Strong proponents of the war against Iraq yesterday dismissed fresh concerns that the conflict could take much longer and produce more casualties than generally anticipated, expressing continued optimism about the conflict's ultimate outcome.
These Iraq hawks said they did not have the expertise to challenge the claims of some top military officials that the Bush administration did not adequately prepare for the fight and that excessive concern about civilian casualties is constraining coalition forces. But they maintained that eventually the war would prove a success, and that even a prolonged war could become an opportunity to demonstrate renewed American resiliency and backbone.
"I think the American people are going to have great tolerance for the war taking longer, and they are going to have great tolerance for more casualties," said William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard. "The American people don't have tolerance for defeat or equivocation."
Kristol said he did not welcome a tougher fight, but, he said, "in a certain way, the willingness to stick it out would be as impressive as" a quick victory, because such toughness would dispute the "core [Osama] bin Laden claim that America is a weak horse," that after suffering 19 casualties in Somalia, "they fled."
Along similar lines, Michael A. Ledeen, author of "The War against the Terror Masters" and a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, argued at a forum on Iraq earlier the week:
"I think the level of casualties is secondary. I mean, it may sound like an odd thing to say, but all the great scholars who have studied American character have come to the conclusion that we are a warlike people and that we love war. . . . What we hate is not casualties but losing. And if the war goes well and if the American public has the conviction that we're being well-led and that our people are fighting well and that we're winning, I don't think casualties are going to be the issue."
Yesterday, Ledeen said his main critique of the war so far is not on military matters. Instead, he said, the administration should have treated the conflict as "90 percent political" and 10 percent military, and on that basis, helped create an Iraqi government in exile before the war began to present as a democratic alternative to Saddam Hussein.
The war is a crucial part of the larger fight against terrorism because, Ledeen said, the war on terrorism "is a war of freedom against tyranny, so we have to fight tyranny." On that ground, he argued, "if there is not a democratic government in Iraq in a year of so, we will have failed."
Kristol, in contrast, identified three tests of success or failure: victory over Hussein, discovering weapons of mass destruction and being judged as a liberator.
Several strong proponents of war maintained that victory against Iraq would be swift. Their dilemma now is perhaps best exemplified by Kenneth Adelman, a member of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, who in February 2002 wrote in The Washington Post:
"I believe demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk. Let me give simple, responsible reasons: 1) It was a cakewalk last time; 2) they've become much weaker; 3) we've become much stronger; and 4) now we're playing for keeps."
Yesterday, Adelman defended his analysis. "I was not being casual," he said, contending that he was rebutting warnings that there would be thousands of deaths, that Scud missiles would rain down on our troops and on Israel, and there would be "an eruption of terrorism. . . . I think those things are refuted."
Adelman said he stands by his 2002 assessment of the pros and cons of an assault on the Hussein government: "Measured by any cost-benefit analysis, such an operation would constitute the greatest victory in America's war on terrorism."
At the Pentagon, one of the leading architects of the Bush administration's Iraq strategy, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul D. Wolfowitz, argued earlier this week that the people of Iraq will voice their enthusiasm for the attack when they no longer feel threatened.
"It's a people that is still distinctly terrorized into silence," Wolfowitz said. "The Iraqi people are still not free to speak for themselves. Until this regime is gone, until the fear of Saddam and the other kinds of terrorists are gone, they're not going to be able to speak."
Wolfowitz dismissed complaints that the war is progressing more slowly than expected:
"Nobody with any knowledge of military matters expected there to be no resistance. If anything is unexpected, it's the speed of the advance and the relative absence of organized resistance. That there should be resistance, this is a war. One has to expect it. I think to some extent the people who say it's unexpected really do not understand what this is all about."