In recent days, there has been a lot of hullabaloo about Paul Bremer's suggestion that we never had enough troops in Iraq.
Clearly, as in any politically charged season, his remarks have been twisted and bent. But while I understand him when he says that "disagreements among individuals of good will happen all the time, particularly in war and postwar situations," this particular disagreement strengthens my deep feeling that President Bush and his administration charged into Iraq without counting the potential cost.
Worse, Bremer, in a recent letter to the Times, draws a very slick connection from Saddam to Bin Laden, without ever saying as much. No-one could argue that he ever says explicitly that Saddam was working with Al Qaeda, but I'll bet that a high percentage of Americans, reading this, get that exact impression:
The president was right when he concluded that Saddam Hussein was a menace who needed to be removed from power. He understands that our enemies are not confined to Al Qaeda, and certainly not just to Osama bin Laden, who is probably trapped in his hide-out in Afghanistan. As the bipartisan 9/11 commission reported, there were contacts between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime going back a decade. We will win the war against global terror only by staying on the offensive and confronting terrorists and state sponsors of terror - wherever they are. Right now, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Qaeda ally, is a dangerous threat. He is in Iraq.
President Bush has said that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror. He is right. Mr. Zarqawi's stated goal is to kill Americans, set off a sectarian war in Iraq and defeat democracy there. He is our enemy.
Make sure you note the sneaky connection Bremer makes between Zarqawi and Saddam. He begins his argument with an opinion ("it was right to invade") that many people in the US simply don't share any more. Then he points out that we can track "contacts between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein's regime going back a decade." (Never mind that the bipartisan 9/11 commission, on page 334 of its report, points out that Richard Clarke sent a memo to C. Rice that 'found no "compelling case" that Iraq had either planned or perpetrated the attacks. And never mind that Clarke's assessment has never been proven incorrect by any of the multitude of reports on the Iraq war. Having "contact" with someone doesn't mean that you've colluded with them to blow up buildings. It doesn't even mean that you like them. As Clarke's memo also pointed out, "Bin Laden resented the secularism of Saddam Hussein's regime.") Then he points out that Zarqawi is currently in Iraq, and that he is a Qaeda ally.
It's a magical way to draw a connection between Saddam and Zarqawi, almost even suggesting that now that Saddam is captured, Zarqawi has taken over for him. If a Qaeda leader takes over for Saddam, maybe Saddam was actually Qaeda! Saddam is Qaeda! Saddam attacked us on September 11! We were right to invade!
Bah. I can't even believe the polls that say over 30% of Americans believe Saddam was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Folks, he wasn't. Bin Laden was, and he's still free. Wouldn't it be cool if we put everything we had into capturing him and his allies, instead of wasting billions of dollars and counless lives (over 1,000 American, and I don't even want to begin to count the non-American casualties, 'cause it'll just make me angry) in Iraq.
And at the last, Bremer uses our current trouble with Zarqawi to defend our presence in Iraq. Zarqawi is in Iraq and we're fighting him now, he says, so the president is right to declare Iraq the central front on the war in terror. He's right in this one way: now that we've invaded Iraq, now that we've destabilized it to the point that Zarqawi is actually capable of "set[ting] off a sectarian war," now that there's no turning back, Iraq indeed is the central front on the war in terror. But it didn't have to be. It's the central front on the war on terror--and our boys are dying over there--because this president decided it should be. And he was wrong.