February 24, 2024

Sarajevo, not Munich

History was never a strong point for either George W. Bush or his coterie of advisers. But the attempted analogy of the current crisis with Iraq to the Munich conference in 1938 at which Nazi Germany was ceded a portion of Czechoslovakia is laughable.

Germany in 1938 was the second largest industrial power in the world, had a growing army, and was courting strong potential allies in Italy and Japan. Iraq barely makes it into the top 100 industrial powers, suffered a near defeat in its war with Iran (in which the Reagan administration quietly supported Iraq despite its use of chemical weapons) and suffered a devastating defeat in being evicted from Kuwait. Its army is one-fourth the size it was in January 1991 and 12 years of sanctions have crippled it economically. Iraq has neither invaded nor threatened to invade any country since its fiasco in Kuwait. Iraq’s immediate neighbors loathe its leader, but do not fear Iraq. No better proof of this exists than the vote March 1 by Turkey’s parliament not to allow United States troops to enter the country for the war Bush so devoutly desires, despite a staggeringly generous aid package that can only be described as a bribe.

This “war at any price” mentality of Bush does have a 20th-century analogue: the reaction of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, by terrorists seeking to promote a greater Serbia. Wounded by the loss of a much-loved heir to the empire’s throne, Austria, with Germany’s support, forwarded a list of stringent demands upon Serbia that no nation could have agreed to in its entirety. Serbia conceded much of what Austria demanded. Austria invaded anyway and, despite punishing Serbia, it set loose a cascade of events that led to a destruction from which Europe did not fully recover for more than 70 years. Millions of the world’s best young men died in trench warfare; chemical weapons were used repeatedly for the first time; a war that the United States later joined to “make the world safe for democracy” made it safe for the rise of fascism, Nazism and communism.

The lesson of Sarajevo is that war has a host of consequences that no one can foresee. When a weaker adversary repeatedly accedes to most of your demands, think twice before insisting upon 100 percent capitulation. The risks of war will far outweigh the benefits. We should shudder at what the winds of war will set loose both in the Islamic world and in a Western world beset by terrorism whose numbers of recruits will have doubled.

I only wish that Bush’s threats were part of a good cop-bad cop routine, with France’s Chirac playing the good cop. In this analogy, Saddam Hussein is now under house arrest and the U.N. inspectors are searching the house room by room. Bush, the bad cop, should secretly be proud of his success. Instead, he wants to call off the search and shoot the arrestee, Hussein.

The CIA has informed Congress that the most likely scenario for Saddam Hussein to use what-ever chemical wea-pons he possesses is a “last stand” defense in which invading U.S. troops are the victims as they corner the Iraqi leader. If Hussein were truly interested in arming terrorists with these weapons, one would think that such an exchange would have already happened. But if we corner Hussein, we have rapidly multiplied the likelihood that such a transfer occurs, despite the 20-year history of hatred between Hussein and bin Laden.

While missile tests and nuclear weapons tests and production are easy to discern through satellite and seismic observations (see North Korea), chemical or biological weapons production is far harder to detect. More importantly, the completed chemical weapons are far harder to find. Why would U.S. soldiers, in the chaotic aftermath of a war, have an easier time finding weapons than U.N. weapons inspectors under peacetime conditions? Only if Bush is withholding intelligence from the current inspection team would soldiers, after a war, be better able to find hidden chemical weapons. I don’t put this past George Bush.

There are already two calculated deceptions that Bush has repeatedly voiced in hopes that they will be believed. The first is that Hussein and bin Laden are linked, despite bin Laden’s repeated calls for the overthrow of Hussein. Hussein doesn’t take such talk lightly: the Ayatollah Khomeini made similar demands for the overthrow of the “infidel” Hussein and the result was Iraq’s invasion of Iran. Were Hussein to arm bin Laden he would risk his own destruction by bin Laden’s hand.

The second calculated deception is to lump nuclear weapons together with chemical and biological weapons as “weapons of mass destruction.” This is to compare the deaths on a World War I battlefield with the cataclysms of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Star Wars fantasies of Bush aside, there is no defense to a nuclear bomb; gas masks, vaccines and the limited reach in time and space of any chemical or biological weapon makes them weapons of an entirely different order. The best proof of this difference is found in Bush’s different response to the certainty that North Korea has nuclear weapons and the possibility that Iraq has chemical and biological weapons (along with more than 20 other nations). The former is an absolute bar to a military response.

The lesson for any rogue nation is that the sooner it acquires nuclear weapons the sooner it will be protected from a pre-emptive war. Thus, in an alleged effort to avoid nuclear proliferation, Bush has encouraged it.

We know that Bush has learned little from history. We have, since Sept. 11, 2001, clothed him with the same set of new clothes that the Austrians bestowed upon their emperor in the wake of the terrorism of June 28, 1914, at Sarajevo. As the world shouts its disagreement it is time for Americans to recognize, as that child once pointed out, that the emperor doesn’t have a new set of clothes. He isn’t wearing any clothes at all.

Arthur J. Greif is a Bangor attorney.

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