INFLATION has set in with a vengeance in respect to the war with Iraq. It is reportedlygoing to take more time, more military manpower and resources and more money to accomplish the mission than any official was saying until a few days ago, and whether all anticipated contingencies are yet being fully described is uncertain. The mission itself is expanding or, at the least, its larger aspects are moving from the implicit to the explicit. From winning back Kuwait, war aims are growing to include the smashing of Saddam Hussein's war machine as well as his rule, although there is so far little official explanation or public inquiry into what further effort it may take to achieve the more ambitious goals.
In other circumstances, developments like these might already have begun creating a certain crisis of confidence or credibility in the American government. Interestingly, there are only modest signs of that at the moment. The news that the Pentagon has presented to the public or permitted it to receive from journalists is restricted, but a certain forbearing has been granted on account of its still being early in the war. Selective briefings and careless listening stirred hopes of a quick, bloodless high-tech air victory in the first day or so, but it seems that an adjustment is now being made to the realities of a longer, tougher and more costly conflict. Saddam Hussein's undisputed misdeeds -- the invasion and atrocities in Kuwait, the accumulation of terror weapons, the missile attacks on civilians in noncombatant Israel, the exploitation of POWs and now the flooding of oil into the Gulf -- have given Washington the political space in which to advance its own policy. It helps immensely that President Bush is proceeding with the well-debated approval of Congress and the United Nations as well.
Still, it would be a great error for the government to take its public support for granted. You will not be surprised to be told that we regard full candor about ends and as much candor as possible about means as being essential. A president who does not again and again explain his purposes and who does not allow the public to check the official version of war against the independent version supplied by the press asks for trouble. That this war is considered just even by many of those who do not think it is wise should embolden the president to do his duty on this score.
Something else looms up as no less important for the president as he prosecutes this war: casualties and especially -- there is no getting around it -- American casualties. In between the lines of the more recent and more sober forecasts by the president and his top aides is a hint that the fighting may get a lot bloodier. This is the core issue embedded in the otherwise technical discussion of whether and in what conditions the air war should yield to a ground war. High casualties could come in two situations of ground combat: where air preparations were incomplete or where troops were engaged well beyond the borders of Kuwait -- and perhaps also beyond the political reach of many allies. The license President Bush has been granted to restore Kuwait and contain Iraq limits the risks to which he can expose American fighting men.