Three weekends ago, millions of demonstrators across the globe protested on behalf of "human rights." Their marches, slogans, placards and speeches did not declaim against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, did not cite the human rights reports detailing his tyranny and torture, did not take account the plaints of Iraqis fortunate enough to live in exile.

Rather, they protested the U.S. and the U.K. and their efforts to topple Saddam and liberate Iraq. Now, we are seeing more television advertisements along these lines, and even a "virtual march on Washington."

Just after the celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, it is appropriate to remember his lament: "The world has never had a good definition of the word ‘liberty.’" With Saddam flouting international law, and President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair attempting to enforce it, portrayals of Bush as Adolf Hitler — as we saw and heard in the "human rights" protests — betray an ignorance of liberty, an ignorance of right and wrong, an ignorance of commonsense. Because Bush and Blair are putting together a coalition of countries to oust Saddam, they are labeled the warmongers and tyrants. We live in a confusing time indeed.

Lincoln described liberty by a useful analogy: "The shepherd drives the wolf from the sheep's throat, for which the sheep thanks the shepherd as a liberator, while the wolf denounces him for the same act as the destroyer of liberty." Lincoln made it clear who the sheep was and who the wolf was. It is equally important to recognize who the liberator is.

Those who march against the U.S. and the U.K. today, those who condemn Bush and Blair and remain silent when it comes to Saddam, are in league with the wolf’s view that the shepherds are destroying liberty. The people of Iraq will soon know what Afghanis know. The true wolf was devouring Afghanis, the true shepherd saved them.

It is worth remembering what those in the former Soviet republics know and what the anti-American Western street has forgotten: It was, and is, U.S. and British resolve that truly liberates the oppressed and that defends the lives and liberties of the free against the appetites and ill-will of the world’s dictators.

In 1998 then-President Bill Clinton stated: "What if he [Saddam] fails to comply [with disarmament] and we fail to act? He will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then go right on building up his arsenal. Someday, someway, I guarantee you, he'll use that arsenal." Last year, former Vice President Al Gore stated, "[W]e know that he [Saddam] has stored away secret supplies of biological weapons and chemical weapons throughout his country."

It is not President Bush who woke up one day to discover that Saddam was making and harvesting weapons of mass destruction. Yet it is Bush who is blamed for doing something about it. Saddam may be mad, but he is not a scientist. He does not collect chemical and biological weapons for mere pleasure and intrigue. Just ask the survivors of Halabja. So when Saddam acts, it will be Bush and America who are blamed for inaction, for appeasement. We will be liable for such blame because we are the only ones who can do something about it.

We are not at war with Muslims or Arabs around the world; we are at war with some Muslim and Arab leaders who misinterpret their religion and put a primacy on war over peace and slavery over freedom. But among the leadership in the world’s moral democracies there is no misinterpretation, and nowhere is that more true than in the case of the U.S.

This is not a new role for us, but is a unique role we proudly inherit as the world’s liberator. As Wolf Blitzer pointed out: "Over the past two decades, almost every time U.S. military forces have been called into action to risk their lives and limbs, it's been on behalf of Muslims. ... [T]o assist the Afghan mujahadin … during the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, to liberate Kuwait following the Iraqi invasion of 1990, to help Somali Muslims suffering at the hands of a warlord in Mogadishu, to help Muslims first in Bosnia and then in Kosovo who faced a Serb onslaught, and more recently to liberate Afghanistan from its Taliban and Al Qaeda rulers."

Those who protest against the U.S. just now are legatees of those who protested against the U.S. in the 1980s, when we fought the focus of evil then, the Soviet Union. But ask a former Soviet, or East Berliner, if he is better off now than he was, say, 15 years ago. Ask a Nicaraguan. Ask a Bosnian Muslim. U.S. resolve can be thanked for all that, even as those who protested our defense and military postures marched in favor of appeasement.

Indeed, we live in a strange time when the anti-nuclear movement and its leaders of yesterday can today suggest a course of inaction such that Saddam will be able to join North Korea in becoming a nuclear power. The only logical conclusion one can reach is that for the protesters today, weapons in the hands of the U.S. are to be met with outrage while weapons in the hands of Saddam are to be met with silence.

We seek to liberate Iraq today, not only because for Saddam "[t]orture is not a method of last resort in Iraq, it is often the method of first resort," according to Kenneth Pollack, President Clinton’s director of Gulf Affairs at the NSC. We seek to liberate Iraq because after Sept. 11, 2001, we were put on notice. We were put on notice that civilized people can no longer live in a bubble and hope for the best. We were put on notice that there are fanatics and tyrants who want nothing from us but our death. And this notice requires action: the action of the brave, the action of the unthanked, the action of the free.

In Iraq as in other contemporary situations, the responsibility to act has been ours because the ability has been ours. The responsibility has been ours because oppressed people look to us for their deliverance. There is a duty in being the nation that Abraham Lincoln, speaking of our Declaration of Independence, called "a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression." That is who we happen to be. And it is an honor.

William J. Bennett, chairman of Americans for Victory Over Terrorism, is a former secretary of Education and the author of Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism, re-released and updated in paperback (Regnery, 2003).