A look at the Pentagon budget will tell you that George Bush's "new world order" has stopped short of the military.
It's pretty much the same old game across the Potomac.
The total defense figure, $296 billion, says for openers that the Berlin Wall didn't really fall. We lost one enemy, but we found another in Iraq and other crazy little countries that bought a lot of hardware from the West.
Also, they are up to their old tricks of conning Congress, pretending to cut weapons they know Congress fancies and using the supposed slashes to haggle over big-ticket items Congress wants to cut.
George Bush's designer war -- high-tech, low casualties -- has a celebrity weapon. The Patriot is Audie Murphy mechanized. It made duds of Scuds, kept Israel out of the fighting, delivers on demand. And the Pentagon is filing its nails and saying it doesn't need any more. It knows Congress will fight.
The Pentagon is putting out a spurious argument that the wonder weapon is a child of "Star Wars," Ronald Reagan's loony scheme for lasering the heavens against nuclear attack. The Pentagon, luxuriating in an 85 percent approval rating, is going to ask for the moon, or at least a billion more for Star Wars, even though the Soviets, against whom it was aimed, probably couldn't take a girls' school right now.
Forgotten are the overpriced coffee pots and toilet seats. A bluff, bulky general, H. Norman Schwarzkopf, is a matinee idol. The Pentagon has taken revenge on its tormentors, the chroniclers of waste, fraud and abuse. In the gulf they report what the brass tells them to report. They are censored, of course; they are chaperoned as well. The public approves. One who struck out on his own, Bob Simon of CBS News, disappeared in the desert.
Dissenters have been dismissed as caring nothing for the troops. We are excused from caring about civilian casualties of the bombing, because obviously Iraqi President Saddam Hussein cares nothing about them. Besides, they are not human beings among the rubble; they are "collateral damage" and nobody ever wept for "collateral damage" unless it's an insurance agent.
We say we don't know about civilian deaths. We don't deliberately cause them, and we see no purpose in putting out body counts. We have nobody in Baghdad except for Peter Arnett, the never-say-die CNN correspondent. Patriotic Americans call his network to accuse him of treason for being there and trying to tell them what is going on. Pictures showing smashed residential areas or wounded children are virtuously questioned by the anchors.
The U.N. secretary general and the new Soviet foreign minister have voiced reservations about the ferocity of the bombing campaign, but we are not asked, or allowed, to see the consequences. It is true that after a while Americans begin to wonder about the pounding of people they don't know. They are not sure that this is just what they want to do as a country. This happened in Vietnam.
In 1967, after years of "Rolling Thunder" and "surgical" carpet-bombing of "pinpoint" precision, Harrison Salisbury, the preeminent New York Times reporter, journeyed to Hanoi to see the results. He wrote that "President Johnson's announced policy that American targets in North Vietnam are steel and concrete, rather than human lives, seems to have little connection with the reality of the attacks."
A tremendous furor ensued, and hawks apoplectically accused Salisbury of using Hanoi's casualty figures -- as if the numbers were available in Jersey City.
But the president keeps assuring us that the gulf is nothing like Vietnam. Surely, this time the military will not be able to complain of having to fight "with one hand behind our backs" as it did about Vietnam -- principally, it seems, because our B-52s did not bomb that country back to the Stone Age, as in the vision of Gen. Curtis LeMay. Since more bombs were dropped than in all of World War II, it has always seemed a strange claim.
Bush is at the moment of decision, if indeed he has not already decided about starting a ground war. If he does, he risks smudging a so-far perfect war. But he has to be tempted: Saddam is a joke as an enemy. He is like a player without a card in his hand, who starts throwing furniture to put his opponent off his game. Much of his air force is parked in Iran, his navy is in shreds, his infantry is being pounded into pulp. He looks like someone who could be almost blown over.
But if there is any fight or fanaticism left in the Republican Guard, they could cause considerable casualties. U.S. military casualties are not "collateral damage." They represent major political damage that could ruin this war.