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A Fateful 48 Hours

"In Berlin the Kaiser appeared on his palace balcony, dressed in field-grey uniform, to address a tumultuous crowd: 'A fateful hour has fallen upon Germany. Envious people on all sides are compelling us to resort to a just defense. The sword is being forced into our hands ... And now I command you all to go to church, kneel before God and pray to him to help our gallant army.'"

-- From John Keegan, The First World War, p. 71

By Frank Gruber

I don't generally accept seemingly easy historical parallels being drawn between the history of others and the history of the United States. My belief in American exceptionalism, although not limitless, extends far enough to credit us, for instance, with international motives historically different from those that characterized our European historical forebears as they extended their reach around the world with conquest and commerce.

However, after a cold peace of more than 50 years, not so many fewer years than those between the last failed revolutions of 1848 and the failure of peace in 1914, I wonder if Sept. 11 will not be the Sarajevo of our time, as we seem bent on allowing events to carry us into an ever expanding conflict with our enemies in the Islamic world.

I oppose this "preemptive war" on Iraq as immoral and, partly because it is immoral, because its goals, let alone the possible results, are so problematic and unpredictable.

That doesn't mean I oppose a war as immoral because it's preemptive. I would approve a preemptive war waged under the authority of the United Nations. I wish the U.N. had waged preemptive war in the early days of the Balkans conflict, or in Rwanda.

In this day and age, the only moral authority for waging a preemptive war must come from international consensus, and as cumbersome as the U.N. is, it's the only way to get it.

"In this day and age," meaning a day and age when there is just one super-power and we are it.

It's not moral, nor is it prudent, to be us against the world.

Personally, I thought the sabre-rattling would lead to something good, like inspections that worked, or a tank commander in the Republican Guard who might grab his main chance to end up on the victorious side and turn and drive on Baghdad. But the Bush administration's timetable and lack of nerve in the Iraqi armed forces have conspired against my naive optimism.

Now, what can -- what should -- we hope for?

We should hope for victory. Swift victory. We should not be embarrassed at the skills of our soldiers nor the force of our arms, even as we wish our leaders used them more wisely. The quicker the war, the fewer losses all around.

While no one -- pro-war or anti-war -- has any special insight to predict the future, the range of possible outcomes skew much more toward the long-term good the shorter and more decisive the war is.

In fact, the future will to a great extent be foretold in the first few days of the conflict. If the Iraqi people rise up against Saddam Hussein and his regime, much as the Italian partisans took care of Mussolini themselves, or as the Romanians deposed Ceaucescu, then prospects for the future will be better.

If, alternatively, the Iraqis resist our troops with anger and violence, or even merely greet them with sullen resentment, then the range of possible outcomes is bleak, and will become bleaker over time.

In that event, my prediction is that Americans will likely leave Iraq some years from now, the last of them lifting off by helicopter from the roof of our embassy.

The views expressed in this column are those of Frank Gruber
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Lookout.
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