[ OUR OPINION ]
TOUTING U.S. military prowess and its advanced weaponry may have fed expectations that the war with Iraq would go smoothly. As with any conflict, however, best-laid plans and detailed intelligence preparations cannot anticipate actual events. Americans should brace themselves for hard battles and difficult times as troops move toward Baghdad and other population centers.
Toppling Saddam may
come at steep price
THE ISSUEThe unpredictability of the war in Iraq darkens the public's optimism for a seamless ending to the conflict.
The first days of war saw massive air strikes that Pentagon officials said were intended to startle Iraqi leaders into submission. Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff, said the goal was for a "short conflict," with hopeful predictions that Iraqi resistance would dissolve quickly. Although about 3,000 Iraqi army troops, who have little love for their leader, have surrendered, U.S.-led forces have yet to encounter the brunt of Saddam Hussein's loyal and better-equipped Republican Guard and urban combat with fedayeen militia forces.
The antiseptic air war that opened the conflict has given way to action on the ground. Images of Americans captured and killed and of downed helicopters surrounded by celebrating Iraqis have jarred the public's view that victory would come easily. Last week, a Pew Research Center poll showed that 71 percent of Americans thought the war was going well. By Monday, that number had dropped to 38 percent.
Military officials and the Bush administration contend that the media and others bear the burden of building the public's hopes for a quick resolution. Indeed, so-called "embedded" reporters -- some of whom have had little experience covering wars -- largely echoed the confident attitudes of the commanders with whom they are attached. Television has enthralled viewers with the cool, video-game technology of wartime equipment and weaponry.
Nonetheless, in the weeks of pre-war buildup, some in the administration put forth the impression that regime change would be expeditious, that Iraqis would welcome invasion forces with cheers and that its soldiers wouldn't fight. Since then, Bush has warned that setbacks should be expected while Pentagon officials caution that the worst is yet to come.
No one questions that the U.S. military has the resources and ability to bring down the brutal, repressive Iraqi leader, but no one can predict how much time and how many lives the effort will cost. Military leaders have attempted to spare Iraqi civilians and the country's non-military assets from the harshest punishments.
However, this may change if resistance accelerates and places American forces at greater risk. Meanwhile, the nation's optimism should be tempered with the realization that the price of liberation is steep.
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