As the weather warmed this week, the yard signs protesting NO WAR pushed up like crocuses through lawns from Santa Monica to Hollywood.
Not many, mind you -- but enough to signal that quite a few Americans are having second and third thoughts about a war against Saddam.
Nobody likes Saddam, but the Bush administration has failed to present incontrovertible evidence, or even very convincing arguments, as to why we must fight now.
The most enticing reason seems to be that by deposing Saddam, America will send a clear message that tyranny will not stand in the Middle East, and that regime change in Iraq will blow the winds of democracy through Iran, Syria, Libya -- maybe even Saudi Arabia.
Critics wonder whether such a war is one of choice or of necessity, and, beyond that, what happens if the best-laid war plans go awry. "Both logic and historical evidence suggest a policy of vigilant containment would work" against Saddam, John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt write in the current issue of Foreign Policy.
The authors accuse the Bush administration of deliberately exaggerating the Iraqi threat in order to sell a preventive war. The CIA's own risk assessment revealed that Saddam would not use weapons of mass destruction against the United States.
Meanwhile, North Korea, which has nuclear weapons and threatened war this week, seems much more frightening than Saddam. The same goes for Al Qaeda, which the Bush administration, despite numerous attempts, has yet to tie to Saddam.
The whiff of colonialism accompanying the administration's attempt to bring democracy through conquest carries with it all the dangers of colonialism's unintended consequences. What if Islamists in nuclear-armed Pakistan decide to toss a missile toward Israel in Iraq's defense? What if Iraqi and American casualties mount precipitously? Where is that post-victory plan that even the war's supporters have been clamoring for?
The president sent tens of thousands of troops to the Gulf this week to signal his readiness for war. Taking the president at his word -- that his intent in confronting Saddam is to help create a new, more peaceful Middle East -- I have a suggestion for the president: Send those troops to Israel instead.
The twin suicide bombings that ripped through Tel Aviv last Sunday, leaving 23 people dead and more than 100 seriously wounded, underscores the failure of Palestinian terror and Israeli force to achieve either party's aim.
The attack proves once again that Yasser Arafat will not bring peace to his people. Whether he can control the acts of his Fatah-associated militias anymore or not, he certainly unleashed them. And their continued operation, in this case, thwarted his hopes of appearing at a planned London conference, at which he was to show off his government's economic and political reforms, and thus secure more European aid. Instead, Israel barred him from attending.
Furthermore, each additional terror attack ensures that Israeli voters will reject the more dovish parties in the upcoming elections, pushing hopes of compromise with Palestinians further out to sea.
But the attack also proves that Israel's anti-terrorism policies aren't working. Despite a massive, sometimes brilliant and sometimes cruel retaliation against devastating terror, the attacks continue.
There may be lulls (during which attacks are attempted but thwarted), but there will be no end. "What once took months takes a few hours," former Shin Bet chief Ami Ayalon told David Margolick of Vanity Fair magazine, "instead of a few [bombers], we shall see tens and hundreds."
The long-term diplomatic solution may well be something along the lines of the proposal outlined in the "road map" developed by the United States in conjunction with the European Union, United Nations and Russia -- the Madrid Quartet. But that plan won't move an inch until after the Israeli elections this month. A lot of blood, a devastating and needless amount, may be shed by then.
That's why Bush should consider using U.S. and allied troops to serve as a buffer between the warring parties, to act, in the words of UCLA Middle East expert Steven Spiegel, as a monitoring presence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. "American control of the force, coupled with Israel's rock-solid relationship with the Bush administration, should go a long way toward alleviating" Israel's concern over international interference, Spiegel has written.
The idea isn't new, but it has gained urgency. Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems to be out of ideas when it comes to confronting terror, but there's no indication the Israeli public will trust anyone else at the helm.
"In retrospect, what was missing from Oslo all along was a stronger international [in effect, NATO-led] presence to contain outbreaks of violence and manage their aftermath in the context of continuing negotiations," wrote Bernard Avishai in his prescient epilogue to "The Tragedy of Zionism" (Allworth Press, 2002). "Without the hope of an American-sponsored peace process, or the fear of American opposition to Israel's status quo, Israeli democratic forces cannot get traction."
And without traction, the slide quickens. Send troops.