We 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 as liberators.
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 for all.
But it hasn’t happened. Today American bombers still reign death and destruction on Afghanistan, the religious 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 liberating Iraq.
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 War.
Choose Your Own Definition
Of course, the word "liberate" means different things to different people.
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 9/11.
To politicians, "liberating" means one more opportunity to expand power and take additional civil liberties away from the people.
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, the 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 own government.
But then, who would want to rain on the glorious liberation parade?
Bury the Past
And 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 cheering?)
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, the "Coalition 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 governments 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
Given 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 that."
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 to be.
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.