by Austin Bay
April 16, 2003
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
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
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
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.