THE reputation of war was not enhanced by the humiliating defeat of Iraq. Yes, President Bush, the Pentagon, the coalition forces, the United Nations deserve praise for spine, principles of international order, diplomatic coordination, and military efficiency. Working back from the outcome, it is hard to fault the deadlines set and enforced by the allied command.
And it is better that only 100 or 200 casualties were taken on the allied side than anything like the 100,000 casualties (give or take 50,000 - who knows?) for Iraq.
But some assumptions should not pass.
Even the 100 or 200 casualties are a universe of loss to those who lost them. If that is so, what of the loss to Iraqi families?
If war were a comedy, then the 100-hour land war rout of the Iraqi invading force in Kuwait were cause for horn-tooting jingoism for the victors. But war is tragedy. It has survivors, not winners.
Not a sparrow falls, we are taught, without God's notice. Who are the sparrows here?
President Bush repeatedly said the quarrel was not with the Iraqi people but with their leadership's invasion and pillage of Kuwait. Some stated compassion for the universal loss then would be in order.
The opposite of war is not victory and defeat, but peace. And peace must include wanting the best for all the peoples of the region, even the nominal enemy, Iraq.
Has the ghost of the ``Vietnam syndrome'' been expelled from the American psyche, as now claimed? What is the Vietnam syndrome, anyway? That Washington might engage in a foolish war, or at least foolishly continue a war in a way it could not win? That US soldiers might regret inflicting chemical terror on humans and vegetation alike? That US citizens and America's friends could see the brutality outweighed the benefits? That the word of the government and the military could not be trusted? That thousand s of Amerasian children wander in limbo - unwanted in Vietnam and unclaimed in America? And as for veterans, many of a generation's warriors are haunted still. The rightness of the Iraq war can not be put in the balance with Vietnam's mistakes.
Has anyone been ``taught a lesson'' about United States and allied willingness to enforce discipline? In recent years, why had not the US strike against Muammar Qaddafi in Libya forewarned Manuel Noriega in Panama? Why had not the elimination of Noriega forewarned Saddam Hussein against invading Kuwait - especially after the US had moved into the region to protect Kuwaiti shipping from meddling by Iran? The deterrence of military force among nations may be no greater than that of capital punishment and the police force among societies and individuals.
The United States is considering a continuing military presence in the Middle East. For a time, a vacuum of order - in Iraq and Jordan in particular - is a threat. It is time now to push a diplomatic offensive, with rebuilding and improved economic and political ties the objective. Settlement of the Arab-Israeli land and political dispute should be pursued at once.
At home, President Bush should quash any political boasting by members of his own party. The Democrats may have voted for continuing sanctions, but they united behind his decision to launch the air war. Incumbents of both parties should benefit from any domestic political windfall. If this victory were an occasion for national pride, why demean it by partisan wrangling?
The strong should always be reluctant to use their strength and to boast of it. Bullies like Saddam will have to be taken care of, as he was. Leading his people into such devastation was criminal. He should be punished.
Grisly scenes of death were withheld by reporting restrictions until the end. They offer a rebuttal as much as they do a testimony to the effectiveness of the modern war machine.
The world has gotten to know a cast of military briefers, arms experts, reporters during the war over Kuwait. Was this show the war? In any event, this cast will fade as the region turns toward rebuilding and political realignment. The task will be difficult, so old are the antagonisms there.
Any new world order will be helped by a deeper sense that we are all sparrows.