TCS Daily

Remember 'Germany First'

By Brian E. Finch - October 11, 2002 12:00 AM

The details of the attack are well known: devastating losses, a terrible toll on human life. The American public, with a burning lust for revenge, heartily endorsed total war against the enemy who attacked without warning. There could be no other concerns, it seemed, until this previously ill-considered foe was defeated absolutely. Suddenly, the President asks to tackle a new foe, one that he argues poses an even greater threat and thus must be a top priority, even though the original enemy has yet to be defeated. Many scoffed - we must defeat the original foe, as the supposed new enemy poses no immediate threat to our safety. The battle to convince the American public and government of this shift would be a long and strenuous one.

Sound familiar? It should, because that was the way World War II began. Prior to Pearl Harbor, Americans mainly worried about Germany, but not enough to rush to war. Then, with the surprise attack at Pearl Harbor, America became unified in one goal: destroying Japan. Only when Germany declared war against the United States did we enter the European conflict. Still, while British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt both agreed that Germany was the most dangerous of our foes and that the allies should follow a "Germany First" policy, there was always pressure in the United States to make sure that the Pacific War was the top priority.

The "Germany First" debate parallels the current spat over whether the United States should launch an attack on Iraq before al Qaeda has been totally defeated. Opponents of the attack on Iraq, who had been a bit muted, received a big boost recently from former Vice President Al Gore.

Speaking in San Francisco, Gore attacked President Bush's record in the war on terror. Instead of "focusing our efforts" on dismantling al Qaeda, Gore asserted that Pres. Bush is now turning his attention to Iraq "simply because [the war on al-Qaeda] is proving to be more difficult and lengthy than was predicted." The end result, Gore argues, is that the United States is diminishing its focus "on the necessity for avenging the 3,000 Americans who were murdered and dismantling that network of terrorists we know were responsible for it."

What critics such as Gore miss, however, is the necessity of confronting Iraq due to its potentially massive destructive capabilities. Again, the historical parallel is striking.

During World War II, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed that Germany posed the most serious threat of the Axis powers. Germany's appetite for destruction was unparalleled, and its scientific skills would lead to the development of devastating weapons. It was Germany, not Japan, that was uncomfortably close to developing an atomic bomb and would soon have "super weapons" such as jet fighters and ballistic missiles at its disposal.

Aware of those dangers, Roosevelt and Churchill agreed that Germany must be defeated first. This decision was not necessarily popular with the American public - while Germany had rampaged across Europe, it had not inflicted a humiliating defeat by deceitful means upon the United States like Japan did.

Moreover, the United States had its hands quite full with Japan. While the U.S. Navy had won a major victory against the Japanese at the Battle of Midway in early June 1942, Japan was far from defeated. The United States still faced a long, deadly, and potentially disastrous march across the Pacific in order to defeat Japan.

In fact, when the United States launched its first real campaign against Germany by invading North Africa in November 1942, it was simultaneously engaged in an uncertain fight against Japanese forces at Guadalcanal, where the Americans were being defeated on a regular basis. Despite such losses, Roosevelt pushed ahead with the preparations for the invasion of North Africa, diverting badly needed resources from Guadalcanal. Even when gains were finally made at Guadalcanal, punishing defeats in North Africa offset those victories. In short, America's first efforts at a two-front war resulted in some nasty losses.

Despite this, the Allies never changed their commitment to the Germany First strategy. And, as it turned out, their Germany First instincts were correct. With each passing day the Germans made strides towards developing atomic bombs and other fantastic weapons that the United States could not match, making any delay potentially devastating. Had Roosevelt given in to the cries for vengeance against Japan first, the outcome in the European War could have been far different.

The lessons of that era, however, seem lost on Gore. Instead of objectively assessing current threats, Gore and other Iraq naysayers obsess on defeating al Qaeda. Their insistence on ignoring the threat posed by Iraq is short-sighted, as it gives Iraq the one luxury the U.S. can ill afford: time. Just like Germany in World War II, each passing day gives Iraq the opportunity to field devastating weapons.

How real is the Iraqi threat? Dr. Laurie Mylroie carefully laid out in her book The War Against America details of how Saddam Hussein and his agents have been conducting a vicious campaign against the United States since the end of the Gulf War, including masterminding the first World Trade Center attacks. Dr. Mylroie argues that that attack was the first of many of Saddam Hussein's attempts to avenge his humiliation in the Gulf War. Dr. Mylroie goes on to argue that Iraq was the driving force behind numerous other terrorist acts throughout the 1990s (including many solely attributed to al Qaeda), and that the threat posed by Iraq will only grow in the foreseeable future. Dr. Mylroie's dire predictions are reinforced with daily news stories about Iraq engaging in a crash program to make nuclear weapons as well as develop more efficient ways to disperse chemical and biological agents.

Tidbits also emerge each day regarding the extent of Iraq's connections with known terrorist groups. Many try to dismiss or downplay such reports by noting that the only solid evidence of Iraqi connections to terrorism is with Palestinian terror groups. The problem with dismissing such reports is that the very groups that Iraq supports already engage in biological and chemical warfare. As The Washington Post reported a few weeks ago, Palestinian suicide bombers have begun to pack their bombs in rat poison and use suicide bombers who have Hepatitis B. Those tactics, albeit inefficient, represent crude forms of chemical and biological warfare. When one considers that these are the groups Iraq actively supports, it is not too difficult to comprehend the concerns about Iraq potentially sharing its weapons of mass destruction with terrorist groups across the globe.

The threat from Iraq is neither new nor illusory. While the desire to exact revenge from al Qaeda and bin Laden is understandable, it does not alter the fact that Iraq poses a much larger threat as it has the capacity to increase exponentially the deadly capabilities of al Qaeda and others. Thus, any attack on Iraq would not be a "distraction" from the war on terror; rather it would be a much-needed extension.



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