By John Leo
US News & World Report - March 17, 2003

Europe's cowardice and appeasement of Hitler in the 1930s are similar to France and Germany's sad performance today. The '30s appeaser in chief--British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain--drew applause on all sides for capitulating at Munich and was said to deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, just as Jacques Chirac has been mentioned for the prize now. Then, as now, France had a weak leader unruffled by growing danger abroad and rising antisemitism at home.

Venerable journalist Alistair Cooke, who is old enough to remember the period, points out that in 1938, Hitler had been reneging on the First World War peace treaty for only two years, compared with Saddam Hussein's 12 years of defying the terms of the U.N.'s Gulf War cease-fire. Then, as now, the fearful argued that a murderous tyrant may have terrible new weapons, but, after all, he hasn't turned them on us yet. The arguments for doing nothing were eerily like Western Europe's today, even down to the insistence that the comatose League of Nations was the true savior of world peace. The league managed to do nothing about the Japanese seizure of Manchuria and the Italian invasion of Abyssinia, approximately what the United Nations did when Syria seized Lebanon and China gobbled up Tibet.

"A majority of Britons would do anything, absolutely anything to get rid of Hitler--except fight him," Cooke said last month on BBC. Europeans were eager to talk but not to act. "The French especially urged, after each Hitler invasion, `negotiation, negotiation.' They negotiated so successfully as to have their whole country defeated and occupied."

Building backbone. From 1939 on--as in 2003--it was an American president and a British prime minister standing up on behalf of the many backbone-free Europeans. "Western Europe has almost gone the way of Weimar," Victor Davis Hanson wrote recently on National Review Online. "Amoral, disarmed, and socialist, it seeks ephemeral peace at all costs, never long-term security, much less justice."

Hanson points out other parallels, among them a U.S. anti-war movement featuring a coalition of hard-core old lefties and America First rightists and (a small point here) the return to the German vocabulary of the insult "cowboy," one of Hitler's favorite slurs. But not all parallels work. When Europe finally confronted Hitler, it was too late for anyone to think about denouncing it as a "rush to war."

Like the League of Nations, the U.N. today likes to fill the air with talk and content-free statements intended to placate all parties to any dispute. The aim is to keep the game going, not to solve anything. Hans Blix, the ultimate U.N. bureaucrat, is unusually good at this, issuing double-barreled statements that Iraq is both out of compliance and almost in compliance at the same time (the regime's track record "has not been good" although "they have been very active, I would say, and even proactive, in the last month or so").

The alleged proactivity consists of Saddam Hussein's striptease, throwing a few weapons overboard as pressure is applied, more as war comes closer. Blix, of course, was pleased and said he could use four more months of rummaging around the desert looking for weapons. Twelve years was apparently not a long enough time to expect compliance, though Iraq agreed to comply in 15 days back in 1991.

But there is no evidence and no reason to believe that another four months would accomplish anything. The two real reasons for more inspections: the hope that the United States will lose its resolve and the desire to make invasion difficult by pushing it back to the hot summer months.

There is no longer any point for the United States to play the U.N. game of delay and obstruction, or to pretend that it will place its safety in the hands of the Security Council. Bringing the United Nations along would have been useful. But the notion that the U.N.'s "moral" approval was somehow necessary is ludicrous, particularly since U.N. morality includes turning over its human-rights committee to Libya and repeatedly branding as racist the only Middle East democracy, Israel.

President Clinton got it right, verbally at least, in 1998. He said then that Iraq was "a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists, drug traffickers, or organized criminals." In urging strong action on Iraq, the Washington Post referred to Clinton's words as "perceptive but ultimately empty" because they led to no meaningful action. In the post-9/11 world, refusing to act is far more dangerous. Saddam has the ability and the hostility to churn out weapons for those who wish to inflict grave damage on the United States. It's time to do something about it.