From the Pentagon to Central Command headquarters in Qatar to the US troops fighting remnants of Saddam Hussein's army around Iraq, no one is ready to declare victory.
"Baghdad is still an ugly place," Air Force Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart said at Thursday's CentCom briefing. "We still have a long ways to go."
But one clear winner in this first major war of the 21st century is likely to be Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The outcome - so far, at least - seems to bear out the war plan he had a heavy hand in creating. More important, in years to come the "transformation" of how the United States designs and arms its military - something he has had to fight much of the military bureaucracy and a battalion of outspoken retired officers over - now is more likely to take place.
"It is clear that this war was fought employing many of the concepts and principles that Rumsfeld has espoused," says military analyst Daniel Goure of the Lexington Institute. "One can only assume that in the postwar environment he will have greater power and credibility with which to push forward reforms."
Among these concepts:
• More civilian control of the war plan and its execution. Not so much like Mr. Rumsfeld's predecessor Robert McNamara and President Lyndon Johnson during the Vietnam War (who picked out targets for bombing), but more like Abraham Lincoln - finding a general "who would fight" in Tommy Franks.
• Speed and maneuver. As General George Patton did in his dash across Germany in World War II, US forces largely bypassed the cities in southern Iraq to focus on Iraq's leadership and main fighting forces in and around Baghdad.
• Flexibility in execution. The US started early without the Army's 4th Infantry Division, originally meant to invade northern Iraq from Turkey. This protected southern oil facilities, got the jump on Iraqi main Army and Republican Guard divisions, and may have reduced the inevitable need to provide civilians with humanitarian aid by shortening the war.
• Heavy use of Special Operations Forces, precision (though massive) air strikes, and unprecedented integration of the different service branches. Such "jointness," experts say, can reduce the numbers of troops and weaponry needed, illustrating the difference between overwhelming power and overwhelming force.
• Taking advantage of newer technologies (pilotless drones providing real-time pictures of the battlefield, for example) to provide better command and control of forces in the field.
"The key to winning was the ability not only to hit what was targeted but to sense, target, and execute missions in compressed time frames compared to earlier wars..., says retired Army Col. Daniel Smith. "Intelligence, reconnaissance, surveillance, and communications - the intangible 'how-tos' - made the difference."
All of this enabled generals back at headquarters to adjust the war plan, and this flexibility was communicated to commanders in the field who changed their plans as well. Reading the likely defenders of Baghdad (with important input from Special Operations and CIA teams that had been in the city for some time), Army and Marine Corps units accelerated their attacks, quickly seizing such important assets as the city's airports and Hussein's presidential palaces.
SOME of this was risky. With the surprisingly rapid advance of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division from Kuwait nearly 300 miles to the outskirts of Baghdad, supply lines became thin. There was always the threat of chemical weapons. And faced with unanticipated paramilitary forces using guerrilla tactics, the US could have suffered greater casualties or inflicted more collateral damage.
As it was, the US so far has suffered one-third fewer combat deaths than the Gulf War of 1991. Does all of this mean that Mr. Rumsfeld will have an easier time transforming the Pentagon? "Not necessarily," says military analyst Charles Peña of the Cato Institute. "The service bureaucracies are still powerful. Capitol Hill has its own self-interests, and the defense industry isn't necessarily interested in giving up on weapon systems in the pipeline simply for the sake of transformation."
But as the world picture and threats to US security evolve - including stateless terrorism - the Pentagon no doubt will change in the direction Rumsfeld wants. Like the proverbial battleship, it may be slow to turn but is capable of turning.
Any change will have to take account of future enemies in the field. "If the relatively inept performance of Iraq's military - like that of the Taliban and Milosevic's Serbia - is typical of other prospective enemies, then the US can afford to take some risks in leaping ahead to new ways of warfighting," says Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute. "If, on the other hand, America has been blessed by a series of pygmy-scale adversaries who are not representative of future threats, then we need to be careful what lessons we draw."