Baghdad Day

Wall Street Journal, 10 April, 2003

April 9th -- Liberation Day! What a wonderful, magnificent, emotional occasion -- one that will live in legend like the fall of the Bastille, V-E Day or the fall of the Berlin Wall. Watching the tearing down of Saddam Hussein's towering statue in Baghdad was a true Ozymandias moment.

It slowly tumbled and, with perfect symbolism, just two rusty pipes were left sticking up from the boots. In the BBC's London studio an Iraqi dissident said though tears, "April 9 is not just spring, it is for Iraqis eternal spring."

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It ain't over yet, by a very long chalk. There are no doubt horrors, and more tragic deaths, to come. But once again the United States, together with the British, thank goodness, has shown itself to be on the side of freedom. All those smart Europeans who ridiculed George Bush and denigrated his idea that there was actually a better future for the Iraqi people -- they will now have to think again.

But while rejoicing we should also be aware that we have wasted 12 years of the lives of the Iraqi people by failing to deal with Saddam Hussein before now. There were many moments after the lamentable failure to remove him in 1991 when that was called for. The most obvious was in 1998 when he stopped the United Nations weapons inspectors from working at all.

Then, as now, the leader of the European opposition to dealing with the Saddam problem was Jacques Chirac, the president of France. He is the man who has been Saddam's self-proclaimed friend since 1975, when he sold him a fast breeder nuclear reactor, from which weapons could be made. If it were not for Israeli prescience in bombing the reactor in 1981, Saddam would have achieved his nuclear ambitions years ago.

Mr. Chirac, a unique combination of greed, hypocrisy and arrogance, bears huge responsibility for the tragedy of Iraq and the Iraqi people over the years. Throughout the late 1990s, his was the most powerful voice demanding that the U.N. relax the pressures on Iraq, give Saddam the benefit of the doubt on weapons inspections and, in effect, roll over for Saddam. He has been driven throughout by a mixture of cupidity for contracts and anti-Americanism.

Alas, he has not been alone. Many other European leaders need to explain their resistance to the U.S.-U.K. attempt to enforce 17 binding Security Council resolutions and then to liberate Iraq. They claimed they were resisting for the sake of the Iraqi people. Poppycock! In reality they helped make war inevitable and seriously damaged the U.N. system they claimed to defend.

Germany's Gerhard Schroeder has demonstrated that he cared only for easy votes. He was never brave enough to try to persuade his country that there was a better way -- for Germany, for Europe and for Iraq. Mr. Schroeder has shown that he is indeed the worst German chancellor since 1945.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, the man who in his younger years used to beat up German policemen, deliberately and publicly abused Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for his steadfastneover Iraq earlier this year. Well Dr. Fischer should now be preparing his apology -- to Mr. Rumsfeld and to the Iraqi people. If he were as righteous as he likes to suggest, he might even resign. He has certainly done his country only harm.

Resignation should also be on the mind of Dominique de Villepin, the popinjay foreign minister of France. Remember his vacuous speech to the gallery of the Security Council, which basically said nothing more than Give Peace (and Saddam) a Chance? It will forever be remembered as a low point in the council's history.

When he came to speak in London on March 27, Mr. de Villepin was asked, "Who do you want to win the war, M. de Villepin?" and he petulantly refused to answer the question. His behavior throughout this crisis has been like that of his master, a risible mix of posturing and prancing without content or commitment.

Thank God for Tony Blair and those other European leaders who defied the axis of complacency. What this whole Iraq story shows is how extraordinarily selfish and inward looking the European Union has become.

Since America led Europe to victory in the Cold War, the European Union, led by the French, has tried to set itself up as a counterweight to the U.S. This is as absurd as it is self-destructive. Europe is, if anything, weaker than ever before and therefore more dependent, upon the U.S. for protection. The Maastricht Treaty was supposed to bring about a new Europe. Instead it created a new, ever-expanding bureaucracy and new pretensions that it failed to realize.

One lesson of Iraq is that the longer you delay confronting a crisis, the more people suffer and the more difficult the solution becomes. U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz was right when he said recently that, "Often the moral thing to do is also strategically correct." The much derided "neocons" in Washington have been shown to be far more correct than all the sneering sophisticates of the European Union.

* * *

The White House and the Pentagon are right to warn now that there is still much to win in Iraq. There will be many problems in creating a decent government after decades in which the rule of law has been trampled by terror. There will perhaps be times when the ripple effects of the end of Saddam may seem just too complicated, too difficult. In such times we will need to remember this day -- and remember also that without the end of Saddam no progrein the Middle East and the wider area would have been possible.

This is only the beginning. But what a way to begin the beginning!


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