Jewish World Review March 27, 2003 / 23 Adar II 5763

Paul Greenberg

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What's the weather in Karbala? | Saddam Hussein may have gained a formidable new ally: General Sand. As sandstorms sweep through what used to be called Mesopotamia, the showdown outside Baghdad seems to have been postponed for a day, and much of the talk about sci-fi warfare has been lost in the gritty swirl. Tuesday much of the war was called on account of inclement weather.

General Sand's offensive may be only a brief one. Even though the sandstorms have grounded the coalition's copters, its satellite-guided missiles continue to pound Saddam's strangely named Republican Guard. And the undaunted Seventh Cavalry is still on the move.

Far from an unprecedented war, the weather report brought back pictures of long, dusty supply lines stretching across the desert, with troops hunkering down to get some shut-eye or do some maintenance when not fighting off the bedouin. Or in this case, Saddam's Martyrs, who can't be martyred soon enough for some of us. The news plays tricks sometimes, and if you peer hard enough at the map, you can almost make out British tommies circa 1942 advancing across the dunes at El Alamein -- complete with tin pots, knee socks and bayonets at the ready. As the shadows shift, the British Eighth Army and the Afrika Korps engage again.

All the talk about Luke Skywalker weapons fades, and the reader is back somewhere west of Tobruk in 1942. Once again Montgomery and Rommel circle each other -- until a very embedded reporter's cell phone fades in again, and the spell is broken. This isn't North Africa after all, it's not even Mesopotamia anymore. It's Babylon with a new Belshazzar, and the handwriting is still on the crumbing wall.

Some things never change. Even before the first set battle in the desert, which may soon dissolve into the Battle of Baghdad and unholy chaos, the second-guessers have emerged. Every kind of general -- retired, wannabe and armchair -- has offered his critique of the war. Why wait till the end, and risk spoiling a good opinion? Only this much is clear now: The best argument will still be victory.

This kind of quarterbacking from afar is not a weakness but a strength of democratic societies. I notice no Iraqi general is offering to critique Saddam's leadership; the critic would soon be a head shorter. So bring on the kibitzers. Nobody ever learned much from the Yes Men that tend to populate military and corporate headquarters.

Don't think the critiques will end even after the war, when the conclusions doubtless will be just as murky. Heck, good Americans are still arguing over strategy and tactics in The War, the one between the states. Lee, Grant, Sherman, McClellan, Longstreet . all still have their partisans. The battle of the memoirs has only begun, and soon enough it will be succeeded by the heavy artillery of the historians. The commentators have just begun to fight -- well, to criticize, defend and equivocate.

Today's topic for Sunday-morning commanders: Did we commit too many troops in Iraq or too few? My own unlettered view is simplicity itself: It's better to have more troops than you need than not enough when you do. But I've been out of the artillery so long (we used longbows back then) that mine is a highly unprofessional opinion. I'm willing to change it as soon as the first enraged letter to the editor arrives from a retired Private First Class.

Once the sand clears, the view may be clearer. In the meantime, this debate is being settled not by barber-shop strategists but the Willies and Joes that Bill Mauldin drew. Some things don't change, for which Americans can be daily, hourly grateful.

Meanwhile, I await the next weather report from another time zone halfway around the world, which suddenly matters infinitely more than whether I'm going to need a hat tomorrow.

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