Our Iraq war front page from 10 years ago today — the first full day of the U.S.-led invasion — declared America’s “first strike” in the campaign against Saddam Hussein.
“War erupted last night as the United States launched dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles and aimed 2,000-pound bombs at Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and other ‘leadership targets’ in Baghdad,” the top story began.
“… Saddam, in an appearance on Iraqi TV at about 12:30 a.m. EST, hours after the first missile strikes, accused the United States of committing a ‘shameful crime’ by attacking Iraq, urging his people to ‘go draw your sword’ against the enemy.”
See a larger version of the March 20, 2003, front page at the end of this post.
Our editorial from that day, in full:
The war begins: A long wait ends, though debate doesn’t, as United States attacks
War with Iraq has been so long a possibility, so long a debate, that some might have imagined that its arrival would be anti-climactic. But that is not the nature of war.
Even if witnessed from thousands of miles away by TV viewers who had come to expect them, last night’s initial bursts and flashes of anti-aircraft fire over Baghdad lost none of their fearsome suddenness.
Shortly afterward, President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the “early stages of military operations” aimed at selected military targets.
The first action was not the anticipated “shock and awe” all-out assault. Rather, it was a series of missile strikes, possibly targeting Saddam Hussein himself.
With the war now a reality, Americans who have taken bitterly different sides over this conflict can come together at least in the hope that it will be brief and as merciful as it is possible for combat to be.
That does not mean that disagreement over the wisdom of the war will end. Nor should it.
When Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle criticized the president Tuesday for a failure of diplomacy, scornful Republicans pounced, all but suggesting he was giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
Questioning the path the president followed before ordering the military into action, worrying about the implications of the United States’ relative isolation, must not be equated with a lack of support for the men and women of the armed forces who are bravely fulfilling their duty today.
Stifling debate, or dissent, in the name of patriotism is a contradiction in a democracy.
In our view, the administration’s failed diplomacy merits the criticism it has received. Daschle was wrong, though, to suggest that the failure forced the country to war. What it did do was bring the country to war without the international support it should have had.
It was Saddam’s continued resistance to United Nations’ disarmament demands – demands that he acceded to 12 years ago – that brought war upon Iraq once again.
Bush was right in condemning Iraq’s delays, reluctant concessions and partial revelations during the latest inspection process as a continuation of unacceptable defiance.
France and other members of the U.N. Security Council chose to remain willfully blind to that.
But Bush’s shifting goals – disarmament one day, regime change the next – and his resumption of a vow to go it alone made him a difficult international leader for other nations to follow.
Just as his unconvincing attempt to directly link Saddam to the terrorist forces behind the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or to otherwise describe Iraq as so present a danger to the United States that it requires eradication, has made it difficult to accept anything less than a United States-led but United Nations-backed invasion.
The battlefields of this war are as distant as in the first Persian Gulf War. But the possibility of terrorism brings the conflict frighteningly close this time.
The nation went back to heightened Orange Alert as soon as Bush issued his ultimatum to Saddam Monday night. Operation Liberty Shield, a national network of enhanced security, spawned nicknamed alerts at other levels: NYShield in New York state; Operation Safeguard in Westchester; Operation Atlas in New York City.
Extra levels of scrutiny are being applied to national borders, airports, seaports, railways, nuclear and chemical plants – even Westchester buses.
Americans will anxiously watch the progress of this new war in Iraq. Unlike the last time, they will have to bear with homeland anxiety, as well, with the knowledge that military success overseas will not automatically bring it to an end.