Victor Davis | 02.03.2003 10:22
Saddam — in capability but not intent — is no Hitler. Even though he still tries to talk grandly about British and American decadence, blusters about liquidating the Jews, and counts on the indifference of France, his Republican Guard is hardly a Waffen SS and his scuds no more advanced than Nazi V-2s 60 years ago. Gassing the Jews while Europe watches is with us again: but while Germans once built nightmarish factories of death like Auschwitz, Saddam counts on a few missiles armed with Sarin gas to do the same to those huddling in plastic-lined rooms with their babies in gas masks.
Once more a weak French prime minister — Mr. Chirac sounds eerily like Edouard Daladier — scurries about, worried about everything but rising anti-Semitism in his own country, his hospitality for the thug Mr. Mugabe, and the shady deals of French companies. The German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer's sordid past reads like brownshirt-Lite, or at least something out of the creepy cabarets and the street brawls of Old Berlin. His boss Gerhard Schroeder screams to mass rallies about a "German Way" — as if millions troubled over a stagnant economy can again sway from far left to right or back in the blink of an eye. The slur "cowboy" (a favorite word of Hitler's) has now returned to the German political lexicon, as we all again struggle to fathom whether the massive demonstrations of the unhappy in the New Berlin are nationalist or socialist in nature — or both.
If ex-President Hoover once worried about a looming war "over there," Jimmy Carter, who brought us economic disaster and national insecurity, gratuitously attacks a sitting president and is as ostentatious about saving the world as President Emeritus Hoover was once reticent and principled in his own relief work. Middle Eastern kingdoms and dictatorships once more have no ideology; keep their cards close to their vest; and auction off their support east or west to the highest bidder who promises weapons, debt relief, and outright largess. We are relieved only that we might buy Turkish support with the monetary equivalent of three, but not six, new aircraft carriers.
In place of the old League of Nations equivocating over the October 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, we now witness the recent pathetic speeches of the Non-Alignment Movement at the U.N. General Assembly — an amoral body once hosted in 1982 by none other than Saddam Hussein. Here was a Cuba that has never held an election lecturing about democracy. Iran, the world's leading terrorist nation, warned shrilly about extremism. Algeria acted as if talking about the need for stability would make us forget that it is a police state engaged in a dirty war with Islamic killers.
A few African countries — none of them democratic; most of them corrupt, and all responsible for millions of their own dead and diseased — pontificated about past American culpability for this and that. I almost expected to see Franco call for democracy or a young ascendant Peron to praise tolerance.
All the U.N.'s Security Council's resolutions and inspections will have about as much effect as the old League's threats in 1931 to dislodge the Japanese from Manchuria. Indeed, reasoning with a China that devoured Tibet or a Syria that stole Lebanon would in 1939 be like asking Italy that seized Abyssinia or a Soviet Union planning to annex eastern Poland for help in restraining Germany. In the 1930s a weak League blamed its woes on an isolationist America that refused to join; now an even weaker U.N. Assembly rails at a United States that it is too involved and trying to "bully" a debating society into giving teeth to its rhetoric. The way to wreck the U.N. is not to use force unilaterally, but — as in the case of the League — to haggle over a series of meaningless resolutions against dictators that cannot or will not be enforced.
Meanwhile Hans Blix, as a Geneva inspector of the 1930s par excellence, could have easily assured the world that there was no evidence that the German battleship Bismarck was oversized or the Luftwaffe out of compliance. At the same time, the Vatican welcomed in the tinhorn Iraqi foreign minister Tariq Aziz, who won his chest medals and epaulettes in the early 1970s as a hack newspaper editor boasting from his office of the lynching of Jews in Baghdad. In between joint appearances with various Christian clergy, the chubby new Ribbentrop barked at a Rome news conference that he had not come to the Vatican to take any questions from an Israeli reporter. Fellow journalists booed — but nevertheless stayed glued to their seats to coax answers from a two-bit fascist soon to be in a cell at the Hague.
In 1933 Oxford undergraduates, traumatized by a recent war, passed a resolution refusing "in any circumstances to fight for King and Country." Today there is once again dictatorship on the rise, but our pacifists, enervated by affluence rather than scarred by battle, choose street carnival over reasoned debate, and so march in our capitals proclaiming a new Axis of Evil — the democracies of America and Israel, the shared targets of fundamentalist suicide-murderers.
Here at home in the United States we see the same 1930s antiwar coalitions of hardcore old leftists screaming about American corporatism and imperialism married with America First rightists. At peace marches swastikas appear painted over the Star of David. Meanwhile our "liberal" columnists defame Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, William Kristol, and the bogeymen known as "the neoconservatives." So the ancient prejudice has returned, now whispering that "they" are getting "us" into war to save "them."
Western Europe has almost gone the way of Weimar. Amoral, disarmed, and socialist, it seeks ephemeral peace at all costs, never long-term security, much less justice. Furious that history has not ended in perpetual peace and leisure, it has woken up angry that Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair disturbed its fanciful slumber with chatter about germs and genocide.
In recompense, cranky Western elites, terrified of trouble, indict on the cheap the democratically elected Mr. Sharon, while the masses in the millions go to the street to protest a war against a monster like Saddam Hussein and pay fealty to the terrorist Arafat. As in the past we see ideals in the militarily weak but spiritually strong leaders of Eastern Europe, as the Czechs and Poles once more reveal themselves to be far more moral men and women than any in Germany and France — the historic duet that so often either started or lost wars.
Meanwhile an American president and a British prime minister, the target of this domestic vitriol and self-loathing, once again stand nearly alone against fascism. Because they do, we know the ending of this sad spectacle. Saddam will end up like Hitler in his bunker, with a mistress or two and a half-dozen doomed toadies. Postbellum Iraq will yield up the age-old horrors that may even be too sick for the tabloids; Anglo-Americans will once again rebuild a defeated enemy country — and a passive-aggressive France will triangulate, seeking to reclaim glory without power as it looks for profits among the flotsam and jetsam of war.
The image of the French representative Dominique de Villepin — pompadour hair flying at the U.N., thin arms waving as he warns of Anglo-American bullying of dictatorial Iraq, and empty talk of France's grand historic commitment to law and justice — says it all: all this from the author of Les Cents-Jours ou l'esprit de sacrifice, a recent revisionist history that laments not the four million killed in Napoleon's mad ambitions, but the "dream" that was lost at Waterloo, a battlefield 12 miles from Brussels, the current center of the latest undemocratic European utopian fantasy.
The world, not America, has gone off the deep end — just as it did some 70 years ago when faced with similar choices between cheap rhetoric and real sacrifice. And so just as the tragedy of Pearl Harbor for Americans put an end to all the nonsense of the 1930s, let us hope that the memory of September 11 and the looming showdown with Iraq will do the same for the present farce as well.