Militarily, this war on Iraq continues to go as well as any war in American history. Within the first three days, U.S. Marines and the 3rd Infantry had raced across the Iraqi desert to within 50 miles of Baghdad. The southern oil fields had been captured. Within a week, Umm Qasr, Iraq’s window on the Gulf, and Basra, her second city, had been cut off. Special Forces had seized the airfields in the west. Two missiles had hit Kuwait, but with almost no casualties. Half a dozen others had been shot down by Patriots.
In the second week, U.S. airborne troops dropped into the north and secured a vital airfield above Mosul and began to move south with the Kurds toward the oil fields.
At this writing, not one U.S. combat plane – be it a Stealth B-2 bomber, B-1B, B-52, F-117, F-16, F-15, F-14 or A-10 – has been shot down. A few helicopters have been lost. When a drone was downed, basically a big model airplane, Baghdad celebrated.
U.S. dead are, at this writing, about three dozen. In the first battle of the Civil War at Bull Run, “The Confederates … lost almost 2,000, but the Union army had lost more than 3,000; 387 were dead in gray, 481 in blue” – the rest were wounded or captured. So writes Shelby Foote.
Those armies would fight for four years with 400 men dying every day, either to preserve the Union or to break free of it. Those losses were sustained by a nation with a population one-eighth of what it is today.
Iraqi war dead have also been few, especially when one compares this to what we did to Dresden, Hamburg, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In those German and Japanese cities, scores of thousands of women and children were bombed and burned to death in minutes.
Yet, on the propaganda and political fronts, America is not winning. Sunday’s talk shows were consumed with the question of who underestimated Iraqi resistance and who underestimated the forces that would be needed to break the Republican Guard and take Baghdad.
FDR got less criticism for writing off thousands of soldiers and Marines on Bataan and Corregidor than have President Bush, Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy Franks for not having on hand enough troops to take Baghdad in 10 days.
The American people seem more mature than the talking heads about what will be needed to win. And if the United States can win this war in a month or six weeks – still possible given the steady attrition of the Republican Guard and the Baghdad regime under U.S. bombing, and the buildup of men and armor around Baghdad – what is being said now will not matter. Of greater concern is opinion in the Islamic world.
During Desert Storm, the “Arab Street” came out early, wildly denounced the United States and went home. “The Arab Street is a paper tiger” became the conventional wisdom. But demonstrations in Jordan, Egypt, Indonesia and Morocco have lately grown ominous. Anti-Americanism is rampant in the Gulf states. The Saudis have refused us permission to use their airspace for cruise-missile flights.
As the bombing of Baghdad grows more intense, and more bombs and missiles fall far from their targets and land on markets, malls, mosques, schools or hospitals, this is going to get worse. Nightly pictures on Al-Jazeera of Iraqi dead and wounded will even further inflame the Islamic world against the United States.
Can this go on for weeks, or months, without an explosion?
And what of the Bush Doctrine? If we had trouble finding allies when we were demanding that Saddam obey Security Council resolutions, where will we find them as that doctrine is applied to Iran and North Korea, which are under no U.N. resolutions?
If we need most of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps to defeat Iraq, where do we find the troops to invade Iran, which is three times as large and populous? Or North Korea, with its million-man army, hundreds of missiles and 13,000 artillery pieces on the DMZ? If we go marching to Pyongyang, there will be more than three dozen U.S. dead in the first two weeks.
Will Tony Blair be up for another war? Will our own elites and people be willing to go it alone, into one, two or three more wars on behalf of the Bush Doctrine, against the Axis of Evil, when what has been a successful war so far has so many wringing their hands?
Is America prepared to pay the price of empire? This has been the question from the beginning. Judging from the stunned reaction among our political and journalistic elites to the first resistance in a war that is going remarkably well, the answer is, “No.”