Bush is an idiot, but he was right about Saddam

Paul Berman, one of the most provocative thinkers on the left, has a message for the antiwar movement: Stop marching and start fighting to spread liberal values in the Middle East.

Published March 22, 2003 8:00PM (EST)

On Sept. 11, Paul Berman, political and cultural critic and author of "A Tale of Two Utopias: The Political Journey of the Generation of 1968" watched from his roof as the World Trade Center towers collapsed. That day, Berman says, he "woke up" to the threat of what he calls Islamic totalitarianism. Berman lives in Brooklyn, just around the corner from the Al Farooq mosque on Atlantic Avenue where a Yemeni cleric was recently convicted of funneling $20 million to Osama bin Laden.

During the last year and a half he has picked his way through the Islamic bookstores in his neighborhood, hunting down volumes by Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian intellectual whose "In the Shade of the Qur'an" is the groundwork for Islamic fundamentalism. Berman finds Qutb's analysis of the "hideous schizophrenia" of modern society "rich, nuanced, deep, soulful, and heartfelt." Qutb's work also convinced Berman that in Islamism we face a threat not unlike such 20th century totalitarian movements as fascism and communism. Berman feels similarly about Baathism, the nationalist ideology of Iraq's ruling party.

In fact, Berman believes that Islamism and Baathism emerged from the same great rift in liberal society, the First World War. "Terror and Liberalism," Berman's bracing new book, suggests that just as liberal-minded Europeans and Americans doubted the threats of Hitler and Stalin, enlightened Westerners today are in danger of missing the urgency of the violent ideologies coming out of the Muslim world.

The argument put forward by Berman, who is one of the most elegant and provocative thinkers to emerge from America's New Left, will both infuriate and engage those on all sides of the political spectrum. In a recent interview with Salon, Berman insisted that while he does not support the Bush administration -- actually, he detests how President Bush has handled the case for war and warns "we will pay for it" -- he thinks it was also dangerous for the antiwar movement to ignore the threat that was posed by a ruthless Iraqi regime that killed a million people and threatened the stability of the world.

We spoke with Berman in New York, before and after bombs started falling on Baghdad.

Had you been interested in Islamism and Baathism before Sept. 11?

No. Yes, in a general way, but I hadn't paid special attention to it. Then it became obvious to me on Sept. 11 that the giant screw-up by the FBI and the CIA and the Pentagon was also a giant screw-up by the journalists and intellectuals and everyone else. We too hadn't been paying attention.

Why do you think it was easy for all of these people to miss the idea, which becomes the central argument of your book, that these Arab movements are extensions of totalitarianism?

A lot of people have misunderstood the nature of Islamism for a whole series of reasons. The biggest and most important of those reasons is Eurocentrism, which prevented people from looking at these movements at all. And the Eurocentrism has a flip side, a soft-headed multiculturalism in which movements in other parts of the world are regarded as hopelessly and wonderfully exotic and not to be judged or analyzed. In the last 20 years literally millions of people have been slaughtered by these movements and the wars they've begun. All of this has received a shockingly small amount of attention.

Another reason that these movements have received very little attention has to do with anti-Zionism, the true origin of which is anti-Semitism, the assumption that the Jews are the center of the world and therefore the center of the world's evil. So the problems of the Muslim world in the Middle East can be located in the tiny issue of a border dispute in a place the size of Connecticut. Across the world people are convinced of this. It's a preposterous idea, but this idea is really widely shared. Anybody who holds this idea therefore has carte blanche to ignore the fact that the Iran-Iraq war killed a million people or that Islamism in the Sudan has killed between 1.5 million and 2 million people, or that 100,000 people have been killed in Algeria.

So you're saying that we're likely to ignore these forms of Islamist violence because we're consumed by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

No, I've outlined three reasons. These series of attitudes have flowed together to make it respectable or normal for intellectuals and journalists to pay no attention at all to these vast tragedies deploying across huge parts of the world. Only when these vast tragedies came and hit us in the face did a lot of people wake up. Among those people was me.

Does this also have to do with this idea that we think history ended in 1989?

Yes. It absolutely does. This is part of the Eurocentrism. We imagine that because the Cold War ended in Europe that the whole series of struggles that began in Europe with the First World War and then went through the different totalitarian movements -- fascist, Nazi and communist -- had finally come to an end. Many people were so caught up in the more or less victory of liberal democratic ideas and institutions that there was a tendency to imagine that problems in other parts of the world were just going to be regional problems that really weren't deeply going to affect us. All that was a scandalous delusion.

And in fact you're arguing that Islamism and Baathism grew out of the First World War in the same way that communism and fascism did?

It becomes ever more obvious that the First World War was the great trauma of modern civilization. Something huge cracked in the First World War and has never been repaired. Out of the First World War came a series of rebellions against liberal civilization. These rebellions were accusations that liberal civilization was not just hypocritical or flawed, but was in fact the single great source of evil or suffering in the world. Then the accusation was followed by the proposal to build a civilization of a completely new kind, which would not be liberal, which would have the quality of a granite rock -- eternal and perfect.

These new ideas were in a sense utopian, but they were also very bloody. Behind all the movements that made these proposals was a pathological fascination with mass death. Mass death was itself the principal fact of the First World War, in which 9 or 10 million people were killed on an industrial basis. And each of the new movements proceeded to reproduce that event in the name of their utopian opposition to the complexities and uncertainties of liberal civilization. The names of these movements varied and the traits that they displayed varied -- one was called Bolshevism, and another was called fascism, another was called Nazism.

So you're saying these movements are similar to Islamism and Baathism, but on a very deep level. You're drawing specific parallels -- what are they?

At some very deep level all these movements were the same -- they all shared certain qualities of mythology, all shared a fascination with mass death and all drew on the same kinds of manias.

My argument is that Islamism and a certain kind of pan-Arabism in the Arab and Muslim worlds are really further branches of the same impulse. Mussolini staged his march on Rome in 1922 for the purpose of creating a perfect totalitarian society that was going to be the resurrection of the Roman Empire. In 1928, in Egypt, just across the Mediterranean, the Muslim Brotherhood was formed for the purpose of resurrecting the ancient Caliphate of the Arab empire of the 7th century, likewise with the idea of creating a perfect society of modern times. Although these two movements were utterly unalike, there was some way in which they were alike.

Fascism in Italy came to power in 1922 and it remained in power until it was overthrown by the Americans and the British. Islamism came to power in various places, beginning in 1979 with the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran. Baathism is yet another variant of the same thing, and probably in the next few days it will, in Iraq, be overthrown by the same Americans and British who overthrew Mussolini.

It seemed to me that what's different about Islamism is that there isn't a country really leading this fight. There's Osama bin Laden, but that's quite different from Hitler.

That's true and it's not true. Islamism did come to power in Iran in 1979, and the Islamic revolution in Iran was a real world force. Then Islamism came to power in the Sudan and Afghanistan, so for a while it was looking like it was advancing quite well. The Iranians are Shi'ite and the other countries are Sunni, so these are different denominations of Islam. But, still, this was a movement that until recently looked like it was advancing in a traditional way -- that is, capturing states.

What's happened with al-Qaida is a complicated situation in which Islamism as a political force capturing states is on the decline because the Taliban was defeated militarily. Also, we can see the beginnings of a liberal revolution hopefully taking root in Iran. Islamism in the Sudan fell. But in spite of that, al-Qaida represents an extremely powerful institution with multiple social bases and banks and charities and great intellectuals behind it, although it doesn't control a state anymore. Still, it's become obvious that al-Qaida's been supported or semi-supported by a variety of states and ruling elites.

And you see the same desire to rule the world in the way that Hitler or Stalin wanted to?

The desire is absolutely to rule the world. That's not a great secret. A great philosopher of Islamist radicalism, Sayyid Qutb, who was hanged by [Egyptian president] Nasser in 1966, said that all plainly. The goal of Islamism is to recreate what Muhammad did in the seventh century, which was to found an Islamic state and bring that state to the entire world. The goal of Islamism is not to resolve some particular social problem here or there, it's not to straighten out some border conflict between Israel and Palestine or between Pakistan and India or Chechnya and Russia, although those are genuine issues. The goal is absolutely grandiose and global.

Do you see that same goal in Baathism?

No. Baathism is a little more modest because Baathism is explicitly an Arab nationalism. So Baathism wants to recreate the Arab empire of the seventh century in some modern version but it's not quite so global and grandiose as Islamism. Also, Baathism is in a state of deep decay. It doesn't make Saddam Hussein any less scary because a state in deep decay can be extremely dangerous, but it's hard to imagine that Baathism has inspired enthusiastic idealism, although it used to.

But you did say in your book that after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, he captured the imagination of the Arab world.

When it looked like he was winning, he had a lot of support. That's probably the danger with him now. If he does get his weapons, if he got the atom bomb, if he was able to fend off the U.S. and Britain, he would certainly gain a lot of followers. It's just that the doctrine of a radical pan-Arabism has become a little tired. Islamism is more of a happening thing.

You argue that secularism is the most terrifying issue to the Islamists.

The Islamist doctrine is that Islam is the answer to the world's problems, but that Islam has been the victim of a giant cosmic conspiracy to destroy it, by Crusaders and Zionists. (Zionism in Qutb's doctrine is not a modern political movement, it's a cosmic doctrine extending over the centuries.) Islam is the victim of this conspiracy, which is also aided by false or hypocritical Muslims, who pretend to be Muslims but are actually the friends of Islam's enemies. From an Islamist point of view, then, the most heinous conspiracy of all is the one led by the Muslim hypocrites to annihilate Islam from within. These people are, above all, the Muslim liberals who want to establish a liberal society, which means separation of church and state.

The first and most grievous step toward the annihilation of Islam is taken by the Turks in 1924, when Kemal Ataturk created a secular Turkey and abolished the institutional remnants of the ancient Caliphate. This was a devastating blow and the whole goal of the Islamist movement has been to undo that.

What does it mean to Islamists to see Turkey as a Western ally?

From their point of view, to see the Turks line up with the U.S. now must be enraging. And the fact that Turkey is led by an Islamist party which appears to have become a liberal party in its principal instincts, this fact must be enraging beyond words.

Well, these passages in your book about anti-secularism in the Arab world really struck me. It seems that this whole neoconservative theory -- the democracy domino theory, arguing that if we bring down Saddam we're going to bring democracy to the entire Middle East -- is countered by the firm-rooted hatred of secularism. Why would we think anyone in the Muslim world would welcome democracy or this liberal secularism that you're talking about?

I don't think that that idea is so preposterous, necessarily. Bush is not proceeding in a way that instills any confidence in me that he's going to pull it off. But the notion of overthrowing Baathism -- a rival/cousin totalitarian movement of Islamism -- and being able to help the Iraqis replace it with some aspect of a liberal society would hearten liberals, people with rationalist ideas and the notion of liberal rights and separation of church and state, throughout the Arab and Muslim worlds. If a liberal Iraq could be made a success, that would be hugely encouraging. Whether it could be a success is contingent on what a lot of people do. And I fear that the people who ought to be doing what they can for this are not. Bush is hugely at fault here.

It seems that you are more critical of what Bush says -- how he presents the war on Iraq -- than what he's actually doing.

Well, I thought I was criticizing what he's doing.

You do think there are reasons for going to war, though.


So you think the way he's presenting this war to the world is really where he's gone wrong.

Yes, it has been wretched. He's presented his arguments for going to war partly mendaciously, which has been a disaster. He's certainly presented them in a confused way, so that people can't understand his reasoning. He's aroused a lot of suspicion. Even when he's made good arguments, he's made them in ways that are very difficult to understand and have completely failed to get through to the general public. All in all, his inarticulateness has become something of a national security threat for the United States.

In my interpretation, the basic thing that the United States wants to do -- overthrow Saddam and get rid of his weapons -- is sharply in the interest of almost everybody all over the world. And although the U.S. is proposing to act in the interest of the world, Bush has managed to terrify the entire world and to turn the world against him and us and to make our situation infinitely more dangerous than it otherwise would have been. It's a display of diplomatic and political incompetence on a colossal scale. We're going to pay for this.

Then what is it that the public doesn't understand? What hasn't he been able to get across?

One thing he hasn't gotten across is that there is a positive liberal democratic goal and a humanitarian goal here. Iraq is suffering under one of the most grotesque fascist tyrannies there's ever been. Hundreds of thousands, maybe a million people, have been killed by this horrible regime. The weapons programs are not a fiction. There's every reason to think that Saddam, who's used these weapons in the past, would be happy to use them in the future. The suffering of the Iraqi people is intense. The United States is in the position to bring that suffering to an end. Their liberation, the creating of at least the rudiments of a liberal democratic society there, are in the interests of the Iraqi people and are deeply in the interests of liberal society everywhere. There are reasons to go in which are those of not just self-interest or self-defense, but of solidarity of humanitarianism, of a belief in liberal ideals. And Bush has gotten this across not at all.

Do you believe Bush has such motives?

It's not right to utterly dismiss these motives. A lot of people look at Bush and sneer a little too easily and think that these motives cannot possibly have anything to do with him or his policies. This is a mistake too.

In Afghanistan, everybody sneers at the achievements of the United States and its allies because we see the warlords in the provinces, we see the extreme suffering, we see all the things that haven't been done. But what has been done has really been quite magnificent. A hideous tyranny was overthrown, a new government was established in more or less the way that any liberal democrat would advise: Afghans were consulted from around the country, more or less democratic councils led to the forming of a new government with a new leader for Afghanistan who is not a warlord or a corrupt figure or a friendly religious fanatic but who is in fact a man of modern liberal democratic ideals.

Bush announced that the war in Afghanistan was going to be fought on behalf of women's rights. Everybody deeply laughed at that and for reasons I can understand because in the United States Bush has not been a promoter of women's rights. Still, the result of the war was in fact that women's rights in Afghanistan have made a forward leap larger than anywhere in the world in history. From a certain point of view this has been the first feminist war in all of history.

He's unable to do that partly because the man is fatally inarticulate and he's also unable to do that, I'm sure, because he's confused ideologically about whether he's really in favor of the do-good aspect of his program or indifferent to it.

He hasn't given us much of an indication that he's preoccupied with these humanitarian issues. Maybe he simply isn't.

He hasn't straightened it out in his mind. His initial instinct was to oppose this sort of thing. He was against nation-building. Events have driven him to engage in nation-building, but he's done it in a halfhearted way. Although he's done some of these things which are admirable, he has not been able to enlist the world's sympathy or support. He's left people all over the world in a position where they have no way to regard his motives as anything other than the most cynical.

But I should add that although Bush is hugely to blame for this -- it's just tragic that the United States is led by such an inarticulate and intellectually confused and unattractive figure who personally makes me cringe -- other people should be standing up and trying to fight for issues of humanitarianism and social solidarity, of women's rights and liberal freedoms.

One of the scandals is that we've had millions of people marching through the streets calling for no war in Iraq, but we haven't had millions of people marching in the streets calling for freedom in Iraq. Nobody's marching in the streets on behalf of Kurdish liberties. The interests of the liberal dissidents of Iraq and the Kurdish democrats are in fact also our interests. The more those people prosper, the safer we are. This is a moment in which what should be our ideals -- the ideals of liberal democracy and social solidarity -- are also materially in our interest. Bush has failed to articulate this, and a large part of the left has failed to see this entirely.

Tony Blair, who is more articulate and charming and smarter, has also failed to make a case to the public. Doesn't this suggest that perhaps their ideals are not in the right place?

Yes. I admire Tony Blair but I imagine that he's hobbled by the Bush policy. Bush has confused the whole situation by saying that the goal of the war in Iraq is disarmament. Disarmament has nothing to do with the establishment of liberal freedoms.

He was trying to scare us into this.

He's made it very difficult to present the war as an extension of the liberal and humanitarian interventionism of the 1990s in which Tony Blair played a distinguished and honorable and brave role.

But when did you formulate these opinions on Iraq? Was it during the war on Afghanistan? After 9/11? Have you always been concerned about the liberation of the Iraqi people or is there some threat from Iraq that suddenly became more serious to you in the last year and a half?

I formed these opinions on Iraq in 1990 when I began to pay attention to Saddam Hussein, and then when he invaded Kuwait. I came to the conclusion then that Saddam Hussein was a fascist maniac and that we had every reason to be frightened of him and act against him. I am a man of the left and I was then one of the very few people on the American left to support the Gulf War in 1991. So I have a long history of being worried about this guy.

Am I more worried about him now? Yes. One of the things that hasn't gotten through to many people is that the Sept. 11 attacks broke a taboo. There had been a taboo before against staging random massacres against the United States. Now that it's been successful, it is certainly the case that other people are going to want to do the same. So we have a lot of reasons to be much more worried than we have been in the past.

The problem of weapons of mass destruction is certainly a real problem, although as our experience with box-cutters shows, weapons of mass destruction are hardly necessary for random massacres. But we have every reason to be much more alarmed than before. Those of us who consider ourselves on the left now have to consider national security issues in a way which has never been our habit in the past. The response of many people on the left is to think that if the United States will just withdraw its troops here and there and bury its head in the sand, everything will be OK. That's delusional.

I'm sure this one line in your book will infuriate some and surprise others -- especially Europeans. You wrote: "In this country, we are all Noam Chomsky." What do you mean by that?

Chomsky is a man who thinks the entire world operates on simple and rational principles. The reason he's able to crank out these thousands of pages a year on all subjects is because he has an extremely simple analysis: Evil American corporations are acting in their own self-interest and trying to increase and spread their exploitation around the world. The American government is in their hands and is acting to expand its nefarious control over the world. The press has been corrupted by the wealth and power of corporations and spreads the propaganda messages required by the corporations. American claims to ever do any good around the world are merely hypocritical mendacities uttered for the purpose of advancing the larger cause of exploitation and oppression. And the response of other people in the world is that of resistance as inspired by an instinct for human freedom, even if the resistance sometimes takes a perverse and unfortunate form. Therefore, from Chomsky's point of view, all events are rationally explicable according to one or two tiny little factors: the self-interest of American corporations and the urge to resist the American corporations.

It's a very simpleminded view in which nothing inexplicable ever occurs. And yet although Chomsky is regarded by some people as the great anti-American, this kind of thought is entirely typical of America itself, of people across the political spectrum in America. People tend to think that everybody around the world is acting on some rational calculation, that the mad and pathological movements I describe that have emerged from the First World War really can't exist, that surely everybody is acting in some way in their own self-interest in a fashion that could be calculated and addressed. Finally, even the FBI and the CIA have obviously thought along these lines because it never crossed these people's minds -- not seriously anyway -- that somebody was going to be so mad to attack the United States directly. Sept. 11 revealed many shocking things and the most shocking was that the Pentagon had no plan to defend the Pentagon. In that sense, everybody in the United States, even the Joint Chiefs of Staff, everybody is a simpleminded fool.

All this is part of your belief that good people can end up supporting horrible movements if we're not vigilant.

People ought to think coldly about it. There really is a long history of excellent people with the best of hearts and the best of intentions ending up inadvertently collaborating with the worst of totalitarians. There's a long history of this. To look into your own heart and ask yourself if you're good and honest and to examine yourself to see if your own analyses are moral and well-intended is not enough. You may have the best of intentions and the purest of hearts and the warmest of feelings of solidarity for other people and yet be led by some failure of imagination to end up more or less aligned with the baddest of bad guys.


There's a long history of this kind of thing. The simplest history is of the fellow travelers of Stalin. But there's even more grotesque examples of it -- that of the French socialists in the 1930s. They wanted to avoid a new outbreak of the First World War; they refused to believe that millions of people in Germany had gone out of their minds and supported the Nazi movement. They didn't want to believe that a mass pathological movement had taken power in Germany, they wanted to be open-minded to what the Germans were saying and to the German grievances of the First World War. And the French socialists, in their open-minded, warm-hearted effort to avoid seeing anything like the First World War occur again, went out of their way to try and find what was reasonable and plausible in the arguments of Hitler. They really did end up thinking that the greatest danger to world peace was not posed by Hitler but by the hawks in their own society, in France. These people were the antiwar socialists of France, they were good people. Yet one thing led to another, they opposed France's army against Hitler, and many of them ended up supporting the Vichy regime and they ended up fascists!

Where's the parallel to today?

It's not impossible to see something like that today. People want to avoid a war in the Middle East, they say they're not for Saddam but yet they don't really want to do anything against Saddam. They see Iraqi liberals and Kurdish democrats struggling against Saddam, and they really don't want to help these people. They see pathological movements in Palestine and elsewhere engaging in acts of random murder for the purest of irrational reasons and these people, the warmhearted, good-souled antiwar socialists of the Western countries, fall all over themselves in finding ways to justify the terrible things that are happening elsewhere and find ways to prevent themselves from showing solidarity with the victims.

We do see some of the same things. With the French socialists of the 1930s, there was even a slippage into outright anti-Semitism, and no one can doubt that some of that has been occurring in the antiwar movement in the United States and above all in Europe. Of course most people in the antiwar movement are against that. But signs of it exist and it would be foolish to close your eyes to that.

So what should the left's position be today? If your argument is that we are facing a totalitarian threat similar to those of the first part of the 20th century, what do you suggest?

The true model of what the left should be doing here is shown by the other wing of French socialism, that of Léon Blum, an antifascist who was willing to fight and did fight. This ought to be the real goal of the left in the Western countries -- to be antifascist, to be in favor of liberating the people who are suffering under these regimes which are threats not only to their own citizens but to us.

Instead, we have the Bush administration's "realist" approach, which is propelling us to war.

Yes, it's the so-called realist policies of the American conservatives that ultimately got us into this situation. We, the United States, have followed the most cynical policies in the Middle East. We've aligned with reactionary feudal monarchies of the worst sort, backing the most horrendous right-wing tyrants and dictators, thinking that liberal values ought to play no role at all in formulating American policy. All this has especially been the doctrine of American conservatism. It's what I call the Nixonian tradition. It was certainly the policy of Bush the elder and it was the original instinct of the present Bush, although now he appears to be confused.

This has simply been catastrophic for people in the Middle East and ultimately for ourselves. What we need is a politics as I describe in my book, a new radicalism which is going to be against the cynical so-called realism of American conservatism and traditional American policy, in which liberal ideas are considered irrelevant to foreign policy. And also against the head-in-the-sand blindness of a large part of the American left, which can only think that all problems around the world are caused by American imperialism and there's nothing else to worry about.

What we need is a third alternative -- a politics of liberal solidarity, of anti-fascism, a politics that's willing to be interventionist when tyrants or political movements really do threaten us and the people in their own countries, a politics that's going to be aggressive in spreading and promoting liberal ideas and values in regions of the world where people who hold those values are persecuted. A politics of active solidarity, not just expressions of solidarity, but actions of solidarity with liberal-minded people in other parts of the world.

It's scandalous to me that large parts of the political spectrum aren't acting on this now. Where are all the universities and human rights foundations and trade unions and all the other civic associations in the United States? Where are those groups now? Why aren't those groups acting now to establish links of solidarity with people of the Middle East and Muslim world? To try to foment movements, or even revolutions, on behalf of liberal ideals?

But it seems impossible to work for such ideals under the current administration.

We don't need Bush to lead us to do that, we can do that without him. Even if Bush does the wrong thing, which he's bound to do, we can act on those ideas ourselves. The notion that we, the high-minded people of the left, ought to confine ourselves to marching against Bush is a very foolish idea. There's much that we can do.

That's what I call for. It's vastly needed in Europe too. Why aren't the Germans doing this? The Germans are pacifist-minded, they don't want to participate in the war, but there's a lot Germany could do. They should have people all over the Middle East promoting liberal ideas, they should be spending billions of dollars to engage in solidarity with the liberal movements in those countries. They are not doing that. All they appear to be doing is opposing Bush but not taking on a very large role themselves, though they do have peacekeeping troops in Afghanistan and Kosovo. But there's much more that Germany and France could be doing.

Even people who think that Bush is making a blunder with his military approach can try to undo that blunder themselves in some way by going ahead and doing the things that ought to be done -- promoting liberal ideas. Promoting liberal ideas, finally, is the only real way to oppose the totalitarian movements that threaten us and threaten people in the Arab and Muslim worlds, whether they're Baathist or Islamist.

I want to be clear on something. Do you support this military invasion?

I can certainly imagine how the whole thing can be done better. Bush is probably the most inept president we've ever had in regard to maintaining foreign alliances and presenting the American case and convincing the world. He's failed in every possible way. The defeat and overthrow of Saddam Hussein is in the interest of nearly the entire world and although it is in the interest of nearly the entire world, nearly the entire world is against Bush. That situation is the consequence of Bush's ineptness.

At the same time, I think that getting rid of Saddam is in our interest and in the interest of Iraq and in the interest of the Arab world. Saddam is a mad tyrant.

So I wish Bush had gone about it differently. But now that the thing is getting under way, I fervently hope it goes well. And I think that the attitude of everyone with the best of motives who have opposed the war, should now shift dramatically. The people who have demanded that Bush refrain from action should now demand that the action be more thorough. The danger now is that we will go in and go out too quickly and leave the job half-done. The position of the antiwar movement and of liberals should be that the United States fulfill entirely its obligations to replace Saddam with a decent or even admirable system. We've done this in Afghanistan but only in most halfhearted way. We should now do more in Afghanistan and do a lot in Iraq. The people who've opposed the war should now demand that Bush do more.

Are you apprehensive?

I'm scared out of my mind! Only a lunatic could be calm and confident at such a moment.

But you do think we're doing the right thing this week?

You're trying to pin me down. I'm not going to endorse Bush's policy. I'm saying that he went about it in the wrong way but I want the U.S. to do it thoroughly. No goodhearted person should imagine that it would be a bad thing to overthrow Saddam Hussein. But we have to do it well.

Have you been watching the war coverage on the news?

A little bit. I can say that there was something truly pathetic in seeing antiwar demonstrations denounce the war at one moment and then in another moment seeing grateful Iraqis welcome their British and American liberators. If I were a member of the antiwar movement, I would have felt a moral shudder at that experience.

But we can imagine the devastation in Baghdad as well.

We have no idea what it is. Like anybody I'm hoping for the least amount of suffering. The war could certainly end up achieving the opposite of what its goals should be. History offers more than one example of that.

By which you mean? Is this campaign what you expected, for the most part? War is war?

Well, no. If it turns out that out bombs have ended up slaughtering masses of Iraqi civilians, that would be a horror. But we don't know what's happened. We won't know for a while.

So what's particularly struck you has been some of the protests.

Yes, because the role of the left ought to be to express solidarity with the Iraqi people, to hope for the defeat of the fascist tyrant and to see their freedom and our own self-defense. This in fact became visible today, when some Iraqis at least, celebrated their liberation.

By Suzy Hansen

Suzy Hansen, a former editor at Salon, is an editor at the New York Observer.

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