Bob Herbert

New York

You might think that the debacle in Iraq would be enough for the Pentagon, that it would not be in the mood to seek out new routes to unnecessary wars for the United States to fight. But with Donald Rumsfeld at the apex of the defense establishment, enough is never enough.

So, as detailed in an article in The New York Times on Dec. 19, Rumsfeld's minions are concocting yet another grandiose and potentially disastrous scheme. Pentagon officials are putting together a plan that would give the military a more prominent role in intelligence gathering operations that traditionally have been handled by the Central Intelligence Agency. They envision the military doing more spying with humans, as opposed, for example, to surveillance with satellites.

Further encroachment by the military into intelligence matters better handled by civilians is bad enough. Now hold your breath: According to the article, "Among the ideas cited by Defense Department officials is the idea of 'fighting for intelligence,' or commencing combat operations chiefly to obtain intelligence."

That is utter madness. The geniuses in Washington have already launched one bogus war, which has cost tens of thousands of lives and provoked levels of suffering that are impossible to quantify. America doesn't need to be contemplating new forms of warfare waged for the sole purpose of gathering intelligence.

Part of this plan to further aggrandize Rumsfeld is being drafted under the direction of Lieutenant General William Boykin, a deputy undersecretary of defense who has already demonstrated that he should not be allowed anywhere near the most serious matters of national security. Boykin, who once had the job of directing the hunt for Osama bin Laden, is an evangelical Christian who believes God put President George W. Bush in the White House. He has described the fight against Islamic militants as a struggle against Satan and declared that it can be won only "if we come at them in the name of Jesus."

Boykin asserted his views in speeches that he delivered in his military uniform at religious functions around the country. In one speech, referring to a Muslim fighter in Somalia, the general said, "Well, you know what I knew - that my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol."

Boykin was forced to apologize after media accounts led to widespread criticism. But the Bush administration is still holding him tightly in its embrace. How difficult is it to come to the conclusion that this in not a fellow who should be making decisions on matters involving armed conflict with Muslims?

It's also time to rein in Rumsfeld. As The Times noted in a recent editorial, "The last time Rumsfeld tried to force himself into the intelligence collection and analysis business, he created a boutique CIA in the bowels of the Pentagon under the command of Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy. The office essentially fabricated a link between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden - a link used to justify the Iraq invasion, and one that Rumsfeld was not getting from the CIA."

As Rumsfeld sees it, if the professionals won't give you what you want, find someone who will. What the administration wanted from its intelligence sources was a reason to go to war. Rumsfeld's shop was more than happy to oblige.

The war in Iraq was the result of powerful government figures imposing their dangerous fantasies on the world. The fantasies notably included the weapons of mass destruction, the inks between Al Qaeda and Saddam, the throngs of Iraqis hurling kisses and garlands at the invading Americans and the spread of U.S.-style democracy throughout the Middle East. All voices of caution were ignored, and the fantasies were allowed to prevail.

The world is not a video game, although it must seem like it at times to the hubristic, hermetically sealed powerbrokers in Washington who manipulate the forces that affect the lives of so many millions of people in every region of the planet. That kind of power calls for humility, not arrogance, and should be wielded wisely, not thoughtlessly and impulsively.

This latest overreach by Rumsfeld is a sign that the administration, like a hardheaded adolescent, has learned little or nothing from the tragic consequences of its wrongheaded policies. The second term is coming, so buckle up. It promises to be a very dangerous four years.