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In This Case, the Simple Solution of War Is Simply the Wrong One

March 19, 2003|Steve Lopez

H.L. Mencken should have been here.

"For every problem," he said, "there is a solution which is simple, clean and wrong."

Sums it up nicely, if you ask me.

Like you, I have two hopes. That the war in Iraq goes quickly, and that the loss of life is minimal.

But that's exactly what brought us to the brink -- the simple-minded notion that against the laws of history and logic, and with minimal sacrifice, we can shape a world that suits our needs by the sheer force of military might, God's will be done.

We don't know what it will cost, but we're going to war.

We don't know what comes next, but we're going to war.

We can't find the money to equip police and fire units with the equipment they'll need to take on terrorists, but we're going to war.

We can't liberate millions of American children from failed schools or rescue millions of medically uninsured in this tanking economy, but we're going to war.

You have to admire the clarity. But President Bush didn't do it alone.

God is on his team, he tells us, which explains why he sleeps easy. He is wrapped in the swaddling embrace of evangelical imperative, and may God keep blessing America, as Bush intoned in his national sermon the other night.

The fundamentalists who killed 3,000-plus Americans were operating on a parallel conviction, by the way, so they sleep easy too. Particularly since Saddam Hussein, for reasons that remain a mystery, replaced them as Public Enemy No. 1.

Since last June, when I first started writing about the inevitable war of prevention, I've checked in periodically with USC professor Richard Dekmejian. At one point, I asked the author of "Islam in Revolution: Fundamentalism in the Arab World," if there is any way this war can make the world safer.

"Miracles can always happen," he said. "It is the holy land, after all.... But I see chaos and a massive increase of international terrorism ....Everything I know about Iraq ... tells me there will be near-term and long-term crisis after Saddam is defeated."

That's partly because in our rush to plant the seeds of democracy, we've trampled every international democratic institution in our path. The hypocrisy has alienated friends, which will make this mission all the more complicated, and allowed enemies to say, I told you so.

The planet rotates with a wobble because of an imbalance of wealth and power that fuels anti-American sentiment, and we respond with tax breaks for the wealthy and the mother of all bombs. My favorite line in the walk-up to war appeared in a story from Wall Street in which a broker was quoted on the rumored arrest of Osama bin Laden. Remember him?

"If they do get him," said the broker, "it's got to be good for a pop in equities and a decent pullback in bonds, say 10 basis points on the two-year yield. That's got the short-term crowd nervous."

Who needs David Mamet?

I'm short-term nervous and long-term too. Even if there's no chemical or biological disaster and the war goes smoothly, if there is such a thing, the hard part comes in a couple of weeks. That's when some dust-covered commander will be standing in the middle of the world's largest sand trap, looking at 25 million Iraqis and wondering, OK, now what?

If anyone in Washington has a good answer, it hasn't been heard.

But we're going to war.

To make things all the more interesting, our new next-door neighbor will be Iran, which, unlike Iraq, actually has a nuclear program to worry about.

But make no mistake, this risk carries certain rewards. The Blair Bush Project, should it succeed, puts guess who? -- America and Britain -- first in line at the oil trough.

That's right. A president and vice president with zero combat experience between them have guided us into war that will fatten the industries that made them rich, and turn Iraq into a subsidiary of Halliburton, Enron, or whoever.

I've got more combat experience than Bush and Cheney, and I wasn't even enlisted. In brief tours of Iraq and Bosnia, I saw just enough of what war is about to feel compelled to speak up for any alternative.

Congressional representatives, on the other hand, with only a handful of sons and daughters in the military, remain virtually mute, having long ago taken a vow of submission.

In its collective failure to make a compelling case for combat and draw more allies to the cause, Congress and the president have raised the danger level for troops sent to Iraq. And do not for one minute let them tell you this war was a hard choice.

Diplomacy is hard.

Peaceful resolution is hard.

Leading the world by earning its respect is hard.

Raining record numbers of megaton bombs on an absurdly overmatched foe is simple in the most elemental ways, and for this time and place, it is wrong.

*

Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at steve.lopez@latimes.com

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