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Perspective on the Duration of War By: Charles Krauthammer
Townhall.com | Monday, April 07, 2003


The First Gulf War took six weeks. Afghanistan took nine. Kosovo, eleven. We are now just past two weeks in the Second Gulf War. It's time for a bit of perspective. This campaign has already been honored with a ``quagmire'' piece by The New York Times' Johnny Apple, seer and author of a similar and justly famous quagmire piece on Afghanistan published just days before the fall of Mazar-e Sharif and the swift collapse of the Taliban.

The drumbeat of complaint for the first two weeks from the media, retired generals and anonymous administration malcontents has been twofold: the ``flawed plan'' and the raised expectations.

With American troops at the gates of Baghdad, the plan is looking pretty good now. But even when things looked tough in Week Two, the frenzy of the critics was a bit weird. It's an old military cliche that all plans look great until the shooting starts. Then the plan is thrown out. Nonetheless, Tommy Franks' plan has fared better than most. It may not have anticipated the level of initial resistance in the south. But this is a campaign of staggering complexity. The fact that but a single element was miscalibrated (without significant damage to the overall campaign) is, on the contrary, testimony to a plan of remarkable prescience.

Even more impressive was the speed of the military's adaptation to the new circumstances. For a military establishment as large, mechanized, integrated and complex as America's to be so nimble in adapting to the tactics of Saddam's Baathist die-hard irregulars in southern Iraq is nothing short of astonishing. Why deny it? Take credit for it. This flexibility will have a far more decisive effect on the final outcome than the silly charge that the original blueprint did not perfectly predict the future.

The other major complaint has been raised expectations. It is true that before the war there were expectations of a quick and bloodless victory. It is not fair to say that the administration orchestrated the expectations. It is fair to say that the administration allowed that impression to grow.

For example, former President Clinton had said, ``This war is going to be over in a flash'' and ``You're looking at a couple weeks of bombing and then I'd be astonished if this campaign took more than a week.'' President Bush said nothing of the sort. But the administration did little to dispel the conventional wisdom that Clinton was reflecting.

This passivity is taken by administration critics to be a cynical attempt to manipulate U.S. public opinion in support of a dubious war. Nonsense. The administration already had remarkable across-the-board support for the war. Why raise expectations at home? It is an axiom of political life that you never raise expectations, whether in a political or military campaign, because your defeats are then magnified and your victories discounted.

It is true that the administration did not contradict the general view of an easy war. But not for domestic political reasons. It did so for obvious and very good military reasons. The target audience for these inflated expectations was not the American people but Saddam's henchmen.

Plan A for the war was a quick and devastating attack that would cause a collapse of the regime and lead to the ultimate military outcome--the Sun Tzu ideal of victory with barely a shot fired.

Plan A had several parts: an intense initial ``shock and awe'' air attack, a bold rush of armor to the gates of Baghdad and, fortuitously, a first-night decapitation strike on Saddam's own bunker. But the key to Plan A was a further psy-warfare element: planting in the Iraqi leadership the idea that an American victory was inevitable, that the war would be quick and that Saddam's collapse would be immediate--and therefore they should be prepared within hours to either flee or defect to the winning side.

The point of allowing expectations to remain unrealistically high was to encourage waverers in Saddam's entourage to turn against the regime very early and end the war even before it began. It was a good idea. It did not pan out. But given the possible benefits, it was certainly worth a try.

The regime did not collapse overnight. Hence Plan B, an adapted version to the original war plan. It involves real fighting and real losses. Plan A, in contrast, while always plausible, was a hope for the miraculous. It was a kind of antiwar plan, as it would not have required any real battles at all.

The miracle having not happened, we are now fighting a conventional war. And winning--thanks to the Franks plan and its flexibility, and despite the carping of those who in conflict after conflict see Vietnam in anything short of immediate immaculate victory.




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