Where Have All the Liberals Gone?
In the past several weeks, the news has been full of anti-war, anti-American and anti-Bush protests.
Our generation came of age during the Vietnam war, and prided itself on being the first generation to question - and successfully challenge - our own government. The Vietnam syndrome has affected our attitude toward military conflict and the military itself ever since. Thousands of young soldiers who were drafted and served out of patriotism and obligation returned home to a country that did not welcome them. Today, very few of those of our generation who opposed the Vietnam war have children who have enlisted or joined the military, and those who do are viewed as having failed as parents.
The issue of whether to go to war against Iraq or not depends upon weighing the evidence of Saddam's capabilities and intentions, but liberals do not seem willing to go where that evidence leads, and instead it appears they must axiomatically oppose our government and the war.
There are differing views as to both what must be proven and who has the burden of proof. The evidence on which we and the world community must rely is both direct and circumstantial. The United States asserts that under UN Resolution 1441 the only issue is whether Saddam has shown that he is prepared to disarm and will cooperate with the inspectors. The UN inspectors who have acknowledged that they lack objectivity with respect to the issue of whether military force should be used have reported that such cooperation has not occurred. Iraq has failed to provide answers to their questions about the many gaps in its report, failed to allow scientists to speak freely and the only weapons uncovered by the inspectors seem to be those found as a result of intelligence provided by the United States. In keeping with our democratic principles, Secretary Powell went the extra mile and provided clear and convincing evidence in his UN presentation that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction.
In contrast, notwithstanding he has all of the evidence in his possession and control, Saddam Hussein has utterly failed to provide credible evidence that Iraq has no stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons. It also is a secret as to where billions of dollars from sales of oil have gone and why the Iraqi people live in poverty, when the Kurds in the north have used their share of such monies to feed, house and educate their people. Saddam has not opened his books to the inspectors as he is required to do, and thus they cannot know whether or not those monies have been used to build nuclear or other weapons of mass destruction in a country outside of Iraq regardless of what they have found inside Iraq. (Even if certain African documents were bogus, as the inspectors have acknowledged, that does not mean that Iraq did not try and was not ultimately successful in procuring uranium somewhere.) In lawyers' terms, Saddam's purposeful and knowing deception and noncompliance with disclosure obligations amounts to a massive obstruction of justice, and demands a conclusion that the evidence being hidden or destroyed would be highly damaging to Iraq and Saddam.
And no matter what Saddam offers up now, history also tells us that his capacity to hide weapons of mass destruction has been consistently underestimated. Thus, at the end of the day a difficult judgment must be made, and liberals must decide whether they can trust our government this time despite the mistakes of the past.
There was a time when liberals sacrificed and risked their lives for civil rights, democracy and freedom from tyranny, and demanded that our government take action at home and abroad. In the words of JFK, we would "bear any burden . . . to assure the survival and success of liberty." The Vietnam syndrome seems to have changed that.
Those of us who came to oppose the war, however, should recognize that Vietnam might be better off today had we prevailed, as well as the difference in liberating people from a tyrant like Milosovic or Saddam. As for attitudes toward the military, how many of these liberals have gone to an American airport or military base and watched first hand as the very young men and women leave to defend them? There are also Iraqis who have kept faith with us despite having been abandoned at least twice and despite the serious risk to their lives. Why can't liberals find it possible to support them? While the elite colleges abound with anti-war forums, it is doubtful that any of them has provided an opportunity for their students even to hear what Dr. Ahmed Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress democratic opposition group, has to say. It is rare that we could find an oppositionist as loyal and believing in western democracy and so capable of bringing it about. Ironically, those fighting for freedom in Iraq and elsewhere are inspired by the values that liberals here enjoy - the freedom to speak freely, and question our own government. I wonder if the liberals wish that none of those freedom-seeking people ever turn to us again?
The author is an attorney in Washington, D.C. who represents the Iraqi National Congress Support Foundation.