by Austin Bay
April 16, 2003
If you mean the War on Terror, the answer is, "No, not by a longshot." Victory in that dark, intricate conflict remains years away.
With a military triumph in Iraq, however, the civilized worldhas 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 onpolitical 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 alreadyevident to everyone with a knack for the obvious. Give or take a sunrise, ittook 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. Themilitary ops were a lesson in "the new mathematics" of war, where precisionweapons, digital communications, robotic sensors, and the rapiddissemination of intelligence data dramatically multiplies the combat powerof seemingly fewer U.S. forces.
Central Command's war plan showcased the Pentagon's long-haulprogram to produce truly "joint forces," an interdependent military wherethe capabilities of air, space, naval and land units are fully integrated.One example: In a matter of seconds, a patrolling B-52 strategic bomber canput a precision 2,000 pound bomb on a specific target at the call of asingle infantryman.
There is this caution for anyone who believes America's militaryis a magic bullet: Saddam's forces never recovered from the licking theytook in 1991. Sanctions made it tough for Saddam to rebuild. Saddam's forcesalso lacked popular support -- the Iraqi Army and the Republican Guard weretools of tyrannical oppression. U.S. war planners, however, took this intoaccount. The United States only deployed a fifth or so of its ground combatforces.
While the operational victory is extraordinary, strategicvictory in the War on Terror requires focused and sustained military,political and economic efforts.
The formula for Hell in the 21st century, the linkage ofterrorists, rogue states and Weapons of Mass Destruction, still challengescivilized states. Reforming rogue states, curbing the proliferation ofWeapons of Mass Destruction and killing terrorists is an involved andintricate process.
However -- for many reasons -- the quick operational victorydoes create opportunities and conditions that can accelerate this process.Iraq becomes a laboratory, not only for democratic change inMiddle East, but in all despotisms. Saddam's toppling statutes demonstratethat this was a war of liberation. For decades, Arab moderates have saidthey cannot act because the radicals' guns are held to their heads. InBaghdad, the guns are gone. Establishing the rule of law in a brutalizedsociety will be tough and trying, but so was rebuilding Europe and Japanafter WWII in the face of Stalinist might.What's behind the Middle East's endemic poverty? Theft byautocrats. Iraq can showcase the fruits of economic reform. When the Iraqipeople get an equitable cut of oil profits, the world will see Baghdad'sArab street head for the Honda dealership.Global terrorists have lost a key terror hub. Terrorists canno longer train and organize in Iraq. Its loss further squeezes terroristfinancial operatives. Baghdad is a huge intelligence trove. Data gained willvastly improve the world's ability to track and stop the proliferation ofweapons of mass destruction.Other bad guys understand the toppling statuary -- andsuddenly they respond to diplomacy. Note that North Korea's bluster hasbecome a squeak. U.S. diplomats must take advantage of the object lesson topush for political liberalization in despotic regimes and full cooperationin the war on terror.The military victory may help revive moribund internationalinstitutions. The United Nations is well on its way to League of Nationirrelevance, but itcould still serve civilized purposes if it can act withspine. U.S., British and Australian military action shows democracies aren'tintimidated by rogues and they aren't leashed by corrupt institutions wheretyrannies like Libya chair human rights commissions. A United Nationsundermined by petty tyrants is a sad little circus; a United Nations led byvisionary, 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.