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Who's pessimistic?

Byline: The Register-Guard

It took three weeks for U.S. and British forces to topple Saddam Hussein's regime, and the rout has left supporters of the invasion feeling that they've prevailed not only in Iraq but on the home front as well. The timid souls who feared the consequences of war have been proved wrong, they say, and now should confess to being in error. Yet opponents of the attack on Iraq are justified in declining the invitation to eat crow.

In an April 16 editorial, the Wall Street Journal took note of what it called "pessimistic liberalism" - the fear among anti-war Americans that something would go terribly wrong in Iraq. It's true that the war's opponents warned of a full catalogue of disasters: the combat would be long-lasting and fierce, uprisings would destabilize Arab and Muslim countries, terrorists would attack in the United States and elsewhere, chemical or biological weapons would be unleashed, and more. It's a relief to everyone that these things have not come to pass.

The swift military victory, however, can be interpreted to show that those who questioned President Bush's plans for a pre-emptive attack had a point. Saddam's military machine, weakened by decades of war and sanctions, crumpled so easily that pre-war estimates of Iraq's ability to threaten its neighbors were revealed to be overblown. A policy of containment could have managed that threat, while continued United Nations inspections could have precluded the development of weapons of mass destruction or the deployment of any stockpiles that may be found to exist.

But The Wall Street Journal hoped to make a larger point. The editorial suggested that those who are generally, perhaps even reflexively, opposed to the use of military force have too dim a view of American power: "They simply don't trust that, left to their own devices, the American government and military will act in a moral way that leaves the world a better place."

It's startling to find The Wall Street Journal offering such a sunny appraisal of the government's ability to improve people's lives. The band of the political spectrum for which it speaks has argued for decades that government is incapable of relieving poverty, improving education, cleaning up the environment, promoting racial equality, providing health care or generally leaving the world a better place. Yet the editors are confident that the Pentagon, the biggest government agency of them all, can straighten out the Middle East mess at gunpoint.

That inconsistency aside, the question remains: Are opponents of the war in Iraq a bunch of Gloomy Gusses, always fretful of failure, never placing sufficient trust in the United States' capacity for good?

A strong case can be made for a contrary interpretation: that in the debate over the war, it was the opponents who were the optimists. It was they who argued that the United States could achieve President Bush's stated aims in Iraq without resorting to force, without fracturing long-standing alliances and without assuming sole responsibility for a complicated and costly reconstruction project. Such hopes may have been naive - it's too late to find out now - but they can't be labeled pessimistic.

These labels matter, because views continue to diverge in the post-war period. Americans can be optimistic that the troops will leave Iraq soon, having created a stable and democratic government. But a broader type of optimism should not be among the war's casualties - the optimism that the United States' greatest power lies in its ideals, and that the use of armed might will be an exception to the general practice of encouraging the peaceful spread of those ideals. The truly pessimistic view is the notion that Mao Zedong was right in saying that power flows from the barrel of a gun.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:War's opponents don't have negative view; Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Geographic Code:7IRAQ
Date:Apr 27, 2003
Previous Article:Cougars can be hunted.
Next Article:At Lincoln's feet, I found my America.

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