Bush's admission of now-discredited claims about Iraqi uranium imports from Africa in his keynote state of the union address, administration officials are viciously blaming one another.
George Tenet, the CIA's meek director, became the fall guy for the uranium fiasco, though he repeatedly warned the White House its claims were unsubstantiated.
Blame rightly belongs to Bush himself, and to his woefully inadequate national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice. Either they knew the uranium story was false, or they were unfit for high office.
For one thing, uranium ore is no more threatening than cake mix.
To weaponize it, ore must be laboriously transformed into uranium hexafluoride gas, then separated and enriched in huge, highly visible plants, equipped with "cascades" of thousands of high-speed centrifuges.
The U.S. knew there were no such nuclear plants in Iraq. French intelligence warned it the Niger story was bogus.
Nor had Iraq any means of delivering nuclear or biowarfare weapons. In short, Iraq had zero offensive capability, and posed zero threat.
At the time, Bush's critics, including this column, dismissed as hogwash his claims Iraq was an "imminent threat" to the U.S.
We were denounced as "unpatriotic" and "friends of Saddam" in the pro-war press.
Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, who challenged White House lies, was vilified and smeared with loathsome personal attacks by the neo-con U.S. media.
The Niger uranium story may have come from Vice President Dick Cheney's office.
Three days before the invasion of Iraq, Cheney actually claimed Iraq "has reconstituted nuclear weapons."
As the Niger uranium scandal grows, it is increasingly clear the White House's campaign to drive Americans into an unjustified, unnecessary war had nothing to do with Iraq's alleged weapons, nor its internal repression.
Bush's crusade against Iraq was designed to assuage Americans' fury and fear over 9/11 by making Saddam Hussein a whipping boy for the attack in which he had no part.
The jolly little wars against Afghanistan and Iraq were also designed to make Americans forget the Bush White House had been caught with its pants down by 9/11, and was asleep at the switch in the Enron financial disaster.
Who now remembers that Attorney General John Ashcroft actually cut spending on anti-terrorism before 9/11, or that Washington was giving millions to the Taliban until four months before 9/11?
How better to get Americans to support a war than by insinuating, as did Bush, that Iraq was responsible for 9/11, and claiming Saddam was about to attack the U.S. with weapons of mass destruction?
A pre-emptive attack on Iraq was urgent to save America, insisted Bush.
A weak-kneed Congress and credulous public went along with White House warmongering, while the spineless UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, and UN arms inspector Hans Blix wriggled like jellyfish.
Most Democrats, including some presidential candidates, joined Bush's lynch mob.
It was not just the Niger canard.
A torrent of lies poured from the administration, all aimed at justifying a war of aggression, thwarting the UN Security Council, ending UN inspections in Iraq and grabbing Iraq's oil riches.
Virtually all administration claims about Iraq's weapons had been disproved by UN inspectors before Bush went to war.
Exposed as fakery are the "drones of death;" aluminum tubes for centrifuges; chemical munitions bunkers; mobile germ labs; hidden Scuds; links to al-Qaida and "poison camps;" Saddam's smallpox; Saddam's secret nuclear program.
And the biggest canard of all: Bush's absurd claims there was "no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to possess and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised," and that it "threatened all mankind."
Thanks to the shameful complicity of the U.S. media, which amplified White House propaganda, Americans were led to believe Iraq attacked the U.S. on 9/11, and was in league with al-Qaida.
Bush's faux war on terrorism was redirected, by clever White House spin, into a hugely popular campaign against Iraq.
The failure to kill terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was covered up by the rush to kill Saddam.
The litany of lies produced by the White House and its neo-con allies would be farcical were it not for the deaths of so many Americans and Iraqis.
Of course, all politicians lie.
But lying to get one's country into an unnecessary war is an outrage, and ought to be an impeachable offence.