The reputation of war was not enhanced by the humiliating defeat of Iraq.
Yes, President Bush, the Pentagon, the coalition forces, the United Nations deserve praise for spine, principles of international order, diplomatic coordination, and military efficiency. Working back from the outcome, it is hard to fault the deadlines set and enforced by the allied command.And it is better that only 100 or 200 casualties were taken on the allied side than anything like the 100,000 casualties (give or take 50,000 - who knows?) for Iraq.
But some assumptions should not pass.
Even the 100 or 200 casualties are a universe of loss to those who lost them. If that is so, what of the loss to Iraqi families?
Not a sparrow falls, we are taught, without God's notice. Who are the sparrows here?
Bush repeatedly said the quarrel was not with the Iraqi people but with their leadership's invasion and pillage of Kuwait. Some stated compassion for the universal loss then would be in order.
The opposite of war is not victory and defeat, but peace. And peace must include wanting the best for all the peoples of the region, even the nominal enemy, Iraq.
Has the ghost of the "Vietnam syndrome" been expelled from the American psyche, as now claimed? What is the Vietnam syndrome, anyway? That Washington might engage in a foolish war, or at least foolishly continue a war in a way it could not win? That U.S. soldiers might regret inflicting chemical terror on humans and vegetation alike? That U.S. citizens and America's friends could see the brutality outweighed the benefits? That the word of the government and the military could not be trusted? And as for veterans, many of a generation's warriors are haunted still. The rightness of the Iraq war can not be put in the balance with Vietnam's mistakes.
Has anyone been "taught a lesson" about United States and allied willingness to enforce discipline? In recent years, why had not the U.S. strike against Moammar Gadhafi in Libya forewarned Manuel Noriega in Panama? Why had not the elimination of Noriega forewarned Saddam Hussein against invading Kuwait - especially after the United States had moved into the region to protect Kuwaiti shipping from meddling by Iran? The deterrence of military force among nations may be no greater than that of capital punishment and the police force among societies and individuals.
The strong should always be reluctant to use their strength and to boast of it. Bullies like Saddam will have to be taken care of, as he was. Leading his people into such devastation was criminal. He should be punished.
The world has gotten to know a cast of military briefers, arms experts, reporters during the war over Kuwait. Was this show the war? In any event, this cast will fade as the region turns toward rebuilding and political realignment. The task will be difficult, so old are the antagonisms there.
Any new world order will be helped by a deeper sense that we are all sparrows.