The Benefit of the Doubt

As most of the readers are well aware, I am in favor of the upcoming war in Iraq. I believe firmly and strongly that Saddam Hussein—the Butcher of Baghdad, as he is called in many circles—is as worthy of removal from power as Slobodan Milosevic was under the Clinton administration, or any other maniacal dictator has been through history. That said, I do not expect nor demand that persons with opposing views see things my way. Anybody who has followed my message-board discussions with Sly will know I value open debate between opposing sides.

But today, it is all but clear that a war to remove Hussein from power is both unavoidable and imminent. Yesterday, President Bush addressed this nation and made it more than clear that if the Iraqi dictator does not step down before tomorrow evening he will indeed face the might of the United States and (despite what French officials have been saying) a significant number of allies from around the globe.

As I have said numerous times before, I do not like war. In fact, I despise war. In most ways I consider myself to be a pacifist, but believing that war is never ideal and is never good does not automatically compel me to believe that war is never necessary. Ideally Saddam would not be the dictator of Iraq, but as long as he stubbornly holds on to his illegally obtained power and his illegally kept weapons there can be no such ideal. A war, unfortunately, is sometimes the only way to bring about progress and safety.

But I’m not writing this rant to espouse or explain my view on Iraq or the impending war. I’ve written rants before dealing with that, you all know my opinions. Rather I’m writing to ask you for something.

President Bush was elected in the presidential election of the year 2000 over former Vice President Al Gore. I’m sure you all remember that chaotic event. The back-and-forth that followed Florida’s election process tore this country apart into its two roughly equal-sized chunks of voters—those supporting Al Gore and believing that he had been elected, and those supporting George W. Bush and believing that he had been elected.

While I also have my view on this subject there came a point—a Supreme Court decision in this case—where the diametrically opposed viewpoints and the debate between their proponents became moot. Most people who supported Al Gore—while still bitter—understood that the Supreme Court ruled, the system made its determination, and George W. Bush legally became the President of the United States. Love him or hate him, the vast majority on both sides quickly came to terms with the fact that he won—whether they thought it was a rightful win or not—and respected him as they would any president of the opposite party.

Yesterday, with President Bush’s address, we reached that same point where the diametrically opposed viewpoints and the debate between their proponents became moot. War is coming, and love it or hate it I simply ask that all of you on all sides of this issue come to terms with it.

I do not ask opponents of war in Iraq to drop their views any more than I expect everybody to agree the Supreme Court ruled correctly in 2000, I am simply asking that we all recognize at this point that further debate on a closed issue will do no good—in fact will likely do harm—and instead we should take this opportunity to stand united as a people who are proud to be American. We should take this chance to support our soldiers who will likely soon be headed into harm’s way in the name of freedom.

You do not need to agree with the war we are fighting to support those who fight it.

But beyond asking you to support our troops I’d ask you to go even further out on a limb and support our president. Again, you do not have to agree that war is necessary but you do have to agree that—for whatever reason—President Bush believes that it is. As the duly elected Commander in Chief, executive, and head of state of the United States it is imperative that we concede that he would not and has not taken the decision to go to war lightly. We must concede that whether we believe he is right or wrong he is doing what he believes to be the right thing, and as our legally elected representative we owe him the benefit of the doubt until he gives us reason to take it away.

We owe him the same benefit of the doubt that we owed President Clinton when he led NATO against Milosevic in 1998, the benefit of the doubt that I was too headstrong and naive to have given him at the time but that I now recognize he deserved.

War is not something that has ever been taken lightly by any president in the United States’ history, Republican or Democrat. With the exception of Vietnam, I’m not yet convinced that we have ever erred in waging a war. I certainly don’t mean there haven’t been mistakes—perhaps we should have pushed harder in the first Persian Gulf war, perhaps we should have entered World War II earlier, perhaps we should have been more cautious in Somalia—but as a general rule we’ve waged wars at the right times in the right places. The exception I mentioned—Vietnam—is the only example I can think of where the benefit of the doubt I’m asking you to give today was not deserved.

But there was no way to know that we were wrong until the war had been going on for some time. The protests, draft dodging, and all the rest of the stuff that characterizes that era did not get into full swing until we had already been in Vietnam for years. This dissent was a great thing, and if this upcoming Persian Gulf War II turns into a Vietnam—if the benefit of the doubt is not deserved, if we are wrong—then it will be entirely appropriate to similarly fight against our involvement (but not against the veterans, to whom we sadly misdirected our national anger after the Vietnam War).

But the time for this open dissent is not now, on the verge of the conflict’s start, without really knowing whether this conflict will be looked upon from the comfortable distance of 20 years as a pivotally positive moment, or a wretchedly negative one. Right now it is time to support our president as he makes difficult decisions whether we agree with the actions he has and will take or not, and support our troops as they prepare to put their lives on the line believing that they are fighting for freedom and for American security.

There has been a lot of talk about patriotism lately, with antiwar camp claiming that dissent is patriotic and the pro-war camp saying that in this case dissent is anti-American. As usual, neither is totally right. The intelligent representatives of both sides (I think we can all be in “agreeance” that Fred Durst is not included) are capable of comprehending that while dissent in and of itself is as American as apple pie, there are appropriate times, manners, and places to express this dissent.

Throngs of people storming federal buildings toting “No War for Oil” signs are in fact unpatriotic and anti-American. They make a mockery of this war’s motives, of the 60-70 percent of the American population that support the war, and—as a side effect—of the American educational system that has failed to give them brains enough to research the root causes of this conflict. But on the flip side, war supporters who won’t admit that our foreign relations errors in the past helped create Saddam as he is today or who couldn’t even point to Iraq on a map make mockeries of the very same things.

True patriotism involves a certain amount of brains, and a certain amount of trust. It involves a love of this country and a recognition that while it isn’t perfect, most of the people who run it are trying to do the right thing. Something that’s really hard to admit for politically motivated people like myself, however, is that regardless of the political party in charge the United States has an uncanny way of averaging out on the good side of things. On the eve of war, I would hope that all patriots—for or against this war—will recognize this historical fact, and for now give President Bush the benefit of the doubt.

To do so will not be whittling away at your views, it won’t be betraying your opinions, it will simply be supporting your country and the people who lead it in a time that is as difficult for them as it is for us. It’s not selling out, but simply putting nation ahead of self—and there is nothing more patriotic than that.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.