Watching war protests around the world punctuated by vandalism and '60s rhetoric that sounded off-key and out of context, I was grateful for grown-ups in higher places.
It is a tough time to be grown-up. To have moral courage, to swim against a tide of tantrum-throwing dissidents who can't quite put a finger on what's bothering them, but it's bad, whatever it is. Real bad. American stuff. Big bad meanies. Where are the weapons? Where's bin Laden? What's Saddam got to do with it?
Saddam Hussein, meanwhile, is delighted. He's just a guy running a country, minding his own business, and Imperial America and her poodle allies are nutso!
So go the headlines where newspapers are run by the government:
"The world said with one voice: 'No to aggression on Iraq,' " read a headline in Iraq's daily government-run newspaper. "The world rises against American aggression and the arrogance of naked force," said the front-page headline in the army daily.
When one's actions provide solace and self-justification to a brutal, murdering, lying despot, one might consider the possibility that one is wrong. Instead, protesters have played right into Saddam's hand, embracing the anti-Americanism that failed Arab states have cultivated and proffered as a distraction for their own embattled people.
Besides, protesting war and singing and face-painting and punching police horses and making posters and spraying graffiti is so much more fun (and Virtuous!) than pursuing an unpopular and potentially deadly military action.
Hear this: No one wants war. No sane person wants the horrible consequences of war. But there are also terrible consequences to "stop the war," as British Prime Minister Tony Blair made clear in his recent speech at the Labour Party's local government, women's and youth conferences. (Read text here: http://www.labour.org.uk/tbglasgow)
"If I took that advice, and did not insist on disarmament, yes, there would be no war," said Blair. "But there would still be Saddam. . This isn't a regime with Weapons of Mass Destruction that is otherwise benign. This is a regime that contravenes every single principle or value anyone of our politics believes in.
". I do not seek unpopularity as a badge of honor. But sometimes it is the price of leadership. And the cost of conviction."
Reading those words against the backdrop of protesters reminds parents like me of the teenager who stomps and yells "I hate you!" when things don't go his way. The parent thinks to himself, fine. Hate me if that's the price I must pay for doing what's best for you regardless of the cost to my own happiness at the moment.
Such is the lot of the adult, of committing to what's right and acting on it. The case against Saddam, meanwhile, doesn't need to be made anew. He (start italics) is (end italics) the case against himself. A cruel, butchering tyrant who starves and kills own people, who harbors weapons of mass destruction in defiance of the United Nations. Who, given the means and opportunity, would unleash his nasty might on the West while holding the rest of the world hostage.
To leave him in place poses risks far graver and consequences far bloodier - a guaranteed environment of chaos down the road - than what controlled military action might bring in the near future. Again, Blair:
"At every stage, we should seek to avoid war. But if the threat cannot be removed peacefully, please let us not fall for the delusion that it can be safely ignored. If we do not confront these twin menaces of rogue states with (weapons of mass destruction) and terrorism, they will not disappear. They will just feed and grow on our weaknesses."
The truth, unpalatable as it is to anyone of conscience, is that we may no longer have a choice. The Rubicon has been crossed, as Fouad Ajami, professor and director of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University, wrote in the current issue of Foreign Affairs magazine. The article is long but well worth the read for those interested in what our future is likely to be rather than what we might wish it to have been had we been steelier sooner. (http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20030101faessay10218/fouad-ajami/iraq-and-the-arabs-future.html)
"Any fallout of war is certain to be dwarfed by the terrible consequences of America's walking right up to the edge of war and then stepping back, letting the Iraqi dictator work out the terms of another reprieve," wrote Ajami. "It is the fate of great powers that provide order to do so against the background of a world that takes the protection while it bemoans the heavy hand of the protector."
Likewise, it is the fate of grown-ups to do what's necessary against the background of adolescents who take for granted the freedoms that inevitably would be lost were weaker souls in charge.