Last night, President Obama announced the end of combat operations in Iraq and pledged to withdraw from Afghanistan, beginning next summer. While all Americans yearn for peace, we need to proceed in the world not on the basis of hopes for change, but with a clear-eyed view of the world as it is. And to recognize the world as it is, we need to know more about the world as it was.

Today is the anniversary of the beginning of World War II in Europe. When Hitler attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, he tore up all previous agreements, he answered the feeble pleas of the League of Nations with blood and bombs. Soon, all of Europe was plunged into a new and more terrible war than they had survived just twenty years before, the Armageddon of 1914-1918 they still called the Great War.

Shortly after Pearl Harbor was attacked by the Japanese in 1941, and immediately after Hitler declared war on the U.S., Winston Churchill came to the White House for a lengthy visit. He was asked what this now-expanded world conflict should be called. The unnecessary war, he replied, without hesitating. Of course, journalists (and U.S. military recruiters) were hardly going to call it that. Thus, the Second World War quickly came to be adopted as general usage, abbreviated WWII.

What Churchill meant, of course, was that there never was a war easier to prevent than the Second World War. If only the Western democracies had taken a firm stance in 1936, when Hitler marched into the Rhineland, war could have been averted.

The Rhineland was German, to be sure, but the treaty that ended World War I called for it to be de-militarized. France had been bled whitelosing two million young menin the trenches. What French Premier Clemenceau (The Tiger) demanded at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919 was just 30 kilometers between France and the bigger, stronger Germany. He pleaded with President Wilson and British Prime Minister Lloyd George.

You British have the English Channel. You Americans have the Atlantic Ocean. All I ask is for 30 kilometers between me and the Hun (the Germans).

When peace negotiations in Paris threatened to break down in 1919 because of disagreements among the victorious alliesBritain, France, and the U.S.Lloyd George broke the deadlock. He offered Clemenceau the French Guarantee Treaty. Wilson soon signed it. It said: If Germany ever rises up to threaten France again, we will protect you with military force.

President Wilson regarded the French Guarantee Treaty as a mere afterthought. He banked everything on the Treaty of Versailles, the document that contained his beloved project, the League of Nations. When the U.S. Senate, after months of bitter debate, rejected Wilsons treaty and his league, the petulant Wilson refused even to submit the French Guarantee Treaty to the Senate.

So, in 1936, when Hitler tore up the Versailles Treaty and defied the League of Nations, France cried out for Britain and the U.S. to come to her aid. The French army, still powerful at this point--was ready to move against Hitlers small force in the Rhineland.

In Washington, President Roosevelt was prevented from giving any aid to the French by powerful isolationist sentiment, in the country and in Congress.

Prime Minister Stanley Baldwins Conservative government immediately invited the French to London for talks. And Baldwin proceeded to talk to death any idea of French and British military action to resist Hitler in the Rhineland.

Hitler later described how he had been so overcome by anxiety he went to bed, crippled with intestinal cramps, at the time of his great gamble in the Rhineland. He had given orders to his lightly armed troops to beat a hasty retreat at the first sign of French resistance. We also know his own generals were plotting a coup to overthrow the Nazi regimeif Hitlers wild gamble failed.

But it didnt fail. And his great success in the Rhineland convinced him that he had a supernatural destiny to rule Europe, perhaps the world. From there to the German attack on Poland on this day in 1939 the Western democracies followed a steep descending path to an even more horrific war than Europe had endured in the First World War.

What does all this have to do with us today? Does the course of U.S. foreign policy look more like Churchillian resolution and defiance of tyranny or like Stanley Baldwins flaccid response to outright aggression?

For example, what should Americas allies think when Zbignieuw Brzezinski, a key advisor to President Obama, says we should shoot down Israeli warplanes if they try to fly over U.S.-controlled airspace in Iraq on their way to bombing Irans nuclear plants?

Or, what should Americans think when we begin today in Washington more talks designed to create a Palestinian state on the West Bank of the Jordan River? The Palestinians on the West Bank danced in the streets when the Twin Towers collapsed.

They fired their rifles into the air in celebration. They gave candy to their children to express their joy at the murders of thousands of Americans. Yet, the Obama administration is giving these people billions in U.S. foreign aidand our diplomatic blessing.

Osama bin Laden once referred to the U.S. as the weak horse. He said people in the Arab world always seek to follow the strong horse. Does anything in recent U.S. foreign policy suggest a strong horse?

War is unnecessary. Careful U.S. diplomacybacked by military might second to nonehas always been our best defense.