Measured Audacity

Not many people even know there is a memorial in the nation's capital to Ulysses Simpson Grant, whose hard slogging--"I propose to fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer"--saved the nation from dismemberment. The Grant Memorial, at the east end of the Mall, was not dedicated until 1922, the centennial of his birth.

But in 1908 one of Washington's central traffic circles was named after Philip Sheridan. The circle features an equestrian statue of the cavalry officer who performed with such dash in the Shenandoah Valley. The country's imagination is captured by military flashiness, like that of the pistol-packing--they were ivory-handled pistols--George Patton, who said: "There are only three principles of warfare: audacity, more audacity, always audacity."

There will be no monuments in Washington to Tommy Franks, who is about as flashy as cottage cheese. But when future officers of America's studious Army gather at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pa., to study Franks's war, they will recognize it as extraordinarily audacious. It is, however, a war of audacious measuredness, a war in which tactics and strategy are finely calibrated to conform to many objectives beyond defeat of the enemy.

It is a war to break a regime hunkered down in a city the size of Chicago--a city much bigger than 1945 Berlin--and to break the regime without, as it were, breaking too many windows. It is a war waged with acute sensitivity about world opinion, and especially about opinion in the Arab world, as shaped by instant graphic journalism. So it is a war in which U.S. warmaking, supposedly hamstrung by Americans' "casualty dread," reflects a willingness to increase the risk of American casualties in order to minimize civilian casualties, and even minimize damage to the Iraqi infrastructure that will be important to postwar recovery.

U. S. Grant's initials were said to stand for "unconditional surrender." That war aim, enunciated last week by Donald Rumsfeld, is more problematic regarding Iraq than it was regarding Japan and Germany. Then the aim was achieved by almost indiscriminate destruction. Today's war has been called a "compassionate conservatism war," waged with what might almost be called delicacy.

And waged amid much chatter and clatter from kibitzers. There has been too much chatter about the chatter--too much worrying about how the worrywarts among the "cable news commanders" might affect the morale of the home front or of the troops in the field. Judging from opinion measurements so far, the effect has been negligible.

There was, at first, a related worry, expressed by retired Marine Gen. Paul Van Riper. He says that wars often are won "in the minds of the enemy." And he says that in the first days of the war some military commentators came close to aiding the enemy "by undermining the perception that we were trying to create."

But when it comes to creating impressions, troops on the ground and ordnance from the air are far more effective than all the commentators in television studios. And the vast array of U.S. military assets gives U.S. officials a remarkable range of impressions to create.

Today, military science sometimes seems to be a science of single instances, which is to say, no science at all. This is not because warfare is not scientifically sophisticated, but because it is. The rapid multiplication and refinement of military capabilities presents civilian leaders and military commanders with a wide range of choices with complex political and moral dimensions. The complexity reflects the audacity of a war of regime change, as contrasted with the 1991 war, the aim of which was simply to repeal an act of aggression.

The American Civil War changed after the battle of Antietam in September 1862. Before the battle, it had been a war to preserve the Union--to restore the constitutional status quo ante. After the battle, it was an audacious war to achieve a "new birth of freedom"--to abolish slavery. This caused Lincoln's rhetoric to change, most memorably at the dedication of the military cemetery at Gettysburg.

Bush's rhetoric also has changed. There is less emphasis on this as a war of national self-defense against weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, and more emphasis on the liberation of Iraqis from a torturing tyranny. And more emphasis on this war as a down payment on America's long-term commitment to the liberalization of the political cultures of Middle Eastern nations.

The success of the Coalition forces, which so exemplifies Western modernity, will make matters worse by deepening the sense of Arab humiliation. However, if, as seems increasingly likely as NEWSWEEK goes to press, the Iraqi regime collapses in a spasm of bombast and war crimes, this war of measured means but audacious aims might markedly strengthen the forces of modernity in the Middle East. If the war catalyzes a cascade of change toward genuine parliamentarism and the rule of law, this result would be, in part, a monument to Tommy Franks.