The Magazine

The Phony Debate

From the March 31, 2003 issue: The pundits are arguing about everything except what's interesting.

Mar 31, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 28 • By DAVID BROOKS
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But it should be said that we are all mis-remembering the earlier war. If you go back and read the media amidst the air campaign in 1991, you find that Americans were gloomy about how things were going: Iraqi women and children were being killed, and nothing good seemed to be happening. According to a study done by Robert Lichter at the time, nearly 60 percent of media stories about U.S. policy in the Gulf were negative. Americans, Time magazine reported on February 18, 1991, "have a vague feeling of unease, if not outright disillusionment, that the fighting seems nowhere near a conclusion." Most Americans, polls revealed, believed the war would take longer than six months. It is only in retrospect that we see Desert Storm as a cakewalk.

Today, we could be just as wrong amidst this war as we were amidst that one. Or we could be entering the age of decapitating wars, in which the United States can change evil regimes without widespread loss of life. Either way, the politics of warfare is being transformed, and someday we are going to sit back and marvel that we didn't pay more attention to the political considerations embedded in the conduct of this war itself.

David Brooks is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.