The Iraq war qualifies as the worst U.S. government project in my lifetime. It has devastated millions, killed tens of thousands directly and hundreds of thousands indirectly, spawned mass displacement, and abused thousands of captives, many guilty at most of defending their country.

The propaganda and promises of a fast, cheap liberation were transparently absurd. Neocons warned against balsa-wood drones, mushroom clouds in New York, anthrax and radiation attacks against which we could shield ourselves with duct tape. The absurdity made Cold War duck-and-cover drills appear comparatively rational. Iraqis had no plausible responsibility for anti-American terrorism. Saddam’s genuine brutality never justified killing people who happened to live in Iraq. Yet the establishment and most Americans ignored millions of protesters’ pleas. They cheered as Bush inflicted the moral equivalent of 9/11 on a defenseless country. The hysteria of 2003 gave hints of how fascists rise to power.

Operation Iraqi Freedom unleashed terrorism, draconian Shariah law, and the systematic persecution of women and religious minorities. Bush’s gang established martial law, deadly checkpoints, and torture chambers; used white phosphorous, flooded the country with sewage and disease, destroyed infrastructure that twelve previous years of U.S. war and sanctions had yet left standing, confiscated Iraqis’ guns, and implemented central taxation and economic planning.

Wilson’s WWI bungling helped lead to communism, Nazism, and WWII; Bush’s bungling has exacerbated jihadism and will reverberate for decades. Scholars will never forget this attack on civilization’s cradle, including the ravaging of ancient Sumerian relics and the earliest known writing, which Chalmers Johnson compared to the Mongol destruction of Baghdad’s libraries in 1258.

Year after year, many of us demanded withdrawal, and “realists” told us that “we” must fix what “we” broke. The full-scale civil war, predictably sparked by U.S. intervention, only subsided when the Sunnis essentially lost and the U.S. military bribed many of its adversaries.

One good resulted: Global disrespect for American empire. Indeed, the war on terror should delegitimize the U.S. government for everyone.

Thousands of Americans were killed, maimed, and psychologically wounded. Many thousands more, deprived of the basic right to quit their jobs, endured numerous deployments, only to return home to an aggrandized government and weaker economy. The connection is inextricable. For any chance at liberty, Americans must reject war. Libertarians should lead the opposition to militarism as the core statist evil, responsible for expanding corporate socialism and abusive police power.

Those who were wrong should fess up and commit themselves to peace. Those who excuse or downplay this atrocity will always suffer in credibility.

A year into the bloodbath, Bill Buckley said, “With the benefit of minute hindsight, Saddam Hussein wasn’t the kind of extra-territorial menace that was assumed by the administration.... If I knew then what I know now... I would have opposed the war”

Too little, too late, but he did concede error. The least we can do is learn: Never, ever—ever—trust the war party again.