"Violent military action by an occupying power against inhabitants of an occupied country will only make matters worse."
--Kofi Annan, April 28, 2004
NOW THAT MAY NOT BE the undisputed, going-away, hands-down, dumbest thing ever said, but you have to admit it's close.
In fact, there's so much lush stupidity in it, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. So let's examine them that way. As a bonus, it actually shows us everything you always wanted to know about the United Nations but were afraid to ask.
"Violent military action . . ." As opposed to what? Non-violent military action? What kind of military action would the distinguished secretary general prefer? Saddam et Fils still in charge? Since they're not (at no small loss of American and Coalition life), what would he like our forces to do? Leave the country immediately? To whom? The hundreds and thousands of Syrians and Yemenis and Saudis and Iranians who have spent the last year pouring over the borders and getting ready to joyously kill everyone they see?
Or should the Army and Marines stay to direct traffic, hand out blankets, learn how to say "Have a nice day" in Arabic, and let themselves get picked off two, five, and ten at a time for forever? (Like a poker game in Vegas, where the dealer keeps taking part of each pot, until the players realize no one has any money left, and the house has it all.)
The thing that's driven me nuts over the last year is the thought that our leaders weren't pressing the way they should, winning the way they should, making each precious loss count the way it should. Because being for or against this war may be an opinion, but here's a fact: Either do this, or don't, but if you do it, don't do it halfway. As Napoleon said, "If you're going to take Vienna, take Vienna."
Ah, but you see, half measures are, in fact, exactly what Mr. Annan and the United Nations want, because that's the way they work. Remember, this is the organization that literally and figuratively pulled its trucks over to the side of the road in Rwanda and let the jeeps full of machete-wielding murderers roll from town to town until they had hacked up all the screaming people they could find. Apparently, the U.N. follows some goofy Star Trek Prime Directive of "Never get involved."
Hey, bonehead, the only reason there ought to be a United Nations in the first place is so that you do get involved, so that every so often you put your baby blue helmets in between the bad guys and the screaming people before they get chopped up. That's the reason you have such a big, tall, pretty building in Manhattan, you know, not to go to cocktail parties on the Upper East Side and chat up the local, needy blondes.
SO WHAT'S HE SAYING? Is all military action involving violence wrong? How about the invasion of Normandy? That was pretty violent, but it made us the occupying power, which brings us to the next part of the opening quote . . .
What is an "occupying power"? Are there any good ones, or is Mr. Annan saying they're all the same? The answer is, to contemporary relativists, yes, all occupying powers are the same: Bad. German occupation of Poland was the same as Allied occupation of Germany. One is not better or worse, and the only reality is that someone has put their army someplace other than the barracks back home.
Now, in addition, your friendly, neighborhood relativist would almost certainly say, "Oh, stop it. American occupation was good, German occupation was bad. Everyone knows that." Here's what you get to say back: Why? Doesn't that call for an objective judgment of good and evil? Who gets to decide when the rulers of a country are so bad they deserve invasion and occupation? The United Nations? Because if that's the case it will never happen anywhere, ever.
Lumping "occupying powers" together without objective morality is fatuous on the order of "All killing is bad." All killing is not bad. If a rapist jumps out of an alley and kills a woman, that's bad. If a cop walks by and kills the rapist, that's good. And it's even better if the cop shoots first. Does anyone not understand this?
If it sounds like I'm talking to second graders here, forgive me, but that's how you have to talk to the United Nations, and they still won't get it. Which brings us to . . .
"Inhabitants of an occupied country . . ." Okay, who would that be today in Iraq? The potentially decent people who might someday raise their families to change the entire way of thinking in the Middle East? Because they're not the ones dismembering charred bodies and dancing with severed heads.
The barely-formed councils that are going to take far longer than June 30 to even start to stand on their new-born colts' legs? Because they're not the ones subverting every millimeter of progress by sniping from mosques.
The shop-owners and food-sellers and farmers who are holding their breaths for a chance at the miracle of a free society? Because they're not the ones making the martyrs' stand in Falluja.
No, the only "occupied inhabitants" who stand to lose something from "violent military action" are the ones who should have been the recipients of "violent military action" a year ago.
BUT MR. ANNAN feels that all this ". . . can only make matters worse." Really? Worse than what?
Worse than now? Because now, today, and tomorrow, every radical Islamist in the world hears the music of martyrdom, and is gathering for the festivities, and he knows that the big barn dance is in Iraq. He knows that this is a great moment in history, either way it goes, that this battle has been brewing for a long time, and that it will be the biggest one for another very long time.
And the cherry on top? It's not political or economic to him, it's far, far bigger, because he believes that this is exactly what God wants him to do. And he's as happy as he could be. These guys make Japanese Kamikaze pilots look wishy-washy.
No settlement will placate, no shift will change the behavior, not the slightest. It's always been like this, but now, in the twenty-first century, the boil has grown back, bigger than ever, and you either carve the whole thing out, which hurts, or you sit back and watch it grow again on your children, and grandchildren, and every generation thereafter until someone finally decides to carve it out for good.
And guess who that'll be? Hint: Not the Spanish.
HERE'S THE HARD THOUGHT that's been creeping up on me for a while. Mistakes are one thing, but if the folks pulling the levers don't win all the way--all the way--if the decision-makers falter and declare half-victory with a frozen smile, and tip-toe away, and act shocked, shocked, I tell you, when the whole place falls apart . . .
Then it will be impossible to gather the will, or the votes, or the moral fiber to do it again, the right way, for a very long, and by then thousands, and then millions of innocent "occupied inhabitants" will have been tortured and slain.
And the worst part, the greatest sin: Every life lost so far will have been wasted. Every Pat Tillman--and they're all Pat Tillmans, every one--will have been given for nothing.
Of course, the Kurds, and the Shiites, and the Sunnis, and everyone else left to stand on the miles-long execution lines will still be able to count on three things:
(1) The headline of every American newspaper will be about the big, two-hour Friends reunion.
(2) Kofi Annan will still say, "Violent military action will only make things worse. And by the way, I don't care if you hold your breath forever, we're not paying those parking tickets."
(3) The entire affair will be Israel's fault.
Larry Miller is a contributing humorist to The Daily Standard and a writer, actor, and comedian living in Los Angeles.