TEA WITH HITLER
By RALPH PETERS
February 5, 2003 -- NOTHING so reveals the bankruptcy of the European left as its reverence for Saddam Hussein. When we have reached the point at which a British lawmaker makes a pilgrimage to Baghdad to adore Saddam, paying the dictator more respect than he would show to America's president, the United States need no longer take European protests seriously.
A few days ago, unemployed British parliamentarian and unshakable leftist Tony Benn conducted a non-interview with Saddam (broadcast yesterday in Britain) in which Benn constantly rephrased the same question: Why are the evil Americans determined to launch a war of aggression against innocent Iraq?
Benn tossed one softball after another, begging Saddam to hit each one out of the park and tell the world what out-of-control cowboys the Americans are.
And Saddam didn't miss one pitch. He explained to peace-loving people everywhere that America is controlled by the "Zionist entity" and only wants Iraq's oil. Of course, Iraq has no weapons of mass destruction. Iraq is doing its best to cooperate with the inspectors, although the inspectors are blocking progress. And so forth.
Has Iraq supported terrorism? Certainly not. (How dare one even ask?) "We have no relationship with al Qaeda," Saddam explained to his delighted guest, but "if we had a relationship with al Qaeda and we believed in that relationship, we wouldn't be ashamed to admit it." Clearly, Saddam is a man of principle.
Since Saddam has not given an interview with a Western TV camera present in a dozen years, it truly is a shame that Benn, who makes much of his pacifist and humanitarian credentials, didn't ask his idol a single probing question: No queries about Saddam's use of weapons of mass destruction against his own people; no questions about the slaughter of the Marsh Arabs and the Kurds; no accusations about the regime's use of torture, rape and execution on a massive scale. Nor did Benn, once an elected member of Parliament, offer a whisper about free and fair elections.
But then Saddam isn't really the point. Tony Benn has yet to buy himself a retirement home in the Baghdad suburbs. The strange - indeed, twisted - purpose was to spit in America's face.
For the European left, America is the last and only demon, with Israel portrayed alternately as its master and its servant.
Were weapons of mass destruction to be used on Israel, Benn would explain that it really was America's fault. Were Saddam to employ such weapons against U.S. and British troops, Benn would nod sagely, ignore the proof that Iraq had those weapons all along and suggest that Baghdad was merely acting in self-defense.
I do not doubt that Tony Benn wants peace. Nor do I doubt that Saddam wants peace, at least at the moment. But the peace for which Benn would settle and which Saddam would embrace is the same peace other British and French politicians granted Hitler after he marched into the Rhineland, then Czechoslovakia.
Saddam assured Benn that "Iraq has no interest in war," and that "we admire the development of the peace movement around the world." Of course, Benn was too polite to mention those teensy-weensy little invasions of Iran and then Kuwait that may have taken over a million lives between them. Clearly, Saddam has seen the light.
When Saddam rambled on about the "sufferings of the Iraqi people" and insisted that "the Iraqis are committed to their rights as much as they are committed to the rights of others," Benn accepted Saddam's word as if from an oracle of truth.
In fact, Benn gave several sermons himself, the most distasteful of which was his explanation to Saddam that the "real Americans" and the "real British" were those who opposed war with Iraq.
No. The real Americans and Brits are those who died at Normandy, or cracking the Siegfried Line, or in the jungles of Burma, or in hideous prison camps. The real Brits and Americans are in the Gulf right now, getting ready to bring one of the great criminals of our time to justice.
And, yes, the members of the peace movement are real Brits and Americans, too. In our countries dissent is protected, even when its apostles are as foolish and pandering as Tony Benn.
The "peace movement" is and has been a curious affair for at least a century. It has always found its recruits in those who believe, against all evidence, that their own governments are malevolent, whether in Washington, London, Ottawa or Canberra, while even the bloodiest foreign dictator really wants peace. Although there undoubtedly are sincere souls in the movement, one wonders about their psychology and the extent to which their unhappiness with their own democratically elected, rule-of-law governments is a reflection of inner, not outer, discontents.
I do not doubt that Benn believes he is more virtuous than the young men and women who must face Saddam's arsenal for the good of humankind. But I believe firmly that he is wrong.
If only appeasement worked, I would be on Benn's side. If we could attain a just, enduring peace by endless concessions, we would be foolish not to make them. But the world is as it is, not as dotty old men would have it. A fellow like Tony Benn can afford his eccentricities because others will stand up to protect him from his own absurdities.
Benn should, however, be under no illusions: He is supporting a monstrous killer, one who is the enemy not so much of the United States as he is of the Iraqi people. And, worse (for him): Benn's pilgrimage to Baghdad truly does underscore the inanity and danger of allowing European intellectuals to have any say, whatsoever, about American decisions. Like so many of his embittered peers, he has embraced lies when the truth is self-evident.
Benn has succumbed to an Orwellian world in which war means peace, crime is a virtue, and oppression must be protected against liberators - especially if those liberators are Americans.
In Saddam's own words, "Welcome to Baghdad."
Retired Army officer Ralph Peters is the author of "Beyond Terror: Strategy in a Changing World."
Tea With Hitler
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