What now, peaceniks? 

Last week, I got several rather silly phone calls and e-mails inviting me to come protest the war, either during the weekend or at some future date.

I should have responded by saying I was a bit tied up at present protesting the Chicago Fire and the Johnstown Flood. Hello! Hel-llooo! The War Against Saddam is essentially as over as those events. We creamed ’em, destroying their army, their leadership and their government, as witness the present chaos in Baghdad and elsewhere.

What do the “no war” protesters suggest we do? Close our eyes and pretend it is March 17? Do we put all the troops on transports, bring them home, and leave the leaderless Iraqis, their infrastructure largely destroyed by us, to kill each other?

Let’s grow up, liberals!

Now I am not saying we shouldn’t be doing everything we can to prevent other military adventures, or to see that life is as tolerable as it can be for the Iraqis.

But to put it bluntly, the anti-war movement has to get a whole lot tougher, smarter and more sophisticated if it is to have any hope of making a serious impact on public opinion, or frankly, even get noticed. Every recovering alcoholic knows that the first step to solving a problem is to admit that you have one.

And those of us who are opposed to the reckless, radical and imperialistic foreign policy being waged by the Bush administration have a few enormous elephants squatting in our peacenik living rooms.

First of all, let’s admit it: The war to conquer Iraq seems to have been a spectacular success. Militarily, nearly everything worked as well or better than expected. The Iraqi military folded like a handkerchief; few Americans were killed; and our own media, entranced by being allowed to ride in tanks, did not pay much attention to the hordes of nameless and faceless Iraqi dead. We have our first-ever young military heroine, Jessica Lynch, whose future as a household name seems assured.

Second, we need to admit that Saddam Hussein was (or is, depending) a spectacularly evil man. Those who opposed the war before it started mostly knew this, but generally avoided talking about it. (I have been mildly guilty here myself.)

Eason Jordan, chief executive at CNN and a newsman of integrity, wrote movingly in the New York Times last week of the horrible atrocities he had seen inflicted by Saddam’s regime. These included a man whose teeth were ripped out with pliers and a woman whose body parts were left on her family’s doorstep because she dared to talk to his news agency on the phone. The world, and Iraq in particular, will be much better off with Saddam dead or disappeared.

Finally, we have to admit that although we did not — and do not — believe that America has the right to unilaterally invade any country whose government it doesn’t happen to like, Iraq will probably be better off as a result of our having done so.

We should admit all those things — then make these powerful points:

l Regardless of what happened in Iraq, there is utterly no reason we should even be discussing invading Syria ... or any other nation. Believe it or not, the war hawks are now trying to drum up support to attack that country, which supported us in the 1991 Gulf War. Should we invade Syria, we will make this nation the moral equivalent of Nazi Germany in the eyes of many across the world, seriously endanger Israel, and irrevocably make every Arab nation our enemy for lifetimes to come.

l Regardless of the outcome in Iraq, we were lied to by our leaders when they told us why they were starting this war. Saddam Hussein seems to have had no or next to no weapons of mass destruction. Certainly his troops never used them.

Yes, we liberated his people from a horrible government. But we were told we were going to war because he had those weapons and meant to use them. And that was not so.

l We have behaved in a reckless and irresponsible way since conquering Iraq, especially in our stunning refusal to use our troops, in most places now the only authority there is, to perform the minimum functions of a civil government.

We allowed looters to plunder and destroy Baghdad’s Iraqi national museum, home to priceless artifacts from the dawn of civilization, including some of the rarest treasures of art and history in the world. McGuire Gibson, a University of Chicago professor and president of the American Association for Research in Baghdad, begged our forces to protect the museum. And they did nothing.

Never before have we behaved this way. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower hung looters when he was liberating Europe. Tommy Franks’ policy, apparently, is to watch.

l Finally — and most importantly by far — what we must demand, right now, is that the administration of Iraq be handed over to an international peacekeeping force, preferably run by the United Nations, which would establish a timetable for free and fair elections and create something like democracy and self-government, Iraqi-style. Only that will give our military adventure meaning.

Only turning Iraq back over to the Iraqis will ensure that the thousands who died on their side and, yes, the few scores of our own troops who were lost, did not die in vain. Otherwise, more terrorism is more than certain, and more bells will toll, here and there. And if we insist on being an empire, someday the bells are certain to toll for us.

Getting these messages across will be harder than chanting rhythmically, “Bring all the troops home now!” Harder, perhaps, than ending the Vietnam War.

But if we are to save our country, and ourselves, it may be absolutely necessary.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com

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