The liberal dilemma 

Last week there was a demonstration near Wayne State University against the coming U.S. military actions in the Middle East. The marchers looked grim-faced, scruffy, decidedly unphotogenic and carried slogans such as “The real terrorist is in the White House.”

One had a “Re-elect President Gore” sign. Fortunately, I didn’t see any film crews from the Republican National Committee, but they’d have loved it. Naturally, the marchers had a point; nobody wants Sept. 11 to be an excuse for our government to wage a perpetual imperialist war against any nation that doesn’t buy enough Coca-Cola.

Yet they, and much of the left, are entirely out of touch with reality. Politically, everything is different now in a way I could not have imagined three weeks ago. People will put up with a lot more and be a lot less willing to listen to criticism of their government for one simple reason: This time, American civilians were attacked and thousands died without warning, right on the doorstep of our national media empire.

Yes, you can say our policies were partly responsible for what happened. Children have been starving to death in Iraq for years because of the cruel and utterly ineffective economic sanctions started by Bush’s ineffectual father. We have killed many civilians in our rocket and cruise missile attacks on both Iraq and Afghanistan.

All that is true. Unfortunately, nobody is going to care for a long while. And noisily attacking the administration now will help make sure the Shrub gets re-elected in a landslide in three years.

That doesn’t mean we should forget our nation’s misdeeds, or that we shouldn’t try to educate people when we can. But progressives also need to face up to some realities. One is that Saddam Hussein is an evil murderous shit, and the world would be better off if he were dead. Likewise the Taliban, whose rise to power is very largely our fault. They are horrible medieval fanatics who shoot women who want an education, and want to destroy anything that challenges their crackbrained view of the world.

Osama bin Laden is, as noted last week, the moral equivalent of a Nazi (even if Bush did say so), a millionaire exiled Saudi megalomaniac.

What bin Laden is most mad about are not the very real injustices some Arabs, especially the Palestinians, have suffered. He is furious at us for stationing troops on the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia, and for overturning Hussein’s brutal invasion and occupation of Kuwait in 1990.

He wrote his own version of Mein Kampf four years ago, in which he vowed to kill all the Americans he could. Totally forgotten now is that Bill Clinton told us way back in August 1998 (!) that we should consider that we were at war with bin Ladin, a war that would last for years. Unfortunately, the media then had little time for anything that interfered with the national preoccupation with Bill’s penis.

Even if urging Americans to turn the other cheek now made policy sense (it doesn’t), it would be politically ridiculous. Imagine anybody, in December 1941, saying “Let’s show restraint and not attack Japan.”

Yet that doesn’t mean we merely become shills for the Shrub. Here’s what I think is going to happen: We’ll hit Afghanistan, and probably overthrow the Taliban. But this will be prelude to a real war with Iraq, an attempt to finish the job left undone by Bush’s dithering father.

Where the “war against terrorism” goes after this, I cannot foresee.

But here is what must happen in the places where we fight, and presumably, end up with something like victory. Having spent the blood, we then absolutely have to spend the treasure necessary to rebuild these countries, and to foster something like democracy.

Won’t work? That’s what most experts said about Germany and Japan after World War II. Neither had strong democratic traditions. But both are among the most prosperous and stable societies today. The reason? Americans spent billions of dollars to get them and other nations back on their feet.

Naturally, the only reason a far-seeing President Truman got Congress to agree was the Cold War. But now we must realize we face even a bigger threat. Here’s an easy prediction: If we fight this war, and then abandon the region, leaving Afghanistan and other places looking even more like the bottom of a Shake ’n Bake bag than now, within two decades, they’ll do something that makes Sept. 11 look like a tea party.

And we’ll deserve it.

We also must do everything in our power to preserve the civil rights and free speech of everyone in this nation, especially, our own Muslims, and on this point, so far, George W. Bush has been pretty damn good.

No, I haven’t changed my mind about his election. But we can’t let that blind us. Nor can we tolerate our own religious fascists, like Jerry Falwell, who said on TV, with Pat Robertson nodding agreement, that “gays and lesbians” were partly to blame for Sept. 11.

That was before we knew that the biggest man on the plane that crashed near Pittsburgh was a national rugby champion who was notably fearless, and once wrestled a gun out of a mugger’s hand.

His name was Mark Bingham, and with three other men he rushed the hijackers. They were all killed, and they were probably carved up pretty badly first by the knives the slime carried, but because of what they did, that plane didn’t destroy the Capitol, the ultimate symbol of our democracy.

Mark Bingham was, incidentally, openly gay.

The least we can do in thanks is never again pay the slightest attention to anything Falwell, or his local imitator, Gary Glenn, says about anything. And try to build a world that doesn’t foster suicide bombers.

We have a lot of work ahead.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail

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