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It Was a War Worth Winning

A GULF RETROSPECTIVE:

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

THE GULF WAR was not a good war. There is no such thing as a good war that cuts short 80,000 lives. There is no such thing as a good war, period.

But the Gulf War was a necessary war. It was a just war. It was a popular war. And it was a successful war. That's quite a rare combination in American military history. Few Americans have forgotten that our previous war was neither necessary, nor just, nor popular, nor successful.

We are deeply grateful to the men and women who risked their lives to help the allied coalition carry out the U.N. resolutions to the letter. We are also grateful to President Bush and his advisors. At times, we have taken issue with their policies in the Gulf. But overall, they did a remarkable job.

FOR ONCE, the U.S. picked the right fight. We may never again face an intervention/non-intervention question so clearcut on geopolitical and moral grounds.

The Middle East was too vital to American strategic and economic interests to allow a ruthless dictator to run roughshod through the region. The U.S. had to stop Saddam. We had to prevent him from gaining a stranglehold on the region's oil supplies. We had to eliminate his power to trigger devastating chemical or even nuclear wars. Most important, we had to send a clear message to Saddam and to future Saddams that wanton aggression in the Middle East would be met forcefully.

What made the war all the more palatable was Saddam's gruesome unpalatability. America was dealing with a very evil man--a man who thought nothing of murdering and torturing his political enemies, of gassing his own people, or using hostages as human shields. His wartime conduct was equally unacceptable: widespread lynchings of Kuwaitis, tons of oil dumped and ignited, civilians reportedly clustered around military targets, numerous Scuds launched toward a non-combatant nation, Israel. Such a vicious tyrant could not be permitted to emerge from his confrontation with the West as a hero to the Arab world.

To bolster the legitimacy of U.S. involvement, Bush assembled an unprecedented international coalition against Saddam with the blessing of the U.N. He also convinced a large majority of the American people that the "liberation of Kuwait" was a moral imperative (even though Kuwaiti "liberty" was a non-issue and U.S. morality was a secondary one).

But not even the accumulation of self-interest, morality, international approval and domestic popularity are enough to make a war worth fighting. If it was, we might have invaded Lithuania last month. Before the U.S. gets involved in a foreign adventure, we must have a reasonable expectation of achieving our objectives with an acceptably low casualty count. Bush was smart enough to wage a winnable war. And he was smart enough to give his military commanders enough firepower to win it quickly, while minimizing allied losses.

Finally, after the coalition's stunning blitzkrieg satisfied the U.N. demands, the U.S. refrained from storming Baghdad to try to topple Saddam. Bush deserves credit for this show of restraint, as well.

WE hate to quibble, but we do have a few complaints with our government's handling of the crisis.

First of all, the Administration probably could have deterred Saddam from invading Kuwait in the first place if it had made its military intentions clear in the days preceding August 2. But Washington sent out conflicting signals, and the U.S. Ambassador to Iraq told Saddam that she doubted an invasion would be answered with force. Neville Chamberlain used similar tactics at Munich in 1938. As Bush has said, it's called appeasement, and it doesn't work.

And let's not forget that the Soviet Union isn't the only superpower that helped to assemble Saddam's war machine.

Secondly, we are disturbed by Bush's propensity to surround himself with yes-men. Since August, the president has relied almost exclusively on the advice of four like-minded officials: James Baker, Brent Scowcroft, Colin Powell and Dick Cheney. President Kennedy conducted the Bay of Pigs Fiasco in a similar manner. He then sought a wide range of advice during the Cuban Missile Crisis. That's one reason there wasn't a Cuban Missile Fiasco. Even if you eventually reject your opposition's dissenting views, it doesn't hurt to hear them.

Speaking of dissent, we didn't care much for the "time to close ranks" arguments so popular with Administration officials--not to mention campus pro-war activists. Admittedly, anti-war demonstrations can lower troop morale. They can also bring unnecessary wars to a halt. The time for debate is never over. Never.

Except, perhaps, on Capitol Hill. Congress remained doggedly silent while Bush deployed Desert Shield and Desert Sword. After a brief flurry of honest discussion before the onset of Desert Storm, the legislative branch lapsed into silence (except for a plethora of inane support-the-war, ensure-our-reelection resolutions) for the remainder of the conflict. Bush's occasional trespasses of his constitutional executive prerogatives were understandable in light of Congress' stubborn refusals to address an issue of war and peace.

After lurching towards war amidst an alarming absence of Congressional debate, America conducted the war with an alarming absence of independent oversight. We recognize the need to protect military secrecy, but the Pentagon's wartime press restrictions were unduly harsh.

Finally, there is George Bush's New World Order, which, as Bush describes it, is a Totally Unattainable Ideal. We deterred aggression in the Middle East, not the world. We established American military credibility is the Middle East, not the world. America is not the world's policeman, nor should it be, nor can it be, no matter how much Congress inflates our military-industrial complex. If Bush thinks the U.N. would mobilize to defend Ethiopia from Mussolini (as the League of Nations failed to do), he is sadly mistaken.

THE CRIMSON does not support wars very often. There aren't too many necessary wars out there to fight. We hope America's success in this one does not breed a jingoistic overconfidence in military solutions. We hope the demonization of Saddam Hussein does not inspire anti-Arab sentiment back home, or an insistence on unreasonable reparations from Iraq. (The lessons of World War I are relevant today, too.

We hope Bush is not so foolish as to think that the Gulf War will magically solve the problems of Middle East instability. He should continue to press for a regional security system, as well as a solution to the Palestinian question consistent with the principles of self-determination and security for all peoples. We also hope Bush does not take Syrian dictator Hafez El-Assad's meager contributions to the coalition war effort as evidence that this brutal despot can be trusted during peacetime.

Finally, we hope that Bush can find the time to address the domestic crises that have received short shrift over the last six months. We're not out of the recession yet. We still don't have an energy policy. Our schools are still falling apart. We still have a mindboggling budget deficit.

Rather than celebrate our military victory, our nation should breathe a sigh of relief that the bloodshed has ceased and begin to concentrate on the future. The time for killing is over. The time for healing has begun.

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