Better late than never

Posted: Dec 31, 2005 12:05 AM
Sometimes it’s all right to take awhile getting to your destination, as long as you do indeed get there.

In his recent book, “A Crack in the Edge of the World” author Simon Winchester purports to describe, as the subtitle puts it, “America and the great California Earthquake of 1906.” He doesn’t get to the actual quake until about page 200 of a 400-page book -- but Winchester does eventually manage to write a few chapters about the earthquake and its aftermath.

But that’s a book and, let’s face it, it’s not all that important in the grand sweep of world events. What’s more important is that some members of the mainstream media may finally be recognizing that we live in a dangerous world.

In the Christmas Day edition of The New York Times, correspondent Michael Wines noted that sometimes it isn’t enough to send food and financial aid to struggling areas. Sometimes it would be better to send the Marines.

“Since the Cold War ended, humanitarian responses to wars and political crises have mushroomed, sometimes supplanting more muscular diplomatic and military actions of years past,” Wines wrote. “Sending aid, it seems, is easier, warmer and fuzzier than tackling the root problems that led to the crisis at hand.”

The root problem in this case is dictatorship. Wines specifically wrote about Zimbabwe and North Korea. In each of those countries, the government swallows tons of international aid while allowing its people to starve. For these governments, food is the ultimate weapon. Of course, Wines could just as easily have been describing pre-war Iraq.

There, Saddam Hussein was abusing the United Nations Oil-for-Food program to maintain power. Things were working so well for him that, after more than a decade of sanctions, he was as secure on his throne as ever. Meanwhile, his oil-rich nation was crumbling around him.

Finally, after Saddam had flouted 17 U.N. resolutions ordering him to disarm, the United States decided to address the “root cause” -- him. The coalition we led in 2003 deposed Saddam in weeks, forcing him underground -- literally.

There’s no way any of this would have happened without military intervention. Journalist Robert Kaplan has been in and out of Iraq since 1984. He recently told radio host Hugh Hewitt, “Had we not gone into Iraq, the sanctions would have been lifted, all the scientists from the ex-Soviet Union, the nuclear and other scientists, would have flooded back there. The U.N. sanctions would have been lifted. And the problems we would have now would probably be equally as bad, though of a different nature.”

Exactly. Sometimes the use of force really is the answer.

For another example, consider the Korean peninsula. Today, South Korea is a thriving democracy, an economic powerhouse and a critical partner in the war against terrorism. It has more soldiers serving in Iraq than any country except the U.S. and Britain. But things didn’t have to turn out this way.

Right next door, North Korea squats as evidence of what might have been. Its people live in darkness, literally and figuratively. Its repressive regime blocks all outside contact, so poor North Koreans won’t realize just how awful their lives are when compared to the rest of the world. There’s virtually no electricity and no food -- the U.N. estimates that more than a third of North Korean children are malnourished, and most of those who do get food get it from international agencies.

Why are South Koreans free and North Koreans repressed? Because of the United States military.

More than 54,000 Americans died fighting in the Korean War. Technically it ended in a stalemate, with both sides controlling the ground they’d had when the fighting started. But in fact it represents a great American victory. In Korea, the U.S. let the Soviet Union and China know we’d fight for freedom. And South Korea’s economic success is still a beacon to the rest of the world. Capitalism works and Communism doesn’t, which is why North Korea will eventually be absorbed by South Korea, instead of the other way around.

Sadly, some reporters are still struggling to decide what really matters. In her own Christmas Day report, CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux mentioned, briefly, the recent Iraqi elections -- but only to shoot them down. “December landmark elections in Iraq are now overshadowed by the controversy as to whether or not Mr. Bush over-stepped his bounds in authorizing a secret domestic spy program,” Malveaux said.

Hardly. In years ahead this latest “scandal” will have faded from memory, while everyone will celebrate Iraqi democracy. The people of Iraq voted three times this year, while their former dictator went on trial for murder, all because of the intervention of the United States military.

Better late than never.