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Jewish World Review Sept. 13, 2002 / 7 Tishrei, 5763

Seth Gitell

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Bush Challenge to U.N. Members: Are You Better than League of Nations? | President George W. Bush just entered the lion's den of the United Nations General Assembly. Bush spoke compellingly and passionately of the imperative to remove Saddam Hussein from power. Aside from being much, much too late -- the speech should have been made last Spring at the latest -- Bush set out the causa belli regarding Iraq.

Bush's arguments boil down to this: the US and the world blithely ignored the danger posed by Osama bin Laden prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks and paid the price. If we ignore the danger of Hussein, the damage could be much worse. The president declared: " To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take. "

Bush outlined each of the litany of UN resolutions that the Iraqi government agreed to upon the end of the Gulf War and has flouted with an almost tedious regularity: the Iraqi dictator vowed to release prisoners of war and he didn't, he promised to stop brutalizing his own people and he hasn't, he agreed to stop sheltering terrorist groups which he's still doing, he vowed to give up development of chemical, biological and nuclear weapons and allow weapons inspectors unfettered access throughout the country and he's done neither. As Bush put it: " Saddam Hussein has made the case himself."

In his speech, Bush did something more powerful than make the case against Hussein. He challenged the UN to be more than a grown-up version of an anti-globalist (i.e. anti-American) debating society. Bush's performance, in fact, puts into sharp relief the watershed position the UN is in. Will it be a real organization that enforces threats to global peace? Or will it be like its predecessor, the League of Nations, a corrupt, toothless, body whose biggest lasting achievement was acquiesce to German and Japanese militarism?

A speech given by Winston Churchill in 1946 -- -- helps illuminate the position in which the UN stands. " The League of Nations did not fail because of its principles or conceptions, " Churchill stated. " It failed because those principles were deserted by those states who had brought it into being. It failed because the governments of those days feared to face the facts, and act while time remained. This disaster must not be repeated. "

The nations which comprise the current United Nations, particularly the Europeans, stand in the exact same position that they occupied in the 1930s, particularly the French. Those arguing against Bush's confrontation with Iraq (as Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford did on Imus this morning) point to the fact that the Europeans oppose us. This should come as no surprise. The European nations -- with the exceptions so far of Great Britain, Bulgaria, and Portugal -- are no more interested in facing facts today than they were in the 1930s. France is worried about the sensibilities of its considerable Muslim population. Both France and Germany remain more concerned over the priorities of international commerce -- even with Hussein's Iraq -- than those of security.

Does this mean these nations are more moral than the US? No, it just means they are just as blind to international dangers as the European nations of the 1930s.

Somehow most of the world remains blind to many of the lessons of the past. They are quick to point to the debacle that was the Vietnam War to point out the limits of US power and the danger in intervening internationally. But they refuse to examine lessons that were of keen importance to American leaders such as John F. Kennedy and Harry Truman -- namely the lessons of Munich. In 1938, the British prime minister -- and Churchill's predecessor -- Neville Chamberlain gave a speech -- -- praising an agreement he made with the Hitlerite Nazi regime at Munich. " The real triumph is that it has shown that representatives of four great Powers can find it possible to agree on a way of carrying out a difficult and delicate operation by discussion instead of by force of arms, and thereby they have averted a catastrophe which would have ended civilization as we have known it, " Chamberlain said. " The relief that our escape from this great peril of war has, I think, everywhere been mingled in this country with a profound feeling of sympathy. " When Chamberlain got off the plane from his meeting with Hitler, he was more emphatic. " My good friends this is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honor. I believe it is peace in our time."

Chamberlain's agreement -- -- split the democratic Czechoslovakia in half and prevented war with Germany, which was far less ready for confrontation then than it was a less than a year later. In September 1939, German panzer divisions swept into Poland, and World War II commenced. All the European appeasement and good wishes went with that. Bush's central point is that if Hussein isn't stopped now, stopping him in the future will be much more difficult. Critics can argue that Hussein merely threatens his neighbors -- the corrupt Saudi regime and Israel -- and that is of no concern of ours. It's true that the US can abandon its responsibilities to its allies in the Middle East, but disengagement from the world's problems will render America no more safe than our policy of isolationism did in the 1930s and our policy of ignoring bin Laden in the 1990s. It is a risk -- as Bush stated -- that the US can ill afford to make.

JWR contributor Seth Gitell is the political writer of the Boston Phoenix Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Seth Gitell