THE WAR

Whom to believe? The Washington Post has a good and long analysis today of what the war so far teaches us about the future. There are two scenarios – a sudden collapse of the regime after some more pounding from the air and some successful skirmishing on the ground; or a more protracted affair in which we wait for more troops, keep Baghdad surrounded, deal with guerrilla warfare in the South, and then engage in brutal urban warfare for the remainder. The first is still possible and would make this war amazingly successful. But you’d have to be more of an optimist than I am to believe it’s the more likely. So this regime, this despicable regime, is not over yet. Our own over-confidence may have contributed to a reversal in the expectations game; and perhaps the “months long” line now being peddled by some is designed put the expectations game into reverse. But a failure of expectations is not a failure of war. And this past week’s emotional gyrations might even, if we’re lucky, prompt Saddam to make mistakes. He might listen to the BBC and think he’s winning. He won’t. But his over-confidence – I don’t know how else to interpret sending thousands of Republican Guard soldiers into the exposed desert – could help.

KEEP ON HAMMERING: If the war is more protracted, that makes the home front much more important. The propaganda organs against this war will fight hard to weaken American resolve. They are Saddam’s only real hope – that Americans will tire of casualties, lose confidence, and make some sort of deal with the devil. With this president, that won’t happen. But heaven knows, the anti-war right and left will do all they can to derail a war they so fiercely opposed. They will use even the slightest civilian casualties, however tiny in relative terms, into an hysterical campaign to foment regional unrest and sap morale at home. We have to counter and challenge their every argument. And the White House needs to be clearer now than ever, as Safire points out this morning, that we intend to win no matter what, and that winning means unconditional surrender of the regime. We have to reiterate tirelessly that we are morally in the right; that a regime that is sending its own troops into battle at the point of a gun deserves to die; that a gangster’s mob cannot and will not be allowed to terrorize a country and a region for much longer. And at some point, if Saddam’s terror mob doesn’t crack, we have to live with the higher numbers of civilian and military casualties that a less squeamish battle to destroy it might require. We’re not at that point yet – far from it. We’re actually still within reach of an amazingly casualty-free victory. But if it comes, and I deeply hope it doesn’t, we must simply aim at victory. If we have to live without a perfect scenario – regime collapse, infrastructure intact, civilians spared to an historically unprecedented degree – we have to.