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Sheehan's poor arguments
Scripps Howard News Service


August 17, 2005

Suppose President Bush had not gone to war in Iraq. Saddam Hussein could then have continued trying to bribe his way out from under sanctions. He could have pursued his self-confessed plans to reconstitute his weapons of mass destruction. And he could someday have abetted the killing of possibly a half-million of our citizens or more.

Maybe, then, we would have the victims' relatives - thousands and thousands of them - lining the road to Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, asking why the president had ignored Saddam's past use of these weapons, his genocidal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of his own people, his undeniably close ties to terrorists, his repeated acts of reckless aggressiveness, his insane ambition, his violent hostility to the United States of America.

To my mind, this would have been a much tougher question to answer than the one now being asked by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier slain in Iraq. Why are we fighting this unjust war, she wants to know as she demands a meeting with Bush. The answer is that it is not unjust. It is a war against fascistic evil and an awful threat.

All the best intelligence agencies in the world thought Saddam had WMD before the war. He did not, but as part of its international outlawry, Iraq was once more evading a U.N. resolution, and here is what common sense yet affirms: The danger the Saddam regime posed was not going to be thwarted by weapons inspectors tiptoeing around its deadly deceits.

Few want to say harsh things about what Sheehan is doing, for we all naturally sympathize with someone who has lost a son in war, and it is important that we face the human cost of the Iraqi conflict. But the emotional context of her position hardly confers immunity from reply. Her grief does not compel assent to her views.

She says, for instance, that Bush cannot believe the cause in Iraq is a noble one unless he has encouraged his daughters to join the military and fight there. It's like saying you can't believe in the cause of law and order unless you encourage your children to become police officers. But then Sheehan would apparently deny that any war could be a noble cause. America, she has told the press, is not worth dying for.

Is she sincere? Some critics point out that she already had one meeting with Bush, and then praised him. But attitudes do evolve, and there is no sin in that. The Washington Post reports that she is getting advice from a political consultant and public-relations professionals. But why shouldn't she use all available tools to fight for what she believes? The important point finally is that sincerity - while its presence helps create drama as the TV cameras close in - is no indicator of analytical acuity or comprehension of what's at stake in an issue.

The best argument against the war in Iraq is not a radical rant about how horrible our country is, but that we have little chance of ultimate success and have, meanwhile, created more trouble for ourselves. The ongoing, painful insurgency feeds that argument, but there is another side that I find more convincing.

Saddam - whose capacity for mass murder knew no bounds - is out of power. He will acquire no WMD now and give none to terrorists, and he has ceased slaughtering and otherwise tormenting hundreds of thousands of his fellow Iraqis. Iraq is on the verge of decency and democracy. If the administration pulls U.S. troops out precipitously, all of today's promise could turn to ashes. Yet at the moment there remain reasons for hope, including an election that saw widespread participation, the building of a credible Iraqi army and all manner of positive developments in the Middle East as a consequence both of the war and other American actions.

It's impossible to know for sure where we would stand in the fight against terrorism if there had been no invasion of Iraq, but it is no laughable deduction that the ruin of our civilization at the hands of vicious fascists would be more likely. It will take a whole lot more to change my mind on this point than someone like Sheehan talking about Bush's daughters.


Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)

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