WASHINGTON -- At the beginning of her military campaign to reverse Argentina's 1982 seizure of the Falklands, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said, ``Failure? The possibilities do not exist.'' She was paraphrasing Queen Victoria: ``We are not interested in the possibilities of defeat; they do not exist.'' Victoria said that in 1899, during ``Black Week'' in the Boer War, when things were going badly.
The United States has just endured 12 particularly difficult days in Iraq--the bombings of the Jordanian embassy, the oil and water pipelines and the United Nations offices. This has been ``terrorism plus,'' terrorism with this difference: Most terrorism is random violence. This is tactical, carefully targeted to serve a cunning strategy.
It is not just a ``Mogadishu strategy'' intended to induce ``occupation fatigue'' in America by sporadic attrition of U.S. military personnel, leading to precipitous withdrawal. The purpose of attacking ``soft'' targets is much easier to achieve. It is to prevent America from making material conditions better.
It was considered marvelous that there was no disorder in New York when the power recently went off for 29 hours. In Iraq, water and electricity have been unreliable for months. Until conditions become much better, Iraq will be a newly created example of a danger newly perceived since 9/11--a ``failed state.'' Hence it will be a vacuum into which political evil rushes.
Days after Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Thatcher, who by serendipity was in Colorado with the first President Bush, exhorted him not to ``go wobbly.'' There was no danger of that, and no danger that this President Bush will do so. Rather, the danger is that he might think that being the reverse of wobbly--obdurate--is a sufficient response to the Iraq challenge.
Perhaps the administration should recognize that something other than its intelligence reports concerning weapons of mass destruction was wrong. Paul Wolfowitz, deputy secretary of defense, was wrong in congressional testimony before the war. Although he said ``we have no idea what we will need until we get there on the ground,'' he insisted that Gen. Eric Shinseki, a veteran of peacekeeping in the Balkans, was ``wildly off the mark'' in estimating that several hundred thousand troops would be needed in occupied Iraq.
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