What a difference a week makes. The chump-to-champ cycle usually takes longer, even in Washington.

Administration critics should feel shock over their bellyaching about the wayward war plan. All of us feel awe over the professionalism and power of the U.S. military. Now we know.

On Feb. 13, 2002, I wrote a sleeper-cell op-ed for this page. It lay dormant, being virtually ignored, until springing to life more than a year later. Its title, "Cakewalk in Iraq," contained that "c" word (also found in the piece), which was scantly speakable one week ago.

Granted, that word carries a connotation that the piece itself explicitly dismissed: "No one favors a 'casual march to war.' This is serious business, to be treated seriously," I wrote then. Having served in the Pentagon and knowing full well that any loss of life is grave, I intended nothing but the most serious treatment of a serious matter.

The piece was "taking exception" to one of the host of fear-mongering articles then being put out, this by Brookings Institution analysts Philip H. Gordon and Michael E. O'Hanlon. They had concluded, among other dire warnings, that "the United States could lose thousands of troops" in any war in Iraq.

Other commentators were far scarier. Any U.S. attempt at "regime change" would, they warned, trigger Scud and other missile attacks to obliterate Israel and U.S. troops stationed in the region; provoke the igniting of hundreds, no thousands, of Iraqi oil fields; prompt a wave of terrorism across America; impel mobs into the Arab street to foment revolution against "friendly regimes"; cause flooding across Iraqi plains; induce Saddam Hussein, his back against the wall, to attack us and his own people with chemical and biological weapons.

This list could go on. Taking first prize among the many frightful forecasters was the respected former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft. His influential Wall Street Journal piece of Aug. 15, 2002, said Israel "would have to expect to be the first casualty," which could easily cause that country "to respond, perhaps with nuclear weapons, unleashing an Armageddon in the Middle East." We in the liberate-Iraq camp have been castigated for exaggeration, but nothing any of us said, or even suggested, can match that.

Predicting that the next war in Iraq would be a "cw" -- for my sake, now think "crushing win" -- my early 2002 article established the baseline: "It was a cakewalk last time," during the first Gulf War. Granted, I'm an incurable optimist, but even I could never have envisioned the coalition controlling the enemy capital within three weeks -- less than half the time, with less than half the U.S. casualties, of the first Gulf War. And with none of the above disasters happening.

Now is not an occasion for gloating. Much remains to do in Iraq to help build the first freely elected and legitimate Arab government. U.S. ties with Germany and France are raw. These longtime allies will become even more antagonistic now, after the awesome success of the Anglo-American war effort and yet clearer evidence of the horror show that was Iraq under the regime they backed, commercially and politically.

But now is an occasion for pride, and for thanks to our fighting men and women and those leading them. My confidence 14 months ago sprang from having worked for Don Rumsfeld three times -- knowing he would fashion a most creative and detailed war plan -- and from knowing Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz well for many years.

Admittedly, along the way came some big surprises. First, I never imagined Saddam Hussein would have another year-plus to beef up his resistance. Turkey proved a disappointment in its decision not to allow U.S. ground troops to rush in from Baghdad's north. Nonetheless, having an Islamic democracy is worth the wrong decision it made.

Third, I should have anticipated that a terrorist leader would form terrorist units in his armed forces. That seems a stupid error now, as Saddam Hussein's Fedayeen and other hit-squad units proved a potent force for a time.

Last, and another oversight, was how a totalitarian regime could so pulverize its people and military as to intimidate them, at least for a time, out of celebrating even their own liberation.

But at least now we know.

The writer was assistant to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld from 1975 to 1977 and a U.N. ambassador and arms-control director under President Ronald Reagan. He now co-hosts TechCentralStation.com.