The Magazine

The Fog of Peace

The evasions, distractions, and miasma of the anti-war left.

Sep 30, 2002, Vol. 8, No. 03 • By DAVID BROOKS
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

EITHER SADDAM HUSSEIN will remain in power or he will be deposed. President Bush has suggested deposing him, but as the debate over that proposal has evolved, an interesting pattern has emerged. The people in the peace camp attack President Bush's plan, but they are unwilling to face the implications of their own. Almost nobody in the peace camp will stand up and say that Saddam Hussein is not a fundamental problem for the world. Almost nobody in that camp is willing even to describe what the world will look like if the peace camp's advice is taken and Saddam is permitted to remain in power in Baghdad, working away on his biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons programs, still tyrannizing his own people, fomenting radicalism, and perpetuating the current political climate in the Arab world. And because almost nobody in the peace camp is willing to face the realities that a peace policy would preserve, the peace proponents really cannot address the fundamental calculation we confront: Are the risks of killing Saddam greater or less than the risks of tolerating him? Instead of facing the real options, they fill the air with evasions, distractions, and gestures--a miasma of insults and verbiage that distract from the core issue. They are living in the fog of peace.

When you read through the vast literature of the peace camp, you get the impression that Saddam Hussein is some distant, off-stage figure not immediately germane to matters at hand.

For example, on September 19, a group of peaceniks took out a full-page ad in the New York Times opposing the campaign in Afghanistan and a possible campaign in Iraq. Signatories included all the usual suspects: Jane Fonda, Edward Said, Barbara Ehrenreich, Tom Hayden, Gore Vidal, Ed Asner, and on and on. In the text of the ad, which runs to 15 paragraphs, Saddam Hussein is not mentioned. Weapons of mass destruction are not mentioned. The risks posed by terrorists and terror organizations are not mentioned. Instead there are vague sentiments, ethereally removed from the tensions before us today: "Nations have the right to determine their own destiny, free from military coercion by great powers. . . . In our name, the government has brought down a pall of repression over society. . . . We refuse to be party to these wars and we repudiate any inference that they are being waged in our name." The entire exercise is a picture perfect example of moral exhibitionism, by a group of people decadently refusing even to acknowledge the difficulties and tradeoffs that confront those who actually have to make decisions about policy.

Frances FitzGerald recently wrote a long essay in the New York Review of Books headlined on the cover "Bush and War." In the piece FitzGerald portrays the Bush foreign policy team as a coterie of superhawks driven by a fierce ideological desire to act unilaterally. This unilateralism leads the Bush advisers, FitzGerald asserts, to see or invent enemies, such as Saddam Hussein. "If one decides to go it alone without allies or reliance on the rule of law, it is natural to see danger abroad."

If you are a writer setting out to evaluate the Bush foreign policy team and its longstanding worries about Saddam, it would seem reasonable to measure whether or not those fears are justified or exaggerated. This is Journalism, or Scholarship, 101. But this is the question FitzGerald cannot ask, because that would require her to enter the forbidden territory of Saddam himself. FitzGerald raises the possibility that war against Saddam might lead to a Palestinian revolt in Jordan, oil shortages, and terrorist attacks. She mentions the daunting cost and scope of an American occupation of Iraq. She approvingly quotes Brent Scowcroft's warning that taking action against Saddam would inflame the Arab world and destroy the coalition that we need to wage war on al Qaeda. But what of the risks of doing nothing? This issue she does not touch. This is the issue that must remain shrouded in the fog of peace.

Reviewing Noam Chomsky, legal scholar Richard Falk, a member of the editorial board of the Nation, observes that while he agrees with much of what Chomsky writes, he is troubled by the fact that Chomsky is "so preoccupied with the evils of U.S. imperialism that it completely occupies all the political and moral space."