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On Point

What Does the Quick Victory Bring?

by Austin Bay
April 16, 2003

We've won?

If you mean the War on Terror, the answer is, "No, not by a long shot." Victory in that dark, intricate conflict remains years away.

With a military triumph in Iraq, however, the civilized world has taken a big step toward creating a safer, more prosperous 21st century. Now the United States and the rest of the civilized world must act on political and diplomatic opportunities Saddam's fall creates.

Central Command has obtained what the military calls an "operational" victory. The shock and awe of this achievement is already evident to everyone with a knack for the obvious. Give or take a sunrise, it took four weeks to conduct "major operations" to defeat Saddam's military.

The offensive featured the most rapid armor attack in history, with the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division racing from Kuwait to Baghdad. The military ops were a lesson in "the new mathematics" of war, where precision weapons, digital communications, robotic sensors, and the rapid dissemination of intelligence data dramatically multiplies the combat power of seemingly fewer U.S. forces.

Central Command's war plan showcased the Pentagon's long-haul program to produce truly "joint forces," an interdependent military where the capabilities of air, space, naval and land units are fully integrated. One example: In a matter of seconds, a patrolling B-52 strategic bomber can put a precision 2,000 pound bomb on a specific target at the call of a single infantryman.

There is this caution for anyone who believes America's military is a magic bullet: Saddam's forces never recovered from the licking they took in 1991. Sanctions made it tough for Saddam to rebuild. Saddam's forces also lacked popular support -- the Iraqi Army and the Republican Guard were tools of tyrannical oppression. U.S. war planners, however, took this into account. The United States only deployed a fifth or so of its ground combat forces.

While the operational victory is extraordinary, strategic victory in the War on Terror requires focused and sustained military, political and economic efforts.

The formula for Hell in the 21st century, the linkage of terrorists, rogue states and Weapons of Mass Destruction, still challenges civilized states. Reforming rogue states, curbing the proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and killing terrorists is an involved and intricate process.

However -- for many reasons -- the quick operational victory does create opportunities and conditions that can accelerate this process.

  • Iraq becomes a laboratory, not only for democratic change in Middle East, but in all despotisms. Saddam's toppling statutes demonstrate that this was a war of liberation. For decades, Arab moderates have said they cannot act because the radicals' guns are held to their heads. In Baghdad, the guns are gone. Establishing the rule of law in a brutalized society will be tough and trying, but so was rebuilding Europe and Japan after WWII in the face of Stalinist might.
  • What's behind the Middle East's endemic poverty? Theft by autocrats. Iraq can showcase the fruits of economic reform. When the Iraqi people get an equitable cut of oil profits, the world will see Baghdad's Arab street head for the Honda dealership.
  • Global terrorists have lost a key terror hub. Terrorists can no longer train and organize in Iraq. Its loss further squeezes terrorist financial operatives. Baghdad is a huge intelligence trove. Data gained will vastly improve the world's ability to track and stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
  • Other bad guys understand the toppling statuary -- and suddenly they respond to diplomacy. Note that North Korea's bluster has become a squeak. U.S. diplomats must take advantage of the object lesson to push for political liberalization in despotic regimes and full cooperation in the war on terror.
  • The military victory may help revive moribund international institutions. The United Nations is well on its way to League of Nation irrelevance, but itcould still serve civilized purposes if it can act with spine. U.S., British and Australian military action shows democracies aren't intimidated by rogues and they aren't leashed by corrupt institutions where tyrannies like Libya chair human rights commissions. A United Nations undermined by petty tyrants is a sad little circus; a United Nations led by visionary, determined democracies can be a force for human rights.
  • With France sufficiently shamed, a year from now a U.S. initiative to "rejuvenate the U.N." might well lead to long overdue U.N. reforms.

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