IT SEEMS UNLIKELY that many of the so-called peace marchers who trooped through Washington and London two weekends back listened on Thursday — at least not with an open mind or sympathy — to George Bush's cogent explanation of why coalition troops are fighting and dying in Iraq.
You did not see in those demonstrations, after all, many banners reading, "Support Iraq's New Constitution," "No to Jihad" or "Stop Suicide Bombers." The crimes committed daily against the Iraqi people by other Arabs who wish to re-enslave them seem to be of little interest to Michael Moore, Jane Fonda and their followers. Rage against the daily assaults on children, women, anyone, by Islamo-fascists and ordinary national fascists is not fashionable. Only alleged American crimes are cool to decry.
It's hard to think of a more graphic illustration of the horror the U.S.-led coalition is fighting in Iraq than the mass murder on Sept. 26, in which terrorists disguised as policemen (a New York Times headline called these butchers "fighters") burst into a primary school in Iskandaria, south of Baghdad, seized five teachers (all Shiites) and shot them dead. Children stood weeping through this atrocity.
Why do crimes like this make so little impression on those Americans and Europeans who want the coalition to abandon Iraq? The demonstrators think of themselves as moral, but it is hard to think of any policy more amoral than abandoning Iraq to such an enemy.
Iraqis are dismayed by the mistakes made by the coalition. They don't like the continued presence of foreign troops. But they like the prospect of being abandoned prematurely to the terrorists even less.
One of the most publicized new icons of the U.S. peace movement, grieving mother Cindy Sheehan, has attracted attention in the vibrant new media that have grown in Iraq since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. All the Iraqis I know totally disagree with her public declarations that her son died for nothing. Those fighting the coalition approve and exploit her words.
"Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia," as the Islamo-fascists in Iraq call themselves, understands Western doubt and self-criticism. Its members are trying to create an impression of a country submerged in bloody chaos. They want to convince a world where understanding comes only from brief television images that Iraq has gone to hell. That is a lie.
Iraq was always complex — it is now vibrantly so. Despite the terrorist campaign to kill it, the country has become a school for free expression and for government elected by the people. The dread silence of half a century has given way to millions of opinions — as in the U.S., or any society that sees itself as free.
Sunni negotiators have refused to accept the draft constitution. That is certainly a setback. Now Sunnis' grievances — many of which are valid — need to be addressed peacefully. Fortunately, political discussion never stops. Three hundred conferences on the constitution have been held throughout the country, allowing 50,000 people to express their views. The 150 new, uncensored newspapers, the scores of radio stations and half a dozen TV channels that have been set up are all talking about this and other matters of political progress.
The constitution may not be perfect. But, as the commentator Amir Taheri points out: "This is still the most democratic constitution offered to any Muslim nation so far."
That is thanks to the sacrifice of Casey Sheehan and others. It should be a source of pride in the United States. Thanks to the coalition Iraqis have more confidence in their future than we do. Iraqi refugees are not fleeing abroad in vast numbers, as happened during previous crises. The Iraqi dinar has strengthened, not weakened, against the currencies of other oil-producing nations. The mistakes that have been made in Iraq since its liberation do not alter the fact that the overthrow of Hussein has given Iraqis a chance they never had before and has shaken the ramshackle, corrupt and dictatorial foundations of the Middle East.
That, of course, is why there is such bloody resistance. U.S. soldiers are being killed not by romantic nationalist insurgents (as some liberal journalists and marchers like to pretend) but by an unholy grouping of Saddamite gangsters furious at losing power, Syrian and Iranian agents intent on creating mayhem and then theocracy, and Islamo-fascists who want to enslave the world and whose local Pol Pot, Abu Musab Zarqawi, boasts of seeking to murder as many of Iraq's majority Shiite population as he can.
Zarqawi has also declared that if he is victorious, he will use Iraq as a base to drag down other regional governments and to mount attacks on the United States. Osama bin Laden has said that "the Third World War is raging in Iraq. The whole world is watching this war." All of which makes the antiwar opposition in the U.S. and Europe remarkably shortsighted and self-indulgent. We in the West have a vital stake in delivering on our promises and ensuring that terrorism does not move on to other victims, with even greater bloodlust.
The sacrifice of U.S. soldiers, of their coalition allies and of Iraqis is horrifically painful. But if we can stay long enough to enable the Iraqis to lay the firm foundation of civil society, their deaths will not be in vain. We should leave when the elected Iraqi government asks us to do so.
It is the promise of freedom that the fascists who murdered the Iraqi teachers last month want to destroy. It is astonishing and discouraging that those who think they were taking the high ground in marching though Washington do not understand this.