Monday, March 31, 2003

PEGGY NOONAN

We Can Take It
The benefits of the long haul.

BY PEGGY NOONAN
Monday, March 31, 2003 12:01 a.m. EST

Unanticipated good can come from misfortune. When the war began 11 days ago, on that Thursday morning that began with the big bunker blaster hit on the famous target of opportunity, it seemed possible, if only for 48 hours, that this just might be an easy war. What surprise and relief. There were reports that Saddam Hussein might be dead or injured, and the Iraqi command seemed in chaos.

It seemed too good to be true and was. The past 11 days people have found themselves settling in to the idea that this is going to be a hard, effortful, possibly brutal and certainly dramatic war.

Which means it's going to be like most wars.

What is happening now in Iraq is what happens when your troops and their leaders do everything possible to limit civilian casualties. They do this because it is humane and necessary to a great power, and also because each civilian death is a propaganda opportunity for the antiwar effort. (More on that later.)

We are going to win, as everyone seems to know, but there is no longer a chance that it will be "easy." This is bad because easy is better. Easy means fewer dead and less dread. But--a big if somewhat grim but--there is some good to be gotten from the long haul. And perhaps we ought to be thinking about it.

It would have been great if a big massive quick hit forced the gopher out of its hole, left it frozen in the lights and easy pickings for a marksman. You could hope for that, but you couldn't expect it. One of the reasons many of us who were late to support invasion were reluctant was our sense that a quick enemy collapse was too much to hope for. Saddam had had 12 years since the last war to recover and plan, and in any case the chaos inside Iraq in 2003 was going to be a harder thing to face than a dispirited Iraqi army in Kuwait in 1990.

So this is going to take a while. And that is going to surprise some Americans, including probably some wearing our uniform. The military action our country has been involved in since Vietnam (for a great world power there have been few) has been relatively quick work. We have by and large gone in, made our impression and reordered the reality we had gone to confront. The perfect illustration, the 1983 invasion of Grenada, a small island victim of a violent communist coup. President Reagan sent in the marines. They did quick work. Liberation followed, including that of the American medical students who, freed, returned home and startled the world by kissing the American ground.

We gave out a lot of medals in that war. So many that civilians wondered if grade inflation hadn't come, finally, even to the American military. But there was also a counter-sense that the leaders of America's military establishment felt they must give the troops the awards and appreciation the American public, still concussed by Vietnam, and American politicians, ever quavering, could not be relied upon to give.

At any rate, U.S. military involvements for the past 30 years have been quick and quickly beribboned.

The second Gulf War will not be quick. And one senses no one will doubt, when it was over, that every medal was earned.

But the long haul is going to mean and demonstrate more than that. A resentful world is about to see that America had to fight for it. They are about to see America could fight for it--that we had and have the stomach for a struggle. Our implacable foes and sometimes doubting friends will see that America's armed forces don't just shock and awe, we stay and fight.

The world will be reminded that America still knows how to suffer. In a county as in an individual, the ability to withstand pain--the ability to suffer--says a great deal about character. It speaks of maturity and courage, among other things. The world knew half a century ago that America will absorb pain to reach progress. It is not all bad that they are seeing it again.

Americans too may be heartened to see that we know how to absorb pain. Deep in the heart of many pro-invasion thinkers has been a question they do not ponder for it could only be answered in time. It was: Can we still take it? It won't be bad for us to see that the answer is yes.

Our armed forces, the professionals, are going to learn that they can do it. They've wondered too. They are also going to learn how to do their jobs better, because they're really going to have to do the job. They are not going to feel when they return that they got all dressed up and the party was canceled. They're going to know they put on 50 pounds of gear and then slogged through a sandstorm to take town after town. And no one is going to wonder if there was grade inflation in the medal giving.

If we're in a long-haul war there will be benefits that are not necessarily tangible, but real nonetheless.

The biggest threat to America now, apart from Iraqi regulars and irregulars, is not a person but a phenomenon. It is the twisting or abusing of facts to underscore a point of view one wishes to see disseminated. I mean propaganda. The antiwar left did not pick up its marbles and go home when the war began. They just went home and waited for something bad to happen that they could exploit. They have it now: a war that is taking time and producing deaths on the field.

The antiwar left has shown precious little interest in or compassion for members of the U.S. armed services. And yet you can bet the farm that they are about to discover a great warm hearted concern as the bodies of American fighters come home. The left is going to use those deaths as propaganda in their attempts to stop the war.

A softer form of this propaganda--in fairness that may not be the right word here, as mere sloppiness may be the cause of error--was mentioned in a recent column by Rich Galen, who noted strange media reporting of a poll on US support for the war:


I was flipping through the cable news channels and came across someone who was sadly reporting that only about 34 percent of the country now thought the war was going well. That 34 percent number was shocking. So I looked it up. Here's the scoop: The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll asked: "How would you say the war with Iraq has gone for the U.S. so far: very well, moderately well, moderately badly, or very badly?" As the commentator suggested, 34% said "very well." But what he neglected to say was that 51% said it was going "moderately well." Put together, fully EIGHTY-FIVE PERCENT of those polled had a favorable view toward the conduct of the war. By the way, the most recent CBS/NY Times poll--not exactly two news organizations with a reputation for being in the employ of the Bush White House--asked the same question and came up with 84% (32% very well, 52% somewhat well).

Rich Galen is one who reads between the lines professionally, but as this war goes on a lot of Americans will find it necessary to read between the lines as progress of the war, and world feeling about it, is reported.

Ms. Noonan is a contributing editor of The Wall Street Journal. Her most recent book, "When Character Was King: A Story of Ronald Reagan," is published by Viking Penguin. You can buy it from the OpinionJournal bookstore. Her column appears Mondays.

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