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Springer Journal: So Then Critics... How Did We Do?

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PINEHURST, N.C. — The war in Iraq is far from over. There is much left to do stabilizing the cities and countryside, getting the oil flowing, the economy moving, and an interim government established and functioning. There is also the search for weapons of mass destruction high on the coalition "to do" list.

The major combat operations have ended; however, pockets of resistance will be a threat for some time to come. It is not too soon though to glance back a bit and see just how well the coalition forces did.

The antiwar folks, along with some of the prowar folks critical of the war plan, need to reflect on their criticisms. Many were just flat wrong about a lot of things. Let's review some of the criticisms.

From the outset the critics were focused on the oil fields. They were certain that Saddam Hussein would torch the southern oil fields (such as he did with the Kuwait oil fields in 1991) creating severe economic and environmental disasters. It didn't happen! And it didn't happen because the coalition special operations forces secured the oil fields before any aerial attacks or ground attacks began. That proved to be a brilliant move because Saddam didn't have the time to set them ablaze.

Critics were concerned that hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of Iraqi citizens would flee the country creating massive humanitarian assistance problems for neighboring states. That didn't happen either. Once the bombing started, the Iraqis could clearly see that the bombs were impacting carefully selected regime targets and not the population. Precision guided munitions were discreet and accurate.

There were also the critics predicting that America's indiscriminate bombing of Baghdad and other cities would kill tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis. The stories from the embedded media and the independent journalists clearly reflect that didn't happen. In fact, even the journalists stayed right in the heart of Baghdad throughout the aerial bombardment. They understood some of the dangers inherent in their mission; they also understood how precise the bombing would be ... and was.

Many, including some military analysts, were convinced that the closer we got to Baghdad, the tougher the resistance would be and the Republican Guards would put up a fierce defense of the city and the regime. Several predicted casualties would be high. That didn't happen either. The Republican Guards folded early on and abandoned their positions in large numbers -- by the tens of thousands. The estimates of 10,000 or more coalition casualties were also grossly overestimated. Thank goodness.

I am convinced the pre-conflict psychological operations (psyops) have not been adequately credited for their efforts. I believe those leaflets, those radio and TV broadcasts, those cell phone and e-mail messages to the Iraqi generals and colonels in the weeks and months preceding combat were effective. They had been advised not to fight and not to use weapons of mass destruction. Credit the psyops troops with an "assist."

Some of those same military analysts (or "retired generals embedded in TV studios" as vice president Dick Cheney referred to them) were critical of the insufficient size of the ground forces committed to the war plan. They wanted more armor and artillery. Even without the much negotiated Army's 4th Infantry Division coming south from Turkey, the coalition ground forces were hugely successful.

As an airman, I may be a bit biased, but in the 21st century, precision bombing from the air can replace much of the need for artillery. And aerial strikes with precision guided munitions are much more precise and efficient. They also put fewer Americans at risk or in harms' way. As the coalition air component commander noted " ... we didn't just soften up the enemy troops, we killed them." Some may not like the sound of that, but war is hell and when engaged in combat, it is kill or be killed.

There were many good people who challenged whether this was a just and moral war. Frankly, after seeing the brutality, the cruel oppression of the Iraqi people, the TV images of the horrific misuse of the nation's wealth for Saddam's opulent palaces and decadent lifestyle of Saddam's sons, I am consoled that it was a just and moral war. Iraqi citizens will be better off a year from now than they were before this war started.

And so will others around the world. Operation Iraqi Freedom has already influenced other nations across the globe.

North Korea is not quite as belligerent or bellicose and has agreed to hold multi-national talks regarding their nuclear plans and policies. As I write this, North Korea and the United States have delegations in China discussing this issue.

Some in Iran, including a former president, are questioning their country's estrangement from ties with America.

Syria has declared that they will not permit Iraqis without proper visas from entering their country and have already sent some Iraqis back to Iraq. The coalition's swift military victory, coupled with shutting down the oil pipeline from Iraq into Syria, must have been a strong message for Assad to digest.

And then there is Osama bin Laden. He may also have the message. Americans are aroused after Sept. 11. We take the security of our nation and our friends around the world seriously. We will take the war to the enemy.

Hopefully, the coalition actions in Iraq will dampen Osama's enthusiasm for terrorist strikes against America. Only time will tell. But here again, another concern of the critics was that when we bomb Baghdad, the terrorists will strike at American interests here and abroad. That didn't happen either.

Gen. Tommy Franks' war plan called for surprise, speed and audacity. I would also say it included marvelous technology and superb young men and women motivated to win quickly and decisively. And that they did!

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