Published on Wednesday, January 15, 2003 by the Seattle Times
Questions About War That Can't Be Ignored
by Bruce Ramsey
In antiwar circles, Philip Gold was the man of the week: the military analyst, formerly of the Washington Times, splitting with conservatives over war with Iraq. This month, Gold severed formal ties with Seattle's Discovery Institute, where he had been a senior fellow in national-security affairs.
His allies on the Internet hailed him. One Web site called him "The Heroic Phil Gold."
He does not look the part. With his short stature, dark beard and soft voice, Gold looks more like a university professor than a U. S. Marine. Actually, he has been both, with no apologies. He is no pacifist.
Gold comes to his arguments loaded with historical facts. He asks: What was the last time U.S. forces took a major city that was seriously defended?
Manila, in 1944.
When was the last time the United States lost a major Navy ship?
World War II, 1945. "No American under the age of 60 has a memory of losing a warship," he says.
Gold has no doubt that America can beat Iraq. His question is whether it can do so with the minimal loss of U.S. lives (the only lives we count) that Americans have come to expect.
Maybe. In the Gulf War, he says, "We got awfully lucky."
What if an American unit got cut off without air cover? U.S. forces are technically sharp but are they tough?
Is the home front tough enough to accept casualties? Gold recalls Beirut and Mogadishu, and says, "Since Vietnam, whenever we've been hit, we run."
His next question is about purpose. America's debates have been about what kind of world we want. "What matters is us," he says.
Call it the narcissism of the mighty. "We believe that deep down, the whole world wants to be like us," says Gold. "We exaggerate our power to alter hearts and minds."
The neoconservatives offer the most grandiose purposes for an Iraq war: a crusade for democracy by a Christian power in the heart of Islam. Well, imagine a democracy in Iraq. At the minimum, there would be a Shia Muslim party and a Sunni Muslim party defined by religion, and a Kurd party defined by ethnicity. None would be inclined to accept any of the other's administrators, judges or legislators. The Kurds are armed, and if Saddam Hussein's army melts away, all the factions will have guns.
We Americans are for free speech. We let American Nazis march through Skokie, Ill. Imagine a Shia march through a Kurd village. Add guns.
Here is the difference: What happened in Skokie was symbolism. It was talk. Nothing was going to come of it, because the question of ethnic and religious persecution in the United States has been settled.
In Iraq, nothing is settled.
The modern-day imperialists who envision a MacArthur regency in Baghdad think of how easy it was to steer the destinies of Germany and Japan. But Germany and Japan were prostrate, hammered into pacifism.
A better parallel for Iraq, Gold says, is Weimar Germany after World War I. The Germans of 1919 were bitter at the government that "betrayed" them, suspicious of the nations that conquered them and seething with revanchism and class war.
The victors of World War I insisted on reparations from Germany's most valuable economic asset, its manufacturing plant. The effort backfired. The French occupied the Ruhr in 1922 to collect the money, and were frustrated by disobedience. It may be easier to pump Iraq's petroleum and commandeer it, but the political price would be huge.
"Anything that smells like taking Iraqi oil to pay for the war will backfire," says Gold.
Even if we don't steal their oil, our military occupation will be hated. Iraq is not a country to be won over with candy bars and baseball. We will not be there, as in South Korea or West Germany, to protect Iraqis from foreign enemies.
The Iraqis are going to want us out and a lot sooner than we will be planning to get out.
War is being seen by some Americans as the solution to the problem of Saddam Hussein. It may mean the end of him, but it is not an ending in any other sense. It is a beginning and of something, Gold reminds us, that we have not thought much about.
Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company