|The Yes-But Parade
By WILLIAM SAFIRE
After his resounding re-election in 1936, Franklin D. Roosevelt turned on the right wing of his Democratic Party. "He invented a new word," recalled his speechwriter, Samuel Rosenman, "to describe the congressman who publicly approved a progressive objective but who always found something wrong with any specific proposal to gain that objective — a yes-but fellow."
In gaining the progressive objective of stripping a genocidal maniac of weapons capable of murdering millions, today's U.S. president is half-supported, half-obstructed by a new parade of politicians and pundits who applaud the goal but deplore the means necessary to achieve it. Count the banners of today's yes-butters:
1. Yes, Saddam Hussein is evil, a monster in power, but is it for us to assume the power to crush every cruel tyrant in the world?
2. Yes, only the threat of U.S. force enabled the U.N. inspectors to get back into Iraq, but now that they're there, why not let them poke around until they find something?
3. Yes, Saddam is probably working on germs and poison gases and maybe even nukes, but he hasn't used them lately, and what's the rush to stop him now — why not wait until inspectors find proof positive or he demonstrates his possession?
4. Yes, Iraqi weapons could someday obliterate New York, but what's the use of stopping them when North Korean missiles could even sooner take out Los Angeles?
5. Yes, Saddam has defied 17 U.N. Security Council resolutions over a dozen years to disarm, but aren't we his moral equivalent by threatening to get it done despite a French veto?
6. Yes, we have credible testimony from captives that Saddam harbors in Baghdad terrorists trained by and affiliated with Al Qaeda, but where's the smoking gun that shows the ultimate nexus — that he personally ordered the attacks of Sept. 11?
7. Yes, ending Saddam's rewards to families of suicide bombers would remove an incentive to kill innocents, but wouldn't the exercise of coalition power to curtail the financing of terror create a thousand new Osama bin Ladens?
8. Yes, the liberation of 23 million oppressed and brutalized Iraqis would spread realistic hope for democratic change throughout the Arab world, but wouldn't that destabilize the Saudi monarchy and drive up oil prices?
9. Yes, we could win, and perhaps quickly, but what if we have to fight in the streets of Baghdad or have to watch scenes of civilians dying on TV?
10. Yes, cost is no object in maintaining U.S. national security, but exactly how much is war going to cost and why not break your tax-cut promises in advance?
11. Yes, the democratic nation most easily targeted by Saddam's missiles is willing to brave that risk, but doesn't such silent support prove that American foreign policy is manipulated by the elders of Zion?
12. Yes, liberation and human rights and the promotion of democracy and the example to North Korea and Iran are all fine Wilsonian concepts, but such idealism has no place in realpolitik — and can you guarantee that our servicemembers will be home for Christmas?
This is the dirty dozen of doubt, the non-rallying cry of the half-hearted. The yes-butters never forthrightly oppose, as principled pacifists do. Rather than challenge the ends, they demean the means. Rather than go up against a grand design, they play the devil with the details. Afflicted by doubt created by the potential cost of action, they flinch at calculating the far greater cost of inaction.
Haughty statesmen felt for years that "poorly brought up" Bosnians and Kosovars were unworthy of outside military defense — until hundreds of thousands of innocent Muslims embarrassingly died. Iraqi Kurds by the thousands were poison-gassed as well, their cries and exodus ignored by European leaders in the name of preserving the sovereignty of despots. These local crowd-pleasers are ready to again embrace peace at any price so long as others pay the price.
The firm opponents of a just war draw succor from the yes-butters, whose fears are expressed in dwelling on the uncertainty of great enterprises. Their fears are neither unreasoning or unjustified, but, in the words of a president who rose above paralysis, "paralyze needed efforts to turn retreat into advance."