The left also has to look at the American cost. A blustering old fool of a defense secretary has sent an almost criminally undermanned, underprepared and undersupplied fighting force into Iraq. The casualties taken so far are bad enough, but the enormity of what’s going to happen in Baghdad is nearly incomprehensible. Most of the soldiers who will be fighting street-to-street and building-to-building will be young men or even boys with almost no combat experience and little training in urban warfare. Cagey Iraqi soldiers will have a clear advantage as far as the terrain goes. Plus, American soldiers will be facing a fanatical enemy with no compunction over using civilians as shields. In the panic and cloud of war, these untried young people will be forced to choose between dying — and letting their comrades die — or shooting civilians.
The left has to be ready to explain and demonstrate the exploitation on both sides. Saddam and Bush and their respective apparatchiks have each betrayed their people. When it comes to receiving help, as members of the middle class (which they largely are) they have to resort to the resources assigned to their class — donations of money, time and effort to relief groups that help the Iraqis, lobbying politicians to provide therapy for returning soldiers, or just whatever expressions of kindness can be extended to those victimized by the monsters who set this war in motion.
If there isn’t a massive Arab uprising and there are no substantive changes in the White House, eventually a technocratic government headed by University of Chicago–type economists will be left in charge of Iraq. They’ll impose a form of laissez-faire capitalism that will leave the country ripe for the picking, while the existence of a pro forma parliament, or some kind of consultative council based on ethnicity and tribe, will provide the usual democratic fig leaf. Within a few years, you’ll see environmental devastation and class impoverishment begin to set in.
That’s why demonstrations are all the more urgent. Faced with history’s inexorable onslaught, it’s tempting to succumb to defeatism. But along with simple humanity, the left still has to offer a vision of the future utterly distinct from the Hobson’s choice now laid before the Iraqi people. That has to be a future where they enjoy respite from the ceaseless tug and pull of larger nations and from the native despots forged from the ensuing resentment. Many Americans are being narcotized into thinking the war will end when the last shot is fired in Baghdad, but the average Iraqi will be besieged for years to come if no one does anything. The first meaning of demonstrateis “to show clearly,” and that’s what the anti-war left has to do. To demonstrate — in the streets, the last outlet left to it — that there’s an international will to peace that extends even across the U.S. and beyond the parameters of conventional wisdom.