April 19, 2004
The Wrong War
By BOB HERBERT
ollow me, said the president. And, tragically, we did.
With his misbegotten war in Iraq, his failure to throw everything we had at Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and his fantasy of using military might as a magic wand to "change the world,"
President Bush has ushered the American people into a bloody and mind-bending theater of the absurd.
Each act is more heartbreaking than the last. Pfc. Keith Maupin, who was kidnapped near Baghdad on April 9, showed up on a videotape broadcast by Al Jazeera last Friday. He was in the custody of masked gunmen and, understandably, frightened.
"My name is Keith Matthew Maupin," he said, looking nervously into the camera. "I am a soldier from the First Division. I am married with a 10-month-old son."
Private Maupin is 20 years old and should never have been sent into the flaming horror of Iraq. Now we don't know how to get him out.
On the same day that Private Maupin was kidnapped, 20-year-old Specialist Michelle Witmer was killed when her Humvee was attacked in Baghdad. Ms. Witmer's two sisters, Charity and Rachel, were also serving in Iraq. All three women were members of the National Guard.
American troops are enduring the deadliest period since the start of the war. And while they continue to fight courageously and sometimes die, they are fighting and dying in the wrong war.
This is the height of absurdity.
One of the things I remember from my time in the service many years ago was the ubiquitous presence of large posters with the phrase, in big block letters: Know Your Enemy.
This is a bit of military wisdom that seems to have escaped President Bush.
The United States was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001, by Al Qaeda, not Iraq.
All Americans and most of the world would have united behind President Bush for an all-out war against Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The relatives and friends of any troops who lost their lives in that effort would have known clearly and unmistakably what their loved ones had died for.
But Mr. Bush had other things on his mind. With Osama and the top leadership of Al Qaeda still at large, and with the U.S. still gripped by the trauma of Sept. 11, the president turned his attention to Iraq.
Less than two months after the Sept. 11 attacks, according to Bob Woodward's account in his new book, "Plan of Attack," President Bush ordered Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to have plans drawn up for a war against Iraq. Mr. Bush insisted that this be done with the greatest of secrecy. The president did not even fully inform his national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, or his secretary of state, Colin Powell, about his directive to Mr. Rumsfeld.
Thus began the peeling away of resources crucial to the nation's fight against its most fervent enemy, Al Qaeda.
Gen. Tommy Franks, who at the time was head of the United States Central Command and in charge of the Afghan war, was reported by Mr. Woodward to have uttered a string of obscenities when he was ordered to develop a plan for invading Iraq.
President Bush may truly believe, as he suggested at his press conference last week, that he is carrying out a mission that has been sanctioned by the divine. But he has in fact made the world less safe with his catastrophic decision to wage war in Iraq. At least 700 G.I.'s and thousands of innocent Iraqis, including many women and children, are dead. Untold numbers have been maimed and there is no end to the carnage in sight.
Meanwhile, instead of destroying the terrorists, our real enemies, we've energized them. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has become a rallying cry for Islamic militants. Qaeda-type terror is spreading, not receding. And Osama bin Laden is still at large.
Even as I write this, reporters from The Times and other news outlets are filing stories about marines dying in ambush and other acts of mayhem and anarchy across Iraq. This was not part of the plan. The administration and its apologists spread fantasies of a fresh dawn of freedom emerging in Iraq and spreading across the Arab world. Instead we are spilling the blood of innocents in a nightmare from which many thousands will never awaken.