After Saddam, We’ll Need Friends

Even at this late date, with the Gulf states sinking under the weight of American troops, armor and materiel (where are those barrage balloons when you need them?), we are told that war is not necessarily inevitable. The President assures us that he prays for peace. One can only hope that in addressing his Creator, he is a bit more humble than he has been in public.

Many of those who were, are and remain skeptical about this adventure have dispatched similar entreaties heavenward, but with an increasing sense of dread. In my Roman Catholic parish and thousands of parishes like it, we pray weekly for the people of Iraq, for our men and women in the armed services, and for an end to war and terrorism. Heads are bowed and eyes are closed as these petitions are read. Would that the news-channel war-whoopers could witness and appreciate such sights, for perhaps then they would realize that one needn’t be a cynical cheese-eater to fear and loathe war. Some of those churchgoers with bowed heads and prayers on their lips are the parents of soldiers awaiting their orders; others were in downtown New York on that terrible day 18 months ago. Nobody prays for peace with greater sincerity.

Apparently their prayers, and the President’s, will be answered in mysterious ways, for it is clear that H-hour is upon us. The debate over the war has been long and passionate, but it is over. And once the bombers are in the air, once the tanks begin churning through southern Iraq, all any of us can or should do is hope that victory will be swift and certain.

Will it lead to a more democratic Middle East, as the President has vowed? Will it persuade would-be terrorists that their suicides will be in vain? Will it push the Israelis and Palestinians toward a real and lasting peace? We can only pray. Or, in the spirit of helping ourselves, we can do a good deal more-we can demand change and hold the administration to its promises. The anti-war demonstrators can shrug their shoulders, shake their heads, curse George Bush and await the next great cause. Or they can summon their outrage and their energy on behalf of peace everywhere, not just in those places where America chooses to show its might. Civilians are dying in small, nasty wars in lands with little oil or strategic value. But few march on their behalf. Few of those who gathered around the world several weeks ago, it seems fair to say, have ever assembled with such self-confident righteousness to protest the brutality of Saddam Hussein. The lives of innocent Iraqis are of concern, it seems, only when endangered by American bombers. If they are killed or tortured by Saddam, well, such is life-Iraq, after all, is a small country about which we know nothing.

The peace movement ought to bear witness to the suffering of all those innocents who suffer and die when caught in the violent games that nations, dictators and terrorists play. Otherwise, they are not so much anti-war as anti-American, and that is a very different matter.

As for those who speak with such enthusiasm about the imminent liberation of the Iraqi people, let us hope and pray that their concern for oppressed peoples does not flag or falter once Baghdad is freed. There is no shortage of causes to embrace, so the question is whether their hatred of oppression is more strategic than it is principled. Will they now speak on behalf of, say, innocent Palestinians who suffer at the hands of an ally? Will they reconsider their embrace of, or disinterest in, tyrants and dictators who accept our money and advance our interests even as they smash dissent and enrich themselves? And when the bombing ends and a new regime is installed in Iraq, will they suppress the urge to sneer at those who will speak of rebuilding and even, yes, nation-building? Or will they simply look for exciting new military adventures, say on the Korean peninsula, or elsewhere in the Middle East?

Historians may someday regard the fall of Saddam Hussein as the end of the beginning of the war on terror. Whatever it is, it surely is not the end of that war. And in pursuit of those wicked Islamic militants who threaten the peace and freedom of the Western world, America will have to be magnanimous towards those who worked and voted against us in the Security Council.

France, Germany and Russia may have disagreed with us about Iraq, but in the battle against 21st-century fascism, we are all the same-we are all godless infidels in the eyes of our enemies, some of whom live among us.

We are destined to be comrades in arms, regardless of how we feel about each other at the moment. Do the White House unilateralists and the yahoo press understand that? Let us pray.