After the War, Will There Be Peace?

Our delightful friends, the Saudi Arabians, are making plans to disinvite our troops from their soil, to which the only response should be: “Hey, you can’t fire us. We quit!”

Of course, we can’t quit now, not with another war in the Persian Gulf just a few weeks away. We’ll have to wait until we knock off Iraq, after which those unappreciated troops in the desert can be transported home, where they will be more than welcome: They may be necessary.

Over the weekend, one of the blustering leaders of Hamas promised that a cadre of suicide bombers will be visiting American targets if we make a move on Iraq. I’m no expert on the internal politics of Islamic terrorist groups-for all I know, such speeches are merely part of Mideast street theater-but I do tend to take talk like this seriously. Evildoers have a pretty good track record of giving advance notice, or at least subtle hints, of their horrific crimes, as scholars of Mein Kampf will recall.

The gentleman from Hamas actually put his bloodstained finger on what strikes me as the essential point of disagreement between the more thoughtful hawks and doves. Will an invasion of Iraq increase or diminish the chances of more attacks on American targets and on America’s homeland? Will this display of American power and might further inflame Islamists, or will their recruiting base shrink in the face of American resolve?

I’m in the containment camp, because I believe war with Iraq will make the world more dangerous, not less. But I also respect the views of thoughtful people who have drawn the opposite conclusion. One of our arguments is wrong; one is correct. We’ll know soon enough which is which. If it is to be war, I hope it is quick and successful.

Unfortunately, too much of the Iraq debate seems to be between people whose conclusions could have been predicted years ago. Among the pro-war and anti-war camps are the usual cartoon characters shouting arguments based on partisan considerations and ideological dogma. Of course leftist academics are against the war; of course everyone on the Fox News Channel is for it. The knee-jerks on the left always will believe the worst about American intentions, especially when a Republican sits in the White House. Some of the righties just seem to like war. Because many have never experienced combat, they are deaf to the remark Robert E. Lee made as he watched Union troops getting mowed down at Fredericksburg: It is good that war is so terrible, he said, lest we grow too fond of it.

Who would know better than the French, the Germans and the Russians? Some of the most horrific battles of the 20th century were fought on their soil, by their soldiers, among their civilians. The people and leaders of Old Europe are not as fond of war as we are. Who can blame them? And who could have predicted that one day we would bemoan the lack of martial spirit among the Germans? After World War II, the Allies were determined to purge Germany of its obsession with living space, nifty uniforms and high-tech weaponry (circa 1945). Guess what? It worked.

The lips of some pro-war shouters curl when they speak of anti-war Europeans, saying that we ought to expect little else from the same crowd that gave appeasement a bad name in the 1930’s. Well, not exactly: Britain, the nation of Neville Chamberlain, today is as hawkish as we are. And the anti-war Germans of today were the appeasees in 1938. So we’re left, then, with the French, appeasers then, appeasers now. Ollie North was telling his Fox audience the other day that French soldiers have always preferred meek surrender to manly combat. Those damn frogs-they oughta be wearing skirts, if you get Ollie’s meaning. Never mind the extraordinary courage of the Resistance or the Free French Army during World War II. And never mind that once upon a time, those pansies from Paris fought with us (see: Yorktown, 1781) and, under a cheese-eater named Bonaparte, were the terror of Europe in the early 19th century.

Almost 100 years have passed since that late summer of 1914 when the armies of France, Germany and Russia (along with Britain) mobilized for a war that still defies explanation. The armies were sent into battle because, well, that is what mobilized armies do. Four years of catastrophe followed.

Americans have no collective memory of World War I, but Old Europe certainly does. We prefer to draw lessons from the war that followed. But World War II-with its narrative of good prevailing over evil-is almost impossible to imagine without the brutal and inexplicable conflict that preceded it.

Many hawks believe we cannot afford to repeat the mistakes of the 1930’s. The question, though, is whether we are repeating the madness of 1914.