American troops have been in Iraq since March, and their reception has been decidedly chillier than promised. Mass graves have been discovered, but not the sinister weapons of mass destruction that George W. Bush said could be launched against the United States within forty-five minutes. Resistance to America’s presence is mounting, and it looks as though we’ll be there for the foreseeable future, with or without the help of the United Nations. How did we come to such a pass?

The Iraq War Reader, edited by Micah L. Sifry and Christopher Cerf, provides an indispensable primer. In their last collaboration, The Gulf War Reader (Times Books), Sifry, a former editor at The Nation, and Cerf, a former Random House editor, lamented that “despite the flood of instant information and analysis provided by television…most Americans remain ill informed about the history of the region…and the complex problems that will shape the postwar Middle East.” A great deal has changed in America’s relationship to Iraq, but not, alas, this fact.

An anthology of essays, articles and speeches, The Iraq War Reader traces the roots of the Iraq crisis from the First World War to the present. The selections range in message and pitch, from Susan Sontag’s controversial New Yorker piece “Reflections on September 11” to President Bush’s 2002 “Axis of Evil” State of the Union address, from Anthony Lewis’s thoughtful critique of anti-Arab prejudice, “First They Came for the Muslims…,” to Ann Coulter’s defense of anti-Arab prejudice, “Why We Hate Them.” Although the book leans toward the left, including many regular Nation contributors–Jonathan Schell, Marc Cooper and Richard Falk–Sifry and Cerf take pains to present the views of prowar commentators. Among the most memorable contributions is an original essay on imperial overreach by Kevin Phillips, who warns that “God does not march under the American flag. We may come to regret pretending otherwise.”