Georgie Anne Geyer

WASHINGTON -- Remember, after the 9/11 attacks, when we went into Afghanistan and then detoured to even greater "glory" in the sandy no-man's land of Iraq?

The first foray, into Afghanistan, where the al-Qaida rebels were supposed to be hiding out, started during the fall of 2001, but that apparent win was then halted when American "statesmen" George Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld looked out at Baghdad and declared, as one voice, "MINE!" We were to be greeted with flowers and kisses and establish relations with both countries that would serve our stead forever.

I can hear the critics already saying, "Oh, that old story again. ... Leave me alone!"

But only this winter and spring have the details of both invasions truly been reported. Not only did the Iraqis and the Afghans not greet us with joy, but we can now see that, quite to the contrary, we are leaving them with hatred in their hearts toward just about everything American.

In Iraq, even with the government that we patched together despite unswerving savagery between factions, we are essentially unacceptable. These "kept" Iraqis, now that they have power, refuse to give the U.S. military the necessary "status of forces" agreement that enables American troops established in any foreign country to be tried for crimes only under American jurisdiction. This is so common as to go unnoticed -- except with our "friend," Iraq.

So now the U.S. has essentially left much of its blood and wealth behind in the desert that has always been Babylon, ever since the father of the three great religions, Abraham, walked out of southern Iraq. We also leave behind our appallingly large embassy in Baghdad. It was to have been the symbol of our lasting friendship with Iraq, but now most of it stands empty.

Perhaps worse of all, the great oil and mineral wealth of Iraq has been claimed by countries such as China and the United Kingdom. So much for the American left's fear that we were invading Iraq to get the oil -- we didn't even have that much common sense!

As for Afghanistan, which virtually all analysts agreed we could have "made do" had we not segued to Iraq because of our ego and pomposity, we are virtually being pushed out after the burning of the Qurans and the one crazed American sergeant's killing of 16 innocent Afghans. Huge mineral discoveries there have gone to other countries, after we discovered them, and polls show that Americans are the most hated people to the Afghans.

Now, if we were the Mongols, who simply wanted to wipe out anyone who passed through their minds that day, it would be one thing. But the neocons behind these policies argued that by relieving these two countries of their radicals, we would be making friends in the Middle East. Relationships that would last! An entirely new strategic balance!

So, OK, sweep it all under the rug and let historians cry over it a century from now.

But, the Israeli-centric neocons and those Americans with imperial ambitions are at it again. Conservative magazines such as Commentary are now pushing for an invasion of Iran, even before the last American troops have left (or been pushed out of) Afghanistan. Syria is just behind Iran as the next choice for war. Apparently, it is never to end.

Ladies and gentlemen, America is at a serious turning point. We talk endlessly about "decline," but perhaps an even larger question is that of intervention, of invasion, of how we best relate to other nations and peoples.

Since the "shock and awe" of all-out invasion has been shown not to work, are there any other experiences we can learn from?

Burma, that small and lovely country in the middle of Southeast Asia, once was called "the Golden Land." It had the best of education, of resources, of beauty. Then the military took over and put the country in virtual chains.

When I was there nine years ago, the once-beautiful old British colonial city of Rangoon was moldering away. Peasants were impressed by soldiers for brutal labor brigades. The three leading generals (known as No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3) slept together at military headquarters, critics said, each with one eye open for the others. Burma, now inexplicably called Myanmar, was one golden horror.

Suddenly this winter, the regime opened up. Elections will actually be held again. Foreign investment is invited in. Burmese now can leave the country. What thrills me is that Rangoon, with its magnificent 1930s buildings, is being revamped by international architects.

Why this sudden change? Because miserable Burma was surrounded by the "Asian wonders" -- China, India, Indonesia, countries that were at least starting to "work." The Burmese generals realized they could not keep Burma in this cruel straightjacket. So, we see that setting an example also becomes a forceful power for change, the kind of change America used to exercise all over the world.

It's something to think about.