As the shock of American cluster bombs and the distinctive rumble of Abrams tanks fade from the Arabian nights, we world-citizens must begin to sort through the events of the last eight months. Many lessons could be drawn. Allow me to suggest two.

First, it seemed clear by the sixth week of open combat that American conservatives had succeeded in one task beyond their wildest dreams: in matters of foreign policy and war, the American press had been cowed. Recurring complaints notwithstanding, twenty years of relentless attacks on liberal bias in the media, by figures ranging from Spiro Agnew to Reed Irvine, have had their effect. With the exception of several writers for the New York Times and the consistent voice of Dan Rather, reporters in the Gulf have commonly behaved as dutiful patriots. In contrast to the Vietnam years, where correspondents questioned every official announcement, the Allied Command’s principal problem was to restrain press enthusiasm for the campaign. Tight military censorship provoked surprisingly little concrete protest. Back home, regional newspapers and local broadcast outlets helped to marshal the war euphoria. Not since the mid-1940’s had the “adversary press” been so pliant a tool of the foreign policy establishment, in service to the executive branch of government.

Second, George Bush deserves our awe for pulling off a constitutional coup, almost without remark. In the heated debate of November-January, some constitutional scholars insisted that Mr. Bush needed a congressional declaration of war before he could commit troops to battle in the Fertile Crescent. Other scholars, along with administration figures, argued that his powers as Commander in Chief gave him all the authority he needed, noting that of the 250 distinct American military actions of the past, only five had involved a declaration. All students of the Constitution, though, agreed that Congress exercised an important check on presidential war-making through its power of the purse: Chief Executives must still come to the Hill in order to pay for their wars.

Congress avoided an open display of its impotence by narrowly authorizing the Gulf campaign. Forgotten in the histrionics of the congressional debate, though, was Mr. Bush’s true innovation: a way to pay for a foreign war without resort to Congress. Call it “contributions” or “burden sharing,” the payment of tens of billions by Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, and others into the federal treasury gave Mssrs. Baker and Bush an unprecedented free hand.

Some critics of the war have blasted these payments as mercenary fees. The pundits miss the real splendor of the deed. A better way to view the money is as a tribute, in the medieval sense of a payment by vassals to their overlord and protector. Another way to see the donated cash is as a clever recycling of those ubiquitous petrodollars by the waxing branch of world government, “the international banking community.

Either way, Mr. Bush found a way to break free of the last enfeebled constitutional shackle on the President’s war-making ability, and has enjoyed a power only dreamed of by Wilson and the Roosevelts. Like the Roman Senate in the old Empire, our Congress is still allowed to pretend it has a role, and it has obediently blessed the nation’s first “off budget” war. This is, after all, simply good politics in the kinder, gentler Empire we inhabit.