As events in Iraq escalate and move toward full-blown civil war, we in Maine should reflect on how this horrible situation got to where it is today.

Estimates of the number of Iraqis who have died since the U.S. invasion in 2003 range from around 130,000 to more than 500,000. The upper estimate is roughly equivalent to half the population of Maine. In addition to the vast numbers of dead, hundreds of thousands have been wounded and millions displaced.

In place of a ghastly dictator, Iraq is now governed by regional powers, militias, terrorist cells and a government pulled between dependency on the West and loyalties to Iran.

Iraq is quickly becoming a battlefield for almost all major regional interests in the Middle East, including al-Qaida and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard.

The fundamental collapse of stability in the Middle East, centered on the core of the region (Syria and Iraq), is tremendously threatening for the people of the region and the world.

The Iraq war has been and continues to be a tragedy and a catastrophe of massive historical proportions, becoming more tragic and more catastrophic as times goes by.

Seen in human terms, the Iraq war is the United States’ greatest foreign “policy” error since Vietnam.

The ramifications of the war and civil war in Iraq have been and will continue to be more globally destabilizing than either Vietnam or Korea.

If we contemplate the more complete picture, spanning from Iran to Iraq to Syria to Lebanon, we see frightening portents of major regional conflicts – conflicts that could draw in Turkey, the Gulf States and even Israel.

Again, the human catastrophe of this expanding picture of regional instability is beyond comprehension.

Taken together, the combined total of people who have already been killed as a result of conflicts in Syria and Iraq since 2003 is approaching 2 million.

The political fracturing threatens the fundamental regional order that emerged from World War I, making the region ripe for ethnic and religious violence, ethnic cleansing and ultimately genocide.

If we can agree that the wars and conflicts in the core of the Middle East are the single most significant set of world events since 2003, we are compelled to revisit some tough questions.

One such question centers on responsibility for the Iraq war. In 2006 and 2008, U.S. voters punished the Bush administration and other champions of the war.

Hillary Clinton, for example, was punished in 2008 and has finally offered a tepid admission that she made a mistake.

Yet so many of the Iraq war’s supporters remain in the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate and in official positions within the federal bureaucracy. Out of the 49 Senate Republicans who voted on the Iraq War Resolution in 2002, the only one who opposed the war was Rhode Island Sen. Lincoln Chafee. Chafee (who has since changed parties) lost his re-election bid in 2006, principally because of constituent anger about the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

With Iraq momentarily back in the spotlight, it is time to return to the question of responsibility – and Sen. Susan Collins must shoulder her share of responsibility for this enormous error, even if that error was made in good faith.

Such a defining mistake, such an error in judgment, such an absence of critical thinking and grounded skepticism indicate, in my mind, a person unfit to represent the people of Maine.

It is time for all those who supported the Iraq war to face the decisions they have made and assess how they contributed to where we are today.

I hope Sen. Collins will do this. If she does, she will have no other choice but to resign her office immediately. All others who supported the war should do the same – both Democrats and Republicans.

Such acts, while they would not make anything better for the people in Iraq or Syria, would at least signify a sense of moral responsibility at the heart of U.S. political life.

But how absurd, some will say, to expect such a showing of moral character in a realm governed by money and power! Alas, I’m afraid the “realists” are right. That’s precisely why we “moralists” need a leader. Sen. Collins could be that leader.

I challenge Sen. Collins to have the bravery and character to quit for this moral cause.

She owes it to the families and friends of the U.S. citizens, foreign allies and especially to the Iraqis who have died in part because of decisions she made. And she owes it to the dead.

— Special to the Press Herald