We are not quite seeing the beginning of the end of our efforts, but rather, to paraphrase Churchill, the end of the beginning. Pockets of resistance remain; the north is to be pacified. The fate of Saddam is uncertain — as well as the role of Syria. An edgy Turkish general could still cause havoc. Falsehood promulgated in the Arab world must be systematically exposed and refuted. Chemical weapons must be hunted down and unearthed. The horrors of a fascistic regime will come to light, even as those who in the streets of Baghdad now praise Americans in hours will rightly demand civil order and utilities to be restored — or else.
Ruffled and cynical reporters, bored with 19th-century scenes of American arms and liberated Iraqis, will systematically start airing stories of “clumsy” collateral damage and pessimistic tales of endless terror. All this and more will tax our resources and patience — as abroad shameless enemies now profess that they are neutrals and neutrals sudden allies. Some brave Americans still may have a tragic rendezvous with death in a few more days of a dirty war whose outcome is not in doubt. Hussein’s statues sometimes seem as difficult to destroy as Saddam himself — as if they are eerie reminders that civilization has not seen as macabre an enemy as the Iraqi Baathists since the SS.
But despite our understandable caution, it is time to acknowledge the sheer audacity and skill of the American military — not seen on the world stage since the rapid-marching legions of the Pax Romana. The Lincolnesque steadiness of the administration is also rare in our cynical age — given the slurs and slanders of the past three weeks. On television, in print, and on the airwaves, instant pundits offered a daily menu of castigation, then praise, then sarcasm, and all in ten-minute news cycles — the only constant being the absence of any acknowledgment of prior error and deductive misanalysis. Even the most patient officials entrusted with the lives of thousands must have been wearied by two years of Scott Ritter, Hans Blix, Michael Moore, and Jacques Chirac.
On a minor note, I was pleased to read that Maureen Dowd yesterday criticized things that I (a.k.a. “Mr. Davis”) had written as consistent with the thinking of some in the administration. I confess that her writing has long bothered me, always in times of national distress reflecting an elite superficiality that is out of touch with most of us in the America she flies over. It is not just that for the last two years she has been wrong about Afghanistan, wrong about the efficacy of the war against terror, and wrong about Iraq — despite yesterday’s surprising sudden admission that “We were always going to win the war with Iraq.” The problem is more a grotesque chicness that quite amorally juxtaposes mention of tidbits like alpha males, Manhattan fashion — and her own psychodramas — with themes of real tragedies like the dying in the Middle East and war’s horror.
So she just doesn’t get it. It is precisely because Mr. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz hate war, wish to avoid a repeat of the vaporization of 3,000 in Manhattan and the specter of further mass killing from terrorists, armed with frightening weapons from rogue states like Iraq, that they resorted to force. She evokes Sherman (who called something like 19th century Dowdism “bottled piety”) with disdain, but forgets that Sherman, who saw firsthand the grotesqueness of Shiloh, proclaimed that war was all hell — but only after his trek through Georgia where he freed 40,000 slaves and destroyed the icons of the Confederacy, while losing 100 soldiers and killing not more than 600 young non-slave-holding Southerners, an hour’s carnage at Antietam or Gettysburg.
It might be neat between cappuccinos to write about leaders getting “giddy” about winning a terrible war, or thinking up cool nicknames like “Rummy,” “Wolfie,” and titles like “Dances with Wolfowitz,” but meanwhile out in the desert stink thousands of young Americans, a world away from the cynical Letterman world of Maureen Dowd, risk their lives to ensure that there are no more craters in her environs — and as a dividend give 26 million a shot at the freedom that she so breezily enjoys.