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A blurred vision of war


September 07, 2006

WASHINGTON -- For the rest of our lives, "9/11" will haunt us, evoking a rush of fear, anger and grief. But now the issue is what the impact will be on unborn Americans.

President Bush's determination to tie the war in Iraq more firmly to the war on terror is a calculation born of frustration and stubbornness. In the run up to the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, warning us against getting "stuck on stupid," Bush quoted terrorist Osama bin Laden, who still eludes capture, as saying that the third world war is raging in Iraq.

The implication is that if America "loses" in Iraq, although what a "win" would constitute has never been adequately defined, America will lose a major battle against terrorism, even the "third world war."

A U.S. president has tremendous power in what he chooses to say. Millions of people believe that if a U.S. president says something, it must be true. At least people used to think that.

Iraq is not the front of a world war, but Bush did not dispute bin Laden's self-serving allegation.

Bush once suggested Saddam Hussein was to blame in part for 9/11. He now admits the loathsome former Iraqi leader had nothing to do with that awful day and that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction - Bush's rationale for war. But according to a Gallup Poll, 43 percent of Americans believe that Saddam Hussein, an enemy of bin Laden, had a role in 9/11.

Millions of Americans, following Bush, argue that toppling Saddam Hussein was worth the lives of 2,658 American soldiers, another 20,000 injured, the deaths of 30,000 Iraqis and the destruction of much of Iraq.

Bush said, in his latest series of speeches defending the war in Iraq, that "the outcome of the war on terror will depend on the outcome in Iraq." As a result of increasing violence and chaos, he is sending more U.S. troops to Iraq. The "free world must succeed in Iraq," he argues.

"Success" apparently means an economically viable, stable and democratic Iraq, able to defend itself from insurgents, invading armies from Iran or Syria and terrorists from all over.

But in recent months most of the rest of the "free world" has moved even further from Bush on the war in Iraq. Critics warn Iraq is on the brink of civil war and is further destabilizing the Middle East. They warn that 140,000 U.S. soldiers can't keep Iraq from total chaos.

Never given to introspection or saying he's sorry, Bush clearly will not concede he was wrong in diverting U.S. resources after 9/11 to a war in Iraq away from a relentless pursuit of al Qaeda. Unwilling to admit Iraq was bungled, he clutches at 9/11 to try to justify a fiasco.

Bush will not admit his secret CIA prisons were a bad idea but asks us to accept his claim they stopped other terrorist attacks. He suggests his political foes in Congress are a limp-wristed lot for insisting that a democracy must stick above all to the principles of the rule of law and civil liberties.

History tells us it takes little effort to start a war. Stopping a war takes far more effort and caginess. The war in Afghanistan, still unfinished (the Taliban are regrouping and opium growth is historically high), was a legitimate effort to wipe out al Qaeda training camps. Our allies agreed.

Bush justifies his decision to continue the war in Iraq without a timetable for its end by saying those who were killed must not have died in vain. But "cut your losses" is not the same as "cut and run." Bush has never told us exactly what would constitute a "victory" in Iraq or how long it would take or why we should fight somebody else's religious civil war.

Bush so far has offered a lousy post 9/11 inheritance to future Americans. His policies have driven the Middle East further from peace. The war in Iraq has diverted billions of dollars from homeland security. Other nations scoff at our efforts to stop nuclear proliferation; a nuclear-armed al Qaeda would be catastrophic. Millions regard us as morally bankrupt and believe U.S. goals revolve around oil, Israel and smiting Islam. Others think this country will invade and destroy others' homelands to fight its battles on their shores and keep U.S. shores safe.

The war in Iraq has given war a bad name. There are just and moral wars; Iraq is not one of them. Iraq will make declaring and waging just and moral wars more difficult. After 9/11, the world stood by our side against a few thousand terrorists. Because of the war in Iraq, increasingly, we march alone against legions.


Scripps Howard columnist Ann McFeatters has covered the
White House and national politics since 1986.
E-mail amcfeatters(at)
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service,

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