MS. MITCHELL: And I think, as well, that frankly we in the media did not cover the anti-war movement as it was moving along on the Internet. We weren’t focused on that. And now, brilliantly, the Pentagon has accomplished the fact with embedding that we’re watching the war unfold in slices, if you will, maybe not getting the big picture, but trying to.
MR. RUSSERT: But real time.
MS. MITCHELL: But real time. And so this anti-war debate seems harder to get a handle on. It becomes less “relevant.” Not that it is less relevant, but it is less dramatic. And I think we have to be careful about balancing that, frankly.
MR. RUSSERT: And when we see pictures tonight of American men being executed, Michael Elliot, it’s very difficult to have any tolerance for people who are saying, “Wait a minute,” although that is what America is all about.
And why is that, exactly, Mr. Russert?
Why is it “very difficult to have any tolerance” for the people who never wanted to send American soldiers into this battle to begin with?
In the exceedingly unlikely event that the anti-war movement had won the day, those servicemen would still be alive this morning.
It all unfolds with ritualized familiarity. The people who clamor for war downplay or ignore the obvious consequence of war that human beings on both sides are going to lose their lives. Until the dying starts, and then their anger is focused on those who opposed the war from the start.
This is why it’s important for those who would take us into war to treat us like grownups, to explain why this terrible last resort is unavoidable: so that the American people can make an informed decision about the costs of the war and the rationality of those who would lead us there. Of course, this is exactly why those leaders can’t admit their underlying motivations, the real reasons, the ones they’ve been discussing in policy papers and op-ed pieces for half a dozen years. Like this bit from the Project for a New American Century report released in 2000:
Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.
“The need for a substantial American force presence.” Not quite stirring enough to convince Americans to sacrifice their sons and daughters, is it? So instead we have weapons of mass destruction which may or may not exist, but which by the accounts of our own intelligence analysts posed little threat to us, at least until this war began. We have the liberation of the Kurds, except, oops, not really, as the Turks begin to roll into Northern Iraq. We have the liberation of the rest of the Iraqi population from the brutality of Saddam Hussein an argument with genuine moral weight, but even at that, the question remains: will the price be worth it? And: why these oppressed people, but not others? Unless we plan to roll across the globe, liberating oppressed peoples everywhere, a virtual juggernaut of freedom and democracy and joy. But I’m guessing that’s not in Richard Perle’s playbook.
And if we’d had an honest discussion about motives and costs, we might also have spent some time looking at the lessons of history. How well has American impulse to impose our vision of How Things Ought To Be on other countries worked out in the past? Particularly in the region in question? The argument could plausibly be made that our current problems with fundamentalist terrorism can be traced back more or less directly to our support for the Shah of Iran. What rough beasts wait to be born this time around?
These questions were never asked, not in any meaningful way, and now it’s too late. Now we have no choice but to sit and wait, and hope fervently that things actually do go as well as the proponents of this war have predicted, that the Iraqi people will soon lay down their arms and welcome us as liberators. And most of all, that human lives are not too great an abstraction to the men, and occasionally women, who sit in comfortable well-appointed rooms and dream of remaking the world in their own image.