As Americans (including myself) try to come to grips with Germany and France's seemingly head-in-the-sand mentality on Iraq, one concept that would be worth considering is notion that history's greatest "what ifs" are inherently unprovable. Perhaps the strongest argument that has been given for attacking Saddam preemptively is the ineffectiveness of reasoning with and more specifically appeasing dictators. The first proof sited is the Munich Accords where Chamberlain traded Czechoslovakia for "peace in our time" with Hitler's Germany. We now take it as gospel that this agreement was failure and, as such should never be repeated again. But was it the incorrect choice? While it did not avert World War II, by 1938, Hitler had remilitarized the Rhineland and essentially completed the rebuilding of Germany's armed forces. Therefore, what could Britain and France have done differently in 1938? Like their ineffectual defense of Poland in 1939 and of France itself in 1940, military protection of the Sudetenland just one year earlier would have been equally futile. Indeed, could going to war in 1938 made matters worse? Consider this scenario: after Britain and France swear to defend Czechoslovakia in 1938 German tanks move in and take the country without opposition. Germany then proposes peace with the allies in exchange for the partition of Poland with Stalin. The allies accept, knowing that they'll be equally helpless to defend Poland. This gives the Nazi armies additional time to increase their military might before attacking France. Would this scenario have played out as describe? Perhaps not, but the point is we can simply never know.
German, France, the UK and the United States, despite temporary setbacks, have indesputably been history's big winners. Over the last 2000 years, events have transpired in such a way as to make the citizens of these four nations richer, healthier, and more successful than any other people in human history. Therefore it is actually quite a difficult argument to say that a different course of action should have been taken at history's greatest turning points simply because, for citizens of these four countries, history turned out quite nicely the first time. Consequently, it takes what is actually quite a difficult logical leap to argue that we should take a particular course of action today, such as a preemptive attack on Iraq, based on supposed historical failures; we need to argue that if a different action were taken then, modern Germans, French, Brits, and Americans would actually be bigger historical winners than they are currently.
This fog of history presents an even greater challenge for supporters of contemporary action when compared with past actions taken, as opposed to not taken (such as Munich). When an action is taken, one of two outcomes are the only possible result - failure or success - and as obvious as this sounds, these two outcomes present a unique problem in translating them to the present present day. If the former was the result of a particular historical conflict, the Vietnam War* for example, supporters of modern day action are forced to argue why the current conflict will have a different outcome. However, if the historical action was a success, then he is forced to argue, again through this fog of history, why modern man would be worse off if this action would not have been taken. We could certainly argue that if Noriega wouldn't have been taken out by Bush I then the drug problem would be more severe today than it already is, but this argument has to be made without any supporting evidence because, after all, we did take out Noriega. Therefore, any arguments made today to support an invasion of Iraq using historical evidence have to be built with completely unprovable assumptions about the alternate outcomes of history.
Does this mean that historical comparisons are invalid given their inherent bias in favor of the status quo? Absolutely not. Munich does bear a great similarity to the current environment and, given that standing up to Hitler in Munich was drawing to an inside straight because of the military weakness of the Allies relative to Germany, the risk of standing up to Saddam today is not nearly as great as it would have been to Hitler in 1938. Nevertheless, I think it's worth considering whether France and Germany's aversion to war stems, at least in part, from this fog of history and not solely from simple cowardice, anti-Americanism, or greed for oil, as most of us seem to think.