"There must be some kind of way out of here," said the joker to the thief;
"There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief." -- Bob Dylan
Gulf War Two is but two weeks old, and as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is fond of telling us, it's too soon to start writing its history. Fair point. Perhaps the military operation is proceeding largely along the lines Rumsfeld and the generals anticipated. Perhaps, as some observers suggest, we are watching Operation Iraqi Freedom unravel before our eyes. A year from now, the truth of what happened in March 2003 will no doubt be more clearly visible. In the meantime, we will not pretend to write history on the fly.
But we can draw, at least, one definitive conclusion: The Bush administration's decision to undertake a "preemptive" war against Iraq without the approval of the United Nations Security Council has utterly changed, for all time, the world in which we live.
No matter how quickly or slowly we succeed in Iraq -- if indeed what we're seeing now is more a case of "opening-night jitters" rather than something more ominous -- the Bush administration will soon be taking responsibility for governing a Middle East nation of 24 million people, many of whose inhabitants clearly view our armed forces, for whatever reason, as invaders, not liberators, and our governing officials as enemies, not friends.This undeniable fact will present formidable obstacles to any plan for bringing democratic government to postwar Iraq. You can lead a horse to water, the adage declares, but you can't make him drink.
All this postwar reconstruction will be undertaken in a questionable economic environment. We are already incurring enormous financial burdens in fighting this war (the Financial Times of London reported Monday, for example, that the U.S. Army, by its own admission, spends about $150 a gallon for the acquisition and delivery of the fuel being used by our vehicles at the front), and the "peace" that follows doesn't promise to come any cheaper.
Obviously, we need to do what it takes to support and protect our troops, whatever the price. But while our tanks may not run out of gas, the jury is still out on whether or not the American economy will. The actual cost of this war is still incalculable. Piling these military expenses on top of the existing deficits created by the questionable economic policies pursued by President Bush since his election threatens to drain dry our domestic financial reservoir.
Even more threatening to our long-term security, however, is the sea change in public opinion that Operation Iraqi Freedom has brought about in the wider Islamic world. To tens of millions of Muslims, our unilateral actions in Iraq prove that this American government is no friend to their culture. We have incurred the wrath of those previously well-disposed to us. (The very mullahs who were first to offer their condolences for the 9/11 outrage are now calling for a jihad against America.) In the process, the threat of domestic terrorist attacks is likely to increase for the foreseeable future.
At this stage, as Dylan might say, there's too much confusion here, too much in play for commentators to make definitive judgments. But all along the watchtower, there are indications that the world we now inhabit is a far different and a far more dangerous place than it was just a few weeks ago.