- The Washington Times - Monday, February 3, 2003

I recall this incredibly exciting moment in the Steven Seagal film, "Above the Law," in which the hero a cop who had been disgraced and left for dead, had his wife killed and was then revived after a years-long comawrites on a mirror in the home of the crooked senator who framed him, "The anticipation of death is worse than death itself." The message, of course, has its intended effect upon the bad guy sending him into paroxysms of panic. For agonizing minutes that seem like hours, the senator hears his co-conspirators and bodyguards fall to Mr. Seagal's vengeance as he vainly searches for someplace to hide. Eventually, the arrival of police and Mr. Segal's new love saves the senator's life, but assures his loss of status, luxury and in the end, a fate "worse than death itself."
We are now in a somewhat prolonged period of anticipation, not of death, but of war. From the moment that the president chose to heed the call of the doves and take our case to the United Nations rather than keep our own counsel, we have opened the tent to the great circus which has yet to begin, and so we are obliged to give our audience-the world-something of a side show. And what a show it is. We have acts from all over the world.
From New York and Geneva, we have the traveling inspectors, highly trained experts who can amaze and astound in their ability to ferret out materials so deadly that a test tube-full, if hidden in a toaster oven in a mobile home in a garage in a private home in Basra, could wipe out half of New Jersey. And from Washington, we have the Democratic Party, like the local temperance union, trying to shut down the whole she-bang: We can't afford it, it isn't safe, and the ring master (Mr. Bush) just hasn't found that pesky smoking gun. Then we have our partners, not Barnum and Bailey, but our erstwhile allies, the redoubtable Germans and French. We ought not forget the scant assistance they gave us during the first gulf war, Desert Storm, nor should we have any illusions over their positions at the moment: internal politics and yes, my friends, oil. The same holds true for our most constant of allies: What do we call them now? Oh yes, Russia, although they seem to be coming around.
Moving along, something akin to the anti-war movement of my youth ah, those were the days is appearing slowly. (And I give myself away here, I suppose. Yes, Virginia, I was a dyed-in-the-wool radical in the '60s.) Back then, demos in the tens of thousands weren't that unusual, and we were aiming at goals beyond the mere end of the draft and the Vietnam War. Today's anti-war activism seems to be taking shape alongside of, not out of, the anarchist movement, the environmental movement and whatever else is going on out there. It seems that Greenpeace has even gotten into the mix recently with a blockade of some British port involved in military logistics.
I'm all for politically active and aware young people, with the accent on aware. The problem, as I see it, is that most of those against the coming war both young and not so young have little or no idea of the politics or background of the conflict. Their basic position is that war is bad (true enough) and so we must never fight (which just doesn't follow). When PETA comes to town, folks, your circus is in trouble.
Turning the corner, we come to the Oriental Booths-the Human Pyramid and the Belly Dancer. Be careful, we are warned, or we will upset the balance (of the region), and the gyrations of that deliciously enticing illusion, the Arab-Israeli conflict, remain as hauntingly seductive, distracting and bogus as they have always been. The barkers and roustabouts in this area are swarthy, shadowy figures-real carney types who seem to belong to no one exhibit or employer. They exude menace. We know in our hearts they mean us harm. (Of course, in my overblown analogy they are the worldwide network of international terror.) We pass by similar exhibits from Malaysia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Indonesia. Barnum's "This way to the Egress" sign leads to a quagmire of domestic problems. The music in the tent is strange. We feel our anxiety growing. On the one hand, we want the circus to start; on the other, we want to go home. But as the president has made clear, home will never be the same again.
There are larger questions that we might be wise to consider during this waiting period and even during and after the war itself. As very recent events in Afghanistan seem to indicate, conventional thinking about warfare may not carry over into the 21st century. Is it possible that we did not defeat the Taliban but merely dispersed them temporarily? Can "repressive" Muslim rule be returning even under the Karsai regime? What is the real relationship between Islamic terrorism and rogue Islamic states? What effect will war with these states have on the terror networks, if any? Ultimately, the American concept of "liberation" may not be applicable to the new geopolitic.
We may not be able to find our way home from the circus after all.

Frederick Grab is a former California deputy attorney general.

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