A HIGH SCHOOL basketball coach I know has a special approach to those who oppose the war in Iraq. "Oh," he says, "you're on the side of rape, torture, and child abuse." Naturally the antiwar people are offended and angrily insist they're for peace and protecting civilian lives and other noble things besides. Still, there's a point behind the coach's rough characterization of the antiwar crowd. And it shouldn't be forgotten as the war in Iraq enters its second week.
Yes, many of the opponents are wonderful, moral people. And many believe that while Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant, a war to remove him will make things worse in the Middle East and the world, creating more terrorism, instability, civilian deaths, and anti-Americanism. They may turn out to be right, but I doubt it.
But what if President Bush suddenly accepted the advice of opponents of the war, stopped the American invasion, pulled most but not all of U.S. and British forces out of the region, and went back to the United Nations for a renewal of arms inspections. As best I can tell, that's what the protesters in the United States and around the world would like. And so would the French and their allies and maybe even Howard Dean.
Result number one: Saddam would win. He would be the king of the Middle East and free to slaughter the tens of thousands of Iraqis who didn't come to his defense. He would have forced the superpower to retreat. Countries that aided the United States in the war would have to come meekly to terms with Saddam. Hopes for an Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement would be dashed again, this time by the strengthening of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whose power has been ebbing, and various terrorist groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The possibility of democracy being planted in Arab states would also be gone.
Bad as all that is, it's not the worst part. The worst is what would happen inside Iraq--continuation of Saddam's regime in form a more brutal than ever. The mainstream press has done a poor job in laying out the nature of Saddam's regime. But torture and rape and maiming are its defining characteristics.
Dissenters? Their tongues are cut out. Women in influential families that might be a threat to Saddam are raped so their families will be dishonored. A cabinet member who mildly criticized the conduct of the Iraq-Iran war was immediately assassinated and his body was chopped into pieces and sent to his family in a box. Children are tortured to induce confessions from their parents. Merchants accused of "profiteering"--that is, making a profit--are hung on lampposts, dead, in front of their shops.
Sports Illustrated added a new dimension to the cruelty this week in a piece on Iraq's Olympic team, which is run by Uday Hussein, Saddam's son. Instead of trying to generate pride in athletes, Uday uses torture. If athletes lose, they are beaten by Uday and then more systematically tortured by specialists. As you might guess, few Iraqis now want to play on teams internationally. A few years ago, the Iraqi Olympians were 150-strong. Now it's a team of four.
Foes of the war don't want to accept any responsibility for what happens if the war were to cease today. Saddam could have been dealt with diplomatically, they say. But that failed for 12 years. He's not a threat to his neighbors. But the neighbors think otherwise, privately if not publicly, or they wouldn't be assisting the American coalition. He's not in bed with al Qaeda. But he's in contact with them.
But forget all that. Like it or not, there's already a war going on. Would it really make sense now for the United States to negotiate a pullout? Would anybody be better off except Saddam and his subordinates? Would Saddam even consider allowing arms inspectors again? Would he disarm? Would he be chastened and act benignly? The answers are no, no, no, no, and no. Does anyone doubt that, as the coach says, rape, torture, and child abuse would continue? The answer is no to that question, too.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.