So far, President Bush has given the country the war it said it wanted in the polls: a war almost free of casualties, or at least many that we can see.
Moreover, Operation Desert Storm is a telegenic combination of air show and arms bazaar, with marvelous weapons for every contingency being uncovered precisely when needed. "Pinpoint bombing," derided through the Vietnam War years as a joke, now could be viewed on television: A missile found the chimney of the building it wanted to off and suavely slipped down its length.
Wall Street fell in love. Ignorant civilians became instantly knowledgeable about technological miracles like the F-4G Wild Weasel plane, which zapped enemy radar, and the aptly named Patriot missile, which bloodlessly felled the Scuds, several of which were duds. For eventualities, there is the Warthog, a plane that knocks tanks silly. Things are going so well, the firepower is so awesome, that Saddam's infantry could collapse before the first shot is fired on the ground, particularly if his foot soldiers are as languid as his air force.
For the war-watchers there were harrowing moments. Who will soon forget the sight of NBC's Martin Fletcher broadcasting through his gas mask, while the sirens wailed through the windows? Television correspondents are the new folk heroes -- daring, dedicated, well-groomed. The air warriors themselves are implausibly good-looking, ridiculously well-trained, cheerful and modest. They come back from their missions giving the thumbs up, they exchange high-fives with their delighted crews. The volunteer army is cool, no question about it.
The Pentagon is smiling. It controls the news as it controls the skies over the desert. The airwaves ring with its praises. Hosannas are heard for Ronald Reagan. He was right, crow his fans, who have been crestfallen of late. Your trillion-dollar defense budget is worth every penny. Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) invited the military-industrial complex to take a bow. Sure, they spent a little too much and took a little too long, but look what they produced.
Who can fault a war that lets you play basketball and the professional football championship games -- and gives war bulletins between plays? Sometimes the war is less messy. Americans haven't felt so good since the 1980 Winter Olympics.
How wonderful a war it is whose greatest political problem is keeping the fiercest fighters in the region from getting into it on our side? Israel is being called "magnificent" for not striking back under attack.
History has seldom provided a more cooperative enemy than Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He gives retroactive reasons for taking arms against him. He helps validate accounts of super-careful, civilian-sparing bombing by not showing any damage or corpses to the world. He kicks out those who might have reported it.
He launches Scud missiles against Israel, giving the world chilling glimpses of women and children struggling into gas masks, which, with their googly eyes and their long snouts, make people look like horses. Pictures of humble homes ruined, stories of Soviet immigrants -- after hellish years of waiting -- being welcomed to their new country with explosions and flying glass have created maximum sympathy for Israel. Our president calls their prime minister three times in one day. A new honeymoon period between the two countries is inaugurated. The Palestinians, who are at the heart of all the trouble, have kicked away all support by leading the cheers for Iraq.
Saddam, who released hostages in December, is back in his monster mode. He parades captured allied fliers on television. They hang their heads. Their faces are bruised, they speak reluctantly, haltingly. Some of them condemn their country's aggression. This may play well among Arabs. It ignites and unites Americans. Seeing their compatriots abused makes Americans fighting mad.
Bush is at a zenith of popularity. Democrats think he will not just win the war in the next few weeks, but the 1992 election, as well.
Says Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum (D-Ohio), a leader in the fight against war, "These are rough times." Presidential opponents seem like spoilsports in the stands of the great television show of the century. This is not Vietnam, with mud, blood and haunted-eyed grunts. This is the new, crisp order of warfare.
Nobody is thinking much about the future, about the poisoned peace that will follow the hostilities. The region may be changed unalterably. So could this country. The military budget will again receive respectful treatment. The wonder weapons will have to be replaced.
The United States did not go into this enterprise as Athens, exactly, but it will almost surely come out as Sparta --
armed to the teeth and spoiling to fight.