“Liberty demands responsibility - that is why so many dread it.”
~ George Bernard Shaw
I recently spoke at the McGill University symposium commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the disappearance of Raoul Wallenberg. Among the other participants were several Scandinavian diplomats and officials. As we discussed the importance of one man standing for freedom, the subject naturally turned to many of today’s conflicts including Iraq. One of the dignitaries, who represented a country not participating in the coalition, took great exception to the fact that President Bush was acting alone and that his policies somehow represented an American version of the Pax Romana. That Bush was acting as an American Caesar.
I asked him if he objected to the fact that the Americans had freed Afghanis from a dictatorial regime and had now constituted a functioning democracy. No, he was happy with that. I asked him if he was unhappy that Bush’s tough stand against Arafat had marginalized him even before his death and opened the way to new leaders who have made a transition to a democratically elected government in the Palestinian Authority applauded even by Israel. No, he said he liked that too. I then tried another approach and asked if he objected to the American assault against the butcher of Baghdad who had killed 600,000 of his own people--including the ethnic genocide of the Kurds-- that has now opened the way for democracy in that sad land as well. No, that was also a good thing he said, particularly after I pointed out to him that since the Nuremberg Principles, every country has an obligation to act in such circumstances without regard to sovereignty based on accidents of geographic boundaries or bloodlines of familial descent.
A bit exasperated, I finally demanded to know what his problem was. His answer was that there had not been sufficient consultation by the U.S. with other Western nations and that so many countries—he specifically named France, Germany and Russia—opposed the Iraqi invasion. My response was none to subtle.
I pointed out that the Americans waited nine months to act while they consulted dozens of countries and asked the U.N. to engage on three separate occasions. The U.N. refused. I reminded him that the very authors of U.N. doctrines, men such as Tucker and Oppenheim, have repeatedly made clear that when the U.N. cannot or will not act in times of humanitarian crisis, it is obligatory, not optional, that nations act even under the doctrine of self-help. He accepted that but countered that the coalition was too narrow.
I reminded him that France, Germany and Russia did not engage because they were responsible for the sale of 95% of the arms to Saddam between 1996 and 2003. And Canada’s failure of will was due more to the concerns of certain Canadian business interests than any fidelity to the U.N. Furthermore, I challenged him as to why he ignored the fact that of 51 nations asked, 39 accepted to join the coalition including important international players such as Great Britain, Australia, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Japan, India, Poland and even his Scandinavian neighbour Norway.
Exasperated himself, he finally took refuge in the argument that there were no weapons of mass destruction found and that Bush should have been open with the world and stated clearly that he wanted to go in to end the slaughter, create a transparent regime but also to stabilize the flow of oil to the West. He chastised Bush for irresponsibility and lack of honesty.
He was right on one thing. Bush should have been clear about those motives. They would not have detracted one iota from the justice of the invasion. But even if he had been open, the rampant hypocrisy in the world today would have condemned him still. I reminded the diplomat of Churchill’s admonition that between being “responsible” and being “right”, right was better. And that sometimes a “bodyguard of lies” was necessary to achieve a just end. Chamberlain thought he was “responsible” in feeding the Nazi crocodile. It almost ate Britain. I also reminded this gentleman that his nation, though not a belligerent, was hardly neutral in its own dealings with questionable regimes over the past sixty years. I reminded him that one cannot reverse one’s own deflowering. At that point we agreed to disagree and got on with our speeches.
As we approach, for the third time in a year, the first democratic elections in an Arab Muslim land, it is time to acknowledge the success of the American adventure, whatever it’s initial motives. Toward the end of his life Caesar proclaimed in his Commentaries that the Pax Romana, the Roman Peace, failed in many places. Particularly in Gaul. He wrote the famous line that has resonated through the ages that “We have made a desert and called it peace.” Well, President Bush is not an American Caesar. If there is a Pax Americana, it is not a Pax Romana. For the United States found deserts of despair and made them bloom with hope.
The Arab Muslim dominated Middle Rim of this small planet, from the borders of Pakistan to the Arab Atlantic coast, is the only place on earth that has not had even one attempt at a transparent regime with a semblance of democracy other than Israel. Now there are three others. Imperfect as these governments may be at their start, and impure as American motives may have been, the United States has gone further and faster in assuring the survival and success of freedom, and the security of the West, than at any time since the policies of Sen. Henry Jackson and President Ronald Reagan brought about the collapse of Soviet tyranny in Eastern Europe. In a world that is never black and white but always shades of gray, the American colors are looking real good today.
At one of our Institute Conferences R. Michael Gadbaw, senior international legal counsel to General Electric and a member of President Bush’s International Trade advisory panel, made the following point: “For whatever reason, the vested interests in the United States--and there are many and they are not angelic—decided long ago that it was simply more profitable to do business in pluralistic environments than in tyrannical ones. And the American people have understood that the service and sacrifice inherent in taking the fight to your enemy will cost a lot less in human damage than allowing the enemy to bring the fight to our soil.”
As we approach in May the 60th Anniversary of the defeat of the greatest barbarism in mankind’s history, we can acknowledge, with all its imperfections, that America has kept faith with Jefferson’s oath swearing “…eternal vigilant opposition to all tyranny over the mind of man…” Pete Seeger had a line in one of his anti-Hitler songs of the 40’s that “… when a burglar’s at your door you stop fighting with your landlord and help throw him out.” In the 1960’s he wrote another great line “…can’t everyone just see, what’s clear to you and me, that every single man just wants to be free…” These too are great words for the ages. The Americans get it. It’s time we did too.