(Andrew Sullivan is a pro-war columnist who provides a balance to the anti-war sentiment in Ireland. This column appears in The Sunday Times)
"In some ways a pro-war columnnist should have nothing much to say this week. Once you saw the images of liberation last Wednesday, what more could anyone add?
"Several images stood out: the children being led out of a gruesome prison; the statue of Saddam being dragged through the streets; the piles of Vanity Fairs in Tariq Aziz's now-looted home. It's really something to think of a man prepping his son for Harvard while presiding over a system that tortured and murdered hundreds of thousands and harboured chemicals designed to kill millions more.
"Amid all the reporting, many anecdotes also leapt out. Here's one from the New York Times:
A burly 39-year-old man named Qifa, assigned to keep watch on an American reporter, paused outside the inferno that had been the HQ of Iraq's National Olympic Committee to ask the reporter to grip his hand. The building, used to torture and kill opponents of Mr Hussein, had been one of the most widely feared places in Iraq. 'Touch me, touch me, tell me that this is real, tell me that the nightmare is really over,' the man said, tears running down his face.
"Yes, this is real. And the tears are real as well. In our discussions of geopolitics and military strategy, we need to remember those tears. The BBC and others will do all they can to minimise this victory, but they can't take that moment away from the Iraqi people, or from those of us who stood with them, while millions marched to keep the dictator in place.
"Americans have also learnt something about themselves from this war. Immediately after Vietnam, any foreign expedition, let alone invasion, seemed unthinkable. Now it has been thought, and fought, and won many times. From Grenada to Haiti and Bosnia and Kosovo has been a long journey. But under this president, the resolve has strengthened.
"The concept is not some new American empire. America does not have imperialism in its DNA. In fact, it has anti-imperialism in its DNA. But it has also come to understand that the West is under threat, that that threat comes primarily from a highly unstable part of the world, and that with immense power comes immense responsibility. What this war has done is show that Americans are capable of exercising that responsibility in ways not seen before."
"This war entailed the full-scale invasion of a country the size of France, guarded by a band of totalitarian thugs, in a region seething with anti-American hostility. Critics complained that it took too long, but no military campaign has ever achieved so much so quickly.
"Look what didn't happen. There was no attack on Israel; Iran didn't intervene; Turkey didn't invade; chemical and biological weapons were not used. These weren't accidents. They were a function of an intelligent and flexible war plan that combined special forces, air power, high-tech weaponry, local fighters and old-fashioned infantry in a military-technological nexus the like of which has never been seen before.
"More significantly, it was achieved with American combat fatalities (excluding accidents and friendly fire) of 50-60 meen. The US lost three times that number each day in Vietnam at the height of the war. The number of Iraqi military casualties is unknown, but it must be in the thousands. The American public also didn't panic at casualties, and, say the polls, were prepared for a longer war with thousands of Americans dead.
"The war unveiled another innovation. The regime was destroyed while the infrastructure was kept relatively intact. The US and Britain have destroyed facist states by war before--Japan and Germany. But it cost hundreds of thousands of German and Japanese lives.
"Yes, in this war there were tragic civilian casualties. But the most significant factor was how few civilians died--fewer than in a few weeks of Saddam's murderous rule. This war was so precise that it inverted the usual pacifist worry. Saddam and sanctions killed millions of civilians. This war killed hundreds of civilians. In this case, war spared human life.
"This was the real shock and awe, and it is being absorbed by every dictator on the planet. Warfare is different now. American's technological edge needs only two things to make it lethal: political will and public support.
"Those two things, as long as this president remains in power, are now in place. Bush's approval ratings are close to 80%. Most Americans needed no legal case to see the connection between Iraq and 9/11. They knew their vulnerability; and they knew Saddam's malevolence and his goal of getting the most destructive weapons known to man. Case closed. The anti-war movement never gained traction. This matters. The only thing that can stop American power now is American resistance.
"All Chirac, Shroeder and Putin achieved with their United Nations obstructionism was proof that the US didn't need them. Great going, guys! Tony Blair and the State Department will try hard to get Washington (and America) to forget this but they are fighting logic and momentum and memory.
"No, this doesn't mean immediate invasions of Syria or North Korea, or indeed any military action in the foreseeable future. In all likelihood, the US will be too preoccupied bulding a civil state in Iraq, stabilising Afghanistan and hunting Al=Qaeda to intervene anywhere else. But Washington could if it wanted to. And for that reason alone, the importance of this war should not be underestimated.
"America is in this battle for real. What you have seen is not only the belated conclusion of an old war; it has demonstrated the capacity fo a new war--more precise, more ferocious and more mobile than ever before. Afraid? Don't be. But every would-be Saddam now is."
Andrew Sullivan: "American sets the agenda for wars of the future"