Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Ground War

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Ground War

Article excerpt

CONGRESS'S debate on the use of force in the Persian Gulf was an exemplary moment for participatory democracy in America. Its outcome helped create the support necessary for the troops now fighting bravely on Gulf sands. But deliberation about the war - its conduct, its aftermath, and its meaning - did not end in Congress; it persists, as does the war itself.

So far, war in the Gulf has been waged mainly in the air. As a result, the war is still somewhat abstract and relatively painless for most Americans. Few coalition lives have been lost. Americans are going about their daily affairs, preparing for Valentine's Day, while halfway across the world 50,000 air sorties have unloaded on Iraq and Kuwait a near-Armageddon of firepower.

The White House hopes the air war can so immobilize Iraq that it won't be necessary to fight the bloody ground engagement Saddam Hussein wants. The US hopes for a limited war - an air war with a ground-force mop up.

A major ground war could change matters substantially. Public questions that have so far been contained by numbing air strikes may be reopened. Americans would have to come to terms with the deeper issues regarding the cost and the nature of the Gulf war. How many lives is the liberation of Kuwait worth?

The cacophony of experts examining tactical Gulf issues has masked Saddam's own question: Can the US take 10,000 losses in a single battle?

These issues bear on the trip Gen. Colin Powell and Defense Secretary Cheney are taking to Saudi Arabia this week. They'll confer with Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, who has stated many times his determination to keep American casualties to a minimum. Current strategy is aimed at assuring that Saddam's question won't come up.

But "body bags" - a term politicized in the Vietnam - are in the ground war lexicon. They mean war is no longer an abstraction. …

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