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Comments On A Speech Delivered By Senator Chris Dodd To The Council On Foreign Relations, October 16, 2006

Dodd’s speech, a little outdated since he has modified his opinions several times since, was titled, “Moral Authority in the 21st Century: Lessons from Nuremberg.” During the past few weeks, Dodd's position on Iraq has evolved to meet changes in president Bush's strategy. He has, variously, agreed to increases in troop levels, and most recently proposed a bill that would restrict the president from increasing troop levels in Iraq.

“In a time of war, I have come to our Council today to speak about peace.

“Not the kind of peace that is merely the absence of armed conflict.

“Not the uneasy and uncertain peace of adversaries warily eying each other over material and philosophical barricades.

“Certainly not the false peace of slogans emblazoned on naval warships.”

NB But it was precisely the naval warships of World War II, some of which were emblazoned with slogans, and aircraft also emblazoned with war-talk that brought a lasting peace to Europe.

“Rather, I speak of a peace that is rooted in mutual respect and understanding, in open commerce and individual freedom, in a shared commitment to resolve differences other than by violence, and in the common values of all humanity.”

NB This is a good description of the peace of allies in times of peace. It is not the sort of relationship one may reasonably expect between the United States and, say, the leaders of Hezbollah.

“Even at the outset of World War II, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill set out, in the remarkable Atlantic Charter, to try to ensure that no such titanic conflict (as World Warr II) could ever take place again. That work was further advanced in the city of Nuremberg, Germany, within days of the war’s end.”

NB But the important point to notice, surely, is that the Nuremburg trials occurred after the war had been concluded. The defeat of Germany was the necessary precondition of those trials. Dodd, in this speech and elsewhere, tends to conflate war and peace. And he fails to make proper distinctions between President Amadinajad of Iran and, say, the honorable senator from the great state of Massachussetts. Are they not both reasonable?

“Among other insights, the letters (his father wrote to his mother during the Nuremberg trials) help us recall that there was by no means agreement among the Allied powers about how the fate of Nazi leaders should be determined.”

NB But there was universal agreement that once the war had been concluded, the fate of Germany would be determined not by Nazis but by the victorious allies; and so it happened. Among other things, war determines who shall make the peace. A peace made by Germany would not have ended in Nuremberg trials or many of the other blessings Dodd mentions in his address. In fact, Dodd perversely refused in his discourse to acknowledge that long term peace is often brought to nations by hawks rather than doves. The American Revolution, decisively won by Washington and the Continental Army, brought an internal peace that lasted until the first shots of the Civil War. The Revolutionary War settled the question that all wars seek to settle: Who shall rule? The Civil War settled questions haunting the early republic concerning national unity and slavery. Both questions had been tossed around by diplomats, congressmen and presidents since the founding of the country but remained unresolved until the questions were finally settled by the bloodiest of wars up to that time. And the war, won decisivly by the North, did settle the questions and divisions in the country. Wars in which there is a decisive winner do that.

“After Nuremberg, (NB Dodd means to say “After Germany and Japan had been defeated…”) our leaders went further and argued for international institutions that would serve the common good of all nations.”

“The path of engagement and multilateralism created stable nations in Europe and Japan, new hope for progress in impoverished nations, and a growing international acceptance for legal standards that recognize the inherent worth and rights of all human beings. It was exactly the kind of world in which America could prosper—and we did, as did our allies.”

NB Well now, let’s not get carried away. We – the victors of World War II – imposed on Japan terms of surrender that included the democratization of the country. Germany was a deicer situation, because terms were also imposed on East Germany by the Soviets, who manifestly were not interested in preserving democratic forms.

“But today, in my opinion, the path of isolation has gained a regrettable ascendancy. It is clear that the world is not only ‘questioning the moral basis of our war on terror,’ as Colin Powell recently said—it is doubting America’s moral authority itself.”

NB Sadly, this is true, but Democrats in the US Congress, the New York Times editorial board and Colin Powell do not represent the entire world, and no one – least of all Colin Powell – questions that the moral authority of the United States will vanish like smoke if, upon a retreat without victory in Iraq, the forces of death and anarchy are set loose in the Middle East.

“We have been the country that respects privacy, not the country that breaks our own laws to spy on our citizens without warrant.”

NB But war does – and should – change things, though not permanently. Even Washington relied on intelligence brought to him by spies. Lincoln abolished Habeas Corpus during the Civil War for political and military reasons. He did not want to encourage draft revolts in cities like New York. Nathan Hale was hung for spying upon his countrymen.

“Above all, we have been a country were no one is above the law, not a country of unchecked central authority and executive fiat.”

NB To every season there is a time and a purpose. But even in the present war, the powers of the president are not absolute. The Congress may “check” decisions made by the commander-in-chief of the armed forces by denying him funds to prosecute the war. Senator Edward Kennedy, an ardent peace hawk, has threatened to do precisely that. It will be interesting in the coming days to see if Dodd, now campaigning for the presidency, joins Kennedy his efforts to de-finance the unchecked authority of the president. Presently some Democrats are backing a non-binding resolution in the Democrat controlled legislature that opposes an increase in troop levels in Iraq. Dodd has offerd a bill that would force the president to involve the Democrat controlled congress should he find it necessary to increase troop levels in the future. It must be said that Kennedy's view of the matter is at least logical and more persuasive. If the war in Iraq is immoral and without a larger purpose, and if the president is obdurate in its prosecution, and if ending the war will better secure the interests of the United States, then the president's obduracy can be broken only if Congress de-finances the war. If Dodd takes his own rhetorical effusions seriously, he will join Kennedy, who, since he is not this year running for the presidency, can afford to be more bold than Dodd.

“Our ability to threaten is still unmatched—but our power to lead is sorely endangered. Our ability to advance our nation’s vital interests is compromised. In that regard, the isolationism of the 1920s and the unilateralism of recent years bear a striking resemblance.”

NB The ability to lead generally is not enhanced when countries lose wars. After World War II, the Unites States was able to lead much of the world – other than that part of it attached by apron strings and terror to the Soviet Union (Cuba is an example) – because the country was victorious in the war.

“Isolation—whether the passive isolation of the 20’s, or the aggressive isolation of Iraq—brings failure. Our best hope for a more peaceful world lies in engagement, example, authority.”

NB War is engagement raised to the tenth power, diplomacy by other means. We are losing what Bush has been pleased to call “the war on terror” both in the Middle East and on the home front; that certainly is true. Under present circumstances in Iraq and at home, we could not have won World War II. The press, Congress and Hollywood backed the “good war.”

“…and by countering radical Islam, we can help create a world that better respects and reflects our values.

NB Will withdrawing from the primary theatre of battle without victory better enable us to counter radical Islam?

“Kim Jong Il was always unreliable, always seeking to press ahead toward nuclear weapons, but saw enough incentives and credible threats not to do so. But now, we have what the military calls a fact on the ground.

“We have two options. The first one is to destroy the nuclear capacity. That means war—a costly and dangerous choice.

“The second option is to contain North Korea and give it every reason to back off nuclear expansion.”

NB Dodd’s remarks proceed with out any notice that the Bush administration has had some success – with a little help from John Bolton, our delegate to the UN – in persuading the Chinese to put pressure on their client state, Korea. Bolton is no longer the US delegate to the UN, largely owing to Dodd’s vigorous opposition to his nomination. In the one case where diplomacy seemed to be working, Dodd set fire to the pants of the successful diplomatist – and at a time when we were fully engaged peacefully with China.

“The Security Council’s recent unanimous vote to sanction North Korea is an important start—but it is only a start.

“We should state without question that use of any nuclear capability originating from North Korea, against the United States or our allies, will be considered an attack on the United States, and will be dealt with accordingly.”

NB But from the point of view of one urging peace upon the world, is it wise diplomacy to state such things publicly – especially when cowboys are in the White House? My guess is that Dodd knows that much of what he is suggesting has already been accomplished. And it has been done behind the scenes, through secret diplomacy, involving other important states that that may or may not be formal allies of the United States.

“In North Korea, and in Iran as well, we ought to continue to pursue bilateral talks.”

NB Bilateral talks were not successful in Korea during the Carter administration. North Korea said “yes” to Carter’s entreaties, and proceeded to develop its nuclear capacity anyway. Multi-country talks with North Korea, involving China and other nations, have been partly successful. Dodd’s argument that we should abandon success for failure will strike some diplomats as unpersuasive.

“We should begin immediately to reposition our troops to Kurdistan, where there is relative law and order, and where they would be more accepted; to other, less populated areas of Iraq, where their training of Iraqi forces can continue; and to border areas, where they can protect the territorial integrity of Iraq until Iraqi forces can do so themselves."

NB The opposition will follow United States troops like its shadow, where ever they go. They will engage the United States wherever they are: That was the clear message of 9/11. The insurgency, homegrown but foreign fed, is being financed by Iran and Syria, and it is this reality on the ground that has persuaded some pragmatists that direct talks with belligerent nations such as Syria and Iran would not be advisable. Instead, the Bush administration appears to be exerting pressure on Both Iran and Syria through third parties such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. That kind of diplomacy, to be successful, must occur behind the curtain and not at center stage.

“US forces should also be repositioned to military bases in Kuwait and Qatar where they can be available to protect our national security interests—and to Afghanistan, where we must redouble our efforts to capture bin Laden, dismantle al Qaeda, and neutralize the Taliban.

NB Disposing of bin Laden is far less important than prevailing in Iraq. And how do you dismantle the terrorist network by retreating from it?

“The United States must not be reluctant to turn to international and regional mediators. And regional powers like Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan could be enormously helpful in this effort.”

“They all have their own interests, but surely stability in the Gulf region is among them.”

NB Dodd lumps together Iran and Saudi Arabia, Syrai and Egypt. He must know they have different purposes in mind, or he is a fool. Amadinijad is not interested in stability.

“Another is to work with our allies in gathering intelligence and pursuing terrorists. Remember, Mohammed Atta planned the 9/11 attacks from Hamburg, Germany.”

NB All this has been done -- over heated objections concerning privacy rights from Dodd’s party.

“Of course, we must never presume that terrorists can be won over—we can only capture or kill them. Our military might will remain an essential tool for doing so.”

NB Indeed, if not now, when? If not in Iraq, where?

“If we do not fill the vacuum with concrete actions that demonstrate our commitment of freedom and justice, the most hateful ideologies will.

NB Hateful ideologies came to power – in the Middle East and elsewhere – though the use of power. And power can only be answered by power. That is the enduring lesson of World War II.

“Those who argue that our moral authority compromises our nation’s effectiveness or strength miss the point entirely: Our moral authority is the basis of that strength.”

NB The moral authority of Athens was far superior to that of Sparta, and that moral authority suffered grievous harm when Athens was defeated by Sparta after the long and inglorious Peloponnesian wars. Athens lost to Sparta because Athens was riven with internal dissent and quarrels between the democrats and the aristocrats proved to be its undoing. The moral authority of Poland was superior to that of Germany and the Soviet Union, yet it did not prevail against either. The lessons of history are plain for all to see: The good guys do not always win, at least not in the short run, and sometimes not in the long run. The strength of the United States lies in the unity of the United States, both in peace and war. There are those who believe not only that we have lost the war – and the peace – here on the home front, but that, given the strictures laid down in this speech by Dodd, the United States can never win another war, not even the moral war that dances like a sugarplum in his imagination. When the congress blithly de-authorizes a war, who any longer can trust its authorization? It is one thing to imagine the future; quite another to secure it.

“I take my hope from the great works of the Nuremberg generation, from their tradition of tough-minded, principled leadership.

“I’m an optimist. I sincerely believe that, when the history of this century is written, historians will note that after a shaky and unsure start, America returned to its core, the heritage that defines it and sets it apart.”

Pangloss was an optimist (see Voltaire).


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