First, some ancient history...

Shortly after the September 11 attacks, I saw something that made me wanna hurl. I still see this something almost every day because it hangs in a window I pass on my way to work, and the urge to hurl--my lunch, a rock--is as fresh today as it was back when I first laid eyes on it. And just what is this offensive something? The American flag peace symbol that appeared on the cover of Seattle Weekly on September 20. They called it their "Peace and Patriotism" symbol. So what is it about the Weekly's, uh, "PAP" symbol that bothers me so much? Just this: Pacifism and patriotism, together, is no longer an option after September 11.

After September 11, the left had some idiotic things to say--bomb them with love, Toni?--and some smart things to say. For instance, it's true that the United States jump-started militant Islam through our Cold War-era support of anti-Soviet "freedom fighters" in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the left concluded that the United States didn't have the moral authority to attack Osama bin Laden and the Taliban. Christopher Hitchens--the lonely voice of sanity on the left--destroyed this argument with a few short, devastating lines: "Did we not aid the grisly Taliban to achieve and hold power?" Hitchens wrote in the Nation on September 24, 2001 ["Of Sin, the Left, and Islamic Fascism"]. "Yes indeed 'we' did. Well, does this not double or triple our responsibility to remove them from power?"

While the left was running around (like some perverse photo negative of Jerry Falwell) arguing about just how much responsibility we deserved for the attacks, the rest of the country was coming to grips with the fact that we were at war with "Islamo-fascists," as Hitchens dubbed bin Laden and his followers in Afghanistan and all over the world. "What they abominate about 'the West...,'" Hitchens wrote ["Against Rationalization," the Nation, Oct 8, 2001], "is not what Western liberals don't like and can't defend," like our support for Israel or our support for the Arab states, "but what [liberals] do like about it and must defend: its emancipated women, its scientific inquiry, its separation of religion from the state." Osama has (had?) a vision for the Middle East: one nation, under Allah, cleansed of Americans, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, gays, a world filled with bearded men and enslaved women.

In the wake of bin Laden's declaration of war, people all over the world suddenly faced difficult, harrowing choices: People trapped in upper floors of the World Trade Center had to choose between jumping and burning to death; George W. Bush had to choose between an immediate, massive military response and a delayed, measured response; the Taliban had to choose between handing over bin Laden and enduring the wrath of the United States war machine; the president of Pakistan had to choose between cooperating with Bush's war on terrorism (and risking a coup) and cooperating with Pakistan's Islamo-fascists (and risking the wrath of the U.S. war machine). And while people all over the world were facing up to these difficult choices, the smug, dishonest lefties at Seattle Weekly--and the smug, dishonest lefties they were pandering to--sought to avoid making their own difficult choice, which was essentially this: Pacifism or patriotism? Because after September 11, you could have one or the other--but you couldn't have both.

In 1942, George Orwell (author of lefty classics Animal Farm and 1984) published an essay in Partisan Review slamming British pacifists who refused to fight Nazi Germany. "Pacifism is objectively pro-Fascist," Orwell wrote. "This is elementary common sense." Michael Kelly spelled it out in the Washington Post on September 26: "No honest person can pretend that the groups that attacked America will, if let alone, not attack again," Kelly wrote. "You are either for doing what is necessary to capture or kill those who control and fund and harbor the terrorists, or you are for not doing this. If you are for not doing this, you are for allowing the terrorists to continue their attacks on America. You are saying, in fact: I believe that it is better to allow more Americans--perhaps a great many more--to be murdered than to capture or kill the murderers. That is the pacifists' position, and it is evil."

To be fair, I don't think the old hippies at the Weekly were being evil when they slapped that PAP symbol on their cover, any more than I think the handful of lefties who turned out for anti-war demos in the weeks immediately after September 11 were being evil. Brain-dead? Yes. Evil? No. But sensible lefties--the vast majority of lefties, I'm happy to report--knew that this war was unavoidable, necessary, and just. Even if we were afraid to say so too loudly at Victrola or the Still Life.


Why revisit these issues now? Why bring all this up when we should be celebrating our first Independence Day since the September 11 attacks? Because we're about to go to war again--hello, Saddam!--and it would be nice if the left refrained from sticking its collective head up its collective ass this time.

Here are some fun facts about Iraq:

Iraq is ruled by a psychotic dictator who has successfully terrorized his own people into submission. (See "Tales of the Tyrant" by Mark Bowden in the May 2002 Atlantic Monthly.) Iraq possesses weapons of mass destruction (anthrax, mustard gas, nerve agents, biological weapons), and Saddam Hussein has used those weapons against his own people. (Yes, yes: We've got weapons of mass destruction too, but the federal government has so far refrained from gassing, say, the people of Oregon for defying John Ashcroft on the assisted suicide issue.) Finally, Iraq may be closer to building a nuclear bomb than we think, and does anyone doubt that Saddam would use one if he got his hands on one? (Yes, yes, I know: The United States has helped Saddam hold onto power over the years, we gave him military aid during the Iran/Iraq war, and the first President Bush did all he could to make sure Saddam stayed in power after the Gulf War, and there are other atrocities. But like Mr. Hitchens said about the Taliban, does this not double or triple our responsibility to remove him from power?)

All of these facts should bother anyone who resides in the United States--and here are some fun facts specifically meant to bother people who live in Seattle: For all the talk of nuclear "suitcase bombs," people paid to worry about terrorism are more concerned about "conex bombs," as Bill Keller wrote in the May 26 New York Times Magazine ["Nuclear Nightmares"]. The name "conex" refers to "those shack-size steel containers that bring most cargo into the United States." Last year almost two million conex containers were unloaded at the Port of Seattle, and tens or hundreds of thousands of conex containers come into Seattle every year from Malaysia, the Philippines, Indonesia, and other countries believed to have been infiltrated by al Qaeda fighters. Put a few barrels of anthrax spores and/or some easily obtainable low-grade nuclear waste and a few hundred pounds of explosives into a conex container along with some Islamo-fascist jackass excited by visions of paradise and... well, will the last person to die in Seattle please turn out the lights?

This is what we're up against these days, and it depresses this Gore voter past the point of despair to write this... but... uh... the recently unveiled Bush Doctrine (rough translation: If we think you're coming after us next Tuesday, we'll be bombing your ass flat this Tuesday) is a necessary evil. Ask yourself this question and answer it honestly: If it was within your power in August of last year to order a pre-emptive strike that would've prevented the attacks of September 11, would you have done it? Of course you would. That's the Bush Doctrine. And the Bush Doctrine's first smackdown is going to be Saddam Hussein, who has to be removed from power before he kills thousands (or tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands) of American citizens in a major American city.

Yes, yes: Taking out Saddam Hussein means war, and war is bad for children and other living things. I went to grade school in the 1970s, and I recall the poster. But there are times when war is not only a tragic and unavoidable necessity, but also good for children and other living things. For instance, doing everything we can to prevent a conex bomb from sailing into the Port of Seattle will save the lives of countless American children and other living things here--like, uh, American adults. And it's not only American children who have benefited from the war that began on October 7, 2001 (my 37th birthday--oh, George! You shouldn't have!). The war in Afghanistan has been good for Afghani children.

"One of the uncomfortable realities of the war on terrorism is that we Americans have killed many more people in Afghanistan than died in the attack on the World Trade Center," Nicholas Kristof wrote in an op-ed ["A Merciful War," February 1, 2002] in the New York Times. Kristof estimates that between 8,000 and 12,000 Taliban fighters and about 1,000 Afghan civilians were killed. "[But in] each of the last few years... 225,000 children died in Afghanistan before the age of five, along with 15,000 women who died during pregnancy or childbirth. There was no way to save those lives under the Taliban." UNICEF was able to vaccinate 734,000 children in the two months after the fall of the Taliban, "in a country where virtually no one had been vaccinated against the disease in the previous 10 years. Because measles often led to death in Afghanistan, the vaccination campaign will save at least 35,000 children's lives each year." In the case of Afghanistan, Kristof concludes, "[War] can serve the most humanitarian of goals."

Much more concerned about humanitarian means than humanitarian ends, lefty weekly the Nation came out--surprise!--against going to war with Iraq: "[S]ince the Gulf War, Iraq's military capabilities have weakened significantly," says the Nation ["War on Iraq Is Wrong," July 8], "to the point where they pose little or no threat to its neighbors," and the Nation worries that a U.S. invasion of Iraq might "destabilize the entire region." (Gee, you think so? Well, gosh, we don't want to do nothin' to destabilize that good ol' peaceful Middle East!)

Even if everything the Nation says is true--Iraq is weak and poses little or no threat to anyone--there's still the small matter of the threat Saddam Hussein's government poses to the people of Iraq. They live in a police state, they're ruled by a tyrant, and their lives are hell. And, yes, U.S. sanctions have made a bad situation worse, but lifting sanctions won't turn Iraq into Sweden. Or Cuba. So even if Saddam Hussein poses no threat to Americans--and that's a mighty big "if" that, post September 11, I'm not sure we should count on--Saddam is threat to his own people.

"There is good reason to think that a Taliban defeat would fill the streets of Kabul with joy," Christopher Hitchens wrote on September 24, 2001, and he was right. There was dancing in the streets of Kabul when the Taliban fell. Does anyone reading this doubt for a moment that the fall of Saddam Hussein won't do the same for the streets of Baghdad?


In his June 20 column, Albert R. Hunt, the lone liberal voice on the op-ed pages of the Wall Street Journal (it's worth picking up the WSJ on Thursdays for his column alone), called for a national debate on invading Iraq. "The first Bush administration abandoned Afghanistan after the Russian-backed puppet dictator was toppled, resulting in the rise of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden," writes Hunt, saying we shouldn't go into Iraq unless we're prepared for "an incredible challenge in nation building. It will take years, and the cost will be billions...."

Instead of waving PAP symbols and arguing about whether or not we should go to war--we've already gone, folks--the left in the United States should be making the case for waging Hunt's good war. To wit: The U.S. shouldn't get out of Afghanistan, as some demanded at last weekend's Gay Pride Parade. No, we should be getting in deeper: Afghanistan needs peacekeepers, medicine, money, educational materials, infrastructure, aid, and--finally and most importantly--a constitution. Leaving them with anything less amounts to a second abandonment. We will have a similar moral obligation to the people of Iraq post-Saddam. They'll need help rebuilding their country and building a sustainable, democratic system, one that if the U.S. is going to invade other nations during the War on Terrorism--and we are, Blanche, we are--we should leave them better off than we found them.

So the left needs to put down the PAP symbols and put away the "No War" posters. We're at war, ya dopes. Simply stopping the war now--rather than holding the United States to the standards we set after the last world war--would harm the very people the left professes to care about. Afghanistan needs a Marshall Plan now; Iraq's going to need one soon. U.S. smart bombs and troops, the left should argue, have to be followed by smart money and medicine and a constitution and an American commitment to long-haul nation building. We have to do for Afghanistan and Iraq what we did for Germany and Japan; anything less is immoral and indefensible. That's the argument the left should be advancing.

Why isn't the left making this argument? Well, grandstanding and screaming "warmonger" at people (my voice mail should be a treat this week) is whole lot more fun than taking responsibility for a war that's being waged in all of our names, of course, but I think it goes deeper than that. Since the left lost the "no war" argument, a perverse desire to see things go badly--even at the cost of Afghan and Iraqi lives--has taken root in the American left. Americans didn't leave only rubble and corpses behind in Germany and Japan after the Second World War, although we helped create plenty of both. No, we stuck around; helped rebuild; drafted constitutions; oversaw elections; established freedom of religion, association, thought, and the press. To invade Afghanistan and Iraq and leave anything less would be a tragedy.

So, tell me, PAPsters: What does the people of Afghanistan more good: Chanting "no war" and waving our PAP symbols? Or pouring into the streets and chanting, "We Want a Marshall Plan for Afghanistan!"

Shit, you guys, it even rhymes.

by Dan Savage