Visions Of Life
2004-02-23 20:21:14 (UTC)

Food For Thought

February 8, 2004, Sunday, Late Edition - Final

SECTION: Section 4; Page 15; Column 1; Editorial Desk

LENGTH: 771 words

HEADLINE: The Home Team


BODY: I was actually at the Super Bowl. Yup. And I too
was upset about the halftime show -- but not just
because of Janet Jackson's antics. After the show ended,
I said to my wife: How can we present something to
America and the world that is this frivolous and gross
when we have 115,000 U.S. soldiers at war in Iraq, dying
at one per day? I realize this is irrational -- there's
no rule that says the Super Bowl show must honor
America's soldiers at war. But that halftime show has
become a kind of national moment and the grotesque way
it came out really captured what has bothered me most
about how this war is being conducted: The whole burden
is being borne by a small cadre of Americans -- the
soldiers, their families and reservists -- and the rest
of us are just sailing along, as if it has nothing to do
with us.

And what bothers me even more is that this dichotomy is
exactly what the Bush team wants. From the outset, it
has adopted the view that this war will be handled by
the Pentagon alone. We don't need the State Department
and its ideas about nation building. We don't need the
U.N. We don't need our traditional allies. And most of
all, we don't need the public. The message from the
White House has been: "You all just go about your
business of being Americans, pursuing happiness,
spending your tax cuts, enjoying the Super Bowl halftime
show, buying a new Hummer, and leave this war to our
volunteer Army. No sacrifices required, no new taxes to
pay for this long-term endeavor, and no need to reduce
our gasoline consumption, even though doing so would
help take money away from the forces of Islamist
intolerance that are killing our soldiers. No, we are so
rich and so strong and so right, we can win this war
without anyone other than the armed forces paying any
price or bearing any burden."

This outlook is morally and strategically bankrupt. It
is morally bankrupt because 1 percent of America is
carrying the whole burden of this war. After the Super
Bowl, I went to Tampa to visit Centcom headquarters and
Gen. John Abizaid and his staff. They run the war in
Iraq. I met many soldiers there, from the women serving
as analysts in the intelligence center to the strategic
planners just back from Baghdad, who had been separated
for months from their families or knew comrades killed
or wounded in Iraq.

Yet their morale, their professionalism and their belief
in this mission are still amazingly high. If you want
the antidote to all the creeps in that Super Bowl show,
spend a day at Centcom. I promise you, you will walk
away with one overriding feeling: We do not deserve
these people. They are so much better than the country
and the administration they are fighting for. We owe
them so much more respect, so much more sacrifice of our
own and so much better leadership from a Bush team whose
real sin is not hyping Saddam's threat, but sending
Americans to remove him without a plan for the morning

All I have to do is see what happened to the Kurds the
other day -- this proud mountain people who have built a
nice little democracy and free market in northern Iraq,
only to have it suicide-bombed by Islamists -- to be
reminded that this is a just war. It is a war of the
forces of tolerance, pluralism and decency against the
forces of intolerance, bigotry and religious fascism.

"But the great mistake of the neocons and this
administration," notes my friend George Packer, the New
Yorker writer who has done great reporting from Iraq,
"was to think that America could fight this war alone.
We could not win the cold war without our democratic
allies abroad, and without real sacrifice at home, and
we cannot win this one without both either. This is a
huge, long-term war of ideas that needs our public's
participation and that of our allies. But this
administration has never summoned that."

We can defeat Saddam alone. But we can't build a decent
political center in Iraq alone. We don't have enough
legitimacy or staying power. We need to enlist all our
allies -- including France, Germany and the U.N.
Security Council -- in this titanic struggle. The Bush
team has eaten crow on W.M.D. The Europeans have eaten
crow on Saddam. It's time now to put the alliance that
won the cold war back together.

The antiwar left is wrong: however mangled was the Bush
road to war, it is a war for the values of our
civilization. But the Bush conservatives are also wrong.
It can't be won with an "idealism" that is selfish,
greedy, arrogant, incapable of self-criticism and
believing that all that matters is our will and power
and nothing else.