No Freedom or Independence Without Peace

Where exactly are Iraq's weapons of mass destruction? You know, the ones that justified a pre-emptive attack by United States forces on a country that hasn't attacked or threatened us.

No one talks much about them any more. Granted, Marines might be uncovering MWDs as we speak, and it would surprise no one, myself included, if Iraq's totalitarian regime had a few of the types of weapons that the United States and its allies have at least one time or another stockpiled in military warehouses.

If the Iraqi regime really was such a threat to the United States and the world because of its elusive chemical and biological weapons caches, why didn't the regime use those weapons when it had nothing to lose?

No wonder that, without missing a beat, American war planners and their "Iraq and roll" cheerleaders on 24/7 news channels already are on to other justifications for the war, emphasizing that the real purpose for bombing, maiming and killing people in a country far from U.S. soil is to bring them democracy and freedom.

You know, like the freedoms we have in California ? the freedom to hand over more than 50 percent of your income to the government to dispense with as it pleases, the freedom to build anything you want on our property provided you first get 17 government agencies to agree to the project, the freedom to run your business exactly the way the state labor department thinks you ought to run it.

Perhaps that's too cynical. But, the safety of our own freedoms is worth mulling as Americans prepare to install free and democratic societies on other parts of the world. As the founders understood, the first way to promote freedom abroad is to secure it at home. Why not be a beacon of liberty, but the protector only of our own liberties?

The problem is that America is doing a pitiful job protecting its freedoms here at home. Perhaps a little war will keep the conservatives from noticing. Every proposal in Congress and state Legislatures is pushing in the big-government direction, the president's shrinking proposal for a piddling amount of tax cuts notwithstanding. Here in California, we witness a never-ending attempt to increase taxes, restrict private gun ownership, expand the size of government bureaucracies and police forces, and restrict property rights and personal rights.

Give it another decade at this rate, and … well, I shudder to think about it. Yet the same conservatives who rightly berated President Clinton's attempts to turn America into Amerika, have launched no criticisms as a Republican president tries the same thing. They are too busy whooping it up over a foreign war to notice.

All their pretenses of limited government have gone down the toilet. Following last week, when faux-populist Bill O'Reilly gave me my 15 minutes of fame by attacking me on his radio and TV show for my criticism of the war, and the idea that we should all stop criticizing it when soldiers are in harm's way, I've been inundated with emails from supposed conservatives who make frighteningly totalitarian arguments.

Americans must not only give up our right to speak out, but we must open our wallets and support any cost to free the Iraqi people. Notice how quickly blind supporters of the government follow the propaganda line? They were right there when the administration was bleating about weapons of mass destruction, and are right there when the policy has shifted to the supposed freeing of the Iraqi people.

To oppose this assault on our tax dollars, or to oppose the Patriot Act and other terrorism-related assaults on our liberties, is downright unAmerican, I've been told. I'm a coward, some have said, with one writer expressing his willingness to "prove it."

I heard some analyst on one of the nonstop radio or TV news shows admitting that the private sector might "even" have a role in the rebuilding of Iraq. Imagine that. This is what passes for conservatism today ? shutting up and doing what the government tells you, accepting the undermining of our freedoms with a happy face, denouncing free speech as traitorous, believing that the government, as opposed to the private sector, is the key to building a functioning society.

Well, as my Register column next week explains, John Quincy Adams had a response for those who insist that America should go across the world looking for monsters to destroy.

"She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force …."

That's what has happened. War supporters are so enamored of using force abroad that they don't see a problem with using it at home. But, as Adams noted, "[America's] glory is not dominion, but liberty. Her march is the march of the mind. She has a spear and a shield; but the motto upon her shield is Freedom, Independence, Peace."

I'd like to remind the neoconservative war mongers that the first two words on that shield are dependent on the last one.

April 17, 2003

Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif.

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