Now we've won, we must not cut and run


Victory validates itself. Military triumph is so violent, so stunning, so photogenic that it brooks no dispute. Glory justifies price. A tyrant is crushed and for the moment a whole people is free. The toppling of Saddam Husseins statue in Baghdad on Wednesday did not take 20 minutes or 20 days, but 12 years of Western misjudgment. But it is over. Thank Goodness that man is gone.

I cheered home the Falklands fleet and the Gulf War Army because I thought they had fought necessary wars. I shall cheer home British troops from Iraq for a job well done. They are the best-performing soldiers in the world. Their capture of Basra appears to have been a model of training, courage and restraint. War remains the ultimate display of statehood and citizens should celebrate those who risk their lives in its cause. If not, soldiers may decline to fight when their country is really in danger.

The American and British operation in Iraq has shown conclusively the power of a modern technological army, ruthlessly deployed. Those, including myself, who feared another Dresden or Berlin, like those who declared Saddam so lethal a foe as to threaten the entire West, seem at best to be out of date. There was no recourse to chemical weapons. Faced with American troops ready to blast whole city blocks to pieces, Iraqi units proved understandably reluctant to commit suicide.

The fall of Baghdad will be used in years to come to justify the use of air power to avoid street fighting in cities, even at the expense of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilian casualties. In Hanoi, Belgrade and Baghdad 1991, the effectiveness of this means of war had been considered dubious. Bombing has now been used tactically in a built-up area to push troops into a city centre with minimal losses to the invader. In Baghdad the bombardment showed scant concern for hearts and minds as a possible obstacle to conquest. Someones televised remark that the safest heart and mind is detached from its body now has victory on its side.

During the Cold War and since, the ability of non-nuclear forces to capture and hold territory was never vindicated, armour never fully tested. The Americans fared badly in Vietnam, the Russians in Chechnya. Unable to use the nuclear option, even powerful armies seemed vulnerable in guerrilla wars.

On paper, Saddam clearly possessed a considerable conventional force. Yet this was of no account against overwhelming air power in mostly open country and against satellite targeting. Though the coalition blitzkrieg appeared to hesitate a week ago  reducing generals in Washington to hand-to-hand combat  it defeated all opposition and took two cities in three weeks. American Marines did not need Turkish bases or the arrival of the 4th Infantry (which prospect is said to have spurred them to victory). It is hard to imagine any army on Earth now able to put up serious resistance to this sort of weaponry. Like the British Army at the end of the 19th century, it is a hugely potent aid to power projection.

To what end? I suspect little will be heard now about weapons of mass destruction. This has been an exercise in toppling a hated foreign regime and hoping people will cheer. At present they will. Saddams statue covered in the Stars and Stripes is war trophy enough. But if such a triumph is to be more than an act of ferocious gunboat diplomacy, America and Britain must convert it into an at least compliant region and an Iraq that is secure and free.

After the Falklands war, when the boot was on the other foot, I interviewed a Pentagon hawk who had been convinced that the British would fail. He successfully advised that America deny ships or troops in support. In the event, I pointed out, Britain had won and Margaret Thatcher claimed to have deterred dictators from such aggression in future. The hawk laughed and replied that the Falklands proved only that countering aggression was hugely dangerous and expensive. Aggressors would not be deterred.

He had been wrong about Britain but right in his scepticism towards deterrence. Russia duly invaded Afghanistan. Israel invaded Lebanon. Iraq invaded Kuwait. Milosevic invaded Kosovo. They were not deterred, even after each in turn was worsted in subsequent war. If defeat deterred war, there would be no more war.

Platitude now holds that the coalition must mend fences fast in the Gulf and Middle East. If the deterrence theory is sound, I cannot see why. Indeed the real victors in the war, the Pentagon group round Donald Rumsfeld, seem happy to offend Syria and Iran. Yesterday they added Turkey to the list by allowing the Kurds to occupy Kirkuk. On this theory, Arab rulers should be impressed by American aggression and do what they are told.

This hegemony may apply while the firepower is in place. But how long is that? George Bush and Tony Blair were speaking as much to their own people as to Iraqis yesterday when they promised on Arab television that their forces would withdraw as soon as possible. The promise must have sent a shudder down every pro-Western spine. It sounds like 1991 all over again.

This war is different from Kuwait or Kosovo. It has involved the elimination of a countrys entire leadership, public administration and system of justice. Those who so traumatise a nation state cannot cut and run as soon as possible. Mr Bush cannot find a few symbolic weapons of mass destruction, put his friend, Ahmad Chalabi, in an office block and vanish.

British troops in Basra yesterday protested that they could not ensure civil order as they were not sent here to be policemen. That is exactly why they were sent. They were to find and destroy weapons of mass destruction. They were to topple an evil regime. By force of arms they have asserted their authority in the streets of Basra. Surely they owe it to those they claim to liberate not to hand them over to the mobsters, looters and killers who ran Iraq before the Baath party established ruthless order two decades ago.

The Americans and British say they have spent six months planning an interim administration for Iraq. Their armies have now established a bridgehead for this to proceed. Yet, incredibly, an interim leadership has not been agreed and London and Washington are said to be arguing still over the status of Mr Chalabi and the role of the UN. The search for a safe sheikh to run Basra is ominously reminiscent of Lawrence of Arabias chaotic three-day rule of Damascus in 1918. He reluctantly concluded that rebels, especially successful rebels, were of necessity bad subjects and worse governors.

I might have been opposed to this adventure, but now it is a fact the obligation on the invader to establish order is critical. The American general, Wesley Clark, wrote on this page yesterday that the war was meant to advance the fight against terrorism, bring democracy to Iraq and create positive change in the Middle East. None of that is begun, he said, much less completed. Britain and America must, under the Geneva Conventions, secure life and property and ensure humanitarian relief. They must, under their own war aim, ensure stable government and a path to democracy. The only safe predication is that this will take a long time.

Kipling's poem, The White Man's Burden, was written not, as is often supposed, in honour of British imperialism. It was propaganda goading Americans to colonise the Philippines in 1899. Kipling warned that the burden would be painful. America would have to bind its sons to exile/ To serve your captives need. They would have to accept The blame of those ye better/ The hate of those ye guard. That was the white mans duty towards new-caught, sullen peoples. That was the spirit of this war. It is the duty that awaits coalition forces through the hell of the coming Iraqi summer.

After enduring Saddam as Americas puppet and then as Americas monster, the Iraqis have been promised security and democracy. They have had a Western war. They are entitled to a Western peace. That peace is not a porn magazine, a case of dried milk and Mr Chalabi in a golden palace. It needs a long-term Western guarantee of civil order, even in the teeth of fierce local and regional opposition. That is the burden of this victory.

Kipling called it the savage war of peace. It must now be fought.