It was one heck of a dramatic tank ride.

There was CNN's Walt Rodgers yesterday morning, driving with the 7th Cavalry toward Baghdad amid small-arms fire. The screen was filled with a single tank on the move as Rodgers kept up a running commentary.

The reason: Rodgers had agreed not to show a broader picture to avoid giving away the unit's position. When they approached some mosques and other identifiable features, Rodgers had the cameraman turn the lens back on him. But there was still something gripping as you sensed the soldiers closing in on the Iraqi capital.

A few moments later, CNN played audio of the division commander's wife talking about her confidence in her husband. That felt like a staged attempt at emotion. Well, it's television.

Another striking moment in mid-afternoon, with reports -- but no pictures -- that U.S. forces were fighting at Saddam International Airport. Fox had Geraldo Rivera -- in Kuwait, after agreeing to leave the war zone for blabbing sensitive information -- talking about how this could be the beginning of the end for the "ruthless regime."

Suddenly anchor Shepard Smith interrupted him. According to an embedded ABC reporter who was "on the tarmac," he said, "Saddam airport is now the property of coalition forces."

We surfed over to ABC, but the network was showing "General Hospital," at least in Washington. The only confirmation we could get was at "Breaking News: Saddam Airport Taken."

After two weeks of vivid footage of soldiers at war, it seemed strangely disorienting not to have live pictures of the airport seizure. But in war, television is sometimes like radio, and that did nothing to diminish the significance of allied forces being 10 miles from Baghdad.

On NPR, Anne Garrels said Iraqi officials were losing touch with reality, insisting that U.S. troops were at least 100 miles away.

Later came word that U.S. forces had wounded a mother and infant in a taxi that refused to stop at a checkpoint. CNN's Sanjay Gupta, who is also a neurosurgeon, assisted in an operation on the 2-year-old, who unfortunately died. "Medically and morally, I felt it was the right thing to do," Gupta reported.

By evening, as analysts were speculating about what would happen in Baghdad, "Crossfire" was asking: "World War Four?" And we were no longer sure.

Before midnight, CNN's Jamie McIntyre was quoting a defense official as saying that the U.S. might install a new government before the war ends. Hmmm.

Now this morning I see on MSNBC that American troops have found thousands of boxes of "suspicious" white powder -- doesn't sound like sugar -- along with nerve-agent antidote. And here's Walt Rodgers again, talking about the 7th Cav engaged in "extraordinarily heavy fighting" near the airport. This thing may not be over yet.

USA Today frames the question:

"What transpires over the next several weeks will almost certainly define the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. If it goes well for the attackers, the coalition will find Saddam, minimize military and civilian casualties and discover deadly weapons caches that could vindicate the U.S. decision to invade.

"But if things go as Saddam and his inner circle hope, Iraqi defenders will take advantage of the capital's close quarters to erode the allies' technological superiority and inflict mounting casualties on U.S.-led troops pinned down in city streets. Caught between the combatants will be Iraqi citizens, whose mounting death toll will further enrage world opinion, making continuation of the war politically difficult -- perhaps impossible."

The New York Times offers this analysis: "The American strategy at this point is to maintain the military momentum and the psychological pressure on Saddam Hussein and his forces. To take on the Iraqis the Americans can be expected to isolate the city and cut off the routes from the capital. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"At the same time, the United States military has begun an intensive psychological operations campaign, with the capital's population as its target. The message is that Mr. Hussein's government is finished and that the United States has no interest in negotiating with the remaining Iraqi authorities."

The Los Angeles Times,1,7584180.story?coll=la%2Dhome%2Dheadlines has the just-declare-victory story:

"The Pentagon hopes to topple the Iraqi leadership without a full-scale invasion of Baghdad by seizing the nation's key levers of power and installing a new interim government even before Saddam Hussein's regime has been deposed, military and administration officials said yesterday.

"The goal of the plan is to isolate Hussein's regime and make it 'irrelevant' to the Iraqi people even if the Iraqi president or other key members of his government remain holed up in the capital."

The Wall Street Journal paints the challenges for the prez:

"Now in 'the last 200 yards' of the march toward Baghdad, President Bush has drawn tantalizingly close to his goal of ousting Saddam Hussein. But the challenges Iraq poses to his own presidency are only beginning.

"In the next few days, Mr. Bush will discover whether his gamble in pressing a military confrontation will foreclose Iraq's use of weapons of mass destruction -- or provoke it. He will learn whether resistance in Baghdad will crumble -- or trigger a level of bloodshed that could inflame the Arab world. Then he will face disputes about postwar Iraq within his administration and the international coalition that have important implications for U.S. diplomacy and 2004 politics alike."

Here's a heck of a tale, in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"The Iraqi man who tipped U.S. Marines to the location of American POW Jessica Lynch said yesterday that he did so after he saw her Iraqi captor slap her twice as she lay wounded in a hospital.

"'A person, no matter his nationality, is a human being,' the tipster, a 32-year-old lawyer whose wife was a nurse at the hospital, said at the Marines' headquarters, where he, his wife and their daughter are being treated as heroes and guests."

Slate's Fred Kaplan says it could end with a whimper:

"Is Saddam's regime on the verge of crumbling? Developments over the past few days suggest it is. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Surely Saddam's allies shifting into neutral, neutrals relishing his downfall, and local foes moving into open opposition mean something. These shifts, along with the military facts on the ground and in the air, might be enough to convince Saddam or those around him that the game is up, that there's no way out, and that their best-case scenario -- to fight the United States to a stalemate and hope that outside powers push for a negotiated cease-fire -- is a non-starter. If these signs do mean all that and this dynamic takes hold (both big ifs), the war could be over before its fiercest chapter -- the dreadful mess of urban warfare -- gets underway."

Saddam is showing his true colors, says Andrew Sullivan:

"In the frenetic news cycles, we scarcely find time to relate what we now know to what we once argued. But we need to make time. Here's a short list of what we know now about Saddam, two weeks after the outbreak of war:

"That he runs a more horrifying police-state than some of us imagined; that he uses terroristic measures to maintain his rule; has close contact with other terrorist groups whom he has invited into his country in his defense; invokes Islamic justifications for his despotism far more often than any secular justifications; is capable of actions very few other human beings are capable of; and will not give up an ounce of real power even at the point of an actually loaded gun.

"In other words, the prudential justification for the war is now far stronger than it was only a couple of weeks ago: no one can plausibly now argue that this monstrous regime would have voluntarily disarmed itself at the polite and constantly negotiable behest of a mild-mannered Swede. Inspections would never have worked, if by 'worked,' we actually mean succeeded in disarming Saddam. But more importantly, the moral justification for war has been deepened. More Americans today can absorb the true horror of murderous totalitarian rule, by watching its hatchet men defend themselves by all means necessary -- using women and children as shields, murdering POWs, deploying suicide bombers, and the like."

Gregg Easterbrook picks at the scab of the Rummy-McCaffrey feud in the New Republic:

"It's hard to believe that it's neither the peace protestors, nor the Democrats on the Hill, but the ex-generals whom the administration is trying to silence. That's the current situation, though. Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, have lashed out at the cable-news retired officer corps for questioning the pace of progress in Iraq.

"They especially dislike retired army General Barry McCaffrey, who now pundit-izes for NBC and MSNBC and who, queried by Thom Shanker and John Tierney of the New York Times about the complaints, fussily shot back that he knows better than Rumsfeld because he is now a professor (West Point) and Rummy is not. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"McCaffrey viewed himself as a shoo-in for leadership of the Joint Chiefs. Instead, under the Pentagon's disputed 'up or out' policy for top brass, McCaffrey was quietly told to retire. Just as bad, he believed various White House promises of authority and took the 'drug czar' job for much of the Clinton administration--a job that would be the kiss of death for anyone. Rather than running the U.S. military, McCaffrey was getting hostile questions at drug photo-ops.

"Life has since treated McCaffrey well--numerous corporate board posts, a Potomac River consultancy--but he's still mad about his mid-'90s turn of fate, and he blames the military hierarchy. So now he's taking pot shots from the outside. Note that his big complaint is that it was unrealistic for the Pentagon to think a large armored column could move 250 miles rapidly without more support. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. Decoded, what he's saying to the Pentagon is, 'You chumps, I am the only guy alive who could do this, and you fired me.'"

And here we thought it was a high-level debate over military strategy.

Haven't heard much from Al Gore lately, but OpinionJournal's James Taranto jumps on the latest sighting:

"Al Gore is defending the Dixie Chicks, who made some unpatriotic comments overseas a few weeks back. They were made to feel un-American and risked economic retaliation because of what was said,' Yahoo's Launch music site quotes the erstwhile veep as saying. Our democracy has taken a hit. Our best protection is free and open debate.'

"So Gore's position is that the Dixie Chicks have the right to say whatever they want, but those who express their disagreement, either verbally or through their choice of music to purchase, are a threat to democracy."

London's Guardian,7495,928249,00.html says one tabloid may be taking a hit for its stance on Iraq:

"Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan has admitted the paper's resolutely anti-war stance could lead to sales falling below 2 million for the first time in over 70 years. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"'Do I think our anti-war line is to blame for any of the drop? Possibly a bit among our older readers who think it's unpatriotic to continue criticising the war now it's started. But the overwhelming reaction to our coverage from our readers has been totally supportive. And it's clear to those who read the paper thoroughly that we are just as pro the troops and just as keen for us to win the war as any other newspaper,' he said.

"'We just won't be hypocrites and change our line that we shouldn't have started it in the first place,' said Morgan, who has overseen a number of anti-war front covers over the past two weeks -- including one juxtaposing the Bahgdad market bombing with George W. Bush and the headline 'He loves it.'"

Veteran war correspondent Joe Galloway, in Editor & Publisher, likes the embed's-eye view of the war:

"It is not too early to declare victory for the embedding program. Everyone involved has won. The biggest and clearest victors are those who read and those who watch TV worldwide. They are seeing war as it really is at the cutting edge. They are learning that it is not bloodless or painless or free of mistakes large and small. They are learning about the fog of war. Best of all, perhaps, they are learning that U.S. soldiers and Marines are not bloodthirsty monsters but young men who just want to do their jobs, protect their friends, and survive to go home to more ordinary lives.

"The media embeds have won as well. They are witness to history being made in front of their eyes. They have an unprecedented opportunity to tell the story of soldiers at war, and they are daily trusted with information normally stamped 'Top Secret.'

"The military can claim victory, too. It has made the longest journey and the greatest leap of faith of all -- from total mistrust of the press to letting it inside not only the humvee and the Bradley fighting vehicle and the tent but also the commander's tactical operation center."

Time for some politics. John Edwards is getting good buzz for his fundraising prowess, as this USA Today piece shows:

"The first returns of the Democratic presidential primary season have produced a surprise winner. Freshman Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina raised $7.4 million in the first quarter of the year -- a challenge to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry's front-runner status.

"Edwards has been mired in single digits and 4th or 5th place in opinion polls of the nation and key primary states. His muscular fundraising could revive his campaign and quiet doubts about his inexperience. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Kerry, whom handicappers rated the candidate to beat because of his solid poll showings and proven fundraising strength, reported an estimated $7 million in receipts for the first quarter. Combined with money left from his 2002 Senate race, Kerry has more than $8 million in his presidential account. The campaign called that 'unprecedented for any Democratic candidate at this stage of a presidential campaign.' But Edwards' showing put a serious dent in the perception that Kerry was pulling away from the pack."

Kerry's got other problems:

"Top Republicans chastised Senator John F. Kerry yesterday for saying 'regime change' is needed in the United States to heal a rift with other nations caused, he said, by President Bush's diplomatic failures in dealing with Iraq," says the Boston Globe.

"'Senator Kerry crossed a grave line when he dared to suggest the replacement of America's commander in chief at a time when America is at war,' said Marc Racicot, chairman of the Republican National Committee."

The Hartford Courant,0,4884382.story?coll=hc%2Dheadlines%2Dnationworld says its hometown guy is, well, on the verge of being in trouble:

"Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman's presidential campaign raised $3 million in the first quarter of 2003, putting him barely ahead of a little-known former Vermont governor and well behind two other senators in the presidential campaign fund-raising derby.

"Lieberman's results, while a short-term problem, hardly knock him out of the race. What it could do is make the next round of fund-raising, which ends June 30, crucial to his campaign's viability and even survival."

Perhaps only Tina Brown, in her Salon column, could turn getting bumped off the tube into an avant-garde trend:

"Operation Shock and Awe began precisely at the moment my CNBC TV show was supposed to debut. Oh well. Being preemptively struck off the air was a more honorable way to go than the bum's rush administered to other cable-news types like poor, daft Peter Arnett or the world-class swaggerer Geraldo Rivera of Fox News, who was booted by the Pentagon. Less justified in the buildup to war was aborting the comebacks of the luckless Phil Donahue on MSNBC and the over-vilified 'Connie Chung Tonight' on CNN. Perhaps canceling shows before they start will be the wave of the future. As usual, I'm there."

Finally, a new form of conscientious objecting:

"A Lithuanian MP has called on the country's women to use their 'natural weapon' and not have sex with any man who supports the war in Iraq," says

"MP Birute Veisaite said Lithuanian women had little power to stop the war in Iraq other than to refuse to sleep with men who supported the military action, reports Pravda."

Now they're going too far.