Havel on Iraq

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Vaclav Havel explains his, and the Czech Republic's, support for invading Iraq in an interesting profile in The New Yorker:

"I think it's not by chance that the idea of confronting evil may have found more support in those countries that have had a recent experience with totalitarian systems compared with other European countries that haven't had the same sort of recent experience….The Czech experience with Munich, with appeasement, with yielding to evil, with demanding more and more evidence that Hitler was truly evil?that may be one reason that we look at things differently than some others….It's a matter of the functioning of the world's immune system, whether the world can deal with such a case of extreme evil before it is too late."

The whole story is here.

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  1. I don’t think countries ever really do anything for ideological reasons– they do it for their own self-interest and to increase their power. The Czechs stand to gain billions in aid and military contracts from America, and they have very little to lose by standing with them. I’m sure the desire to confront evil is icing on the cake, but surely not the cake itself.

  2. What Mr. Havel plainly fails to appreciate is that at Munich it was HITLER who pushed for invasion.
    So what’s going on? Is Havel comparing Hitler to Hussein, or Dubya?
    He’s right about the appeasement, though.

  3. Exactly how does patrolling a nation’s airways, helping anti-government forces set up free territories, bombing its territory on a regular basis, dictating how many and what kind of weapons its military can have, controlling the export of its major commodity, deliberately undermining its economy, sending in inspectors to barge into its military and research facilities, and publically calling for its leader to be overthrown, count as “appeasement?”

    This ain’t Munich, people.

  4. I think it’s overly cynical to assume Havel doesn’t really believe what he says. This may not be Munich, but the reason it’s not Munich is because some world powers have learned the lesson from history, and we’ve attempted to try to contain Hussein.

    It hasn’t worked though. He’s still been able to defy his obligations under the agreement he made to stay in power after the first Gulf War. What message does it send to future Saddam’s if we just let him get away with it? It might not be Munich, but I think letting him just merrily continue to rule qualifies as appeasement.

  5. I’m with Sebastian on this one. The other commenters make some fair points, but you gotta bring more to the table than the usual healthy cynicism to impugn someone like Havel. Maybe the world’s immune system is better after that last bug. (BTW, what a kickass analogy! Have I just totally missed it elsewhere?)

  6. Joe, it’s appeasement because it’s giving Hussein what he wants — to not be removed from power. Sure, you can be he’s unhappy with all the things you listed, but so is everyone else. It’s costing everyone a lot of money, and the Iraqis a lot of lives, and it’s still not going to prevent Hussein from eventually getting nukes.

    Me, I’m tired of paying money to keep Saddam Hussein alive.

  7. The Czech experience with Hitler is very different from that of East Germany or France. The world abandoned Czechoslovakia as the sacrifical lamb to appease Hitler’s appitite for ‘Lebensraum’. Havel’s logic is certainly not faulty; his country paid a dear price for that appeasement.

    The lesson history teaches us is that you don’t appease people like Hitler or Saddam Hussein, you contain them, and make them behave themselves. If they don’t, you get rid of them. The world was better off without Hitler, as it will be better off without Saddam Hussein.

    The Czech Republic seems to have learned from its history. France and Germany seem to want to continue to make the same mistakes. It’s a shame the world can’t seem to agree that meglomaniacal dictators who gas their own people, bully their neighbors, and defy the agreements they made after losing a war they started concede their right to continue ruling.

  8. To fault Havel’s logic is pretty absurd. If Hitler had been stopped sooner rather than later there would have been less pain for the world. It’s just a matter of the weight given to the various uncertainties in the equation.

  9. Saddam has already been confronted and de-fanged. Who is the modern day equivalent of Czechoslovakia? Iran? Saudi Arabia? Syria? Egypt? Every one of his neighbors can kick his ass in a week.

  10. Are you sure he’s been defanged? There’s still pretty good evidence he’s concealed chemical and biological stockpiles. Stockpiles he agreed to destroy to save his rule after the first Gulf War. He has not kept his end of the bargain. People like Hussein are dangerous because of both their positions as national leaders, and their hunger for more power. The first Gulf War certainly took some wind out of his sails, but that’s not a guarantee he can’t create some nasty surprises for us.

    For better or worse, this administration seems to be willing to take on the issue in a direct and aggressive manner. The worry for me is that in six years when Bush is out of office, and times may be good again, our current concern over Iraq will fade and diminish, giving him the opportunity to become a menace again. We have to aggressively hold Saddam to his obligations, and if necessary, make him suffer the consequences of breaking them.

  11. Lefty takes it a little too far, but essentially he’s correct. There is no current equivalent to Czechoslovakia or to Munich. No one is being offered up for appeasement on the grounds that Hussein will be satisfied. Quite to the contrary, the countries closest to Iraq are the ones most opposed to our war.

    And I didn’t argue that Czechoslovakia didn’t suffer from Hitler’s aggression, only that France did too, making the Czech Republic’s claim to a superior POV to France’s based on their suffering moot.

  12. You’re right that this situation cannot be a direct and detailed comparison to Munich, but I don’t think I was trying to make that assertion. What Havel is expressing in his solidarity with the US is more an agreement with our philosophy on how to deal with aggressive dictators. France and Germany may not be pushing for Munich style appeasment, but they certainly seem willing to let Saddam off the hook for thumbing his nose at the agreements he’s made for the past twelve years. I don’t see how inspections can be a long term solution to this problem. They are only going to work as long as we have this very expensive gun pointed at Saddam’s head, with Bush playing the role of ‘bad cop’ with an itchy trigger finger. We can’t keep that up forever.

    France and Czechoslovakia may have both suffered under Hitler, but there’s two things to consider. One is that France suffered precisely because the Czechs were written off by the other European powers. The Czechs had a powerful army at the time, and making a stand there could possibly have averted World War II. Second is that France was liberated by the Allies, and established their Fourth Republic in 1946, having only been occupied five years. The Czechs were never liberated. They were gobbled up by Soviets, and remained behind the iron curtain until 1993. I think in the long run it can be argued that the Czechs paid (and in many ways are still paying) a harsher price for appeasement than the French, or even the Germans did. The negative effects of Adolph Hitler didn’t end in 1945, and in many ways still haven’t ended.

  13. This article leans a lot on the word “evil”, similar to the Bushies constant recitations. In fact, early on he used the word “crusade” – once. His handlers made him cut that out due to the religious overtones.

    The word evil, too, is a loaded religious term that Muslims are well aware of. They (as well as many in the rest of the world) take note of Dubya as being a dry drunk, born again Christian who has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal saviour. The only world leader he admires is Ariel Sharon. Add all the oil men and women and all the hawks he’s surrounded himself with, plus the fact (yes, it is a fact) that Saddam had nothing to do with 911, plus the fact that he’s not attacking non-Muslim North Korea and it is no wonder that Arabs (and the world) are doing a little math and figuring out what is really going on here.

    Nobody get a pass on motivation. If there was any pussy in Serbia you bet Clinton wouldn’t have got away with bombing them, either. Bush should have known this and taken extra special care on how he proceeded after 911. Instead, he led a huge, national primal scream and it felt good. Now we all get to pay for it.

  14. Sure, the Czechs’ experience with totalitarianism is more recent than France’s, but it’s no more recent than the eastern portion of Germany. And France and Germany’s experiences with Hitler are every bit as recent and painful as the Czech Republic’s.

    And so what anyway? This logic reminds me of when people say that if I were a parent I might feel differently about drug legalization. Well maybe and maybe not, but even if it were so, would that necessarily make me more objective about it–or less so???

    A more direct counter example to this logic is the fact that some in France and Germany have actually used their own Hitler experiences to back their positions visa vi America’s! (Which is no more or less ridiculous than Havel’s logic.)

    Maybe we should find somebody who was beaten up by a skinhead yesterday and just go with whatever he or she says……

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