V-I Day in Germany

Yesterday (9 April 2003) apparently was, as The New York Times’ William Safire (registration required) put it, “V-I Day” – “Victory in Iraq Day.” So how did yesterday’s scenes of Iraqi civilian jubilation and statue-toppling go down in the press of our NATO allies who showed themselves rather reluctant to get involved in the program of Iraqi “regime change”? For today, a few observations from German sources:

Dominic Johnson, writing for Berlin’s Die Tageszeitung is tetchy: So where’s the plan for what comes after Saddam’s regime? he demands. The “wise regime-changer” (“der kluge Regimewechsler”) after all, not only gets rid of the old, but also is ready then to introduce the new. But can we really the Iraqi National Congress as a political avant-garde? For that matter, Tony Blair is no more credible in his assertions that there is any real “roadmap” for a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Berthold Kohler, in the authoritative Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung no less, does look reality in the face to come up with certain conclusions which might still be hard to swallow for some of his countrymen. We used to believe in a state’s absolute sovereignty (at least ever since the Peace of Westphalia of 1648 that ended the Thirty Years’ War – but that’s MAO speaking here, not Mr. Kohler), so that even if a cruel dictatorship set itself up in a country next door, that was no reason to actually do anything about it. That principle of international relations started to crumble, if not before, in the 1999 Kosovo conflict, a conflict even post-World War II Germany was involved in, and now in Iraq those former boundaries to action seem totally gone for cases where serious human rights violations are occurring.

After all, Kohler continues, there’s no gainsaying the evident delight and jubilation being expressed by the Baghdad population (when they’re not busy looting) at their liberation from Saddam Hussein’s regime. It is their judgment that is definitive over what has gone on, and not that of those who might think they know better about these things than the Iraqi people and so presume to speak for them. Nothing succeeds like success, Kohler reminds us – meaning that the campaign in Iraq, through its speed and evident success, has to some extent made up for the defeats and mistakes (“Niederlagen und Fehler”) which the coalition had to accept as it went to war without gaining a second, authorizing United Nations resolution. And there’s no question that security in post-war Iraq will be the primary consideration to allow re-building to begin. Only the armed forces of the coalition can provide that security, certainly not the United Nations. They, therefore (basically meaning the United States) must clearly be expected to be in charge of developments there for quite some time.

Those desiring a more detailed biography of Iraqi Information Minister Mohamed Said al Sahaf will find it on-line with the Tagespiegel. He was in fact the Iraqi Foreign Minister from 1992 to 2001; is himself a Shiite; and originally wanted to become an English teacher, before his career took another turn when he joined the Ba’ath Party in 1963. And yes, according to this account many journalists, towards the end when American tanks were already rolling through Baghdad, were wondering whether he was quite in his right mind. (This week’s Economist (subscription required) asserts that many Arabs look forward to seeing Mr. Al Sahaf, presumably not convicted of any war crimes in the interim, with his own talk show on the al-Jazeera TV network.)

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