A different war, a similar peace
This will be a different war, but the peace that follows, on the Israel-Arab plane, will be similar because of the internal logic of the process.
The war already has a name - GWOT, for Global War on Terror - and its medals will be worn proudly on the chests of American soldiers in the coming year, under orders of President George Bush.
The first act was Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan; the second act is Iraq. The balance of power is blatantly on the attacking side but the absolute air supremacy of the Americans, allowing them to bomb at will, also blinds the Iraqis and denies them a picture of the battle.
The war planners will have to meet the challenge posed by three main targets - the man, the regime, and the weapons of mass destruction. The Iraqi army will only be harmed to the extent it insists on protecting those three targets.
The Americans will try to hit the weapons of mass destruction in the opening moments of the attack, lest they be used against their forces or against countries on Saddam's list of enemies. Sites that are partially damaged will be physically conquered when the regime falls.
The big difficulty is focusing the strike at the man - and not only because capturing or killing him will require intelligence that is ingenious in its precision. Saddam is an active player, who could still undertake embarrassing actions that undermine the Americans.
For example, just before the first bombs strike, he could issue a vague announcement about leaving Baghdad, or even Iraq, to an unknown destination. False information, the Americans will claim; Saddam still controls the regime and the entire regime is subject to arrest. But just dealing with the new data could make it more difficult for them to justify the blood, fire and pillars of smoke.
There are three paradigms from the last 15 years that served the war planners: Panama in 1989, Haiti in 1994, and Kuwait in 1991.
In Panama, the operation began in the air with attacks and paratroopers, and continued in the takeover of centers of power, leading to the arrest of Manuel Noriega. In Haiti deterrence worked at the last minute. After failing to explain to the ruling junta, headed by General Raoul Cedras, that an American force would depose it if it refused to leave, Cedras surrendered when a fleet of bombers and paratroopers were on their way to the island.
But the neighborhood thugs in Latin America had nowhere near the determination and ruthlessness of Saddam and Baghdad is a lot more complicated and foreign to Americans than Panama City or Port-au-Prince.
The third example, the previous encounter with Iraq in Kuwait, is most important because the success of the current campaign will be measured against it.
A dozen years ago, there were conditions of uncertainty and an initial fear of clashing with an Iraqi army battle-hardened after its war with Iran. At the time, the American army was mostly prepared for dealing with the Soviet army in Europe; its central command was established to prevent the Soviets from entering Iran. After the collapse of the Soviet system, the American army turned to Southwest Asia. It trained in the desert, at Fort Irwin, whose alumni - both instructors and trainees - are now the commanders of the forces on the Iraqi front.
With an all-embracing, unavoidable media, integrated as policy into the combat units and reporting ahead of time and plentifully on the war plans, the Americans will try to use the press for their needs - deception, but not concealment; rather, emphasizing certain possible actions and minimizing others; it will be a partial deterrence - of personages in the regime and commanders of the Iraqi army; it will also contribute to local surprises.
This will be a different war, but the peace that follows, on the Israel-Arab plane, will be similar because of the internal logic of the process. Bush Sr. secretly promised Mikhail Gorbachev what Bush Jr. now promises the entire world, each president in his era, each with their contribution to fulfillment of UN Security Resolution 242 - land for peace, security and an end to the demands.