The Rockets' Red Glare. (Editorials)
The fierce tableau of smoke and flames that US bombs created over Baghdad--a visual message of America's awesomely destructive power--brought to mind Shelley's meditation on an ancient ruin, where a fallen pedestal bore the inscription: "My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:/ Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!" Ozymandias's stern visage lay shattered in the sand. The US strategy of "shock and awe" was intended to intimidate Iraqis into surrendering, but it did not succeed, any more than the ancient ruler's arrogant proclamation protected his imperium. It is already obvious that Americans were grossly misled by the official expectations of another easy triumph for US power, but there is also the chilling recognition that war planners themselves may have been seduced by the propaganda. Empires, it seems, are eternally vulnerable to hubris.
Americans have become accustomed to quick, low-casualty wars with too-easy claims of virtuous results, but now they're getting the real thing, bloody and ambiguous and randomly cruel. We were assured that our advanced technologies--precision bombing and digital communications--would let us minimize American casualties and spare Iraqi civilians. But already there have been terrible errors--including, it appears, the bombing of a Baghdad shopping area that left dozens dead or wounded. Such incidents are rapidly eroding any support that may have existed in the Arab world for the US objective of removing Saddam Hussein. Instead, they arouse intense anger against the United States--anger that's likely to grow regardless of the war's outcome.
The way these events play out could have a great impact at a time when fundamental questions are already on the table. …