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Remembering Winston Churchill

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Sunday marked the 60th anniversary of Winston Churchill's famous speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. In this address, Churchill coined the phrase, "iron curtain," and foresaw the Cold War that would consume much of the free world's attention for the next forty years. If Churchill were alive today, undoubtedly he would deliver another stirring oration warning of the desperate circumstances we find ourselves in the prospect of global Jihad.

On March 5th, 1946, Churchill reminded his audience that he'd tried to prevent World War II. "Last time I saw it all coming and I cried aloud to my own fellow-countrymen and to the world, but no one paid any attention." He remembered, "There never was a war in history easier to prevent by timely action than the one which has just desolated such great areas of the globe. It could have been prevented in my belief without the firing of a single shot, and Germany might be powerful, prosperous and honored today; but no one would listen and one by one we were all sucked into the awful whirlpool."

Now we teeter at the edge of another whirlpool, stirred by religious extremism. A vortex that swirls faster every day because of the preaching of radical Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Each of the great desert religions has a fanatical segment that while seeking to bring proselytes closer to God condemns unbelievers to eternal damnation.

Few of us believe that the global war looming before us may be prevented "without the firing of a single shot." Nonetheless, we can keep it from spreading throughout the world. It is still possible to step away from the abyss.

For a time, after 9/11, the whole world was on the side of the United States. Some thought that the savagery of the attacks had proven, once and for all, the need for global community. Citizens in every country wanted to help America track down Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda assassins. We united to hunt them down in Afghanistan.

The coalition failed for three reasons. It quickly became clear that the US the Bush Administration insisted on running the operation, not a loosely structured international military command or the United Nations. Moreover, in the days that stretched into weeks and months, it became apparent that George Bush, and his cronies, had no use for international organizations. Their attitude stands in stark contrast to the philosophy that Churchill expressed in that Memorable March 5th speech. Winston believed in the UN. He argued that the way to prevent a global war was by putting pressure on Russia, "under the general authority of the United Nations Organization and by the maintenance of that good understanding through many peaceful years, by the whole strength of the English-speaking world and all its connections." Churchill, along with FDR and American presidents prior to Reagan and Bush, believed in the value of global community.

The second reason that the coalition failed was because of a series of dreadful decisions made by the Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and the commander of our Afghanistan campaign, Tommy Franks. Among these was over-reliance on "smart" bombs most of which missed their targets and the decision to rely upon Afghani mercenaries at the critical point in the search for Bin Laden. Mistakes arising from the arrogance of power.

The third reason for the failure was the invasion of Iraq. Churchill famously called a member of the opposition, "the boneless wonder." If Winston had been alive on March 19, 2003, no doubt he would have described George W. Bush as "the brainless wonder." The decision to invade Iraq was such a ghastly blunder that even Republicans acknowledge it. Regan-era National Security Agency director, Lieutenant General William Odom, called it "the greatest strategic disaster in United States history." Archconservative, William F. Buckley, Jr., recently acknowledged, "The American objective in Iraq has failed."

When we stand back and look at the string of dreadful decisions made by the Bush Administration since 9/11, one thing becomes ominously obvious: the President and his advisers have no talent for protecting America and building a safer world. The only thing they care about is politics.

Bush failed to capture Osama Bin Laden or curtail Al Qaeda. Moreover, his bumbling has made Bin Laden the folk hero of the Arab street and bolstered terrorist recruiting. Instead of capitalizing on the good will proffered America, after 9/11, George has turned the rest of the world against us. Dubya has ruptured the historic alliances that Churchill touted. The Bush Administration has fanned the fires of religious extremism, both within the U.S. and abroad. Unbelievably, they have failed to take steps to prevent the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction throughout the world. Bush has failed to take elementary steps to protect America, such as real port security. Even worse, his thoughtless actions have fueled the flames of Jihad.

The grievous inadequacy of the Bush Administration has brought America to the brink of a horrendous world war. A cataclysm involving religious fanatics wielding weapons of mass destruction from which none of us will find sanctuary.

As we think back to Churchill's speech, sixty years ago, we are reminded of the importance of that illusive quality leadership. America requires a real leader in these perilous times. Winston where are you when we need you?
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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