Everyone advises the president to spell out in detail the case for war with Iraq. It is altogether fitting that he do so, despite some concern that intelligence disclosures might ensure that weapons caches will now be summarily hidden rather than remain vulnerable on day one of the war. But rather than simply reviewing the case for intervention, the president should educate us on at least three larger issues that underlie the entire crisis but usually go unspoken:
First, let us remember the true nature of morality — that there is a sin of omission as well as that of commission. Well-meaning citizens demand peace at all costs; but they do not tell us that the reluctant willingness to use force — not slogans of moral superiority — so far in this war alone has saved lives. We are not being murdered today from al Qaeda bases in Afghanistan only because of the bravery of American troops. Afghans are free solely because of the force of the U.S. military. And thousands of Shiites and Kurds are safe for one more day because of our pilots’ hourly courage. So too is it with a free and prosperous Korea that stands independent because of the brave soldiers who right now patrol its borders. It is precisely to preserve life and to offer hope to enslaved millions that we even consider the last — and often regrettably the only — choice to use arms, even though the easier path is embrace a pacifism that would win us momentary acclaim even as it would later prove deadly for thousands.
Second, given the history since September 11 the burden of proof of innocence rests with our enemies, not the United States. Terrorists from the Middle East butchered 3,000 of our citizens on our shores in a time of peace. There is no margin of error after 9/11. When we know Saddam Hussein’s illegitimate regime sponsors terrorism, pays cash bonuses to suicide murderers, has fought the United States in the past and not lived up to its bilateral and international agreements, and now seeks again to obtain terrible weapons, we have no choice but to act to prevent another catastrophe. Perhaps we will never have 100-percent proof of Saddam Hussein’s direct connection with terrorists who use weapons of mass destruction until we are hit; but if we move now to preempt such an attack we will at least know that his evil regime can no longer harm us or his own people.
Third, it is necessary in a free society to audit and question the government. But such self-critique does not mean that we must apply an unreal standard of judgment against the United States that is as one-sided as it is unfair. Let us retain our sense of balance and history. We must be vigilant about our civil liberties, but it is only because we have acted both lawfully and promptly to detain terrorist killers on our shores that so far we have avoided a repeat of September 11. That we have saved American lives and preserved our constitutional freedoms is the real story of our domestic-security efforts. We must worry about collateral damage in war and will always strive to prevent civilian deaths, but should keep in mind that the United States seeks to protect the innocent, while al Qaeda, the Taliban, and Saddam Hussein murder thousands of civilians indiscriminately. Indeed, they seek to kill from the sanctuaries of hospitals, mosques, and schools precisely because they know — sometimes more so that our own critics — that we will not strike the homes of their own innocents, however cynically they are used. America’s burden is not just to fight to save Americans from Saddam Hussein, but to do so in such a way as to save his own people from him as well. That it is our duty to take up these moral responsibilities should not blind us to the fact that others do not.