were bound to see it eventually.
And there they were: TV pictures of jubilant Iraqis
welcoming American troops – cheering them, kissing them, throwing
roses at them.
After all, what's a war without triumphant liberators?
Almost every war ends with the conquerors being
cheered by the conquered people.
It's happened in Afghanistan three times in just
the past 25 years.
In 1979 Soviet troops defeated an oppressive fundamentalist
government – and the Afghan people cheered the Soviets as liberators.
Ten years later the Mujahedin defeated the oppressive
Soviet government – and the Afghan people cheered the Mujahedin
Thirteen years later the Americans defeated the
oppressive Taliban government – and the Afghan people cheered the
Americans as liberators.
The Afghans can be forgiven for thinking each time
that they had finally thrown off the yoke of oppression once and
But it hasn't happened. Today American
bombers still reign death and destruction on Afghanistan, the
police still monitor
the morals of the Afghans, civil
war still rages among the warlords. (Not to mention that Osama
Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, the supposed reasons for attacking Afghanistan,
survived the war intact and still provide justifications for more
civil liberties invasions in America.)
But who cares? America liberated Afghanistan a year
ago. We can't be bothered thinking about the Afghans anymore. Once
we liberate them, our job is done. And right now we're too busy
And tomorrow we
must liberate Syria – and Lebanon – and Saudi Arabia – and Yemen.
And don't forget the Congo – where several
million people apparently have died already in a ferocious Civil
Choose Your Own Definition
course, the word "liberate" means different things to
To most Americans it seems to mean winning a war,
congratulating oneself, and then watching the NBA playoffs. But
it's also an excuse to gain revenge for the 9/11 attack by attacking
someone else – even attacking people who had nothing to do with
To politicians, "liberating" means one
more opportunity to
expand power and take additional civil liberties away from the
To the liberated people, "liberation"
generally means replacing one dictator with another – even when
the word "democracy" is bandied about.
On Wednesday I saw an indication of how flexible
the word "liberate" is. Wolf Blitzer of CNN was interviewing
Sheikh Saud al-Sabah, former Kuwaiti ambassador to the U.S. They
congratulated each other and the Iraqi people on this jubilant day
of liberation. Blitzer said the day must be especially sweet for
Kuwaitis who had lost their freedom temporarily to that dreadful
Hussein twelve years ago.
When Blitzer asked the ambassador what happens next,
ambassador stressed that the new Iraqi government must be "chosen
by the Iraqi people." Unfortunately, Wolf Blitzer didn't
think to ask the ambassador when the Kuwaiti people – ruled
by the Al-Sabah dynasty since 1961 – would get to choose their
But then, who would want to rain on the glorious
Bury the Past
we certainly wouldn't want to remind anyone that this whole crusade
began not as a quest to liberate the Iraqi people, but because George
Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction
and was threatening the U.S. (Remember the daily speeches to staged
audiences in which George Bush shouted "Saddam Hussein will
disarm or we will disarm him!" and was greeted with enthusiastic
No weapons have been found. No laboratories have
been found. No evidence has been found.
And I doubt that George Bush ever really believed
they would be found. That's why the rationale for killing people
changed as regularly as George Bush changes his military windbreakers.
First it was those dreaded weapons of mass destruction.
Then it was the alleged Al-Qaeda connection. Then it was igniting
a democratic revolution throughout the Middle East. Then, when all
else failed, they settled on Hussein's atrocities (shades of 1990!)
and the need to liberate the Iraqi people. And underlying all the
explanations was the hint that pulverizing Iraq would settle the
score for 9/11.
Throughout these conflicting assertions, one by
one America's traditional allies jumped off the bandwagon. Finally,
of the Willing" comprised only America, Britain, Australia,
Spain, and 39 other nations as powerful as Micronesia, Eritrea,
the Marshall Islands, and Palau. (Palau???!!)
Incidentally, several members of the Coalition are
that have terrible human-rights records and supposedly support terrorism.
But then, the Iraqi war wasn't about terrorism, was it? It was to
liberate the Iraqi people.
Why We Fight
the war hysteria, given that the U.S. government's propaganda was
repeated verbatim by the TV networks (notice the phrase "Operation
Iraqi Freedom" so prominently displayed on the cable news channels),
given that the polls showed that most Americans believed whatever
George Bush said, given that the war's outcome was foreordained
and unstoppable, was there any reason for us to continue to oppose
it – even as it steam-rolled through Iraq?
Yes, there was.
Most people tend to stick rigidly to a position
once they've taken it. That's why most Republicans believe and support
anything George Bush says – even the many things he's said and done
that are contrary to what Republicans say they believe. And it's
why so many Democrats stuck by Bill Clinton no matter what.
No one wants to say, "I guess I was wrong about
But even though someone may refuse to believe this
war is wrong, it doesn't mean he automatically will support the
next war. And the more doubts we raise about this one, the
more people will look at the next war with fresh eyes and more skepticism.
Even though the American military can "liberate"
another country in two weeks, we who oppose these wars can't expect
to win a moral victory in two months or perhaps even two years.
But as we keep chipping away – pointing out the
inconsistencies, the ignorance
of history, the hypocrisy, the lies, the dangers, the consequences
– we make steady progress. Someday soon someone with a chance to
be President may have the courage to speak out against all the follies
of American foreign policy. Someday soon Americans may grow tired
of being the world's policemen. Someday soon George Bush may take
one step too far and be revealed for the world-ruler he aspires
We must assure that when that day comes, we don't
become just one more group of "liberated" people – changing
one oppression for another.
We must have laid the proper groundwork – showing
Americans that there's a better life possible – a life where Americans
are safe, not because they intimidate the world, but because they
no longer give terrorists the ammunition with which to garner money
and connections from people oppressed by America's dictator-friends
– and because America is once again the symbol of liberty and peace,
providing light and hope and inspiration to the entire world.
That's why we must not stop opposing this war or
any other war that defiles the true meaning of America.