A little help for liberals

Clip Note: This opinion piece from February 2003 was printed by several area newspapers. Frustration with the lack of serious alternatives to calls for the invasion of Iraq inspired this column. The producer of a local PBS news and opinion forum invited me to discuss it with a peace activist and an Iraqi ex-patriot. My performance resulted in regular guest appearances on the weekly television program on broader political topics.

Leader Enterprise

Recent "peace" demonstrations are just the latest manifestation of a half-year-long effort by liberal critics to make public this declaration: "War is not the answer." But like a derelict college student taking his multiple-choice midterm after an all-nighter, these liberals have faced the Iraq issue by rubbing their brows, circling and scratching out, finally settling on "None of the above." Unfortunately, in the real world of terrorists, VX, missiles and nukes, that is not an option.

The determination of President George W. Bush to face this issue has forced his opponents to either develop a sensible, liberal alternative to war in Iraq or coast along with platitudes and empty, useless criticism.

Unfortunately, useless criticism has won the day.

Therefore, though it pains me as a conservative, I will provide the left with a coherent, active strategy on Iraq which is logically defensible and arguably an effective alternative to war:

Instead of sending "human shields" to protect Saddam and his murderers, send "human lifelines" into Kurdish-controlled Iraq, assisting innocent Iraqis in their quest for freedom by providing humanitarian services, opportunities for political expression and protection for dissidents. Tether more lifelines from Kuwait into Shi'a-dominated southern Iraq, rescuing the Marsh Arabs from Saddam's brutality and helping them organize peaceful resistance. Create a grassroots revolution in Iraq, one based on non-violent protest and aimed at regime change - after all, Saddam runs one of the most illiberal governments in the world.

Rattling the cage of a dictator can be dangerous work, not only for the activists but for neighbors who may receive the angry blows of a falling totalitarian. Thus, "human shields" would be valuable - in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan and, especially, Israel. Put a peace activist in every pizza shop and dance club. Place lines of tents on the Iraqi border. Put flowers in the barrels of Iraqi tanks.

Of course, with Saddam's ties to terrorism, dangers are spread across the globe. Shields will be needed at all American overseas military bases, diplomatic outposts, churches and synagogues - and those of our allies. Landmarks will need protection, too; how about placing small, rotating groups inside the U.S. Capitol, the Empire State Building, Disney World, the Eiffel Tower, the House of Commons, the Church of the Nativity and all of America's sports stadiums and NASCAR tracks?

The diplomatic front would be important, as well. Activists could march on governments around the world demanding humanitarian supplies and "resistance assistance" to all the nations which neighbor Iraq. Non-governmental organizations could be used for the distribution effort. Active use of air power for humanitarian drops might even be considered.

All in all, such an overarching liberal strategy would be expensive, in both human and financial terms. Many thousands of brave "shielders" would have to commit to the cause, although such a commitment would not be fundamentally different than the commitments made by the all-volunteer military. Supplies and assistance alone would run tens of billions of dollars, but war estimates approach $100 billion.

The pressure from below would undoubtedly crack Saddam and his top-heavy regime - Iraq's population would drain into the safety zones behind the "shields," and soon Saddam would not have much of a country to run. The very effort would have the added benefit of transforming the stifling political climate of the Middle East, by the daily interactions between Westerners placing their lives on the line for freedom and the Arab masses gasping for liberty. Indeed, the U.S. government might find it easier to convince Saudi monarchs and Turkish Islamists to host military troops than true peace activists.

This strategy would have yet another benefit: Uniting all the Western world in common cause for the liberation of oppressed masses. Peace marchers guarding American troops against chemical attack, activists training Iraqis in organizing strikes and protests, Doctors Without Borders crossing borders without doctors.

Would this liberal alternative to war succeed? Conservatives could make a solid case why it would not prevent an Iraqi-terrorist attack or stop Saddam from developing weapons while the strategy takes form. Yet, it would be a true, defensible alternative. A dream, perhaps, but an eminently doable dream.

Nevertheless, a dream without hope, and here is why: The left is no longer the home of idealism; it is the home of egoism. There is no need for freedom of thought, debate and choice; the left has all the answers. "Liberals" no longer follow causes to liberate the oppressed; at best, leftists seek to replace one form of oppression with another, at worst, they defend oppression when it pays deference to their egos.

Critics on the left will continue to carp aimlessly, not because they are against war, but because they are against liberation. They will take the "high moral ground" of multiculturalism, not in defense of other cultures, but in an attack on the West. And they will "shield" Iraqi civilians America does not wish to harm, rather than innocents around the world Saddam and the terrorists seek to destroy.

And so, with no political will to offer an option to end Iraq's threat without the use of force, and with Saddam's continued refusal to disarm, America and her allies are left with no alternatives.