To those who do not want to face up to hard and brutal choices in a nuclear age, the magic formula is to turn to something called "the international community" -- or, more concretely, the United Nations or "our European allies." As with so many rhetorical solutions to hard problems, the specific realities behind the rhetoric get very little attention.
What is the actual track record of the UN or Europe? Is it something to rely on, in life and death decisions?
The UN stood idly by in Rwanda while mass slaughters went on. The UN passed resolution after resolution on Iraq for years, without taking any action to enforce them. Indeed, the UN was part of the massive corruption in the oil-for-food program, which enabled Saddam Hussein to divert money intended to feed the Iraqi people into buying weapons and palaces for himself.
When the UN seated Libya on its human rights committee, that was a sign of its moral bankruptcy. So was its conference on racism, which featured anti-Semitic propaganda by Arab countries.
What of our European allies, who are automatically assumed to be so much wiser and more sophisticated than American "cowboy" presidents, whether Reagan or Bush?
Europe's track record throughout the 20th century was one unbelievable disaster after another. European countries blundered their way into two world wars -- from which every country involved emerged worse off than before, with a continent devastated and its people hungry amid the rubble. Both times American food fed them.
The two biggest ideological disasters of the 20th century -- Communism and Fascism -- were both created in Europe. Both of these blind fanaticisms led to innocent civilians being killed by the millions, during peacetime as well as in wars.
For more than half a century, Western Europe has not had to defend itself because it has been protected by the American nuclear umbrella. Without that, there was nothing to stop the Soviet army from marching right across the continent to the Atlantic Ocean.
American protection enabled Western Europe to neglect its own military defenses, and in some cases use their armed forces as another government featherbedding program. NATO's forces include unionized soldiers who absorb a much higher share of Europe's military spending than do American soldiers in the U.S. That leaves less money for NATO to buy up-to-date equipment.
NATO's troops get generous vacations and light enough schedules that many of them have part-time civilian jobs. The average age of soldiers in Belgium is 40, compared to 28 for American soldiers.
No country could afford to have to fight a war with over-age soldiers and obsolete equipment, unless its military defense was left to someone else. That someone else is the United States.
Like so many people who have been sheltered from the harsh realities of life and not forced to stand on their own two feet, Western Europeans have been able to indulge themselves in illusions. The most unrealistic of these illusions has been that we can just talk our way out of international threats with "negotiations," treaties and UN resolutions.
That approach was tried for two decades after the First World War. That is what led to the Second World War.
France was the worst. In the 1920s, its foreign minister Aristide Briand negotiated much-ballyhooed agreements renouncing war -- agreements that won him the Nobel Prize but did nothing to deter war. In fact, such things lulled peaceful countries into a dangerous complacency that emboldened aggressor nations.
France's record of cowardice and betrayal of its allies during the 1930s, was climaxed by its own surrender to Hitler after just six weeks of fighting in 1940. At the 11th hour, France appealed to the United States, which was not in the war at that point, for military equipment -- that is, for the kind of "unilateral" American intervention at which the French would sneer so often in later years.
Are these the people to whom we should defer on life-and-death questions?
Are our actions to be limited to what is acceptable to the lowest common denominator at the UN or in Europe? Are the lofty rhetoric and condescending airs of foreigners to impress us more than their dismal track records?