Opinion: Drawing the Right Lessons from History | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 03.06.2004
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Opinion: Drawing the Right Lessons from History

President Bush has likened the U.S.-led war on terror to World War II ahead of D-Day celebrations. Deutsche Welle's Peter Philipp comments that a dip into history books would have been advisable before his talk.


Bush has vowed America will continue to strike terror groups around the world.

In a speech to 981 Air Force Academy cadets on Wednesday, United States President George W. Bush said the soldiers were fighting the same war as those who battled the Nazis.

He also said the war on terror resembled "the great clashes of the last century" between democracy and totalitarianism. The U.S. president vowed that America would continue to strike terror groups around the world.

Deutsche Welle's Peter Philipp comments.

There it is again -- the comparison that George W. Bush used even before the Iraq war: the battle against Saddam Hussein and against terrorism is comparable to World War II. The enemies of the United States still believe today, as they did then, that the Americans are weak and can be defeated. But today, much like then, the U.S. will prove they are wrong. The Americans will fight resolutely and not rest until the enemies are crushed.

It's a strident tone that fits the run-up to the D-Day ceremony and also the presidential election campaign, but not the political reality in which the U.S. president is ordering his military deployments.

Sept. 11 wasn't and isn't comparable to Pearl Harbor, the terror groups of Osama Bin Laden aren't comparable to Nazi Germany. Even Saddam Hussein's regime cannot and should not be likened to Hitler's.

Al Qaeda's bloody terror is to be totally condemned and rejected. But these groups don't conquer new lands, they don't perpetrate genocide and they don't wage a conventional war against the United States or any other country. Not even against Israel, which they have declared as their arch enemy.

Al Qaeda perpetrates terror much like other groups before it have done in other places and much like others that will do the same after it. Only the criminal efficiency of al Qaeda is much greater than ever before.

This is certainly a challenge and not just for the U.S. But it's by no means a "war." And military means is not the only way (or at least not in the long-term) to defeat terrorism. Afghanistan has more than clearly demonstrated that.

And what about Saddam Hussein's regime?

Bush's father was in a better position to remind one of World War II when he freed Kuwait. Bush junior waged a war without Iraq having occupied other countries and without any scrap of proof for his alleged evil plans -- right from weapons of mass destruction to the threat of new aggression.

Even the American officials, whom Bush reminded of World War II, know that the evidence does not exist. It's difficult to imagine that they believe Bush's words about a holy mission.

And what of the questions of democracy and freedom?

Naturally "D-Day" was the prelude to the liberation of Europe from Nazi-German occupation. But it's not comparable to the Middle East: the only occupier there is called Israel and is -- at least on its own state territory -- the only democracy in the region.

The other countries are repressed by their own leaders, who don't consider giving their people more freedom. In any case not because Saddam Hussein was toppled. What has taken place since Saddam's unseating should be guarantee enough for the Arab regimes that Washington will not want to wage any further wars in the region.

After all, even a year after the war and the appointment of an interim government, democracy in Iraq is still a distant dream. Even in this respect Bush is wrong. Or he's making a mistake if he equates "liberation" with "democratization."

Here, one can only advise, and not just him, a glance in the history books.

Even today in Germany one doesn't speak of "day of liberation", but of "defeat", "capitulation" and similar things. And that, despite the fact that we've long become a democracy. But even this process takes a while: It took four years for Germany to frame its constitution and hold its first post-World War II free elections. Then it took a full ten years until sovereignty was achieved.

And in Iraq the same should happen overnight? Without any kind of democratic past, without experienced and untarnished politicians?

The U.S. president should know that some things just can't be compared.

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