Mother of Battles


All Americans are in debt to the brave young men and women roaring across the desert to liberate the people of Kuwait from the torture and tyranny of Saddam Hussein.

While the operation goes well, this is a solemn and not exultant time. Iraq's dictator always expected to provoke and then lose the "Mother of Battles," but to win the peace that must follow. What President Bush and the nation owe their young warriors is to win that postwar contest as they will have won the battle: to end such aggressions, to bring peace to the Middle East and to lead a diminished Iraq back into the family of nations where none need be afraid.

President Bush was right not to accede to the compromise between Moscow and Baghdad that would have rescued Saddam Hussein from humiliation and rewarded his aggression. He was right to launch the ground war. To the end, Mr. Hussein's messenger continued to withhold what he seemed to be conceding, unwilling to let unconditional mean unconditional or a deadline be a deadline.

Iraq's brutal tyrant endured a savage pounding from the air in order to force a land battle. He expected to trade casualties at a level acceptable to himself but not to the American public. He may have forbidden on pain of death the bringing of unwelcome intelligence and advice by his most competent advisers. He wanted, begged, demanded and commanded this invasion by land, sea and air. He cannot have looked truth in the eye.

This is a battle that dwarfs Stalingrad and all others in the magnitude of firepower and momentum of force. Yet this war is between a small-to-middling power that must continue to live in the Persian Gulf, and a superpower reluctant to accept more involvement there.

Happily, the U.S. is not alone. It leads a mighty coalition. Most of the Arabs are represented by the governments that have sent forces to stand beside ours, not by the dictator who gases Muslims and his claque of noisy admirers. Major European nations are there as well, countries Americans are proud to call allies.

The difference between this scenario and what-might-have-been is that Iraq's army will be sent home beaten and disarmed instead of remaining one of the world's most powerful. Mr. Hussein made the mistake of putting much of his war machine in Kuwait, there to part with it. Yet whatever destruction is vented will be far less than the methodical dismantling of Kuwait, its resources and people by Iraq's dictator. Those atrocities alone justified Mr. Bush's refusal to wait one more day. The tyrant's atrocities cry out for his humiliation and overthrow, not for the saving of his face.

Now that it is launched, may the battle continue to go swiftly and well. Saddam Hussein has committed many crimes. The one which Americans will never forgive is this Mother of Battles.

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