The Magazine

Casualties Are the First Truth of War

ADVANCE COPY from the April 7, 2003 issue: And one the public is well prepared to accept.

Apr 7, 2003, Vol. 8, No. 29 • By PETER D. FEAVER
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Public support will remain strong, provided that victory is achieved. The sooner the better, of course, but the polls suggest that the public is not unrealistically impatient; nearly half expect the war to last months. That should be plenty of time to discover whether the war plan was daring or foolhardy. In the meantime, the very same presidential resolve that is shoring up public opinion can shore up military confidence.

That is why the military accepted a plan that deviated from its conservative roots and put mission accomplishment squarely ahead of force protection. The Vietnam nightmare is a political leadership that starts a war and then hangs the military out to dry when adverse developments arise. Without confidence in the political leadership, the military's natural reluctance to use force can be impossible to overcome. With a political leader as resolute as President Bush, however, the military need not fear this and can focus on their fronts rather than their backs.

Peter D. Feaver is associate professor of political science and director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies at Duke University. His most recent book is "Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight, and Civil-Military Relations" (Harvard University Press).