If he could do it again, would President Bush still make his "Axis of Evil" speech?

We now know that the White House acted on faulty intelligence about "axis" members Iraq and Iran. Since 2003, war has raged in Iraq, killing more than 3,800 American service members, wounding some 28,400 others. More than 39,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed, in addition to some 7,700 Iraqi police and military. We now know that Iraq possessed no weapons of mass destruction, a justification that the Bush administration relied upon to launch the war.

Meanwhile, new U.S. intelligence suggests Iran's nuclear threat was wildly overblown. There is great confidence that Iran did have a nuclear program, but it appears it did not restart it after 2003.

And North Korea, the other "axis" nation? It has made remarkable strides in disabling its nuclear reactor in Yongbyon. State Department officials have personally confirmed the progress. Come February, the New York Philharmonic will perform in North Korea, a move many see as an important cultural breakthrough. This announcement comes on the heels of Bush writing a personal letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

What does all of this mean?

It means there's cause for hope in North Korea, thanks to patient and smart diplomatic efforts by the State Department. Meanwhile, the Pentagon says "wait and see" in Iraq. Despite intelligence that says Iran's nuclear threat is vastly overblown, Bush is still hammering away at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Former CIA agent Tyler Drumheller, a 26-year veteran of the agency, told "60 Minutes" that it means that the White House has promoted intelligence it liked and ignored intelligence it didn't. "The idea of going after Iraq was U.S. policy. It was going to happen one way or another," Drumheller, the CIA's top man in Europe until his retirement, told the television news magazine in 2006.

There's no way for a common person to know what administration officials and certain members of Congress know about our friends and enemies around the globe. But when it is revealed that the "intelligence" the White House has relied upon is about as dependable as a junior high gossip chain, it's cause for great concern.

Some 3,800 U.S. service members have paid the ultimate price in Iraq, not to mention the Brits, Poles, Italians, Bulgarians and other allies killed in action. Add to that the thousands of others who have been wounded and the thousands others separated from their families for extended periods of time. Will it, in the end, be worth it?

It's impossible to write history before it happens. Military leaders on the ground say the surge is working and Iraqi civilians need to step up their efforts. It's looking very much like a long-term occupation to me, no different from the United States stationing troops along the DMZ or in Germany.

I want very much for the military service rendered by our men and women in uniform to make a long-term difference in Iraq. It has to be substantially better in the end for this to be declared "Mission Accomplished."

Right now I feel horribly disillusioned. It's getting harder and harder to know what to believe these days. When former CIA agents come out of the woodwork to set the record straight, it makes me think that hawkish element in the Bush administration was far more interested in carrying out policies — in this case, a war — than taking time to sort out the intelligence and use other means that wouldn't result in the deaths or lifelong injury to so many innocents.

To me, national security means more than having the military might to wipe out just about any nation on the face of the planet. It means we feel secure that we're getting the straight dirt from our leaders. There have been too many examples in the recent past why that trust may be misplaced.

Marjorie Cortez, who wishes military families separated by war a special holiday greeting, is a Deseret Morning News editorial writer. E-mail her at marjorie@desnews.com