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The home team


WASHINGTON -- 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 United Nations. We don't need our traditional allies. And 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 halftime show, 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, Fla., to visit U.S. Central Command 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 Iraq's threat, but sending Americans to remove him without a plan for the morning after.

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 neo-cons and this administration," notes my friend George Packer of The New Yorker, "was to think that America could fight this war alone. ... 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 Mr. Hussein 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 anti-war 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.

Thomas L. Friedman is a columnist for The New York Times. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.

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