If you really want to attack somebody and you cannot come up with any convincing reasons, your best tactic is to accuse your opponents of being appeasers who are planning another Munich. Which is why the defence secretary of the United States of America, Donald Rumsfeld, has taken to comparing himself to Winston Churchill.
He was at it again recently in a speech in California, telling 3,000 Marines that “it wasn’t until each country got attacked that they said: ‘Maybe Winston Churchill was right. Maybe that lone voice expressing concern about what was happening was right’.”
Rumsfeld’s message was clear. Saddam Hussein is another Adolf Hitler, and if he is not stopped now, he and his weapons of mass destruction will gobble up one country after another. The Iraqi hordes may even cast lascivious eyes on the US itself.
Rumsfeld could not be that far off his trolley' Try this gem, from the previous week: “Think of all the countries that said, well, we don’t have enough evidence. Mein Kampf had been written. Hitler had indicated what he intended to do. Maybe he won’t attack us...Well, there were millions dead because of the miscalculations.” As there presumably will be again if the US doesn’t destroy Hussein.
Let’s explore this analogy a bit. Hitler’s Germany in 1933 was the second-biggest industrial country in the world, a scientific and technological leader in the heart of Europe with a fairly homogeneous population of about 80 million people. In six years, Hitler gobbled up all or bits of three countries, and was starting in on Poland when Britain and France finally went to war to stop him.
Hussein’s Iraq, by contrast, is only the fourth-biggest country in west Asia. Industrially and scientifically, it ranks about 40th in the world, and its population of just over 20 million people is deeply divided into mutually hostile Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs. Hussein has been running the place for decades, and in that time he has conquered nobody.
True, he did launch an aggressive war against Iran in 1980, but Rumsfeld doesn’t dwell on that episode much because Hussein launched that attack with tacit US backing. Even when Hussein used poison gas on his own rebellious Kurdish population during that war — not to mention using it regularly against Iranian soldiers — Washington did not object because he was its de facto ally.
Hussein escaped from the war with a no-score draw after eight years. It left him deep in debt, a problem he attempted to solve by invading Kuwait in 1990. He would never have done it had he realized that the US and its allies would respond militarily. But he doesn’t know much about the way the rest of the world works. So he got thoroughly whipped, and has spent the past ten years just trying to hang on to power. Not only is he not a Hitler; he barely qualifies as a mini-Mussolini.
If an appeal to patriotism, as Samuel Johnson said, is the last refuge of a scoundrel, then analogies with Munich and appeasement are the last resort of a bankrupt foreign policy. But there is one aspect of the long political career of Churchill, whose bust is prominently displayed in the Oval Office, that the Bush administration should study: his views on what should be done about Iraq.
Iraq was a British colony in the Twenties, and a very fractious one where the tribes were forever rebelling, a permanent nuisance to Britain but not a grave threat, rather as Hussein’s Iraq is to the world today. Churchill was colonial secretary, and did not want to waste a lot of British soldiers’ lives dealing with the revolts — so he advocated using the Royal Air Force to bomb the rebel villages instead. Local administration by fighter-bomber, you might call it.
That is very similar to what the US and Britain have been doing, with a fair measure of success, since Hussein threw out the United Nations arms inspectors three years ago. It’s the kind of low-key, low-cost containment policy that radicals hate, but until last September 11, neither Washington nor anyone else showed an interest in a more aggressive policy. Absolutely nothing has changed since then except the psychology in the White House. Which is a poor reason for a war.