Debating war against Iraq

Posted: Jul 17, 2002 12:00 AM
Baghdad must be destroyed. I'm tempted to end every column with this simple assertion. First some background. After legendary Roman Senator Cato the Elder visited Carthage in 157 B.C., he concluded every speech he delivered in the Roman senate with the phrase "Delenda est Carthago." Literally, this means "Carthage must be destroyed." But his statement long ago took on a connotation of "that which stands in the way of our greatness must be removed at all costs," according to Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. I don't think Baghdad literally stands in the way of our greatness. I think Baghdad stands, in fact, despite our greatness. And, I don't want to see the city itself destroyed. It's full of innocent people and numerous invaluable treasures of human history. But I do think America should go to war with Iraq even if that risks innocent Iraqi -and American -lives. There, I said it. In fact, I've said this before, as have countless other hawks. And yet, the other day, Michael Kinsley, the former editor of Slate, wrote a much-discussed op-ed in The Washington Post in which he lamented the lack of a debate over the impending war with Iraq. I agree with Kinsley that one excellent way to jump-start a debate is to have Congress take its constitutional obligations seriously and formally declare war on Iraq. But Kinsley seemed to suggest that conservatives are, at least, equally to blame for the lack of national debate on the issue. This is unfair. Conservatives and other hawks have been making the case for war for months, though some conservatives, most notably Robert Novak and Patrick Buchanan, disagree. What is shocking is the inability or refusal of the doves to argue back. If one boxer shows up for a fight and the other is a no-show, you can hardly blame the guy in the ring if the bout gets canceled. Oh, it's clear if you read between the lines of lefty periodicals that plenty of liberals don't like the idea of war with Iraq because they oppose the idea of war with anybody. Talking fossils like Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and their intellectual progeny at magazines like The Progressive and The Nation opposed attacking the Taliban and al-Qaida in Afghanistan after Sept. 11. So, it's hardly surprising they oppose a war with Iraq. But the liberal press has been tepid about war. The op-ed pages don't drip with sanctimonious editorials about "no blood for oil." There's a lot more passion from liberals about the Pledge of Allegiance and Bush's sale of Harken Energy Corp. stock than there is about a potentially huge war on Iraq. Conservatives make their case for war almost every day. The Wall Street Journal eloquently argues that peace between Israel and the Palestinians will only be achieved with the destruction of Saddam Hussein. Some hawks suggest that Iraq should be the first stop on a Middle East Regime Change Tour that might include Saudi Arabia and Syria. Surely, the peaceniks think this is lunacy, but they look at their feet, mumble and change the subject as quickly as possible. Obviously, much of this silence has to do with partisan politics. Democrats still wince at their no votes on the Persian Gulf War in 1991. "I really don't think the (Democratic) leadership wants us to get into (an Iraq debate) right now," Rep. Jim Moran, D-Va., recently told the congressional newspaper Roll Call. "It's gratuitous. It has no political payoff, and it has plenty of political downside." Doubtless, many liberals are simply on the fence. They know Saddam is a bad guy, but they are troubled by the new Bush doctrine that says we can attack enemies preemptively. Fair enough. But democracy is about arguments. Rather than being unhealthy, disagreement is vital to democracy. Whether you are a hawk or a dove or in the middle, you should want and demand an argument over this impending Iraqi war. Arguments don't necessarily divide, they can also unite through persuasion. I'm doing my bit for the cause. Baghdad must be destroyed. Prove me wrong. I dare ya.