Difficult peace can't compete with heady feeling of easy war WAR IN THE GULF


February 24, 1991|By ROGER SIMON

I knew if this war went on long enough, there'd be a chanc that peace might ruin it.

This is something we must guard against. The price of war is eternal vigilance. And we must be wary of a hasty end to the hostilities.

War is much too important to be left to the diplomats. It is far better left to the generals.

And the generals say we can win this thing without a peace. They say we can win this thing with a ground war, a ground war that will not be too high in casualties and that will be pretty close to the air war: one of high tech and high spirits.

So why bother with peace when war will do the job?

Last week, when peace was threatening, the Pentagon wanted to make sure everybody knew that it would not be necessary.

The news media are much-maligned these days, but the generals know what the media are good for: to be used.

You think the job of reporters is just to ask a bunch of questions at briefings?

No way. One job of reporters is to transmit to the American people that which the generals have leaked to them.

And so Fred Francis of NBC reported: "It [a ground war] could be a very short war. Most insiders say the heavy fighting will end, will end, in three days, while the most cautious say it will last 10 days."

So what is the point of avoiding it? Heck, 10 days to win an entire war seems like a pretty good deal.

And it is supposed to. At one time, the American people would have been horrified at the thought of our bombing another nation's capital day after day.

(When the Israelis did it to Beirut in 1982, they were vilified for it.)

Now, the American people accept it as normal, natural and justified.

Currently, however, there is a little reluctance on the part of some people to endorse a ground war.

Some people are worried about casualties and that kind of thing.

But a vastly successful three-to-10-day war ought to cure them of that fast.

And there could be numerous benefits to a ground war: Iraq would be forced from Kuwait. The Iraqi army would be destroyed or captured. And Americans will realize that a ground war is nothing to be gun-shy over in the future.

So not for nothing is a negotiated peace known as the "nightmare" scenario at the White House, the State Department and the Pentagon. In fact, the phrase "nightmare" scenario to describe the dangers of peace was used even before Desert Shield became Desert Storm. David Evans of the Chicago Tribune wrote back on Sept. 24, 1990: "The 'nightmare' scenario for Saudi Arabia's leaders is not that Iraq's Saddam Hussein will attack their country, but that he will suddenly withdraw his forces from Kuwait."

In other words, we and our allies have been worried about the dangers of peace for quite some time. A peace that leaves Saddam Hussein in power and his army intact is a problem.

A ground war could be a solution.

Not that George Bush looks forward to American casualties. He does not. But what is the use of sending a half-million men and women halfway around the world, if we leave the job half-done?

George Bush is not a bloodthirsty man, but if you were faced with an easy war or a difficult peace, which would you choose?

Besides, he knows he has the backing of the American people. He knows how to read the polls and how to read his mail. And he has a whole staff that spends its time taking the pulse of the public, monitoring everything from radio talk shows to "Letterman."

So he knows the American people are up for this war.

Take Arthur Winakur. He is a bright, calm, reasonable man, a Baltimore-area resident in his 70s. During the Vietnam War, he was a "pacifist," he tells me, and he was even assaulted once for opposing that war.

Today, however, he supports the war in the Persian Gulf. He not only supports it, he doesn't know what all the fuss is about over the civiliancasualties in Baghdad.

"If a civilian death saves an American life, it is worth it," Arthur Winakur says. And he doesn't know why we are so squeamish about using the atom bomb, either.

Not exactly a classic "pacifist" position. But one immensely popular these days.

What accounts for such support for this war when there was such opposition to the Vietnam War?

You could point to many things -- the wars were different, the goals were different, the times were different -- but I'd like to point to just one: This time we're winning. Flat out, no question about it, we are winning.

And victory is a heady wine. Sometimes you can't get enough of war when war is going well. Sometimes war can be so successful, so brilliant, so much like a sporting event that you watch on TV in order to cheer for your side, that there seems no point in calling it off early.

"As one official put it to me here," Brit Hume said from the White House last week, "we want to be careful not to lose this game in the ninth inning."

War fever -- catch it!

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