Friday, May 16, 2008

George Bush and the Republicans' Embarrassing Flirtation With Fascisim

By now, the whole world has seen the following video of George Bush, on foreign soil, Israel’s Knesset to be exact, comparing Barack Obama to those isolationists who sought to appease Adolph Hitler. It was an outrageous statement that brought immediate and furious reaction not only from Democrats but also, as this video shows, from Pat Buchanan.

H/t to Raising Kaine (and as Lowell observed, “It’s pretty bad when even Pat Buchanan thinks George W. Bush is nuts.”

Well, not only is Bush nuts, and his statements inappropriate and completely out of the bounds of decency, but the examples he used ought to embarrass any Republican who knows his history. Let’s look again at Bush’s statement:

As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American Senator declared: 'Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’
First of all, talking to a world leader, even a dictator, is not appeasement. It’s diplomacy and negotiation. Every effective administration does that. Appeasement is caving in to a dictator and giving something of value - such as Czechoslovakia - to him. No American candidate, Republican or Democrat has suggested acquiescing to any tyrant's demands. That's not how effective negotiation works, and everybody with any common sense knows it. That's why Condi Rice has been attempting to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian agreement and why Bush has sought negotiation with North Korea.

But even more telling, Bush, perhaps, might want to reconsider his example because that quote about talking to Hitler was made by Idaho Senator William Edgar Borah, a Republican isolationist. He and fellow Republican American Firster, Senator Gerald Nye, opposed America’s entry into World War II to stop Adolph Hitler.

In addition, George Bush’s own grandfather, Prescott, was believed to have been part of a coup attempt, along with America’s most prominent business leaders, in 1933 to oust Franklin Roosevelt because they believed that the best way to combat the Great Depression was for America to adopt a system like that of Mussolini and Hitler. (Again, h/t to Grey Havens at RK for this information)

That may have been the first time wealthy and prominent Republicans expressed admiration for fascist policies but it certainly wasn’t the last. As Paul Krugman documents in his book, The Conscience of a Liberal, William Buckley wrote, in 1957, in his newly formed journal, The National Review,

General Franco is an authentic national hero. It is generally conceded that he above others had the combination of talents, the perseverance, and the sense of righteousness of his cause that were required to wrest Spain from the hands of the visionaries, ideoglogues, Marxists and nihilists that were imposing on her in the thirties, a regime so grotesque as to do violence to the Spanish soul, to deny even, Spain’s historical identity. (from “Yes and Many Thanks, But Now the War is Over,” The National Review, Oct. 26, 1957)
As Krugman points out, “The regime so grotesque overthrown by Generalissmo Francisco Franco – with critical aid from Mussolini and Hitler – was, in fact, Spain’s democratically elected government.”

Perhaps, Republicans grew too comfortable for their own good at hurling charges of “socialist and communist” at Democrats. But toxic labeling is not an argument. It's a slur. And it's usually pretty ineffective at make one's case.

But when they upped the ante by trying to accuse Democrats of appeasement and compared us to Hitler sympathizers, they treaded on even more dangerous ground – the ground of their own embarrassing historical flirtations with fascism and Nazi sympathy.

Call me crazy but perhaps they should have quit while they were ahead. After all, a quick look back at 2005 illustrates how well invoking Hitler against a Democrat worked for Jerry Kilgore.


spotter said...

Thanks, AIAW. Here's some more information on Sen. Borah.

Now, on to Prescott Bush and the Trading with the Enemy Act.

Isophorone said...

A lot of rumors spread by the left about Prescott Bush are exaggerations. However, if you want to play that game, then you must do the same with Teddy Kennedy's grandfather (an unabashed admirer of Hitler). Bush was making statements against a Republican of the time, so it shows that he understands the dangers of isolationism. If only Barack Obama had the same historical perspective!

About Barack Obama: There is no question that he is an appeaser, or at least dangerously naive. You should note that plenty such people exist in the Israeli domestic political scene as well (like the 'Peace Now" movement), so Bush's remarks could easily have been aimed at them.

What is really funny are the reactions on the political left to Bush's statements, including one (from a Seattle paper, I think) justifying Hitler's move into the Sudetenland. Methinks the lady doth protest too much?

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

First, I would never justify Hitler's move into Sudetenland. In fact, I was in favor of the first Gulf War precisely because Saddam Hussein went into Kuwait, a sovereign nation, without any justification.

I don't care that America's need for oil may have been part of that equation, as critics of the time pointed out. The larger principle is that you don't invade a sovereign nation, which Hussein did, making the same claim that Hitler always used.

Just as Hitler justified his early invasions by claiming it was because ethnic Germans lived in those regions and he was just reclaiming ancestral German lands, Hussein claimed that Kuwait should be part of larger Iraq. The Kuwaitis felt differently about it.

However, this time, the Gulf War had no such justification. There were no WMDs, as Bush claimed. There was no link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda, also an early claim that proved untrue (our own intelligence admitted as much). We were the ones failing to respect sovereignty this time.

And we also dropped the ball on Afghanistan, where we had justification to launch an attack. Al Qaeda was harbored by the Taliban. The Taliban, and its leader, was an ally of Osama bin Laden. The 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC were planned from Afghanistan with Taliban approval.

Yet we spent more effort to catch Saddam Hussein than OBL.

Having said all that, diplomatic discussion and negotiation are not appeasement. They are diplomatic discussion and negotiation. It's give and take, not give up.

Indeed, as Jim Webb just pointed out on Meet the Press, the analogy to WWII may be the wrong one. A better comparison might be to China in the 1970s.

Back then, China was supporting and funding the Vietnam War and was considered a belligerent and rogue nation.

Yet, President Nixon opened up talks with China and reestablished diplomatic relations with them. It was the right thing to do. While China is still a very far from perfect state, it is less of a world threat today because we talk to them and trade with them.

We need more work on the trade part, a more level playing field and we need to get them to float the renimimbi on the world currency market, but trade and negotiation are important reasons why the world is safer.

Whether Ahmadinejad is a tyrant or not, he is the elected leader of a sovereign nation, not a stateless terrorist. We need to talk to him to lessen the threat to security in the world. But no we should not capitulate to him. Or to Hamas or Hezbollah.

Further, the Bush administration is, in fact, sending Condi Rice to the Middle East for talks with Hamas. And Robert Gates has said we will need to talk to Hamas and groups like it.

So, the whole argument about Obama being weak because he has said he would sit down with a national leader of a belligerent nation is a straw man argument to start with.

You always want to open the channels of diplomacy, not close them. That's not weakness, that's confidence and intelligence.

Isophorone said...

The problem with Obama's view of the situation is that he assumes Hamas and/or the Iranians will negotiate in good faith. This is about as accurate as assuming the Germans did so in 1938. Bush has no such illusions, and I hope the State Department feels the same (though I doubt it).

Your statements about Iraq are dead wrong. Saddam had a WMD program going, and the papers he left show that he wanted to deceive the UN inspectors. He also had a running correspondence with al-Qaeda and its elements for many years, a fact you seem to ignore.

President Clinton said in 2003 that he believed that on the day he left office, Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction. Were you expressing disbelief at Clinton in 2003? Somehow I doubt it. Better still, the "Iraq Liberation Act" of 1998, which you have stated was a good idea, was predicated in great part on the fact that Saddam was believed to have WMDs at the time.

Our liberation in Iraq has not kept us from succeeding in Afghanistan. We are killing and/or capturing many of the Taliban/al-Qaeda elements there, not that you would know it from the mainstream media reports (or lack of reports).

As far as Ahmadinejad being a "legitimate leader," yes, he is, just like Lenin became a "legitimate leader" of the Soviet Union in 1918. That is, hold elections, and when the results don't go in your favor, disqualify the opposition. Not exactly free and fair, dontcha think? He has been supplying weapons and manpower to the terrorists in Iraq to attack our troops. Doesn't that bother you?

Remember, we spent more lives and treasure on defeating Nazi Germany even though they did not attack Pearl Harbor. But, oh yes, a Democrat was President!

Speaking of which, you never did articulate your criteria for what you consider legitimate use of American military power. I am glad you supported the liberation of Kuwait from Iraq in 1991, because John Kerry sure didn't!

I am guessing that Saddam's support of terrorism against Israel (in which he paid the families of Pseudostinian suicide bombers $25,000 each) was no big deal.

the shootist said...

Yes, isophorone, Lenin became the "legitimate leader" of the Soviet Union in 1917. But we also maintained diplomatic ties with the Soviet Union for most of its existence, despite the fact that they had a nuclear arsenal pointed at us. And you conveniently ignored AIAW's most salient point: Iran has yet to invade any sovereign nation, or to express any expansionist aims. Lazy politicians like to make cheap comparisons to Hitler because of the Holocaust, but it wasn't the Holocaust that started WW2. It was Hitler's imperialism. So let's not pretend that WW2 was launched in a fit of moral clarity, okay? It was largely the result of Hitler crossing one too many borders, and I have no doubt that if the Nazis had been content to remain inside Greater Germany, the rest of the world would have looked the other way while they incinerated their own people.

Long story short: Iran is not the Nazi Empire, and really, the comparison is ludicrous. When Ahmadinejad declares his intention to annex Anatolia and Pakistan into the New Persian Empire, I'll agree: we're dealing with an Iranian Hitler here. Until then, the comparison reeks of history-baiting, a particularly transparent form of demagoguery.

As long as we're on that subject, what would GWB have done, scholar of history that he is, if he had been around in 1938? Would he have launched a preemptive invasion of Germany? When? After the Anschluss? Czechoslovakia? The Sudetenland? Less than twenty years after the War to End All Wars, what would have been the right moment to start a NEW war? Speaking of naivety, it's shockingly naive to talk about the past in such a simplistic way, as if the best lesson from 1938 remains: BAD MEN MUST BE STOPPED. And of course preemptive war--aka the unprovoked invasion of a sovereign nation--has its own inherent problems, as we have discovered.

Jim Webb is absolutely correct. The situation with Iran is much more like China in the 1970s. We're dealing with a revolutionary government prone to aggressive anti-American rhetoric. This same government is implicitly and explicitly involved with our enemies (and the enemies of our friends) in a regional war. We have no official diplomatic relations with Iran, and we had no diplomatic relations with China until Nixon's visit in 1972. See how neatly that fits? Would it help if I pointed out that the PRC has nuclear weapons? Probably not, because everything you've written here smacks of a foregone conclusion. I could provide you with a truckload of historical examples where we successfully negotiated our way out of war with countries much more dangerous than Iran, and it wouldn't matter. Because you have clearly decided that Iran is a danger to its neighbors and the region. More than that: Iran is a threat on par with HITLER, a man who orchestrated the downfall of his own government, who subsequently conquered over a dozen countries in Europe and Africa, who took on the Soviet Union, who systematically murdered ten million people. You'll excuse me if I resort again to the word ludicrous, and if I maintain my skepticism regarding anything GWB says, especially given his track record, and his demonstrated enthusiasm for drum-beating.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

As the Shootist points out, we maintained diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union all through the communist period. But comparing Ahmadinejad to Lenin, in terms of legitimacy, is as unfair as comparing him to Hitler. A more apt comparison would be to Kruschev, who was recognized as a legitimate leader of a nation whose policies we disliked, but with whom we still maintained diplomatic relationships and with whom we negotiated. Or would you call both Eisenhower and Kennedy naive?

Would you call Ronald Reagan naive for negotiating with Gorbachev or with the Iranians to bring home the hostages in 1980? Would you also refer to Richard Nixon as naive for opening up diplomatic and trade negotiations with China in 1972?

The truth is it's always good to talk with one's enemies - that's not the same as naivete or capitulation.

And while we are making comparisons, it may be true that Saddan Hussein might have given financial support to terrorist groups, such as Hamas, but so do the Saudi Arabian royal family, with whom the Bush family is friends. The Saudis are also the major financial supporters of the madrassas, which teach children Islamic Wahabi terrorist ideology. Should we then invade Saudi Arabia because of its close ties to terrorists?

As for the Iraqi WMD program, it was plans on paper. We never let the UN inspection team finish their inspections because the Bush administration feared that Hans Blix would find no such weapons. It was becoming increasingly clear that our policy of containment was working and Hussein's wish for WMDs was being thwarted. So the Bush administration launched a smear campaign against Blix, a respected UN official.

It's important to remember we were not "doing nothing" over there. We had in place an effective program to keep Hussein contained within his own country and unable to develop the weapons he wanted. Clinton's program regarding the Iraqis was working. And they were not the ones who attacked us on 9/11. It was al Qaeda, and the attack was planned from Afghanistan, not Iraq. And the Saudis were probably more behind it, unofficially, than the Iraqis.

I have no problem with using every diplomatic tool, including sanctions, to prevent war if possible.

My criteria for going to war: A clear and present danger to the U.S. or one of its allies. If Hussein had indeed developed WMDs and been belligerent, I would have supported going to war with him.

I'm mostly against preemptive strikes. But if an attack is launched against any sovereign nation, as Hussein did in Kuwait, I would support defending the sovereignty of that nation.

And if a nation acts bellicose and appears to present a legitimate threat I would rethink my opposition to a preemptive strike in that case. But that's why it's so important to have leaders that we trust.

George Bush by acting on bad intelligence - most likely cooked by his own administration - has lost the trust, not just of Democrats, but of much of the world. And that is very dangerous to our national security. Without honesty, integrity, and trust it becomes more difficult to wage war when it's genuinely necessary.

We cried wolf, unfortunately, with Iraq. And now it's much harder to pursue our national interests when the threat might indeed be real.

Silence Dogood said...

"Bush was making statements against a Republican of the time, so it shows that he understands the dangers of isolationism."

What utter horse manure. The very idea that diplomacy = isolationism is the stupidist thing I've ever heard since the last time GWB gave a speech. He himself represents better than anyone else the perils of isolationism in that his foreign policy lives at the dangerous intersection between a complete unwillingness to conduct diplomacy and build alliances and his desire to wage war on anything he perceives as a threat. The lesson we should take away from the Bush brand of diplomatic isolationism is that when you don't have any friends, all you have are enemies.

And Poland. Oh, we forgot Poland again.

Isophorone said...

You all have your history very wrong. We had no diplimatic relations with the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1933. Nice try, kids.

Iran knows better than to invade a sovereign nation, and you and your Obama world view should know better than to make such points. They tend to employ their "asymmetrical" elements (terrorists they harbor and fund) to do the dirty work. They also like to harass shipping. How is any of that really different from an overt act of war?

Once again, you all fail to articulate your criteria for military action. It's just "Say no to war unless a Democrat is President."

silence dogood said...

isophorone, you're a twit. Your accusation that Democrats only support war when a Democrat is President is as disingenuous as it is insulting. Everyone and his brother supported the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, including most Democrats. It was was only when the administration shifted resources away from the hunt for Osama Bin Laden and started worrying about non-existent WMDs that support for his foreign policy eroded.

This isn't about Bush being a Republican. This is about Bush being wrong. And that's the problem with Republicans nowadays, they think everything is about partisanship without ever conceding that sometimes life really is about the difference between being right and being wrong, and thus they can never admit mistakes or errors in judgement.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

I agree with almost everything you said Silence Dogood. Thanks, as usual, for your sharp, thoughtful and right on target comment. You are always welcome here.

The only part I do disagree with is that Isophorone isn't really a twit. As fiercely as I disagree with him, I actually like him.

He is argumentative and never gives quarter, but he forces us to think. And he always wishes me well when I travel to see my family, especially on Jewish holidays :)

the shootist said...

"You all have your history very wrong. We had no diplimatic relations with the Soviet Union from 1917 to 1933."

I said MOST of its existence, including the period in which the Soviet Union presented the gravest danger to the continued existence of the United States. That being the Khrushchev era, as AIAW pointed out.