Exit strategy day

Posted: Aug 17, 2005 12:00 AM

Summer is the season for World War II anniversary celebrations: May 8, Victory in Europe Day; June 6, D-Day; Aug. 15, Victory in Japan Day. But one WWII anniversary day is rarely celebrated: Sept. 29.

 This year, Sept. 29 will be the 67th anniversary of the signing of the Munich Agreement by (in order as their signatures appear on the document): Adolph Hitler, Neville Chamberlain, Edouard Daladier and Benito Mussolini.

 Today's politicians please take note: History tends to remember harshly those statesmen who sell out their and other nations -- even if it is done under cover of impeccable diplomatic language and with the best of intentions to assure the peace.

 The Munich Agreement called for the "cession to Germany of the Sudetan German [sic] Territory [of Czechoslovakia]." Paragraphs 3 and 5 of the Agreement established an "international commission" composed of Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Czechoslovakia to work out the final details, oversee the various plebiscites and guarantee the resultant borders.

 But on that same day, Sept. 29, Germany's insincerity was already manifest. On that day the four signatories issued an "Annex to the Agreement" in which Germany and Italy withdrew their support for the international commission's work (which they had agreed to earlier in the day when they signed the main agreement) -- pending resolution of "the question of the Polish and Hungarian minorities in Czechoslovakia."

 Needless to say the "international commission" did nothing the following March 15, 1939, when Germany swallowed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Only then, when it was too late, did Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain -- who had been proud of his efforts to appease Hitler -- finally realize the plight Britain and the world were in.

 But a week after the Munich agreement -- Oct. 5, 1938 -- Chamberlain, on the floor of the House of Commons, had been much more up beat -- even exuberant: "The path which leads to appeasement is long and bristles with obstacles. The question of Czechoslovakia is the latest and perhaps the most dangerous. Now that we have got past it, I feel that it may be possible to make further progress along the road to sanity."

 If one substitutes the name Iraq for Czechoslovakia, above, the resultant language probably would closely approximate what President Bush's Iraq war opponents would be saying the week after a "successful" Iraq exit strategy had been completed -- especially the phrase "further progress along the road to sanity." Can't you just hear Sen. Boxer making such a statement?

 But "stopping the killing" doesn't always stop the killing, while surrendering to violence rarely leads to "sanity." Sept. 29, 1938's "progress along the road to sanity" ultimately cost the world the death of 60 million souls before it reached VJ Day on Aug. 15, 1945.

 Consider the words of a far wiser statesman than the misguided Neville Chamberlain. Last week, in the Washington Post, Dr. Henry Kissinger assessed the likely outcome if we use an exit strategy out of Iraq before we succeed in our mission:

 "The war in Iraq is less about geopolitics than about the clash of ideologies, culture and religious beliefs. Because of the long reach of the Islamist challenge, the outcome in Iraq will have an even deeper significance than that in Vietnam. If a Taliban-type government or a fundamentalist radical state were to emerge in Baghdad or any part of Iraq, shock waves would ripple through the Islamic world. Radical forces in Islamic countries or Islamic minorities in non-Islamic countries would be emboldened in their attacks on existing governments. The safety and internal stability of all societies within reach of militant Islam would be imperiled."

 Those people today calling for a quick exit from Iraq after the shortest possible decent interval apparently can't imagine anything worse than the sad loss of American troops at the current level in Iraq. Just "stop the killing" and "return to sanity." I don't accuse such people of being foolish -- merely lacking in imagination and foresight. Neville Chamberlain was no fool -- he was just wrong.

 Confronting Hitler in 1938 over Czechoslovakia was dangerous. If Hitler didn't back down, British troops would die in the following confrontation. Chamberlain was a man of peace, and he kept the peace for another 11 months.

 The road to the bloody hell of World War II was paved with Neville Chamberlain's very good intentions to keep the peace.

 If the Iraq exit strategy crowd wins the day (and if, as I believe, Henry Kissinger's vision is a prescient one), 60 years from now no one will be celebrating "Exit Strategy Day." But its advocates will certainly share poor old Neville's dingy place in historic memory.