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Hoping for the best

03/19/03 12:00AM By David Moats
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(Host) Commentator David Moats reflects on the possible outcomes of pre-emptive war with Iraq.

(Moats) It's been a long six months. That's how long President Bush has been trying to make his case for war against Iraq. During that time the American people have wanted to know the unknowable - how war will turn out in a distant land among a mixed-up array of clashing people.

It could turn out well - the dictator and his henchmen driven from power, soldiers laying down their arms, people streaming into the streets, liberated, demanding democracy. Or it could turn out badly - with a long and bloody fight costing thousands of lives, setting off a vicious civil war and spreading chaos throughout the Middle East.

In his speech on Monday, Bush said he would go with his hopes rather than his fears. But preemptive war is a gamble. Bush is betting it will turn out well. In fact, the only evidence we will have about whether his - judgment was foolish or sound is how the war turns out. That's the burden of a preemptive war.

In a war of self-defense, it lasts as long as it takes, and you do your best despite the cost. It may be painful, but we are spared the moral anguish when we know the war is justified. Preemptive war requires moral anguish. There would be something wrong if we hadn't questioned and debated the idea of starting a war with Iraq.

I think I have been debating questions of war and peace my entire adult life. I was a teenager when U.S. Marines invaded the Dominican Republic. Remember that one? Vietnam, Cambodia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Grenada, Haiti, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo. Have I left any out?

These actions were the occasion for excruciating debates. Some of those actions were justified and some of them were not. The difference with Iraq is we've had a prolonged and agonizing debate before the fact, rather than after, made more agonizing because Bush himself seemed to be confused.

If we knew it would turn out well, the decision would be easy. Getting rid of Saddam would be a no-brainer. But we don't know how it's going to turn out, and Bush hasn't inspired a lot of confidence that he does either. He has his hopes and so do we all. We hope for a speedy victory that spares our service men and women and the people of Iraq. And we hope for a peaceful transition away from dictatorship and toward democracy, inspiring the demand for freedom throughout the Middle East.

The demand for freedom, however, is a dangerous thing. Among our allies - Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for example - the demand for freedom is subversive to the established order. That's why it's both a clich and a truth to say the region is powder keg. War could begin within hours or days of this broadcast. Bush looked a little scared as he delivered his speech on Monday night. He ought to be. But like him, we're hoping for the best.

This is David Moats from Middlebury.

David Moats is the editorial page editor for the Rutland Herald and winner of the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing.
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