In a way, this is Ronald Reagan's war. It is being fought by his Pentagon -- everything from a seemingly inexhaustible supply of planes and ships to fighting men and women who have acquitted themselves marvelously. Smart bombs can't be fooled. They know an evil empire when they see one -- even if it's not the one Reagan first had in mind.
On the home front, this is also Ronald Reagan's war. The evidence is in the polling data: the gap between black and white support of the war. Before Jan. 16, about 66 percent of white Americans backed President Bush's policy in the Gulf. Among blacks, the figure was an amazingly low 27 percent. After the war started, blacks as well as whites rallied around the flag -- but once again not in the same proportions. About half of all blacks supported the president. Among whites, the figure was 80 percent.
What accounts for this difference? A number of explanations have been advanced. One is that blacks make up just 12 percent of the population but 23 percent of the military. This gives rise to the so-called "cannon fodder" argument, an easy reach for someone who prefers not to do much thinking. The assumption is that poor blacks, lacking opportunities elsewhere, join the military as a career of last resort.
But my colleague Juan Williams demolished that argument in The Post last Sunday. He found that today's computer-chip military draws its recruits from the working class. A class division remains, but it is not as stark as some would have it. This is not an armed services of men and women who have no other choices in life.
Yet another factor, we are told, has been the role of black leaders. Some of the most prominent among them -- Jesse Jackson, for instance -- have been highly critical of administration policy. "If war breaks out, our youth will burn first," Jackson said on TV. Other black leaders have issued similar statements.
The role of black leaders has been important, and a concern for blacks in the military is natural. But another, more important factor has been at work: alienation. Some of that is hardly limited to blacks. We hear the muddled language of alienation, along with some cogent arguments, from certain white peace activists. Some of them seem to think the United States picked a fight with Saddam Hussein. The issues of the war aside, they seem more inclined to condemn their country rather than a single policy.
This attitude was present, along with a host of convincing arguments, during the Vietnam War. But when polling numbers indicate that one particular segment of America is significantly out of step with the society as a whole, there is cause for concern. This appears to be the case with American blacks.
Some people have begun to think about what should happen when the war is over. The Palestinian question must be solved. The riches of the Gulf states must be shared with the rest of the Arab world. If there is something called the "Arab nation," then some of it (Egypt) cannot have a per capita income of $650 a year while another part of it (Saudi Arabia) has one of $6,170.
But if those inequities must be dealt with, so must the ones found in the United States. Here we get back to Reagan -- and Bush. If Reagan inadvertently prepared his country for war in the Gulf, he also exacerbated the division between black and white America. While it could be argued that under Reagan blacks benefited from the general prosperity, it's nevertheless true that many blacks considered Reagan to be anything from disinterested to hostile. In scores of ways, Reagan seemed the president of white America only. Neither he nor the GOP seemed to give a hoot about the American inner city, the place where so many impoverished blacks live.
The street demonstrators who demand that America cure its own ills before tackling those of the rest of the world have a point -- although their timing is bad. The polling figures alone suggest that much needs to be done here at home. With peace, President Bush has his work cut out for him. America has assembled a coalition abroad, but it sadly lacks one at home.