In the early months of 1945, with victory in sight, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin met at Yalta to shape the future of Europe after World War II.
A major item was the setting up of the UN, and, in particular, determining the authority of the Security Council to deal with disputes involving permanent members of the council. At that time, Britain, the US, and the Soviet Union were in as Security Council members, with the possibility of adding France and China - which ultimately proved to be the case.
Now President Bush and British Prime Minister Blair, with victory in sight, met this week in Belfast to shape the future of Iraq after the war.
Once again, a good part of the discussion revolved around the UN, the role it may have in Iraq, and the diplomatic spoiling role, orchestrated by France, that the Security Council has played in the military campaign to unseat Saddam Hussein.
Given the debacle that the Anglo-American team experienced in the Security Council, Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair might, in Belfast, have let their thoughts roam over the tantalizing prospect of restructuring the Council with more amiable permanent members. Germany, for example, has long lusted for such a seat, as has Japan. But Italy says it has as strong a case as Germany, and China balks at adding Japan. Meanwhile, countries like India and Brazil ask, Why not us? Though change was mulled a decade ago, it has not gone anywhere, and the political realities preclude it today.
The divisive French action has caused something of a trainwreck at the UN, and in the European Union, and even in NATO, an organization already in search of a new role for itself. Even some French diplomats are quietly sending bemused notes to their American counterparts deploring President Chirac's handling of the situation.
But if the UN seems likely to be dismissed for some time, at least by the Americans, as a political force, Bush and Blair discussed what useful role it can serve in Iraq in the humanitarian field and economic development.
Though there are differing shades of opinion between the State Department and the Pentagon as to which agencies and nations do what, the US will clearly take the lead in stabilizing Iraq after the war with an American occupation force and cleansing it of weapons of mass destruction. It will want a primary role in shaping an interim Iraqi administration that will lead to democracy.
But as in Afghanistan, there will be plenty of opportunity for the UN, for nongovernmental organizations, for the Germans, and a variety of other nations - yes, even the French - to help with reconstruction and shoulder its cost.
As Secretary of State Colin Powell said last week in Brussels, the coalition led by the US and Britain "has to play a leading role in determining the way forward" but "this is not to say that we have to shut others out."
UN and international involvement will be helpful in assuaging Arab mistrust of the US, and suspicion that the US seeks to make Iraq part of an American empire. So, too, will a prompt transition to an Iraqi administration that believes in representative government.
Some skeptics are wary of all this talk of Iraqi democratization. Who knows, they ask, whether an Iraqi government elected democratically might not turn out to be less than friendly to the Americans and British who have liberated them from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein?
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz answered that on "Meet the Press" Sunday when he said basically that democracy is democracy, and if you believe in it you have to live with it.
He reminded that the US promoted democracy in the Philippines, yet a new regime evicted the US from its military bases.
President Bush's hope is that democracy will flourish in Iraq and stimulate a move to freedom in Islamic lands across the Arab world. He dismisses the thesis that Muslims in these countries are somehow incapable of handling such freedom, or less eager for it than the nations of Eastern Europe, Africa, and Asia that have moved from dictatorship into the ranks of the free.
Over the past half-century, the quest for democracy of people who have been denied it has been one of the most powerful forces for constructive change. Now Iraq is to get its chance.
Winning the war there is taking much courage.
Winning the peace will take much wisdom.
• John Hughes, editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret News, is a former editor of the Monitor.