The waiting and dread are over, and we have begun the war. And even if you believe that it is justified and moral, this is a time for mourning: for the soldiers and civilians who are dying, for the terrified Iraqis experiencing "Precision Shock" in Baghdad. For the people of Basra, where the Red Cross says destruction and water shortages threaten a "humanitarian crisis." For the Kurds in northern Iraq, waiting to see whether we will abandon them once again.
For those of us opposed to the war, this is also a time to mourn the failure of diplomacy, the weakening of the United Nations, the sullying of the nation's character.
We have invaded another country. The declared purpose: to remove the leader of that country --- something that our laws forbid even the CIA to do.
The issue is not whether Saddam Hussein is a brutal tyrant who kills and terrorizes his own people. He is, and he does. The issue is what we do about him, and with whom. (Nor is Saddam the only brutal tyrant who kills and terrorizes his own people. What do we do about those other tyrants, and with whom?)
We have the military power to do whatever we want, wherever we want. The nations of the world, large and small, democratic and rogue, know that. And now they know that we will exercise that power when the notion strikes us.
This war brings an enormous financial cost, one that will further weaken the economy and emasculate educational and social programs at home. But even if that were not the case, the posture we now assume, and the example we have set, will have great consequences in the world, for generations.
This war was not forced on us. It was sought --- for years --- by members of the Bush administration and other arch-conservatives. They have had their way at last. And among the many dangers is that if this war "goes well," to use the awful, current terminology, they will push their doctrine of preemption into Iran, North Korea, and Syria. You can hardly pick up a newspaper or news magazine these days without reading about the conservatives' intentions. Iraq, they are bragging, is just the beginning.
The marine who raised the American flag in Umm Qasr last week may have simply over-reacted after a successful, dangerous mission. And the flag was soon ordered down. But that flag-raising should promote some soul-searching among the war's supporters. Is this a war to liberate an oppressed people from a vicious tyrant? Or is it something more? Will the country belong to the Iraqi people, once they're liberated? If so, when? Under what circumstances? Under whose design?
The waiting and dread are over, and the war has begun. For the moment, all many of us can do is weep for the victims, and pray that the terror and carnage end soon. But for those of us opposed to the war, there is yet another obligation: to bear witness to the pain and suffering of those in the midst of the battle, and to the terrible significance of the United States' new policy of pre-emption.