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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

13 Snap Judgments on the Iraq Campaign

I never made it higher than corporal, but it doesn't take a military genius to figure out the strategy when you have air supremacy: break the back of the enemy's armor and its infantry before your big ground assault. A month's bombing worked in the last Gulf War and a couple of weeks should "degrade" the Iraqi army again. Here is a baker's dozen of my snap judgments about this war:

1. Best gamble: jumping our guns a few days early in a bid to win all at once. Our airstrike to kill Saddam Hussein and his gang may not have succeeded, but failing to try on the basis of a sleeper spy's tip would have been a great mistake.

2. Biggest diplomatic mistake: trusting the new Islamist government of Turkey. This misplaced confidence denied us an opening pincers movement and shocked the awesomeness out of "rapid dominance."

3. Best evidence of Hussein's weakness: his reliance on suicide bombers for media "victories." Individual self-destruction may or may not terrorize a civilian population but is not a weapon capable of inflicting decisive casualties on, or striking fear into, a powerful army.

4. Most stunning surprise: the degree of intimidation of Shiites in southern cities by Hussein's son Uday's Gestapo. When Basra falls, fierce retribution on these thuggish enforcers by local Shiites may send a message of uprising to Shiites who make up a third of Baghdad's populace.

5. Most effective turnaround of longtime left-wing lingo: U.S. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld's labeling of Uday's paramilitaries as "death squads."

6. Most profound statement from a military leader: General Tommy Franks, refuting criticism of a "pause" in the ground war, said, "We have the power to be patient."

7. Most overdue revelation by the Pentagon: that Russia has long been smuggling sophisticated arms to Hussein's regime with Syria's hostile connivance. Who suppressed this damning data for a year, and to what end? And is the CIA still ignorant of the transmission to Iraq through Syria of a key component in rocket propellant from China, brokered by France?

8. Most inexplicable weakness of intelligence and air power: the inability to locate and obliterate all of Hussein's TV propaganda facilities.

9. Biggest long-run victory of coalition forces to date: the lightning seizure of southern oil fields before Hussein had a chance to ignite them. This underappreciated tactical triumph will speed Iraq's postwar reconstruction by at least a year.

10. Worst mistake as a result of State Department and CIA interference with military planning: fearing to offend the Turks, we failed to arm 70,000 free Kurdish pesh merga in northern Iraq. Belatedly, we are giving Kurds the air, commando and missile support to drive Ansar-Qaeda terrorists out of a stronghold, but better planning would have given us a trained, indigenous force on the northern front.

11. Best military briefer: General Franks is less of a showman than the last war's bombastic Norman Schwarzkopf, but his low-key deputy, Lieutenant General John Abizaid, is Franks's secret information weapon. Since Abizaid speaks fluent Arabic, why doesn't he hold a cool news conference with angry Arab journalists?

12. Most inspiring journalism: "embedding" is almost-full disclosure that puts Americans in close contact with local conflict, but the greatest war correspondent of this generation is not attached to any unit. He is John Burns of The New York Times, who is reporting with great insight, accuracy and courage from Baghdad and makes me proud to work on the same newspaper.

13. Greatest wartime mysteries: What tales of special-ops derring-do await the telling? Who, in the fog of peace, will honor Iraqis inside Baghdad spotting military targets to save civilians? Will we learn first-hand of the last days of Hussein in his Hitlerian bunker? What scientists, murdered lest they point the way to germs and poison gases, left incriminating documents behind?

Snap judgments, these. Considered conclusions come after unconditional surrender.

William Safire is a columnist for The New York Times, where this comment first appeared.