A War Without Reason

By BOB HERBERT

New York Times

October 19, 2004

"Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof, the smoking gun that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud."
- President Bush, Oct. 7, 2002

There should no longer be any doubt that the war in Iraq is an exercise in lunacy. It was launched with a spurious rationale, the weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be a fantasy relentlessly stoked by obsessively hawkish middle-aged men who ran and hid when they were of fighting age and the nation was at war.

Now we find that we can't win this war we started. Soldiers and civilians alike are trapped in the proverbial briar patch, unable to move around safely in a country that the warmongers thought would be easy to conquer and then rebuild.

There is no way to overstate how profoundly wrong they were.

Our troops continue to die but we can't even identify the enemy, which is why so many innocent Iraqi civilians - including women and children - are being blown away. The civilians are being killed by the thousands, even as the dreaded Saddam Hussein is receiving first-class health care (most recently a successful hernia operation) from his captors.

Last week, in a story that read like a chapter from an antiwar novel, we learned that members of an Army Reserve platoon were taken into custody and held for two days after they refused to deliver a shipment of fuel to Taji, a town 15 miles north of Baghdad. They complained that the trip was too dangerous to make without an escort of armored vehicles. Several of the reservists described the trip as a "suicide mission."

The military said that was an isolated incident, but there is evidence of growing dissatisfaction among the troops, many of whom feel they are targets surrounded by hostile Iraqis -insurgents and ordinary civilians alike - in a war that lacks a clearly defined mission.

Even the heavily fortified Green Zone, which contains the U.S. embassy and the headquarters of the interim Iraqi government, was penetrated by suicide bombers last Thursday. At least five people, including three Americans who had been providing security for diplomats, were killed in the attack.

As the pointlessness of this war grows ever clearer, the president's grand alliance, like some of the soldiers on the ground, is losing its resolve. When John Kerry, in the first presidential debate, mentioned only Britain and Australia as he mocked Mr. Bush's "coalition" in Iraq, the president famously replied, "You forgot Poland."

Poland has 2,400 troops in Iraq. But on Friday the prime minister, Marek Belka, announced that he will cut that number early next year, and then "will engage in talks on a further reduction."

Mr. Belka has a political problem. He can't explain the war to his constituents. And that's because there is no rational explanation.

As for the rebuilding of Iraq, forget about it. Hundreds of schools were damaged by U.S. bombing and thousands were looted by Iraqis. It's hard to believe that an administration that won't rebuild schools here in America will really go to bat for schoolkids in Iraq. Millions of Iraqi kids now attend schools that are decrepit and, in many cases, all but falling down-lacking such essentials as desks, chairs and even toilets, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.

Military commanders are warning that delays in the overall reconstruction are increasing the danger for American troops. A senior American military officer told The Times, "We can either put Iraqis back to work, or we can have them shoot [rocket-propelled grenades] at us."

The president and his apologists never understood what they were getting into in Iraq. What is unmistakable now is that Americans will never be willing to commit the overwhelming numbers of troops and spend the hundreds of billions of additional dollars necessary to have even a hope of bringing long-term stability to Iraq.

This is a war that never made sense and now we are seeing - from the troops on the ground, from our allies overseas and increasingly from the population here at home - the inevitable reluctance to forge ahead with the madness.

The president likes to say he made exactly the right decision on Iraq. Each new death of a soldier or a civilian, each child who loses a parent to the carnage, each healthy body that is broken or burned in this war that didn't have to happen, is a reminder of how horribly wrong he was.