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From Dr. King, a Reminder on Iraq

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· A quick defeat of Hussein did not lead to chocolates and flowers in the streets of Baghdad.

· An American invasion did not produce a unified, nonsectarian and Western-oriented Iraq or spark a desire for U.S.-style governance throughout the Arab world.

· De-Baathification and the imposition of a market economy at gunpoint did not usher in a period of tranquility or the flowering of capitalism.

The Bush administration struck first because it had the power to strike and the arrogance to think, foolishly, that it could win and dominate the conquered on the cheap.

King spoke in '67 about "the Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them." Witness the Bush team in Iraq.

Today they have a bloodbath on their hands to show for their labors, and Iran is on the verge of getting an Iraqi neighbor beyond its wildest dreams.

Yet even now, neoconservatives inside and outside of government are counseling Bush to remain in Iraq for years to prevent the Shiite-dominated regime from collapsing. They also are encouraging him to prepare for battle with Iran and Syria if those countries start meddling in Iraq -- as if they aren't now. With what exactly and for how long we are supposed to do battle with Tehran and Damascus, the militaristic neocon noncombatants in Washington don't say. But then again, they have a tolerance for risk and cost that exceeds that of those who actually do the fighting and dying.

Forty years ago at Riverside Church, people of conscience declared that "a time comes when silence is betrayal." They went beyond using their voices and votes when they agreed to break their silence. They responded, as King had urged, by matching their words with actions. "We are at the moment when our lives must be placed on the line if our nation is to survive its own folly. Every man of humane convictions must decide on the protest that best suits his convictions, but we must all protest," King preached that day.

Yes, this is a different time and a different world. Global terrorism is a sobering reality. And America is on the right side in that war. To not fight back is tantamount to indulging a death wish.

But the first blow in Iraq, which was not a battleground for terrorism, was struck by Bush. He now, stubbornly and in the face of legitimate opposition, proposes to make matters worse.

Remember King and the words: "A time comes when silence is betrayal."

kingc@washpost.com


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