THERE WAS A TIME--the 1960s, 1970s--when the political left in America favored wars of national liberation in countries ruled by dictators, some of them fascist dictators. True, the left would have installed communist dictatorships in their place. But at least leftists targeted enemies who were corrupt, brutal abusers of human rights.
Now the left has flipped. The effect of its crusade against war in Iraq would be the survival--indeed, the strengthening--of Saddam Hussein's oppressive regime. The left has brushed aside the pleas of Iraqi exiles, Kurds, and Shiite Muslims who are seeking liberation from Saddam's cruelty. Instead, leftists have targeted those who would aid the Iraqi dissidents, particularly the Bush administration.
The corruption of the left has deepened in recent years. At no time was this more evident than last Saturday when large antiwar protests were staged in New York, San Francisco, and other cities in the United States and around the world, including London. Did the demonstrators march on the Iraqi consulate in New York to demand an end to Saddam's murderous practices? No. Did they spend time condemning him in their speeches and placards? Nope. Did they come to the defense of Saddam's victims? No. The left now gives fascist dictators a pass. Its enemy is the United States.
No one has explained this better than British prime minister Tony Blair in a speech Saturday. If he took the antiwar demonstrators advice, Blair said, "there would be no war, but there would still be Saddam. Many of the people marching will say they hate Saddam. But the consequences of taking their advice is he stays in charge of Iraq, ruling the Iraqi people . . . There will be no march for the victims of Saddam, no protests about the thousands of children that die needlessly every year under his rule, no righteous anger over the torture chamber which, if he is left in power, will be left in being."
In ignoring the 25 million Iraqis who suffer under Saddam's autocratic rule, the left has stripped any moral dimension from the antiwar cause. And its arguments for opposing a war of liberation in Iraq are either uninformed or merely stupid. Here are a few of those arguments:
(1) War will mean thousands of civilian casualties. If there's anything Saddam has produced in his nearly 25 years of rule in Iraq, it's civilian casualties. He ordered the gassing of thousands of innocent Kurds. He had thousands of Shiites murdered. His war against Iran caused tens of thousands of civilian casualties, and his invasion of Kuwait was marked by the killing of thousands of Kuwaiti civilians. Saddam has personally ordered the execution of thousands of Iraqis. He has allowed thousands of Iraqi children to die from starvation or lack of medicine.
Compare that with the few hundred civilians killed in Afghanistan by the U.S. military. In fact, the American intervention saved hundreds of thousands who would have starved to death otherwise. And in the 1991 Gulf War relatively few Iraqi civilians were killed. In truth, a war that deposes Saddam in Iraq will save civilian lives, thousands of them.
(2) It's a war for Iraqi oil. There's an easy way to get all the oil in Iraq that President Bush or anyone else might desire--and it's not war. No, the easy way is to lift sanctions on Iraq and make a deal with Saddam. He's eager to sell the oil and make money. And the United States doesn't need Iraqi oil anyway, what with Russian oil production coming on line. At the moment, America's problem is the cutoff of oil from Venezuela. A war for oil would oust President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Of course there is no such war planned, nor is there one to cut the price of oil. The price favored by Bush and the domestic oil industry--and producers like Saudi Arabia--will be restored when Venezuela is pumping fully again, probably soon.
(3) War in Iraq will stir a new wave of terrorism. We've heard this one before. The Gulf War, it was warned, would arouse the Arab street and subject Americans to a wave of attacks. That didn't happen. When the United States went into Afghanistan and, worse, bombed during Ramadan, it was supposed to prompt a worldwide uprising of Muslims, and Muslim terrorists in particular, against America. Again, that didn't happen. So when the Arab leader most hated by other Arab leaders--a leader who's far more secular than Muslim, is removed, it's highly unlikely to cause more terrorism. Most likely, the result will be less.
(4) Give the inspectors more time. This was a common cry at Saturday's antiwar demonstrations. But of course those cries were entirely disingenuous. By definition, the "stop the war" protesters don't want war, no matter what the United Nations inspectors in Iraq happen upon. The demonstrators are playing Saddam's delaying game: Let the inspections continue until support in the United States for military action in Iraq dissolves and war is averted. Then Saddam survives. The inspections ploy is further proof the left has given up wars of national liberation against oppressive dictators and is now in the business of saving oppressive dictators from wars of national liberation.
Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.