Views from Someone Who Called It Right

I AM looking at a Monitor clipping which tells about a press breakfast where Les Aspin, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, disclosed that the President and his counselors had lost patience with the economic embargo and had decided to go to war. That was in late September. Mr. Aspin was right, as he often is. His sources reach up to the highest level of the administration, Congress, and the Pentagon. So reporters were getting a real ``scoop'' that morning. Up until then the media had been saying that Bush was going to rely on sanctions.

Last week Aspin was back for a Monitor breakfast gathering again. Reporters were reminding him about the earlier story and how right he had been - that the motivation for moving to war was both loss of faith in the sanctions and the terrible atrocities in Kuwait. Aspin had also correctly predicted a short war, fought this winter before the weather got bad again and with relatively few casualties.

``I thought it would be short but not this short,'' the congressman said. ``I thought it would be over in weeks but nothing like this.''

Reporters pushed Aspin for his prediction on what would come next as peace plans progressed. He sees a United Nations military presence in the Gulf for some time to come - ``perhaps as many as 10,000 ground forces,'' with the US Air Force and Navy ``just over the horizon'' from Iraq. But he said his vision was clouded by the many imponderables at this early postwar stage.

Asked to explain the unexpected ``cake walk'' once the ground forces were committed, he attributed this to the ``forty days of pounding'' given the Iraqis from the air. While the Iraqi army may have been the world's fourth largest, Aspin noted, it was far from being the fourth best. Finally, he added, the coalition triumphed through brilliant strategy by its leaders and heroic fighting by its troops.

The press around the table told a story of their own with their questions and their attitude. Where was the journalistic cynicism evident at the war briefings? Some of that was left. But everyone seemed caught up in the euphoria of the great victory. Privately held antiwar feelings obviously had faded in the glow of the moment.

The media search now is on for another big story - how the decision to launch the ground war came about. Who among the president's top advisors wanted to keep the air war going and see if it couldn't be won that way? And who counseled bringing in the ground troops to finish it up?

For example, where was Defense Secretary Cheney in that decision?

Aspin leaned forward and in his most confidential manner said: ``You know this is something I just can't figure out. I just am not able to say whether Cheney was, relatively speaking, a `dove' or a `hawk' in this. I do think that Jim Baker was a dove on that decision and, probably, so was Sununu.'' He added that Vice President Dan Quayle, National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, and Bush himself would have been ``hawks.''

While reporters were hanging on Aspin's every word, the world outside the Washington's Sheraton Carlton Hotel was greeting the first days of peace with new attitudes, new hopes - and with much relief.

On the streets one could sense that the people going to work had a new spring in their steps. Their friends and loved ones were coming home. There was a lot of happy talking and laughter.

I stopped some pedestrians and asked them about what this war had meant to them - what had been accomplished by it. Everyone said they were happy that Saddam Hussein had been given his due and that the US had performed so magnificently on the battlefield.

I particularly liked what one military expert said on TV: ``It's time the rest of the world learns once again that when the US says something, it means it.'' I believe that all along this war has been about the regaining of US pride and prestige.

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