Washington Waits For War

Polls show we support the war as it approaches. But what do the "undecideds" really think, wonders CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer in his Against the Grain commentary.


The tractor guy in the Washington surrendered.

Maybe Saddam will, too.

Such are the last shreds of wishful thinking before an unpredictable war.

My son, a second-grader and amateur military historian, still thinks we should just assassinate Saddam.

The Bush administration thinks there can be a short war without the nightmares of urban combat in Baghdad or chemical missiles hitting U.S. troops.

In tense, waiting Washington, people couldn't decide how to interpret the tractor-on-the-Mall incident.

Some thought it was metaphor for the Iraq situation: a crazy man, potentially dangerous, surrounded by overwhelming force, paralyzing great sweeps of geography; a serious situation, but surreal somehow.

Others thought it was simply a bad omen before the war.

Most were just irritated by the traffic jams the nut caused.

And that just added to the Orange level, post-sniper, post-9/11 jitteriness in the city.

The annual ball for broadcasters and politicians has been postponed. A colleague spotted a police-type in Quizno's and, on closer examination, saw he had on a pin that said Counter-Terror Sniper. That helps your appetite.

Still, the most recent polls show that the public increasingly backs President Bush as the start of the war becomes closer to reality. I've no doubt that's true. We rally behind the troops and behind the President.

But a deeper attitude, at least in my experience, was expressed by one of my smartest relatives, who called yesterday and bluntly admitted, "I just don't know what to think."

Today, my brother in Missouri, who is also smart and opinionated, said he didn't know whether to fly a flag or join a protest march.

Maybe I'm hearing this schizophrenia because it's what I think -- or feel.

I have been on the fence about whether this U.S. invasion was necessary, persuaded by arguments on both sides, though consistently discouraged by the administration's inability to build a wider, deeper international coalition.

The proximity of falling bombs hasn't clarified my convictions. Of course, everyone wishes the best for the poor soldiers in the desert and their commanders. My father's classic (though rarely appropriate) toast was, "Short war." I agree. Who doesn't?

I suppose one's views on the justification of this war don't matter much after the shooting starts. Unless you're a politician, that is.

History will judge this war by its aftermath.

The military conclusion is foregone, except for the levels of casualties.

A military win will not itself justify the war. Real victory will come only if the long post-war battles are won.

Ultimate justification will only come if the war's costs contributed in enduring way to a more humane government in Iraq, a more stable Mideast neighborhood, a less fertile environment for Islamist terrorism, and repaired international alliances and organizations, like the U.N.

Those projects aren't going to be short wars.

Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is Editorial Director of CBSNews.com based in Washington.

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Against the Grain

By Dick Meyer
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