Two days after the war began an old friend rang. He was curled in an armchair watching hostilities on CNN. "It isn't going fast enough" he said. I reminded him that Desert Storm took six weeks and Kosovo more than eight. And I thought back to 1944-45 when my father earnestly pored over the Herald's map tracking the slowly moving front as the Allies closed on Berlin. No instant TV gratification for him. He knew nothing of the pattern bombing of Dresden and could only guess about other horrors. But with telewars it's reality TV: live, lurid, and in your living room. Both sets of propaganda assault us. Decapitated Iraqis, slain US soldiers, terrified POWs courtesy of Al-Jazeera that wasn't around at the time of Desert Storm. Today, everything is potential entertainment. Wish for censorship they might, but all high commands are circumvented by the media's insatiable appetite for reality TV.
Weapons and tactics have been refined - in theory at least - for telewars. But is sanitising war always consistent with its basic purpose of defeating an enemy as swiftly as possible? Can the need for speed be met if several hundred million people vet everything and fire off emails to the White House when they see something they dislike? I'm serious. Nobody doubts that the invading Coalition forces will eventually prevail, or that Iraq may be a safer place in the end. Yes, I know there are questions about the war's legality and about its long-term effect on the rest of the Middle East. There always have been. The blinkered Pentagon vision that defined so much of the prelude to this war always worried me. But now war has been engaged, speed is of the essence. Long wars, no matter how carefully fought, leave bigger scars than short, sharp incisions.
This is no argument for butchery, and nobody expects it of the Coalition. But there wouldn't be war if it hadn't been for George Bush Sr's pussy-footing in 1991. Together with Colin Powell, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, Dubya's father flicked through the desert, stopped short of Baghdad, then retreated. He betrayed many Iraqis who thought he was about to liberate them from Saddam. After the Americans left, the Republican Guard butchered thousands. Who can blame the Shias of Basra if they are slow this time to rise against Saddam? And the multitudes of Kurds in Baghdad will also be recalling their betrayal twelve years ago. They are likely to wait until Coalition forces demonstrably enjoy the upper hand before rising against the maniac who has terrorised them for 25 years. Anything short of the toughest measures against the Republican Guard and Saddam's loyalists - even risking civilian casualties - could prolong this war and eventually rob Iraq of potential post-Saddam leaders.
Another consideration is the extent to which the current world economy depends on a speedy resolution. For a year now, conjecture about Iraq on top of the IT fallout, and the Enrons that decapitated a decade of prosperity, has stopped recovery. The welfare of a great many people around the world - and not just the capitalists - hangs on Baghdad's speedy fall and an economic recovery. As always with war, one family's suffering can be another's deliverance. The tragedy is that some - be they Iraqis, Bosnians, Kuwaitis or Afghanis - bear a disproportionate burden in any war. People don't choose where they are born. But if the gruesome task is performed swiftly and properly, they on balance will benefit too. The greatest good for the greatest number is the most important political principle that should guide all decisions. Right now it is best achieved by expedition.
Which brings me back to my friend. Something else contributes to his impatience. It's his uneasiness. This major invasion without international sanction sets a precedent that is likely to be followed unless the United Nations can adequately define the grounds for intervention within rogue states, and stir itself to shape an enforcement procedure that commands international support. We both doubt its ability, or its will, to achieve these things.
In the meantime, I've advised my mate to abandon CNN. Switch to the BBC. At least Alan Little, Paul Adams, Jonny Dymond and Ian Pannell rise above reality TV entertainment. And they possess superior minds to Wolf Blitzer's. From the BBC we can appreciate the complexities of Iraq, and are better prepared to watch the long process of reconstruction that will follow Baghdad's fall.