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Jewish World Review April 7, 2003 / 5 Nisan, 5763

Roger Simon

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Riding the war as an analyst | In war, 24 hours can be a lifetime. And U.S. war planners must have felt like they went through several of their lifetimes during one 24-hour period this week.

In just one day, all the frowns, knitted brows and deep worry lines over the war were wiped away and replaced with broad smiles.

The same U.S. troops that seemed bogged down, mired and enmeshed one day, suddenly had smashed two Iraqi divisions and were driving hard on Baghdad the next.

And for the war planners, it could not have come at a better time.

By April 1, much of the nation's media seemed thoroughly convinced the U.S. effort in Iraq had gone seriously astray. The newspapers were filled with unnamed sources saying that we had not assembled sufficient forces before invading Iraq, we did not have enough artillery or armor there and that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was to blame.

As one story in The New York Times put it: "One colonel, who spoke on the condition that his name be withheld, was among the officers criticizing decisions to limit initial deployments of troops to the region. 'He (Rumsfeld) wanted to fight this war on the cheap,' the colonel said. 'He got what he wanted.'"

But that was only the beginning. Like a rock flung into a pond, the ripples of criticism spread out and washed over even President Bush. And they came from within his own party.

A second story in The Times provided this extraordinary statement: "I don't understand what is floating his ship except patriotism and terrorism concerns," said one conservative Republican political strategist. "If the tide turns, there's nothing else that keeps his boat afloat. There's a sort of feeling out there of, 'Where is this thing going?' We were all happy to follow President Bush into this, but we're now starting to look up at the hillside and wondering who's up there."

The story went on: "It's obvious that all the Rumsfeld and (Paul) Wolfowitz (deputy secretary of defense) battle plans are not panning out," said a veteran Republican strategist based in Washington. "Rumsfeld can only reform things so long before it gets pointed out that they underestimated what was necessary. Where are the flowers being thrown at our forces? Where are the peace signs?"

And this: "What's troublesome is the loss of deterrent value," the retired general said. "A month ago, everybody in the world looked at the U.S. military as being 10 feet tall. We're not 10 feet tall."

Oh, yeah? Ask them how tall they think we are today.

Those days we spent bombing Iraqi troops, when U.S. forces were either bogged down or taking a planned breather, seem to have paid off, as our soldiers have decimated two of Saddam Hussein's elite Republican Guard divisions. And after days of hearing that our forces were stopped 50 or 60 miles from Baghdad, we are now hearing they are 20 or 30 miles from Baghdad. We even got a prisoner of war back.

And, finally, there was this from The Washington Post: "Hundreds of curious civilians, many of them smiling and waving, lined the narrow, dusty streets (of Najaf) while soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division" passed by.

Yes, there are still four elite Iraqi divisions that have not yet been degraded by our air assault. Our supply lines are still long and in need of defending. Iraqi forces are not, as I write this, surrendering en masse. If Saddam is dead, his forces seem to be fighting without him. And, so far, we have not found any weapons of mass destruction that this war is supposed to be about.

And, of course, taking Baghdad could involve hideous, block-by-block fighting. Things could, in other words, still go badly.

So maybe the lesson is this: In war, instant analysis isn't worth a thing. In a single day, everything can change.

This isn't a sprint, and it isn't a marathon. It's a roller coaster ride.

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