Winning the Peace

Words during war send a signal as strong as war itself. They embody ideas that drive events as much as a MOAB bomb would. Just note the name of the US campaign: Operation Iraqi Freedom. It's about them, the Iraqis, not the United States.

The 1991 Gulf War was Operation Desert Storm. The name was as much about the laser-guided might and heroism of the US military as about liberating Kuwait. It ended inconclusively, with Iraq still a danger.

This latest war was first planned as a narrow defensive move to keep Iraqi weapons of mass destruction away from terrorists. But on the morning of March 20, at the first rockets' red glare over Baghdad, US strategy had evolved to something more: By blasting the headquarters of Iraqi leaders, the US hoped the Iraqi military, perhaps many Iraqis, would rise up against Saddam Hussein. Americans could then be only the enablers of Iraqi freedom, and not liberators. Iraqis would be coheroes.

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In the fog of war, however, events may not happen that way. US soldiers are bravely ready for urban warfare, with broad support back home.

But it's clear that American thinking since Sept. 11 has traveled far beyond merely lashing out at would-be enemies. Slowly, President Bush has woven a hearts-and-mind campaign into the the war on terrorism.

The way that this US-led war is waged could leave behind a postwar Iraq that feels unified and confident, one that had a hand in its own liberation. A free Iraq could then help the US calm terrorist tendencies among many Muslims.

The US needs to leave as much of Iraq intact as any war can allow. That means avoiding civilian casualties, saving Iraq's bridges and roads, and rescuing refugees.

Postwar Iraq must be "occupation lite," with an interim government run by Iraqis, with Iraqi oil used only to rebuild the nation, and with many non-US foreign troops working with Iraqi soldiers and police.

In other words, Iraqis must retain their integrity. That's exactly what many people in the Middle East want, instead of living under authoritarian rulers who hold back freedom.

If Iraqis can free themselves with US assistance, that would send a message that US leadership isn't all muscle and brawn - or just about US interests.

Restoring Iraq the right way also would help restore trust in US leadership among people who opposed this war.

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