Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON--The First Gulf War took six weeks. Afghanistan took nine. Kosovo, eleven. We are now just past two weeks in the Second Gulf War. It's time for a bit of perspective. This campaign has already been honored with a ``quagmire'' piece by The New York Times' Johnny Apple, seer and author of a similar and justly famous quagmire piece on Afghanistan published just days before the fall of Mazar-e Sharif and the swift collapse of the Taliban.

The drumbeat of complaint for the first two weeks from the media, retired generals and anonymous administration malcontents has been twofold: the ``flawed plan'' and the raised expectations.

With American troops at the gates of Baghdad, the plan is looking pretty good now. But even when things looked tough in Week Two, the frenzy of the critics was a bit weird. It's an old military cliche that all plans look great until the shooting starts. Then the plan is thrown out. Nonetheless, Tommy Franks' plan has fared better than most. It may not have anticipated the level of initial resistance in the south. But this is a campaign of staggering complexity. The fact that but a single element was miscalibrated (without significant damage to the overall campaign) is, on the contrary, testimony to a plan of remarkable prescience.

Even more impressive was the speed of the military's adaptation to the new circumstances. For a military establishment as large, mechanized, integrated and complex as America's to be so nimble in adapting to the tactics of Saddam's Baathist die-hard irregulars in southern Iraq is nothing short of astonishing. Why deny it? Take credit for it. This flexibility will have a far more decisive effect on the final outcome than the silly charge that the original blueprint did not perfectly predict the future.

The other major complaint has been raised expectations. It is true that before the war there were expectations of a quick and bloodless victory. It is not fair to say that the administration orchestrated the expectations. It is fair to say that the administration allowed that impression to grow.

For example, former President Clinton had said, ``This war is going to be over in a flash'' and ``You're looking at a couple weeks of bombing and then I'd be astonished if this campaign took more than a week.'' President Bush said nothing of the sort. But the administration did little to dispel the conventional wisdom that Clinton was reflecting.


Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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