Measured Audacity

By Will, George F. | Newsweek, April 14, 2003 | Go to article overview

Measured Audacity


Will, George F., Newsweek


Byline: George F. Will

Not many people even know there is a memorial in the nation's capital to Ulysses Simpson Grant, whose hard slogging--"I propose to fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer"--saved the nation from dismemberment. The Grant Memorial, at the east end of the Mall, was not dedicated until 1922, the centennial of his birth.

But in 1908 one of Washington's central traffic circles was named after Philip Sheridan. The circle features an equestrian statue of the cavalry officer who performed with such dash in the Shenandoah Valley. The country's imagination is captured by military flashiness, like that of the pistol-packing--they were ivory-handled pistols--George Patton, who said: "There are only three principles of warfare: audacity, more audacity, always audacity."

There will be no monuments in Washington to Tommy Franks, who is about as flashy as cottage cheese. But when future officers of America's studious Army gather at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., to study Franks's war, they will recognize it as extraordinarily audacious. It is, however, a war of audacious measuredness, a war in which tactics and strategy are finely calibrated to conform to many objectives beyond defeat of the enemy.

It is a war to break a regime hunkered down in a city the size of Chicago--a city much bigger than 1945 Berlin--and to break the regime without, as it were, breaking too many windows. It is a war waged with acute sensitivity about world opinion, and especially about opinion in the Arab world, as shaped by instant graphic journalism. So it is a war in which U.S. warmaking, supposedly hamstrung by Americans' "casualty dread," reflects a willingness to increase the risk of American casualties in order to minimize civilian casualties, and even minimize damage to the Iraqi infrastructure that will be important to postwar recovery.

U. S. Grant's initials were said to stand for "unconditional surrender." That war aim, enunciated last week by Donald Rumsfeld, is more problematic regarding Iraq than it was regarding Japan and Germany. Then the aim was achieved by almost indiscriminate destruction. Today's war has been called a "compassionate conservatism war," waged with what might almost be called delicacy.

And waged amid much chatter and clatter from kibitzers. There has been too much chatter about the chatter--too much worrying about how the worrywarts among the "cable news commanders" might affect the morale of the home front or of the troops in the field. Judging from opinion measurements so far, the effect has been negligible. …

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