The wires are heavy with the question of Iraq. The defeat of Senator Lieberman in the Democratic primary in Connecticut was a call to outright defiance by Democrats running for reelection. They have been warned now, by the unforgiving, that they must reject the war in Iraq and labor with the single end in mind of returning American troops and dissolving U.S. commitments.
Arguments are made for staying in and completing the mission. Norman Podhoretz, writing in the Wall Street Journal, does his illuminating best to make the case. National Review posts a symposium giving the views of a half dozen students of the contest. The Weekly Standard publishes a robust defense of the Iraq venture written by William J. Stuntz, who is a professor at the Harvard Law School. He reminds his readers that in 1968 Eugene McCarthy practically defeated incumbent president Lyndon Johnson in the New Hampshire primary, bringing on the end of his presidency. ”On any plausible scale of strategic value,” Professor Stuntz writes, “Iraq today easily beats Vietnam in the late 1960s or Korea in the early 1950s. America has three enemies in the Middle East today: secular or Sunni Baathism, violent Sunni jihadism, and violent Shiite jihadism. . . . All three are dangerous because all have imperial ambitions; each seeks not control of a small piece of Middle Eastern real estate but regional hegemony–even, in the case of the jihadists, world domination. Needless to say, all three hate the West.”
The moral argument can’t be conclusive, and nobody is arguing that it should be thought so. But it isn’t right to ignore it. Here is how it figured in another context.
“I am convinced that [ours] is one of the most unjust wars that has ever been fought in the history of the world. Our involvement . . . has torn up the Geneva Accord. It has strengthened the military industrial complex; it has strengthened the forces of reaction in our nation. It has put us against the self-determination of a vast majority of the [native] people, and put us in the position of protecting a corrupt regime that is stacked against the poor. It has played havoc with our domestic destinies. We are spending five hundred thousand dollars to kill every [enemy] soldier. Every time we kill one we spend about five hundred thousand dollars, while we spend only fifty-three dollars a year for every person characterized as poverty-stricken in the so-called poverty program, which is not even a good skirmish against poverty.
“Not only that, it has put us in a position of appearing to the world as an arrogant nation. And here we are ten thousand miles away from home, fighting for the so-called freedom of the [native] people, when we have not even put our own house in order. The judgment of God is upon us today. And we could go right down the line and see that something must be done–and something must be done quickly. We have alienated ourselves from other nations so we end up morally and politically isolated in the world. There is not a single major ally of the United States of America that would dare send a troop to–
That was a speech by Martin Luther King Jr. Four days later, he was slaughtered in Memphis.
Dr. King did not live to see the day, five years later, when the United States pulled out from Vietnam the last of our flags. That was in 1973. And he did not live to see the day, two years later, when Saigon fell and the Communist victors killed hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese and forced more than 1.5 million into re-education camps, causing 2 million others to flee Vietnam.
Lawrence Kaplan is a senior editor of The New Republic. He wrote last week, “U.S. troops are the only thing standing between what we see on our television sets today and butchery on a scale that would rival the worst of Saddam Hussein’s depredations.” Good men will perhaps not be finally governed by consideration of the moral question in Iraq, but they will not conceal that the point is there for men of good will to weigh.