Making the Case,
And Taking Heed
If the hard-left core of the antiwar movement is despicable and corrupt, what of the doubts and anxieties of ordinary people?
Let us dispose of special cases. Mainstream politicians have been displaying their occupational penchant for bad faith. The New York Times recently quoted Representative Robert T. Matsui, a Democrat from California: “I happen to believe there are probably weapons of mass destruction there [i.e., in Iraq], but thus far the case hasn’t been made, and you can’t attack on the basis of presumption.” This is an odd statement. Rep. Matsui says the case that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction hasn’t been made, yet he also says that he believes it. On what basis? Intelligence briefings? Extrapolating from past trends? Inferences from the nature of the regime? If Rep. Matsui believes Iraq has weapons of mass destruction, then why isn’t he helping the Bush administration make the case, or why doesn’t he make his own case? Could it be that Rep. Matsui is a partisan humbug, willing to be thought anti-Saddam but primarily interested in being anti-Bush?
Or consider the French. If we go to war with Saddam, we would like the approval of the civilized world, and France’s determination to withhold its approval is worrisome. Should it be? It is no surprise that Germany refuses to wage war in Iraq; Germany has corked up its aggression (and a good thing, too). But France is a different matter. Obliged to give up its empire in the postwar wave of decolonization, the French have managed, in every place but Indochina, to keep it alive behind the mask of local independence. Whenever some Francophone despot in Africa starts acting up-murdering so many subjects that the world notices, interfering with the diamond trade-the French send in the Foreign Legion and pick a replacement. Even as they urge immobility on us in Iraq, their troops are in the Ivory Coast, settling a local civil war. The French take their mission civilisatrice very seriously, which means they will kick butt when their interests are involved.
What are France’s interests in Iraq? Stability for a regime that sells the French lots of oil, and buys from the French lots of technology. Nothing wrong with making a franc, and nothing surprising about dealing with terrorists in order to do so (remember what Lenin said about capitalists and rope). But America should not interpret French opposition as a sign of their idealism, vis-à-vis our cowboy crudeness.
But leaving the black-ice patches of politics and Europe aside, what of the vast majority of people of good will?
An e-mail from an old friend ended with this cri de coeur : “What do you think of this war on the horizon??? I can’t believe it is necessary. What, exactly, are we sacrificing young Americans FOR??” To her, I can only say: The war is not on the horizon; it began over a year ago. Thousands of young, middle-aged and older Americans have already been sacrificed. We are not in the omphalic position of deciding when and where to initiate violence; it has come to us.
Saddam Hussein did not bring down the Twin Towers; Osama bin Laden did that. We toppled the regime that harbored him, and he took flight and may well be dead. But his network, however maimed, still exists. They plot crimes, from the disco bombing in Bali to the aborted ricin poisoning in Britain. Can we prudently allow a like-minded regime to slip Osama’s followers gas, germs or nukes?
Why is Saddam Hussein like-minded? In 1990, he attacked and conquered Kuwait. After we drove him out, one of the conditions of peace was that he disarm. This he has not done, playing games with inspectors and possibly blackmailing the woeful Scott Ritter, keeping scientists on ice and burying chemical-weapon shells in the ground like a teenager trying to hide a stash. Meanwhile, any efforts he can spare from preserving his weapons program, he devotes to rigging elections or rigging the electorate (by oppressing inconvenient minorities, such as Kurds and marsh Arabs). Aggression, megalomania and dictatorship are anybody’s trifecta. Add a grudge against us for having smote him the last time he made war, and the combination is poisonous.
Will a new round of warfare increase the likelihood of conventional terrorism? No, since that already is our fate. We were probably foolish to have believed in an end of history after the Cold War. The end has ended, and history is ticking again. Some think radical Islamism and its violent apostles are symptoms of a civilization on the march, stoning adulteresses in Nigeria and murdering Christians in Indonesia; others see them as the throes of a civilization in crisis, a bloody and spastic defiance of problems that the Islamic world cannot fix or even honestly diagnose. Whichever is the true state
of things, it is not going to right itself anytime soon. So long as we are rich, powerful and unbowed, we will be the counterexample, the rebuke and the target. The last time I boarded an airplane, I saw in the line ahead of me a little girl in red cowboy boots and a red cowboy hat. I wish she weren’t growing up in such a world. But she is. Cultivate good humor.
Do we have any realizable goals?
Disposing of a dangerous enemy is goal enough. We did not expect World War II to bring the Russian army to Berlin and Prague, but Hitler had to be beaten, so we rolled the dice. But we can reasonably hope for more from regime change in Iraq. A government that does not murder and that steals moderately, that has a form of power-sharing and, over time, some of the substance-these would be both
modest and revolutionary achievements. If a postwar Iraq were only as seedy as Jordan, it might induce other governments in the region to do better, or other peoples to demand more.
President Bush may have said this in his State of the Union address, to be given after press time, or he may say it in the weeks ahead. Rep. Matsui is right: The case has to be made-even if the Matsuis of the world are unwilling to make it.
Follow Richard Brookhiser via RSS.