The anti-war crowd has some explaining to do

Posted: Apr 11, 2003 12:00 AM

I want to rub it in the anti-war crowd's face so badly. I want to hear the protesters explain why it's a bad thing we released more than 100 children from an Iraqi gulag for underage political prisoners. I want them to talk about how they were fighting for the Iraqi people as the Iraqi people hug and kiss the American forces in Baghdad and greet the human shields with signs reading "Go Home You Wankers." I want them to explain why it wasn't worth it.

And they do have answers. The communist front group ANSWER is still organizing "Stop the War" rallies, which, practically speaking, is like trying to bail out the Titanic with a spoon 10 minutes before it goes under. They'll say stuff like it's still a war for oil, or that one tyranny is being replaced by another, or something else very silly. And that's fine -- if the anti-war movement really wants to attain permanent parody status.

During much of the lead-up to the war, I thought many people in the anti-war movement were silly and misguided. Once the war started and they kept playing their games, I thought they went from being wrong to being dangerous fools. Because once we were committed to war, the idea of stopping it without total victory was nuts.

Osama bin Laden attacked us precisely because he perceived Americans as weak in the wake of the first Gulf War, the first World Trade Center bombing, the so-called "Black Hawk Down" incident in Somalia, the Cole attack, etc. He concluded that we didn't have the intestinal fortitude to stand our ground.

If the peace-at-all-costs crowd had its way, we would have called off the fighting a week into the war, leaving Saddam Hussein in place -- making him a hero and putting a "kick me" sign on Uncle Sam's back.

But that debate is over. The war happened. Now, the protestors can move on or wallow in bitterness. The practical question is, what's next? The Bush administration says it wants what is best for the Iraqi people. The anti-war protestors say they want what is best for the Iraqi people. If the anti-war people are more serious than I generally give them credit for, they will stop whining about U.S. imperialism and start offering constructive support for making Iraq a democratic and prosperous country.

Instead of sending "human shields" to prop up a dictator who ordered the rapes of his enemies, they will send people to help with the reconstruction. Instead of whining about their lost civil liberties here at home whenever they get arrested for blocking traffic, they will offer support for the creation of real civil liberties in Iraq, where until very recently the meekest whisper against Saddam would result in an amputated tongue.

I was giving a speech at Williams College on the future of democracy in the Middle East on the day Saddam's statue was torn down in central Baghdad. I had the opportunity afterward to talk to a very bright anti-war student activist. He told me that the main reason he still couldn't support the war -- even though he conceded the brutality of Saddam Hussein and acknowledged the joy of the Iraqi people -- was that he simply didn't trust George W. Bush.

I suspect this is the case with many anti-war folks. It certainly seems to be, judging from the e-mail I get or from reading the drek one sees at the more rabid Web sites, like the hilariously deluded

And that's fine; distrust of politicians is one of the things that make America great. But dislike for a president shouldn't eclipse love of country or adherence to principle. The anti-warriors claim they aren't anti-American. I believe that's true of the vast majority of them, though some of them clearly think America is a force for evil in the world (and I think these people should be ashamed for being so asinine).

Regardless, all of them claimed they cared deeply about the fate of the Iraqi people. Well, 99.99 percent of the Iraqis will still be in Iraq when the war is over. Presumably, the anti-war crowd wants the Iraqi people to have the same rights and freedoms that we have here. If they do, they should be prepared to support the president when he works to make that happen, and they should feel free to criticize him when he doesn't.

But if the anti-war activists start from the position that Bush is wrong no matter what he does now simply because they disagreed with him back then, well, then these people aren't serious people at all. They're just the fools so many of us take them for.