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On Point

The Second VE Day


by Austin Bay
February 22, 2005

Chalk it up as a second VE Day (Victory in Europe), and credit President George W. Bush for following Sir Winston Churchill's wise counsel: "In Victory: Magnanimity."

Bush's low-key shellacking of France's crook in chief, Jacques Chirac, signals the political defeat of "Old Europe" on the issue of Iraq. This past Monday, before a state dinner in Belgium, a reporter asked Bush if he would invite Chirac to his Texas ranch. Bush quipped, "I'm looking for a good cowboy."

Remember, "cowboy" is Euro-snob code for "pathological American suffering from hyper-power and? gigantisme militaire."?

Chirac responded by praising the excellence of U.S.-French relations.

Yes indeed, my Parisian pod-nuh, we're all cowboys now -- "High Noon" cowboys dedicated to defending justice and freedom.

With a 10-gallon grin, Chirac's "western front" -- a political concoction of anti-Americanism and cowardice -- quietly folds. The Iraqi people's Jan 30 electoral show of force sealed Chirac's defeat. Even in the benighted Bastilles of Paris and Berlin, those ink-stained indicators of democracy in the line of fire -- purple fingers -- point the way to the future.

The ongoing and oh-so-public moral collapse of the United Nations contributes to America's political victory. Chirac banked on the U.N. as a platform for his cynical brand of political power projection. The Oil for Food travesty, sex shenanigans in Geneva and hideous sex crimes in the Congo confirm the U.N.'s deep systemic ills and the need for major reform. As Martin Peretz wrote in a recent New Republic essay, the U.N. "is not a magnet for the good. It performs the magic of the wicked. It is corrupt, it is pompous, it is shackled to tyrants and cynics."

Chirac's Old Europe faced European opponents, beginning with Tony Blair's Great Britain. Poland and Italy sent significant troop contingents in Iraq and provided crucial political support. The Poles understood the stakes. When I attended an August 2004 planning session at the Polish headquarters in Babylon, one senior Polish officer told me: "Poland appreciates freedom. That's why we are here."

I didn't take that as a snide shot at France -- the colonel meant it as a fact that had shaped his own life.

The Dutch and Danes added battalion-sized contingents. In a late evening chat session in Baghdad, a Danish officer told me, "We have few military forces (to start with), but we're here." Why? America is addressing the central strategic issue: the need for a democratic political reformation in the Middle East. Extending democracy ultimately protects Denmark.

The steady improvement of Iraqi security forces is a fourth reason. While I don't think we'll see a fully capable Iraqi military for another six or seven years, the training trend-line is positive. Bean and bullet counters in Paris can follow the trend out a decade, and it points to a self-sustaining Iraq. With 200 billion barrels of oil and Washington as an ally, this New Iraq could dominate Middle Eastern politics.

Best clean your six-gun, Jacques.

On Tuesday, all NATO members agreed to "assist in training Iraqi security forces, to hasten the day when they can take full responsibility for the stability of the country and the security of its citizens."

While training assistance certainly serves as a political fig-leaf, it's an absolutely vital task, as is economic development.

That's where France and Germany can still contribute. With Churchillian grace, Bush acknowledged that: "Today, America and Europe face a moment of consequence and opportunity. ... We can once again set history on a hopeful course -- away from poverty and despair, and toward development and the dignity of self-rule; away from resentment and violence, and toward justice and the peaceful settlement of differences. Seizing this moment requires idealism: We must see in every person the right and the capacity to live in freedom."

For democracies that shirked the showdown in Iraq, Bush's remarks are gentle acid, but it's medicine Old Europe knows it has to swallow.

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