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The New, Principled Anti-Americanism

It's the last valid argument against war, it's the budding core of a new international coalition, and it's still wrong.

11:00 PM, Mar 16, 2003 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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OVER THE COURSE of the last few months, every respectable argument against war in Iraq has fallen apart. In December the peaceniks insisted that inspections would work; even Hans Blix now admits that they have not. In January the peaceniks insisted that the United States was acting unilaterally; then a group of European nations stepped shoulder-to-shoulder with America and the ranks of support have since swelled. In February the peaceniks insisted that Saddam Hussein wasn't dangerous; reporting by Jeffrey Goldberg (here and here) and Stephen Hayes has now thoroughly disproved that notion. Earlier this month the peaceniks insisted that war in Iraq would distract us from the pursuit of al Qaeda; then Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was captured. Today the peaceniks rail against President Bush's "rush to war;" but 18 months after September 11, the president is still chasing a diplomatic solution.

As the antiwar left has lost argument after argument, simple anti-Americanism has become its lodestar. At rallies across the globe protestors ignored Saddam, yet compared Bush to Hitler. At a march in La Habra, California, protestors destroyed a September 11 memorial, ripping and burning flags and flowers. Commenting on the February death of a CIA officer in Afghanistan, a correspondent for one prominent antiwar website wrote, "Ok, only two CIA agents dead, but its something. With so much bad news in the headlines its nice to read some good news like this every once and awhile [sic]."

This is, of course, what ideological movements do once they lose their fights with history, and it isn't unique to the left--witness Pat Buchanan. But out of the ashes of the antiwar movement has arisen a higher form of objection, and for those seeking to avoid conflict in Iraq, it is the last refuge. Call it a principled anti-Americanism.

THE PRINCIPLED ANTI-AMERICAN ARGUMENT has been best advanced by Matthew Parris in the London Times. Parris grants that yes, Saddam is a bad, dangerous man who is hiding weapons of mass destruction and can only be disarmed by force. He grants that an American-led war will almost certainly be successful and will lead to a freer, more stable Iraq. Writing on February 1, Parris concluded:

I do not think that war, if there is a war, will fail. I can easily envisage the publication soon of some chilling facts about Saddam's armory, a French and German scamper back into the fold, a tough U.N. second resolution, a short and successful war, a handover to a better government, a discreet change of tune in the biddable part of the Arab world, and egg all over the peaceniks' faces.

I am not afraid that this war will fail. I am afraid that it will succeed.

I am afraid that it will prove to be the first in an indefinite series of American interventions. I am afraid that it is the beginning of a new empire . . .

The principled anti-Americans believe that, while dangerous, Saddam is ultimately a regional, short-term peril. They worry that after deposing him, the United States will be unbound and free to flex her muscles across the globe, heedless of either threats from her enemies or the concerns of her friends. And worse--as a democratic hyperpower, there is no obvious endpoint for this robust American hegemony. As Philip Stephens worried in the Financial Times, "Once the U.S. invades Iraq there will be no easy retreat from empire. We must get used to a world in which America makes the rules."

Whatever you think about the merits of their position, principled anti-Americans have the benefit of intellectual coherence on their side. In fact, after all we've learned, the only coherent argument against going to war in Iraq in the near future is the belief that an assertive America is more dangerous than a rogue Iraq.

I HAPPEN TO DISAGREE with Messrs. Parris and Stephens for many reasons, not least of which is that if we follow the current war plans, this war will be one of the high points of human civilization.

War has been with us for thousands of years and doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon. It is a miserable, inseparable part of the human condition. (If it can be separated, no one has yet shown how.)