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Jewish World Review April 21, 2003 / 19 Nisan, 5763

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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'Useful Idiots' at It Again

Critics of the Iraq war ought to be held accountable for their folly | Unrepentant. Unapologetic. Unashamed. And as self-righteous as ever.

That's the way the critics of the war in Iraq are sounding this week.

If you were thinking that the people who see America as the focus of evil in the world were going to change their minds just because most of the people of Iraq are happy that the United States has toppled Saddam Hussein, you were dead wrong.

And while many - though certainly not all - of the people of Iraq are saying "Thank you, President George Bush," his domestic opponents are choking on these words.

Though most of them eagerly anticipated a costly quagmire, they now proclaim that no one thought America would lose the war, and that their principled objections to the war remain valid.

Fair enough. So before all of this goes down the memory hole and the war protesters start revising history to accommodate their folly, let's briefly revisit those issues.

Was the war morally wrong?

No. The war in Iraq was in every sense a just war, in which a monstrous and dangerous regime was ousted. Those who claimed that the Iraqi people would prefer their domestic torturers to American liberators were mistaken. If any policy was immoral, it was the American past policy of appeasing Saddam that the protesters would have continued.

The tactics of the coalition forces were also designed and carried out to cause the fewest possible casualties to innocent civilians. Though we mourn the deaths that did occur, the bloodbath that critics assumed was coming did not happen.

Was it illegal?

No. President Bush acted under the authorization granted him by Congress in more than one vote. Moreover, since Iraq was in material breach of binding U.N. resolutions, the resolutions passed before the "axis of weasels" from France, Germany and Russia halted further multilateral action were still valid.

Has the decision by the United States and Britain to go ahead despite the opposition of the United Nations hurt the world body?

Yes. And so what if it did? Though it has utility as a means for humanitarian aid and for mediating conflicts the great powers are uninterested in, it is also a sinkhole of anti-democratic sentiments and anti-Semitism.

And as far giving the weapons inspectors more time to scour Iraq - as the protesters insisted - as long as it's being done by the U.S. Marines, I agree: Let's give them more time.

Are there perils that lay ahead in the future?

Of course. No one should expect the transition from a Ba'athist dictatorship to anything approaching democracy to be easy. But the people of Iraq - and their neighbors - will be better in the long run, no matter what the outcome of the process.

More importantly, we have a right to ask why so many here and abroad were so passionate about the United States not liberating Iraq. The answer is simple. Both at home and abroad, those who opposed the war were likely to harbor doubts about the right of America to stand against evil because they thought America was itself evil.

While it would be unfair to say that was true of all American critics of the war, there was another factor: blind partisanship. Just as many Republicans were so violently opposed to President Bill Clinton that they opposed his military actions in the Balkans, so, too, were many Democrats hobbled by their hatred for Bush. Though the majority of Americans understood that Sept. 11, 2001, changed the rules of American politics, many were so convinced of the illegitimacy of Bush's presidency that they were unable to support a war they probably would have backed had it been led by a Democrat.

If all of these arguments sound vaguely familiar, they should. Change the names and places of America's wars and enemies, and you've got the cold war all over again.

As JWR's Mona Charen has written in her new book Useful Idiots, the notion that America - and not the totalitarian Communists of the Soviet Union - was the root cause of suffering in the world drove much of the opposition to U.S. policy from the 1960s to the late '80s.

Charen's book is especially timely because it reminds us that American resistance to the "evil empire" of communism was deemed illegitimate by large portions of the media, academia and political left. The echoes of their critiques were plainly heard in the nostalgic tone of anti-war demonstrations in the last few months. The aging children of the '60s were able to recapture some of the spirit of their youth by opposing war in Iraq as if it were Vietnam.

And, as Charen points out, the historical memory of the anti-war nostalgia buffs is fatally flawed. Just as the current crowd never honestly considered the interests of the Iraqi people, they also never paused to consider that American failure in Southeast Asia left the people of that region prey to communist oppression and genocide that dwarfed the evils of the war.

Charen wrote in her epilogue on the eve of the war: "That some precincts on the left - even now - can find reasons to blame the United States for the hatred directed against it, is evidence that the rotten kernel of their appeasement and weakness throughout the second half of the Cold War was America-hatred."

The one point she might add in a postscript to her book is the way that some on the far-right have strangely transformed themselves into a mirror image of their old foes on the left.

The paleoconservative critique of the war against terrorism was aptly skewered in a brilliant essay titled "Unpatriotic Conservatives," in the April 7 issue of National Review magazine by former White House speechwriter David Frum. Frum rightly points out that men like Pat Buchanan and the rest of the paleo crowd have come to view an America allied with Israel and determined to root out the evil of Islamo-fascism is not a country they can believe in.

Nor should either the left- or the right-wing opponents of the war be allowed to forget their complicity in the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that flourished around their protests. Those, like Temple University professor Joseph Schwartz, who publicly asserted in my presence that Israel would use the war to commit atrocities or carry out a transfer of the Palestinian population, should duly apologize.

The point here is accountability. As Charen details, many on the left now like to pretend their moral blindness about the evils of communism should count for nothing. The residents of the fever swamps of both the left and the right who served as Saddam's "useful idiots" the way others did for Joseph Stalin and Leonid Brezhnev are similarly eager to have us forget some things. The latest generation of idiots who opposed Operation Iraqi Freedom shouldn't get away with fudging the record.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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