What Bush Doesn't Know

By BOB HERBERT

New York Times

July 25, 2005

I remember the arrogance that accompanied the "shock and awe" bombing campaign that kicked off the war in Iraq more than two years ago. The war was supposed to be quick and easy, a cakewalk. The enemy, we were told, would fold like a dinner napkin. And then, in the neoconservative fantasies of some of the crazier folks in the Bush crowd, the military would gear up for an invasion of Iran.

In one of the great deceptions in the history of American government, President Bush insisted to a nation traumatized by the Sept. 11 attacks that the invasion of Iraq was crucial to the success of the so-called war on terror.

"Some have argued that confronting the threat from Iraq could detract from the war against terror," said Mr. Bush in a speech in the fall of 2002 that was designed to drum up support for the invasion. "To the contrary, confronting the threat posed by Iraq is crucial to winning the war on terror."

In the speech, delivered in Cincinnati, Mr. Bush said of Iraq: "It possesses and produces chemical and biological weapons. It is seeking nuclear weapons."

I've always urged politicians to be careful what they wish for. The president got the war he wanted so badly. But he never understood an essential fact that Georges Clemenceau learned nearly a century ago - that "it is easier to make war than to make peace."

So where are we, now that the real world has intervened? The military is spinning its wheels in the tragic and expensive quagmire of Iraq and there is no end to the conflict in sight. A front-page story in The Times on Sunday said the insurgents "just keep getting stronger and stronger."

As for the fight against terror, the news runs the gamut from bad to horrible. The Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik in Egypt was traumatized by a series of early-morning terrorist blasts on Saturday. London is trembling from the terror attacks on its public transportation system that have claimed dozens of lives.

Here in New York, where the police have begun random searches of the backpacks and packages of subway riders, there is an odd feeling of resignation mixed with periodic bouts of dread, as transit riders struggle with the belief that some kind of attack is bound to happen here.

Interviews over the past few days have shown that subway riders in New York almost instinctively understand what the president does not - that the war in Iraq is not making us safer here at home.

"No, in fact I think it makes us less safe here," said Edmond Lee, a salesman who lives on Manhattan's Upper West Side. "We went over there with no real plan. No real thinking about what we'd be able to do."

He said he was concerned that "what happened in the London Underground might happen here."

Memories of the destruction of the World Trade Center are still etched, as if with acid, in the minds of New Yorkers. Very few people are dovish when it comes to the war on terror. But Mr. Bush's war in Iraq is another matter.

"Our soldiers being over there make it worse here," said Michael Springfield, a 32-year-old engineer from Brooklyn.

One of the people encountered in the subway was Andy Dommen, a musician from Germany who was pushing a shopping cart filled with luggage. He made the fundamental distinction between Iraq and Al Qaeda and said the war in Iraq was a distraction that "was taking the public eye off" other important problems, namely the fight against terror.

"Messing up other countries," said Mr. Dommen, "doesn't make the world or America safer."

There is still no indication that the Bush administration recognizes the utter folly of its war in Iraq, which has been like a constant spray of gasoline on the fire of global terrorism. What was required in the aftermath of Sept. 11 was an intense, laserlike focus by America and its allies on Al Qaeda-type terrorism.

Instead, the Bush crowd saw its long dreamed of opportunity to impose its will on Iraq, which had nothing to do with the great tragedy of Sept. 11. Many thousands have paid a fearful price for that bit of ideological madness.

E-mail: bobherb@nytimes.com