IMPRACTICAL IDEALISM: Michael Nauman
, the editor of the German weekly "Die Zeit," has a piece in the NYT that wastes no time becoming disjointed:
In June 1981, Israel's prime minister, Menachem Begin, ordered a posse of F-16 jets to take out Saddam Hussein's two nuclear reactors. With vast petroleum reserves, Iraq had no imaginable need for nuclear energy — except to make bombs. And Mr. Hussein had openly declared his intention to attack Israel.
Publicly, Begin was scorned for his outrageous breach of international law. Privately, however, many politicians agreed: Why not destroy Iraq's potentially murderous nuclear toys? Mr. Hussein did go on to start two wars. But he lost both, and if he had been armed with nuclear bombs world history could have taken a very ugly turn.
However, while the man is dangerous and crazy, we do not know that he has weapons of mass destruction. He seems to have had precious little connection to Sept. 11. His army has been destroyed. Therefore, two decades after Begin's attack, America's European allies would deplore a repetition of the Persian Gulf war. Their doubts are born from an ingrained sense of realpolitik. Europe learned a lesson in World War I: slipping into a conflict, with no clear moral sense of one's mission or of the likely military outcome, became a basic fear. Europeans' great source of anxiety was the prospect of being caught in an uncontrollable military escalation.
So: 1) Israel's actions in 1981 were appropriate and helped save the world from a nuclear-armed Saddam, 2) Saddam remains "dangerous and crazy" (and is indisputably subordinating his country's welfare to the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction), and 3) therefore, we should not move against him now. Did I miss something?
More importantly, Nauman's explanation for European reluctance is, in my opinion, completely off-base. The reluctance to move against Saddam is not grounded in realpolitik
. It is grounded in a peculiar, legalistic form of idealism - alluded to in Nauman's comment that Saddam appears to have little connection to September 11. The argument for removing Saddam now is a prophylactic one - grounded solely in arguments of national self-interest. The Europeans (and U.S. Democrats, for that matter) approach the question of removing Saddam from a legalistic perspective - i.e., has he committed a specific wrong against the U.S. which gives it the right to oust him? The founders of realpolitik
no longer recognize the rationale of raison d'etat