It can be argued credibly that the war is justified. It can be granted that expanding Iraqi control of the world's main oil resource is a serious threat to American interests. And most of all it can be demonstrated that the president moved with deliberate speed, issuing any number of warnings to Iraq, securing U.N. Security Council approval and support from both House and Senate, along with most citizens.
There is also no sane argument that too many casualties have occurred on either side, once you agree the war is necessary.
So why is there uneasiness among so many liberals, and what can possibly be wrong or dangerous in American policy?
Some citizens believe any war is wrong, but leave them aside for the moment, and also leave aside those who think there is no conceivable justification for this war. There remain many who grant there is some logic and reason in the president's approach but still have such reservations as these:
First, the war is seen in the context of American military actions in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama and elsewhere in Central America. The nation has a justified reputation as belligerent and prone to intervention anywhere in the world without warning and in some cases without thought. What used to be called the white man's burden (keeping savages in line) is now altered to a nicer phrase: our responsibility as a superpower to protect the weak. But it can be much the same thing.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) is among those who complain of the change in the American presidency since 1919. In a mass mailing he quotes a speech of Woodrow Wilson at St. Louis in 1919:
"You have got to think of the president not as the chief counselor of the nation elected for a little while but as the man meant constantly and every day to be the commander in chief of the armies and navy, ready to order them to any part of the world... .
"And you can't do that under free debate. You can't do that under public counsel. Plans must be kept secret. Knowledge must be accumulated by a system we have condemned because we have called it a spying system. The more polite call it a system of intelligence... .
"You know how impossible it is, in short, to have a free nation if it is a military nation."
Another common liberal objection to the gulf war is that the announced aim was to keep Iraq from invading Saudi Arabia, then to get Iraq to leave Kuwait. Immediately after the elections the troops who were to shield Arabia from invasion were abruptly doubled in strength and attention began to shift from the protection of Arabia to the destruction of Iraqi power.
Beside that, the vaunted United Nations endorsement of the war can just as easily be seen as American arm-twisting, showering lavish millions of dollars in exchange for a U.N. blessing -- a limited blessing in which America was authorized to fight as it pleased without U.N. protest.
A strong objection (of these minority liberals) has been to the sly and disingenuous (and thus far successful) presidential efforts to present the war publicly as a moral crusade against the evil Saddam Hussein. Evil he doubtless is, but that was no American concern when for years he was not only our ally, but the happy recipient of our tax money, arms and military intelligence. His evil became objectionable only when he threatened oil, but that is not the president's line. To hear the president you might think a keystone of American policy has been to take all U.N. resolutions seriously, and perhaps a few imbeciles think it has been.
The president clearly has no doubt that he has the authority to commit the nation to a war, any war, when he believes the nation's interests are grievously at stake.
He made no show whatever of asking support from the House or Senate, but when Congress on its own assembled, he did not try to forbid it. But presumably the president had the authority to take the state to war even if the Congress voted it down.
Thus (these liberals believe) President Wilson's prophecy has developed into fact. Hardly any American can recall the time when as a nation we condemned spying, and for decades our intelligence agencies have become a recognized factor -- one is tempted to say cornerstone -- of national policy. Fully secret, of course.
Any American White House may be benevolent, but every American administration now has the power to make war, to act on secret intelligence, to control information on crucial matters, and to do virtually anything to guarantee what it considers national security.
All of which may be argued as reasonable and necessary, but all of which certainly exists.
In school I always thought Sparta got rather a raw propaganda deal in comparison with Athens. Athens the enlightened, Sparta the rigidly controlled militaristic state controlled by aristocrats. Athens the lovable democracy. But Sparta was not as awful and Athens not as noble as we are pleased, in our own lightly brainwashed minds, to think.
There can be merit, sometimes great merit, in a state in which things are decided at the top, and it may be the best system of all, as Plato and a vast number of others believed.
But it is not what the original idea of America held out. If we drift (for all the best reasons) into a different notion of democracy, in which decisions are far removed from the citizen and even the Congress, we should either object to the drift or else say yes, we are changing greatly but that is good.
We should not feed ourselves our own propaganda. All this, briefly, is what many liberals worry about, more than Desert Storm itself.