The humbug of the left

The war is over, but this fact hasn’t struck many in the anti-war movement. You’ve probably noticed that these self proclaimed proponents of peace are still active in Williamstown (I say “self proclaimed” because peace at any price is no peace at all). When signs reading “War is Not the Answer” remain firmly planted on many local lawns, and dedicated pacifists gather along Route 2 each evening to maintain their candlelight vigil, there seems to be a certain reluctant estrangement from the fact that the war is over. Peace signs with “No War” emblazoned below them have become a common chalking on campus sidewalks. One particularly civic-minded soul took it upon him or herself to spray-paint this same emblem over a stop sign on Mission Park Drive, an especially curious decision if your goal is improving government, not destroying it.

The truth is that the anti-war Left has become nearly irrelevant, wielding power only in those most delusional of utopias: college campuses. Indeed, contrary to arguments made on this page last week by Emily Kirby ’04, the Peace movement – especially now that the war is over – lacks coherence. It employs constantly shifting rhetoric that, like the Newspeak of Orwell’s 1984, allows a speaker to embrace today what he or she argued vociferously against yesterday. In short, the Left’s opposition to anything the United States does has drifted beyond the shores of both reason and intellectual consistency.

I do not mean to pick particularly on Kirby, nor do I intend any personal insult – it’s simply that her article typifies a whole corpus of reflexive, unreflective dogma, centered around a belief that because American power is hegemonic, it is necessarily wicked. This view is evident when Kirby refers to “our Traveling SUV Entourage of Restoration,” by which I think she means the American-led destruction of Saddam Hussein’s hideous regime. Even aside from the fact that Iraqis, joyous unto the point of tears, surged forward in relief and catharsis when Saddam’s statue was toppled, the phrase doesn’t even make sense by itself; what, precisely, is the “SUV Entourage of Restoration”? Would Kirby deny that toppling Saddam Hussein restored a modicum of human decency and hope to the people of Iraq?

And what about the argument Kirby advances that since we haven’t found anything but circumstantial evidence of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction), or any direct links to al-Qaida, the war was unjustified?

This gets to the heart of the matter. This war was never about Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons, nor his ties with bin Laden – it was, as Tony Blair, Tom Friedman and Charles Krauthammer have argued, to destroy a totalitarian regime while leaving the people and the infrastructure of the country intact. Perhaps, if we are wise and optimistic enough, we can help Iraqis rescue their country from its long Ba’athist night and rebuild it free of tyranny; perhaps this can produce a new Middle East, where the whim of despots – both monarchical and military, clerical and secular – no longer holds the force of law. In fact, this is a liberal war, a war against the chief threats to the success of the liberal system premised on a triad of human rights, rule of law, and free markets: stateless terror groups and rogue regimes seeking WMDs.

That’s why it’s so galling to hear those who protested so fervently against this war now try to lay claim to some of the ethical laurels it produced. Take Kirby’s promise that the anti-war movement “will be there to see if Operation Iraqi Freedom lives up to its name by bringing a true and lasting democracy to the Iraqi people.” That those who shouted the loudest to prevent the liberation of Iraq should now somehow claim to be the guardians and guarantors of a free Iraq is outrageous and transparent.

The anti-war movement has consistently shown itself to be concerned first and foremost with countering U.S. power, not helping the Iraqi people. The arguments have ranged from the absurd – i.e., Iraqis will achieve liberty by themselves – to the obscene: Iraqi Arabs relish the rule of an unspeakable torturer and don’t want to be subject to the cultural imperialism of “Western” ideas like human rights. This is nonsense. The idea that all humans are endowed, simply by our nature, with the impulse to live in decency and freedom from fear is no Western creation – it is an expression of a universal longing to live in dignity. “Tyrant” is a negative term in all languages.

Those who were arguing against this war must recognize, however noble their intentions, that the course of action they favored would have left the people of Iraq still mired in the nightmarish world of Saddam Hussein’s rule. And yet they are able to square this with their self-proclaimed guardianship of a democratic Iraq. One may be excused for asking the question: what right have you, who cared so little about Iraqi freedom when it came up against your totemistic fear of American power, to now delegate to yourself the responsibility of defending it?

Unless the anti-war Left starts caring about the principles which allegedly inspire it and starts placing the cause of human liberty ahead of a knee-jerk response to the use of U.S. power, it will remain, as it is now, politically, intellectually and ethically irrelevant.