Is the United Nations Security Council?
Yes, in the eyes of U.S. President George Bush's top officials, and in the eyes of many Canadians who believe war is the only way to deal with Iraq and Saddam Hussein.
"We need to remind everybody that tyrants don't respond to any kind of appeasement," national security adviser Condoleezza Rice declared this weekend. "Tyrants respond to toughness. And that was true in the 1930s and 1940s when we failed to respond to tyranny, and it is true today."
It's a fiercely crisp sound bite. But it fails the test of serious scrutiny.
Saddam is no Adolf Hitler, who murdered 6 million Jews and occupied much of Europe. Saddam is a despot who has sacrificed a million Iraqis fighting with Iran, and over Kuwait, who ordered the lethal gassing of Kurds in northern Iraq in the 1980s and the wholesale destruction of their villages. But the Holocaust was a unique evil.
And what "appeasers," exactly, does Rice have in mind? The coalition of 28 countries, Canada included, that drove Saddam out of Kuwait in 1991? Those "appeasers" crushed Iraq's will to fight in just 42 days. Some 60,000 Iraqis were killed; the campaign cost the allies billion; and it cost Iraq 0 billion.
There were no Neville Chamberlains in that crowd, selling out Kuwait so that Saddam wouldn't hurt us.
Canadians would willingly fight again if Saddam thwarts the inspectors. If he's found hiding banned weapons. If he befriends Al Qaeda. Or if he threatens a neighbor.
And the United Nations may yet authorize war if Saddam doesn't account for banned weapons. The European Union calls this his "last chance" to disarm.
So "appeasers" aren't Bush's chief problem. His slipping credibility is. It's reflected in polls that show a majority of Americans aren't keen to fight this war without more allied support than Bush has mustered. And in the huge Vietnam War-type peace protests this past weekend.
A year ago Bush officials claimed Saddam was rearming. No evidence has been offered. Saddam was said to have a huge offensive arsenal. Now weapons inspectors aren't so sure. And while he may retain some chemical and biological weapons, he can't deliver them.
Bush officials claimed as well that Saddam was actively aiding Al Qaeda terrorists. But they have yet to supply proof.
So now Washington's hawks are trying to stir fears that Saddam might equip a terrorist with a radiological ("dirty") bomb. It's possible. But terrorists don't have to turn to Baghdad to obtain radioactive materials.
No wonder millions of people, here and abroad, are skeptical.
And why rush to attack? There was no rush to war in 1990-91, even after Saddam had invaded Kuwait. The U.N. waited 5 1/2 months before authorizing a counterattack. Saddam poses no such threat today. He heads a weak, bottled-up regime and a shattered military.
Bush deserves credit — from all political camps — for refocusing the U.N. on the residual threat Saddam does pose. American pressure has brought weapons inspectors back into Iraq after a four-year absence.
But Bush's impatience for war may undercut these gains by inflaming the Muslim world against the U.S. and other western nations, by turning American public opinion against itself and by alienating European allies.
Better to leave Saddam under semi-permanent U.N. trusteeship.
Urging Bush to let the U.N. handle Saddam, with U.S. backup, does not make one an appeaser. An optimist, perhaps. But not an appeaser.
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