What was that whimpering sound? Oh that. It's just the "Yes, but" crowd formerly known as the "anti-war pundits." Ignore them.
Saddam's statue had barely hit the ground in central Baghdad before America's armchair doomsayers began harrumphing a new caveat in which to couch this unseemly turn of events. One might almost think they didn't want Saddam to fall.
You couldn't help noticing the careful balance the antis tried to strike between reluctant admission and preachy admonition. The formula goes something like this: "Yes, we defeated Iraq, BUT . let's not get too carried away, it ain't over yet."
No one exercised this template better - or more oddly - than New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd. Here are a couple of snippets from her column the day Baghdad collapsed:
"Victory in Iraq will be a truly historic event, BUT (my emphasis) it will be exceedingly weird and dangerous if this administration turns America into Sparta."
And this: "There remains the unfinished business of Osama bin Laden. BUT (my emphasis) the end of Operation Iraqi Freedom should not mark the beginning of Operation Eternal War."
Hardly anything to argue with there. But, Sparta?
Reading the myriad yes-butters, I keep free-associating to the final scene of "Sleeping With the Enemy," after actress Julia Roberts has shot her loathsome, raping, tyrannical husband. The audience titters in dread, hoping he's truly dead but suspecting a final terrifying lurch from near-death to unleash a fatal blow.
Here's the connection: While those who supported the coalition assault on Iraq really do hope Saddam is dead and cautiously celebrate the demise of his regime, the anti-war gang, we suspect, is tittering hopefully that he will yet spring again from near-death and make us wrong after all.
Nah, no one really wants Saddam to return to power. He was, to mimic Dowd's vernacular, such a meanie-weanie. Still, the Bush-bashers have plenty of reason to wish for something less spectacular than a free and happy Iraq festooned with flowers and sloppy with kisses for trench-scented soldiers. It's hard to admit you were flat wrong.
It's also hard to be humble when you're right, but guess who is both? Guess who first cautioned against glibness, hubris, immodesty and arrogance? Those mean men Dowd can never bring herself to address as adults: her Bushy, Rummy and Wolfie. The lead players in this epochal drama have spoken with the restraint and authority of grown-ups undistracted by childish antics, either from the pacifist nursery or from exuberant Iraqis tasting freedom, in some cases for the first time. "Let them rant" or "Let them loot," as the case may be, is an attitude of tolerance born of higher sights.
The media are having a little more fun. The conservative Media Research Center, which monitors liberal slant in the media, quickly posted a special "Gloat and Quote" edition, showcasing the predictions and news analyses proved ridiculous by recent events. Various bloggers and Web sites, including National Review Online and Andrew Sullivan, did the same, providing amusing anecdotes for dull parties.
Meanwhile, it's a good idea to stay focused, as Bush has urged without the prompting of pundits. There's hard work ahead, though Operation Eternal War isn't likely part of the plan. As in all wars, there are no guarantees, no certainties, even though Dowd now asserts: "We were always going to win the war with Iraq."
Who says girls can't keep secrets? Here's what we really do know: Coalition forces have gotten this far in "the game," as Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Mohammed Aldouri, churlishly put it, through gritty determination and the unflinching conviction that we were doing the right thing.
Those who supported the war policy had no special sixth sense, no claim to revelation or prescience. Rather they possessed an unambiguous moral clarity. As journalist Christopher Hitchens put it during a television interview - and I paraphrase wildly from memory - "There's just no way that allowing Saddam to continue butchering innocents and potentially threatening the rest of the world can be viewed as a morally superior position."
No doubt the antis and naysayers, who seem to favor any old status quo to the frightening prospect of upheaval, will lurch again from whimpering near-death to unleash new protestations. Little matter. They have proven themselves irrelevant to today's reality, which includes a freed Iraqi people for whom the operative conjunctive phrase isn't "Yes, but" but "Yes, and."