Justin Hunt, a young man from Wildomar, Calif., about 75 miles east of Los Angeles, was determined to join the Marines. When recruiters pointed out that he was grossly overweight, he spent a year losing more than 150 pounds. Then he signed up and was promptly sent to Iraq, where he was killed last Tuesday in an explosion. He was 22.
Three American soldiers, not yet publicly identified, were killed yesterday in two separate attacks on military patrols north of Baghdad. On Saturday four marines were killed in a vehicle accident near Falluja. And five more American soldiers were killed Thursday in a mortar attack on a base in the Sunni-dominated city of Samarra.
Even as these brave troops were dying in the cruel and bloody environs of Iraq, the Senate Intelligence Committee in Washington was unfurling its damning unanimous report about the incredibly incompetent intelligence that the Bush administration used to justify this awful war.
The bipartisan committee, headed by Republican Senator Pat Roberts, declared that the key intelligence assessments trumpeted by President Bush as the main reasons for invading Iraq were unfounded.
Nearly 900 G.I.'s and more than 10,000 Iraqi civilians have already perished, and there is no end to the war in sight. The situation is both sorrowful and disorienting. The colossal intelligence failures and the willful madness of the administration, which presented war as the first and only policy option, can leave you with the terrible feeling that you're standing at the graveside of common sense and reasonable behavior.
A government with even a nodding acquaintance with competence and good sense would have launched an all-out war against Al Qaeda, not Iraq, in the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11. After all, it was Al Qaeda, not Iraq, that carried out the sneak attack on American soil that destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon and killed 3,000 people. You might think that would have been enough to provoke an all-out response from the U.S. Instead we saved our best shot for the demented and already checkmated dictator of Iraq, Saddam Hussein.
Bin Laden and Al Qaeda must have gotten a good laugh out of that. Now they're planning to come at us again. On Thursday, the same day Iraqi insurgents killed the five G.I.'s in Samarra, the Bush administration disclosed that bin Laden and his lieutenants, believed to be operating from hideouts along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, were directing an effort by Al Qaeda to unleash an encore attack against the United States.
According to Tom Ridge, the homeland security secretary, the latest effort may well be timed to disrupt the fall elections.
If that happens, I wonder if we'll finally get serious about the war we should be fighting against bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Maybe not. Based on the impenetrable logic of the president and his advisers, a new strike by Al Qaeda might lead us to start a war with, say, Iran, or Syria.
If we know that bin Laden and his top leadership are somewhere along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, and that they're plotting an attack against the United States, why are we not zeroing in on them with overwhelming force? Why is there not a sense of emergency in the land, with the entire country pulling together to stop another Sept. 11 from occurring?
Why are we not more serious about this?
I don't know what the administration was thinking when it invaded Iraq even as the direct threat from bin Laden and Al Qaeda continued to stare us in the face. That threat has only intensified. The war in Iraq consumed personnel and resources badly needed in the campaign against bin Laden and his allies. And it has fanned the hatred of the U.S. among Muslims around the world. Instead of destroying Al Qaeda, we have played right into its hands and contributed immeasurably to its support.
Most current intelligence analysts agree with Secretary Ridge that Al Qaeda will try before long to strike the U.S. mainland once again.
We've trained most of our guns on the wrong foe. The real enemy is sneaking up behind us. Again. The price to be paid for not recognizing this could be devastating.