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The Liberal Case for War By: Michael J. Totten
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, September 16, 2002


To invade or not to invade. The West is paralyzed, Hamlet-like, with moral dilemma and inaction. The Bush Administration is having trouble convincing skeptics on both the left and the right, in Europe and America, that "regime change" in Iraq is necessary or even desirable. And while the congresses and armies of the West remain idle, threats and dangers multiply as the Iraqi state retrenches for battle and ratchets up the speed of its weapons procurement to fever pitch.

The Bush Administration has trouble rallying support because it only makes half the argument. The neo-conservative case for war appeals primarily to the fearful and to those who suspect the worst in Saddam's agenda. Fear is subjective, as are expectations of what Saddam may or may not do in the future. There is little the Bush Administration can say that it has not said already to convince detractors and skeptics.

The Democratic Party asked for a debate on this issue, but chose to sit the debate out. This is a waste because American liberalism has a lot to say about the fascist tyrant in Baghdad.

The Iraqi National Congress is a national liberation movement in exile. It is an alliance of intellectuals, former military officers, and dissidents opposed to the Ba'athist regime and dedicated to the creation of a liberal democratic state.

Last month another movement called the Democratic Iraqi Opposition surfaced when it seized the Iraqi embassy in Berlin. The group's message: "We are not occupying the embassy, we're liberating this piece of Iraqi soil. We're doing this to highlight the desire of the Iraqi people for liberty and freedom." The German police asked how many were inside the embassy. The answer: "We're 22 million people."

Give or take some family members and Republican Guardsmen, Saddam Hussein has few loyalists and no friends. He launched an eight-year war with Iran and showered the Iranians with poison gas. He swallowed Kuwait. His campaign of genocide against the minority Kurds is ongoing, if stymied by a no-fly zone. His promise to erase the Jews from history has yet to be fulfilled, but his proxies in Palestine do what they can in the meantime. He probably knows his plan to conquer the Arab world has been dashed. But his weapons program proceeds apace, and we don't really know if he thinks a nuclear arsenal will yield him Morocco, or at the very least Jordan.

According to British intelligence, last month Saddam personally ordered a hit on the gangster terrorist Abu Nidal because Nidal refused to train the local Al Queda operatives. Nidal has for decades been among the most notorious terror leaders anywhere, and has been a guest of the state in Baghdad for most of this time. That he was too soft for Saddam says something about both of them, and answers those still unconvinced that Saddam cavorts with murderers who would do Americans harm.

It is more plain than ever that Saddam Hussein is the enemy of Iraqis and Americans, as well as Israelis, Iranians, and Kuwaitis. This makes Americans and oppressed Iraqis natural allies. Americans need security from a terror state with weapons of mass destruction, and Iraqis need liberation from a brutal and remorseless tyrant. The solution is straightforward: the decapitation of Saddam's regime and its replacement with a liberal democratic state. Democracy solves the problem of terrorism and the problem of tyranny in a single shot.

The European Union reminds us, simply by existing, that modern democratic countries do not go to war with each other. War is only fought between dictatorships or between a dictatorship and a democracy. There can be no better peace process in the Middle East than the liberalization and democratization of the region. Europe's own history of conquest and war ended with the annihilation of its fascists and the disintegration of its communists.

One reason democracies do not fight each other is simple. Elected leaders are seen as legitimate and are not seriously threatened by revolution. Dictators do not have this luxury and must either terrorize their people or rally them against an enemy. Any dictator who does not manufacture enemies must be astonishingly benign to hold onto power.

The Bush Administration knows this. Bush himself has said with little notice or fanfare that he favors a democratic state in Iraq. This is revolutionary. To the consernation of both Arab and Western liberals, no US administration has ever seriously advocated democracy in the Middle East. Dictators were "moderate" so long as they kept out the Russians and filled up our gas tanks.

While some Arab dictators may have kept out the communists, some of today's dictators keep in the terrorists. Terrorists can live anywhere, but they are not armed, trained, and sheltered by democratic governments.

No one knows if a democratic Iraq will unleash a democratic movement throughout the Arab world. But there is every reason to believe it might. Non-Iraqi Arabs will see for themselves how much potential their own countries have in the 21st century. "If Iraq is free, why not us?" many will surely ask. The Arab dictators predictably oppose regime-change and democratization. It's not that they like Saddam. They don't. But the last thing Middle East tyrants want, the very last thing, is a liberal democratic state in the neighborhood. On September 5 Amr Moussa, speaking for the Arab League, said the liberation of Iraq would "open the gates of Hell in the Middle East." This begs the question: it opens the gates of Hell for whom?

Bush has trouble rallying Western friends and allies because he makes democratization an afterthought. American security is the lynchpin of his argument. He apparently does not realize that a liberalization and democratization campaign stirs the hearts of American liberals, whose cooperation he needs in Congress and whose approval he needs in the public.

The neo-conservative case for war is a good one. Saddam Hussein poses an escalating threat that cannot be pretended away. But the liberal case for war is a mandatory compliment.

This war is not only about America's needs and interests. It is also about democracy and the human yearning for freedom. The first President Bush could not be bothered with such lofty idealism for Middle Easterners. But the son is not the father, and Cold War "realism" is history. Arabs need democracy just as much as we do. They have suffered far more terror than we have. Their enemy is our enemy, and there is no better case for war than that.


Michael J. Totten is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. Visit his Web site at http://michaeltotten.blogspot.com.


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