It's hard to refrain from saying, "I told you so."

I first began pleading, way back about 18 years ago: "Let's not start wars in the Middle East. Please. Don't attack Iraq, George Bush."

The first time, I was speaking of George H.W. Bush, the 41st president of the United States. He was getting ready to hit Iraq for attacking Kuwait. Old George's popularity ratings were way down (as Bush popularity ratings tend to go as soon as they get in the White House), and here was a chance for him to look righteous and strong, even if it meant turning suddenly against an old ally, Saddam Hussein.

We know Hussein was vicious and nuts, but we'd been sucking up to him because of certain oil-supply realities and because he was an enemy of our "enemy," Iran. Maybe you remember that photograph of Donald Rumsfeld bowing to and shaking hands with Saddam, who had been gassing Kurds with chemical weapons acquired from American businesses. It's one of my favorite news photographs of all time, because it is the purest image of political hypocrisy that ever stood before a camera lens.

"There's no fun in gloating when being right means that the country you love has been disgraced and ruined as you predicted it would be."

Anyway, we peacemongers here in Bloomington had gathered in the auditorium of the Monroe County Public Library to protest Old Bush's impending attack on Iraq. Some of you older readers may remember that evening, though it's been eclipsed by all the apocalyptic foolishness perpetrated by guys named George Bush since then.

I don't have a text of the speech I gave that night, as it was mostly spontaneous, but I remember basing my protest on a true American Indian historical event about which I'd written not long before, in a novel:

I spoke of a Mandan Indian chief names Four Bears, who led his warriors in pursuit of a band of Cheyenne horse thieves. When he caught up with them, he saw that they outnumbered his warriors two-to-one, and that a clash that far from home would lead to many lost lives. So he made a deal with the Cheyenne chief: You and I fight to the death, and the winner keeps the stolen horses. No warriors' lives would have to be expended.

So they fought, Four Bears killed the Cheyenne leader, and the Mandans went home with their horses; only one man had died, not 40 or a hundred.

In that speech, I implored Old Bush to go over and fight Saddam mano a mano to solve the conflict and not waste countless soldiers' lives. Let the guys who want war fight it themselves.

Old Bush didn't, of course. Instead, he launched "Desert Storm," a massive assault that killed many thousands of Iraqi soldiers and created a big mess in Iraq, which Old Bush's nitwit son, George W., used as an excuse to repeat his dad's foolishness a dozen years later -- except on a bigger and more catastrophic scale. This new one was to be called "Operation Iraqi Liberation," until somebody pointed out that its acronym, O.I.L., was all too obvious.

Young Bush, trying to do an Oedipus thing by taking out the villain his dad had left in power, has killed more than 4,000 American troops and seriously wounded at least 40,000, while destroying a sovereign country and killing estimated hundreds of thousands of its people.

I took up my pen to protest this war, too, as well as young George's invasion of Afghanistan earlier. This Bush kid started wars against the two weakest foes he could find, and has lost both wars, exhausted and demoralized America's vaunted military force, alienated just about everybody in the world, and seems headed for a reckoning with the world court for his war crimes.

I, and the many who began protesting this brutal idiocy so many years ago, were jeered and mocked for lack of patriotism. By now, though, we could be chanting, "I told you so," and most Americans would have to admit it.

"This new (war) was to be called "Operation Iraqi Liberation," until somebody pointed out that its acronym, O.I.L., was all too obvious."

But there's no fun in gloating when being right means that the country you love has been disgraced and ruined as you predicted it would be.

The past is foreplay. Now America is getting screwed.

When Bushes first moved into the Oval Office, the Soviet Union was collapsing under its own weight, and America was the one superpower. The Cold War was over, and we anticipated a "peace dividend," with swords being beaten into plowshares and no limit to the good things we could afford to do in the world.

Instead, America has shot its wad on unnecessary wars, Russia is thumbing its nose at us and moving to reconstitute itself as a world power, China has overtaken us and owns much of our wealth, our bogeyman Iran is the main beneficiary of our Iraq blunder, and Kid George is still yapping like a Chihuahua, telling other countries they better not dare do the kinds of things he's been doing for nearly eight years.

They can ignore him, though, knowing that he attacks only the weak.

When the Bushes started, America was the only superpower. Now the superpower is no longer us, it's the rest of the world.

You've done a heckuva job, Bushies. You've given America the screwing of her life.

James Alexander Thom can be reached through .