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Wednesday, January 22, 2003
Peace Movement or Appeasement?
1. Is the term "peace activist" accurate regarding Saddam Hussein's regime? Is "peace movement"?
In a Front Page article yesterday, a good left-wing columnist asked --- Christopher Hitchens, has denounced his former radical colleagues at The Nation and elsewhere as American-hating dupes of reactionary and Islamo-fascist terrorists and terrorist-supporting state --- why we call the leaders of the protest movements opposed to President Bush's and Prime Minister Blair's jointly coercive policy towards Iraq "peace" activists when, after all, especially in retrospect, we don't call the British and the French appeasers of Hitler in the late 1930s peace activists. A good question, yes? Which, you'll recall, we've dealt with repeatedly the last 16 months here in our listserver commentaries.
And for that matter, a perfectly good question to raise back in the lat 1930s era of fascist appeasement. There were far more prescient, clearheaded observers and even politicians at the time who foresaw the disasters inherent in such appeasement, recognizing that it only delayed an inevitable war that would come when Hitler was far more powerful . . . the resulting war itself destructive on a vast monstrous scale, some 50 million people left dead around the globe by the time it ended in 1945. Among those opponents of appeasement was Winston Churchill, a Conservative MP (Member of Parliament), kept out of office in the Conservative-Liberal governments of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain throughout the decade . . . Churchill, in their illusion-charged views, too much of a rambunctious agitator for war; and too strong-headed and independent to boot. A very unreliable chap, better left on the backbenches in the House of Commons.
2. Peace In Our Time
September 1939, the high-point of appeasement. Remember Chamberlain, all smiles --- black umbrella rigidly held in one hand, a scrap of paper flapping in the other; the plane that had just carried him back from the Munich Conference in Germany in the background --- proclaiming, flap-flap, flap-flap, that "Peace in Our Times" had just been established by him and Hitler and Mussolini and the fellow-appeasing French Premier, Edouard Daladier. The proof? Hitler's and Mussolini's signatures on that paper scrap, the solemn commitments of the leading Nazi and fascist governments in the world. Like those of Saddam Hussein's official representatives in March 1991, committing Iraq to full disarmament of it chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and R&D programs, fully monitored of course. At Munich too, firm written commitments on paper, this time regarding Czechoslovakia and its sovereign independence if only the pigheaded government in East Europe's solo democratic government would yield on the question of German annexation of a thin slice of western Czechoslovakia, the Sudetenland. Hitler, a reasonable man, who led a people, it said by the appeasers, with legitimate grievances; the victims, you see, of the Versailles Treaty of 1991; settle them, the grievances --- if need be one at a time, or better still all together --- and peace would settle in for decades and more.
Peace In Our Time, as it turned out, had a short life: some 11 months to be exact. In March, the abandoned Czech's will to defend themselves broken --- the vital mountainous areas of the Sudetenland bordering German no longer a barrier to a Nazi invasion --- Hitler, full of contempt for his appeasers, tore up the scrap of flapping paper, figuratively anyway, and marched his soldiers into Prague, the SS and Gestapo following in their train. Six months later, WWII began in Europe, and the rest as they say was history. Fifty million dead, the Holocaust, mass extermination in Asia, tens of millions of refugees, cities bombed out all over Asia, Europe, the Middle East; and the Soviet empire now covering all of East Europe and half of Germany.
And yet as Churchill observed later in his memoirs --- about his time as a belittled backbencher in the 1930s, then as head of the British wartime government after the discredited Chamberlain was forced to resign in May 1940, the Nazis now triumphant in the lowland countries and soon in France too; only the English Channel keeping the Hitlerian armies out of Britain itself --- World War II was a wholly unnecessary war. Hitler could have been stopped much earlier; at far less cost. In particular, had the democratic peoples of Britain, France, and the United States mobilized the will and forces to resist the fascist dictators in Europe and the Japanese militarists in Asia before they were too powerful, then their monstrous regimes would have toppled quickly, six years of total war would have been averted, and tens of millions of lives spared into the bargain.
3. Is Saddam Hussein any better than Hitler --- morally?
Hard to see where: similar megalomania, similar convictions about their divine-sanctioned destiny, totally callous indifference to the lives of others .. . . including even their own people, Hitler issuing orders from his Berlin Bunker in early May 1945, Soviet forces down the street, himself ready for suicide soon, to flood the subways of Berlin because the German people had let him down. Let him down! Proved in Hitler's view racially inferior to the Soviets and the Anglo-Americans, unworthy of the great man.
Yes, in power Hitler far surpassed Saddam, considering the states they led. So far anyway. Saddam, for his part, is determined to build WMD, giving him unprecedented power of another sort; has already spent $100 billion on them the last 20 years; and has defied almost 20 UN resolutions to disarm, including the present one that requires "complete, immediate, and unqualified" support with the inspectors to disarm the regime, or risk being disarmed by war. Is he doing this as an avocation, a diversion from the taxing duties of his responsibilities as the leader of 25 million people --- President-for-Life, the beloved leader of all 25 million, witness his imposing 99+ % vote in the last election? Hardly seems that. Saddam has also wasted the lives of his people with burdensome economic sanctions, refusing even to sell oil for food and medicines until 1996 despite UN offers to that effect after mid-1991 . . . not that Saddam and his crony gangsters in the fascist-inspired Baath Party (Hitler and Nazism being big inspirations for the founders of both the Syrian and Iraqi Baath Parties before WWII and after) have themselves suffered one bit from the impact of those economic sanctions.
Should we go on trying to contain and deter Saddam then, and his fascist regime (a term that will be clarified in another post to this site today)?
Not likely to work any more, at least according to the man who knows the risks here better probably than any other Westerner, Kenneth Pollack --- a former CIA agent specializing on the Middle East and especially the Gulf States and Saddamite Iraq for two decades now, and the chief expert on them in the Clinton National Security Council, whose views have swung sharply away, if reluctantly, from a belief that containment and inspections and deterrence would work.
The conditions, for reasons we have dealt with in past commentaries to our listserver, aren't favorable any more. As Pollack notes in his recently published book, The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq (especially pp. 266-280), the only way to avert calamity in that part of the world –-- and calamity maybe to us through terrorist acquisition of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons --- is by acting now, the aim to topple the regime and start a process of disarming that country.
4) The Wider Repercussions of Regime Change in the Middle East
Feared by the appeasers --- not least the French and German governments explicitly --- regime change and its rippling political effects in the Middle East are likely to be favorable to us and to the war on terrorism . . . or so the Bush administration now believes, and rightly so. Even Thomas Friedman, whose insights on the Middle East vary from powerful and sound to perverse and fickle at times, has recognized this in today's New York Times op-ed article, "Thinking About Iraq." Friedman
We have discussed this before, and we'll clarify it again in another post here. Stripped to the bones, it's enough to note in passing that a post-Saddam Iraq would initiate changes disrupting the disastrous domestic status quo in most of the Arab world . . . full of failed states, despots in power for life unless assassinated or overthrown in a coup, corrupt Mafioso-like clientele links that scoop off most of the wealth for themselves, poor social services, and mass unemployment, not least among young men in a region of almost 300 million people, soon to be 500 million in fifteen years, and already half of whom are under 15. Ripe terrain, in other words, for terrorist recruitment.
Specifically, to get down to cases for a moment, in clerical fascist Iran to the east of Iraq --- where a government survey in October last year found 91% of the people "severely critical" of that regime, and 45%, after years of systematic propaganda and censorship, favorable to the US hostility to the diehard Mullahs who have successfully repressed and beaten back the challenge of more moderates in the elected institutions of government --- an internal upheaval to overthrown the diehard Mullahs, who have successfully beaten back the electoral moderates who came to power in parliament and the presidency in the late 1990s (the jails now fuller of political opponents than ever) would move much closer to reality once Saddam were overthrown and tens of thousands of American and British troops were in the country along with other peace-keepers.
To the west of Iraq is Syria, likewise ripe for change – though not through internal upheaval, which doesn't seem imminent at all. Instead, in that brutal, secular fascist regime. Instead, the Mafioso thugs in charge of that Baath Party regime --- also pursuing like the Iranians and Iraqis WMD programs and no less sponsoring terrorism, but who, for all their cruelty and repression and systematic fleecing of the Syrian economy, aren't headed by a reckless megalomaniac like Saddam Hussein or pushing a militant Islamist theology of built-in hostility to the US and the West --- can probably be coaxed and coerced into desirable change, through an adroit mixture of coercive diplomacy and promised rewards for verifiable changes in their WMD programs, human rights behavior, and support for terrorism that goes along with their intransigent opposition to any US-mediated Israeli-Palestinian peace in the future. Provided that the Palestinian Authority itself democratizes and renounces terrorism and cleans itself of corruption and nepotism on a mass scale.
Further afield, all this leaving other states in the region to change too --- some like Jordan and the small Gulf States with built-in prospects of reform in a post-Saddam Middle East. Further to the West, Egypt too and Morocco and Algeria and Tunisia. Leaving the future leaders of Saudi Arabia, a power struggle for succession already under way there, to draw the right lessons too --- about the systematic export of their Wahhabi Islamic ideology, backed by huge oil money; their double-dealings with terrorism, including Al Qaeda; and their own bankrupt economy, where trillions of dollars have been squandered by 4000 royals and their rich business henchmen and 30% unemployment is pervasive among men, women scarcely able to enter the work force.
As for the Pyongyang totalitarian regime in North Korea --- the remaining major member of the Evil Axis --- it is, morally speaking, no better than Saddam Hussein's regime either. Calculatedly starving its own people, aiming to kill of 2 or more million North Koreans to bring them in line with the bankrupt agricultural system of the Communists --- see the commentary posted today as well that refers to the article by Sokolski in the LA Times on Sunday --- if anything, worse: not just starving its people, but lying about its nuclear programs, behaving with crazy-like logic on the surface anyway:: kidnapping South Koreans and Japanese, attempting assassination of South Korean Cabinets, tunneling under the 38th parallel --- some of these tunnels able to funnel ten thousand troops an hour, reaching, it's feared, all the way 30 miles south to Seoul itself --- and blustering, swaggering, sending missiles over Japanese territory, and now kicking out IAEA inspectors who never really got much of a chance until last spring, years after they were supposed to start their work, verifying the light-water plutonium reactors that we were graciously building for him .. . . even as another nuclear weapons program, directly uranium based, using centrifuges from Pakistan, was secretly underway and has probably already led to the construction of two or three warheads. Not to mention having a military force of close to 2 million men in a population of around 25 million, ¾ of them stationed along the 38th Parallel, thousands of rockets that can devastate Seoul and other cities in their weaponry, not to mention hundreds of theater-range missiles that can cover all of the Japanese islands.
5) What about average people, rightly reluctant to go to war in general.
If the activists and pointmen among the appeasers' ranks were all that we had to deal with, it would be easy to dismiss the entire movement's rankl and file. Unfortunately we can't. Any more than the bulk of the British and French populations --- reluctant to go to war, knowing eventually it was inevitable --- could be written off as appeasers too.
Average people – especially in democratic countries, with uncensored access to the media (not that American pc-radicals seem to believe this) and with freedom to exchange views --- aren't bellicose; haven't been for decades; aren't looking for imperial glory or land to conquer; and see war rightly in bleak terms. Nobody has romanticized war in the US, Britain, or France for decades either. Those who think that Black Hawk Dawn --- about American Rangers who were in Somalia anyway to stop mobster warlords from preying on the international food relief for the starving masses --- romanticizes war must have a different understanding of the term than most of us do. For that matter, Once We Were Soldiers shows how brutal and deadly war can be . . . even as, to its credit, it also showed the North Vietnamese regulars the US 7th Cavalry Battalion was pitted again as brave and effective soldiers who had families and a cause to fight for too.
The problem is, there are monstrous and evil regimes and megalomaniacs and callous mobsters in charge of them, and when they get enough military force, war is about the only way to deal with them --- or at least a fully credible threat of war, including a sense of urgency behind any coercive diplomacy that a country like the US or Britain is directing at Iraq today. Fully in multilateral ways, through the UN and yes, in NATO where General Robertson, the British General Secretary of NATO, notes how carefully the Bush administration has been to hew to international law and collective action through the Security Council so far. In Robertson's view, accordingly, the NATO allies have a "moral obligation" to support London and Washington if war is needed to topple Saddam and force disarmament and bring about desirable political changes in the region.
More generally, all the major political evils of the last 150 years --- slavery, extravagant militarism, fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, Communisms of other varieties --- have been destroyed not through endless talk and signatures on pieces of paper that the spokesmen for these movements ever had any intent to abide by, but ultimately either by war or a clear threat to go to war in certain circumstances.
6) The Wider Stakes in the Intermixed Struggles Against Islamo-Fascist Terrorism and
the Use of Coercive Diplomacy, and Maybe War, Against Rogue States with WMD Programs.
What's at stake today in the world is the whole future of international order, stability, and peace --- jeopardized by the overlapping challenges of Islamo-fascism, terrorism linked to it, nasty, brutally led fascist regimes in the Middle East bent on producing chemical, nuclear, and biological weapons --- Syria, Iraq, and Iran; the three countries that also have resolutely opposed any Israeli-Palestinian peace mediated by us, while no less resolutely aiding terrorisms of various kinds --- and in Asia a mass-murdering North Korean regime that has hundreds of theater-range missiles that can cover all of Japan now, with enough nuclear-grade uranium or enriched plutonium to build dozens of warheads in the next few months. Would Pyongyang use them? Not likely, which doesn't mean ever. But what it and the fascist states in the Middle East with their own programs can do is accelerate the proliferation of such weapons to dozens of other states . .. . engendering arms racing at nuclear and chemical and biological levels among states that aren't stable, haven't institutionalized collective restraints, rule by force and secret police terror, support terrorism, hate the US and the West in many instances, and are themselves prone to breakdowns in command-control-communications-information systems that make any crises among them dangerously prone to precipitous use of their weapons in a psychological spiral of "use-them or lose them."
At a minimum, Asia and the Middle East and parts of South Asia will be more and more dangerous regions, with wars bound to erupt --- most likely wars of mass extermination.
7) Not All Nuclear Proliferation Is Meancing.
Just to clarify in passing: India is a secure state, with effective collective restrains, effective bureaucracies, effective control-command-communications systems, and unlikely to let its nuclear forces be used rashly or fall into the hands of home-grown terrorists. Pakistan, its rival next door, is far different on all these scores, and Pakistan is at least ruled for the time being by a non-megalomaniac general who is friendly to the US and was convinced, as New Delhi was a year ago, by Washington's mediators to tone down their war talk and behavior.
The Bush administration --- whose foreign and security policies I've generally praised as creative and increasingly adapted to a unipolar world with all these threats and dangers around us --- has made a serious mistake here. It should be taking the lead globally in delegitimizing nuclear weapons as dangerous and requiring even among nuclear powers, the US included, far more verifiable reductions. The weapons will never likely be renounced totally. We will probably always want a few hundred warheads as a boost to deterrence against aggressive forces. That said, outside of this limited retaliatory role, they are worthless as offensive weapons, and incentives to others to try emulating us or the other nuclear powers. A combination of steady advances in nuclear missile defenses, plus ever greater accuracy in the use of pinpoint smart weaponry, will ensure that we can protect ourselves and our allies and friendly countries if active force is needed. A de-legitimizing of nuclear weapons would reinforce the pressures we want to exert against regimes like the Syrian, Iraqi, Iranian, and North Korean.
Will that end all nuclear dangers to us even if we succeed?
Hardly, but it would help measurably --- and allow us to concentrate then on chemical, biological, and terrorist use of any nuclear weapons, rather than having to deal with vicious states whose leaders think they can or should use nuclear forces for their own grandiose or dangerous purposes.
8) No Need for Pessimism --- Just the Contrary.
There are encouraging developments in power politics. Essentially, the US and all potential rivals --- Communist China included --- have no illusions about the nature of not just nuclear war, but massive conventional war of a WWII sort in highly industrialized urban societies. The costs of such war are enormous, the benefits limited at best, the desire for territory and empire-building recognized to be burdensome illusions. And there is something to the liberal economic view that ever growing bonds of trade and investment and technology flows have a long-term impact in making such wars not just unnecessary for any direct material reasons, but monstrously costly.
To this has to be added the other strand of liberal theory that is essentially sound even if hard to prove fully: stable democracy of the sort that exists in about 30 states in the world, spanning different cultures and civilizations, reinforces the reluctance of such countries to settle their conflicts by force. The reasons are numerous --- democratic leaders are generally in power because they know they have to compromise with their opponents; democracies require legislative approval of going to war; democratic peoples aren't easily whipped into lathers of extreme nationalism these days as opposed to a century ago; their peoples forge extra-state ties with one another through trade and investment and travel and study. The problem, of course, is that most of the world isn't democratic in this way; lots of it isn't even in a condition of electoral democracy without other institutional underpinnings of effective legislatures and free media and strong political parties and a multitude of independent civic associations, businesses, churches, professional associations, local government, and a rule of law.
And hence, as long as there are dangerous states and overwrought or grandiose or just plain evil leaders with military power at their disposal for doing massive harm to others --- or, in the case of nuclear, chemical, and biological arms-racing amid acute security dilemmas of rising mistrust and fear without effective institutional restraints at home and a willingness to engage in serious arms control and confidence building --- the menace of war, including wars of mass extermination, is something we have to face up to. Now. Not in 10 or 15 years when our options are far more limited than they are now.
9) Why the Appeasers Are Wrong Again
Nothing less, then, than the future of international order, stability, and peace is at stake in the present overlapping crises.
We're at major way station in the post cold-war period, just as the democracies were in the 1930s in the aftermath of WWI, and again in the aftermath of WWII., Each time, well-meaning men and women succumb to illusions that the world has finally been transformed --- the war to end all wars, peace in our time, the Kellogg-Briand pact of 1928 renouncing war by all the dozens of signatory states including the major powers, collective security that involves buck-passing and free-riding and weak-willed leaders (Oh yes, Saddam is nasty, brutal. What a shame. But Bush is an idiot or genoicide-maker (?), the US is bad too, war is risky, etc etc . . . hot-air excuse-making and extravagantly righteous wrong-headed twaddle, on display at the UN the last two days when Colin Powell met with the foreign ministers of Security Council members, the Germans now leading the Council and its moralizing government voicing almost in identical words this confused amalgam of illusions, timidity, and sanctimony.
That doesn't mean coercive diplomacy --- multilaterally practiced in or out of the UN, and sometimes unilaterally --- won't deal with most of these challenges and menaces, the coercion coupled most of the time with promises of rewards for clearly verifiable changes in behavior, according to a clear timetable for implementing voiced or written commitments. It might still work against Iraq's brutal and dangerous regime. Saddam Hussein may even decide to go into exile, along with much of his party leadership (any left, along with the secret police and Republic Guards, will have to commit themselves to letting peacekeepers take over the country and disarm them, with scheduled elections within two or three months). If he won't, then his regime will be disarmed in the alternative way, exactly as the UN Security Resolution of November 8th calls for.
Leaving, eventually, the problems of North Korea's behavior to be tackled next.
10) Enter the following commentary . . .
by Christopher Hitchens, formerly a mainstay of radical opinion on the left in the Nation magazine crowd --- and since 9/11, like so many other writers and spokesmen of the left appalled by the tedious righteousness, hackneyed rhetoric, and disgusting moral betrayals that flourish in left-wing circles, vigorously distancing himself from his former allies. What he says is worth attending to. Whether it adds anything beyond what we've said here --- now and earlier --- is another matter.
Here's the link to the Christopher Hitchens' article mentioned at the Outset:
Chew On This My Leftist Comrades
By Christopher Hitchens
TheStranger.com | January 21, 2003
Dear brothers and sisters, boys and girls, comrades and friends,
The editor of this rag [TheStranger.com] told me of your upcoming "Potlucks for Peace" event and invited my comments, and at first I couldn't think of a thing to say. For one thing, why should I address a Seattle audience (or even suppose that I have a Seattle audience, for that matter)? I daresay that I can claim a tenuous connection, because I have always had a good crowd when reading at the splendid bookstores of the city, and because it was in Seattle that I stayed when grounded on September 11, 2001, a date that now makes some people yawn. . .
Christopher Hitchens is a columnist for Vanity Fair and the I. F. Stone Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley. His most recent book is Why Orwell Matters.