War and psychology

Posted: Mar 11, 2003 12:00 AM

War Never Solves Anything.

So say dozens of callers to C-SPAN and left-leaning radio programs (yes, there are some). The answer to this argument, if you can call it an argument, could almost fit on a bumper sticker: Apart from securing American independence, ending slavery, and defeating Nazism and communism, war has never solved anything.

There is a severe imbalance between the strength of antiwar arguments and the vehemence with which they are advanced. Liberals think of themselves as humanitarians, so it requires a peculiar form of dogmatism to oppose war against a man who is responsible for at least 1.2 million deaths (a conservative estimate), has turned Baghdad into a terror haven, has attacked three neighbors, has proclaimed his implacable hostility toward the United States, has built enough chemical and biological weapons to wipe out nearly everyone on the continent of Asia, has pursued nuclear weapons and has truculently defied countless United Nations resolutions.

For liberals, the war against Iraq offends cherished fantasies -- such as the idea that the United Nations represents a disinterested distillate of world humanitarianism, rather than a cushy diplomatic posting for nations pursuing naked self-interest. But even if the U.N. were everything liberals wish it were, wouldn't justice be advanced by punishing defiance of the U.N. resolutions?

Still, the U.N. is not a world court, dispensing justice impartially. China invaded and subjugated Tibet and Russia has committed atrocities in Chechnya, without putting undue strain on the consciences of U.N. member nations. Nor is it anything remotely resembling a world democracy. Five nations on the Security Council have veto power. So even if three dozen nations support the United States and Britain in wishing to overthrow the menace in Baghdad (as they do), France, Russia or China can prevent the United Nations from acting with the flick of a pen -- and for the most cynical of reasons.

Antiwar activists tell us that Iraq is a distraction from the more important war against global terrorism. This argument has been dealt a serious blow by the capture of Khalid Sheikh Muhammed. But let's also recall that many opposed taking action against Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, citing some of the same objections as are heard today: fear of Afghan civilian casualties, pessimism about the possibility of a "clean" victory and aversion to war on moral grounds. One could hardly argue that Afghanistan was not central to the war on terror.

Antiwar types also find themselves in a contradiction when they urge simultaneously that Iraq is a distraction from the war on terror and also that a war with Iraq will place the U.S. homeland in far more danger of terror attacks. If terrorists will hit us again because we're taking on Saddam, it must be because he is their ally. Besides, only those who choose not to see the evidence before their eyes could possibly believe that Iraq has no connection with worldwide terror.

CIA director George Tenet testified in 2002 that Iraq had provided Al Qaeda with training in poisons, gases and conventional explosives. Saddam has rewarded the families of suicide bombers in Israel with huge cash prizes. One of the plotters of the first World Trade Center bombing carried a phony Iraqi passport, another fled to Iraq after the terror attack and is believed to be there still. The Salman Pak camp is famous for its Boeing 707, which is used to train terrorists in hijacking techniques.

Opponents of the war -- perhaps permanently disabled by their Vietnam folly -- also fail to grasp the psychological benefits of victory. Osama bin Laden has said many disgusting things, but when he said that when "people see a strong horse and a weak horse they will naturally prefer the strong horse," he was not wrong. When we overthrow Saddam and continue to roll up the leadership of Al Qaeda, many of those in the Muslim world who once felt sympathy and even excitement at the idea of Muslim extremism will rethink their positions and slip their jihad notebooks into a bottom drawer.

War does solve things. But you have to win them. In 1991, in Bernard Trainor's memorable phrase, George H.W. Bush snatched modest victory from the jaws of triumph. George W. Bush will not repeat that mistake. And when success is complete, today's antiwar types will probably claim that they were pro-war all the time.