Diana West

Maybe it's so obvious that it's a given. But since "givens" are just taken for granted, I'll say it anyway. As we see proof in the war on Iraq that Western warfare has been retooled to minimize civilian casualties, we should also see that peace in this world is increasingly under attack by foes, mainly Islamists, whose strategy is the exact opposite: to maximize civilian casualties.

This presents a stark contrast and perhaps the simplest lesson to sink of the first week of war in Iraq. It's not just the ins and outs of "shock and awe"; the pros and cons of "embedded" reporters; the debate over troop strength; or Saddam Hussein's whereabouts that we should now be pondering. What we might also focus on, even in the face of whipping sand, thudding bombs and flapping lips, is this chasm that has opened up in recent years. It marks an important divide between civilization and barbarism in the 21st century.

To realize this is not to pat ourselves on the back -- although curtailing death and destruction while waging war, both the aspiration and its execution, should be seen as a signal moment in the continuing evolution of homo sapiens. Taking stock of this aspect of the war effort, the Weekly Standard's David Brooks asked an excellent question last week: "Has there ever been a conflict in the history of man in which the one army strove so mightily to not kill the soldiers of the other army?" Another question, of course, is whether a war has ever been waged on such a grand scale with the same strategic and tactical concern for civilian lives on the other side. "The battlefield's a very hazardous location," Maj. Gen. Victor Renuart said this week in Qatar, sounding a little more like a traffic cop than a wartime military briefer. "We must continue to ask all citizens in Iraq to remain in their towns and homes, because it's very difficult to guarantee their safety on this battlefield."

Granted, such regard for human life has not only moral but also political roots, both of which, it is hoped, will sprout in a bouquet of goodwill from an Arab world thrilled by a liberated Iraq, regional tranquility and democratic reform. Or so the theory goes. So far, however, such goodwill is still stuck in the mirage phase. And so far, the Iraqi regime's stomach-turning war crimes to date -- the execution of American POWs; the transformation of a hospital into an armed guerilla headquarters (complete with 3,000 chemical warfare suits); the firing of U.N.-prohibited missiles; even the reported shootings of its own people -- are coming up roses in the Arab world.


Diana West

Diana West is the author of American Betrayal: The Secret Assault on Our Nation's Character (St. Martin's Press, 2013), and The Death of the Grown-Up: How America's Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization (St. Martin's Press, 2007).