INTO THE WINDS OF WAR
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
LOS ANGELES, April 8, 2003 -- Will the Arab world see the U.S. capture of Baghdad as fair compensation for the loss of the World Trade Center towers and 3,000 American lives? As strange as that question may seem, its answer will probably be central to the way Americans are seen in the Middle East long after the battle for Iraq has ended.
It is, of course, one of those imponderables. But it is human nature to ask whether justice has been served, and the answers that arise will go a long way to determining whether America and its allies are despised as "crusaders" or reluctantly respected in the Old Testament world of the Middle East as a force that took eye-for-an-eye revenge for an unjust attack against two of our own great cities.
Yet there are clearly some Americans who would not be happy if our forces stopped after taking Baghdad. When asked about the success of the U.S. campaign for the city, the war's field commander made clear the battle was not over yet. He wasn't talking about taking other countries, but he did leave the duration of our war there wide open, and as long as it is a war, of course - all's fair, remember? Anything can happen.
"We've said all along that we're very proud of what our people are doing, but we recognize that there's a long way to go," General Tommy Franks told a Reuters reporter and cameraman who waylaid him as he entered a fancy hotel somewhere in Bahrain. "It will continue as long as it needs to continue."
More directly, the Washington Post Website this morning carries a story saying that Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz is suggesting that Syria is next. Wolfowitz and the disgraced Richard - he had lunch with notorious Saudi arms delaer Adnan Kashoggi while serving as chairman of the Defense Policy Review Board - are Israel's two most prominent voices in and around the Bush administration and the most strident in calling for the Iraq war. Having won on that point, their words deserve attention. Tuesday morning's Washington Post has this to say:
"Wolfowitz and other officials have not spelled out how they expect a peaceful change of government in Syria would occur. But many are beginning to speak about a successful conclusion of the war in Iraq providing a possible springboard for change.
"'I think a lot of countries, including Syria, will eventually get the message from this [Iraq war] that it's much better to come to terms peacefully with the international community, to not acquire these weapons of mass destruction, to not use terrorism as an instrument of national policy,' Wolfowitz said."
Wolfowitz was portrayed in the Post as following up on Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's recent warning that "There needs to be a change in Syria," adding "They will be held accountable" for allowing miltary gear to be carried across its border to Iraqi forces.
Rumsfeld was preceded by former CIA director R. James Woolsey, who told an audience at UCLA last Wednesday that the Syrian government had to be replaced. Woolsey, apparently trying to sound like a liberal, described the Bashar Assad government as "fascist," even though, the Post said, they had been working closely with the CIA after Sept. 11 because its secular government was targeted by Osama bin Laden.
The hawks also got support from Israeli intelligence officer Gen. Y ossi Kupperwasser, who charged that "it is possible Iraq transferred missiles and weapons of mass destruction into Syria," the Post reported. That and a December statement by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were dismissed by Joint Chiefs chairman Gen. Richard Myers, who said "there is no evidence" that such weapons had been inside a well-guarded Iraqi truck convoy spotted by U.S. intelligence officials last year.
Earlier, an unnamed foreign government now under investigation by the FBI gave the United States forged documents showing that Iraq had sought aluminum rods for the construction of nuclear weapons, and President Bush repeated the information to the American public in a speech that was widely hailed - even in this newspaper - as a credible explanation for our invasion of Iraq. Thus, we can't be sure what is true.
And Secretary of State Colin Powell shot down the idea of assaulting Syria, saying that the world was rife with rumors of places the United States planned to invade once Iraq was out of the way. His comments came after the Syrian government got extremely nervous over Rumsfeld's remark. "Nobody in the American administration [has] talked about invading Iran or Syria," Powell said. But he also told Gen. William Westmoreland that there had been no massacre at My Lai, so you don't really know who to believe.
But moral equivalency, a bankrupt but viable philosophy and sort of like Adelphia or WorldCom on a diplomatic scale, suggests that the United States and our allies have not exhausted the store of outrage that liberates us from moral condemnation.
After all, we did not deliberately attack any large-scale civilian targets with the intent to kill as many civilians as possible. Instead, we attacked any number of buildings that were mostly devoted to furthering the cult of Saddam Hussein, and killed hundreds of innocent Iraqis as a unavoidable byproduct - victims of that phenomenon sadly known as "collateral damage." We still have a lot of anger. We are broke economically, but we have a generous surplus of moral outrage.
It is difficult to determine how many empty government buildings in downtown Baghdad are the moral equivalent of the fully-occupied Twin Towers, where as many as 50,000 people worked on an average day. If our Western eyes were turned worshipfully to the Twin Towers as the global seat of commercial power, the moral equivalent in the Islamic world would probably be that pretty minaret that soars above a mosque in downtown Baghdad where devout Muslims worship. We have taken great care to spare it, however, and when we do not attack the most cherished symbols of the people, our moral expense is small.
Should the lives of Iraqi civilians be weighed on a one-to-one basis with American lives? The New York Times last year suggested that where there is a loss of Israeli lives as opposed to American lives you should consider the relative population of both countries, and then proceeded to give some numbers. By that same unfortunate standard, a few hundred Iraqis are the equivalent of a few thousand Americans.
But lives are best measured as life itself, that force that animates us until we die, and not by the nationality or religion or city of origin of the deceased, but by a direct comparison of no-longer-animated corpses, whoever's home they were.
There can be some leeway in this count. The lives of children ought to count twice as much as the lives of non-combatant adults, and the lives of politicians should count half as much as those of civilians, since they cause all this trouble. However, I cannot bring myself to say to an American soldier that his life is equivalent to that of an Iraqi soldier. This is purely subjective; my nephew, a Marine fighting for Nasiriyah, is worth a million Iraqi lives to me and his mom.
Avoiding that debate altogether, then, we must ask how many countries and capitals it would take to fairly avenge the attacks on New York and Washington of Sept. 11, 2001? When Islamic fundamentalists in Osama's camp attacked New York, they attacked the combined equivalent of at least four Middle Eastern capitals - Ankara, Damascus, Tripoli and Amman. Washington is worth at least as much as Ramallah, Beirut and Teheran.
We indeed have a long way to go, then. The new doctrine of making peace by making war will get a thorough test. We will learn on a global scale whether Gov. George W. Bush's belief in capital punishment as a means of deterring crime is effective when he employs its equivalent as President against nations that may harbor terrorists and at least hate our guts.
And even as we spend our moral capital, new attacks on us and Israel will surely provide lots more. The alternative, of course, is to stop our war at the boundaries of Iraq and call Sept. 11 a wash. For that we also need to find Osama bin Laden, who is the person behind the attacks we want to avenge. Only then can we toss our hawks, Wolfowitz, Woolsey and Perle, into the howling winds of war, never to return.