May 17, 2008

McBush and Appeasement

After the American Century

Senator McCain has endorsed George Bush's attack on the Democrats for "appeasement." I will return to this, but only after looking at the many absurdies in this attack. Bush chose to go after the Democrats while making a state visit to Israel to mark the 60th anniversary of that nation's independence. Partisan attacks are to be expected from now on until the election, but it is poor form to go to another nation and distract attention from their celebrations to engage in electoral politics. However, where Bush made his statement had a special resonance when he chose to compare the Democrats to those who appeased Hitler. The implication was that if Americans elect Obama, they will be responsible for another holocaust. But there is no historical sense to these assertions.

It was the Republicans far, far more than FDR's Democrats, who were in the appeasement camp. In the 1930s many Americans, especially Republicans, wanted the nation to remain neutral. It was Roosevelt and the Democrats who have the more honorable record. Who wanted to negotiate with Hitler? Republican Senator Borah! Yes, that wonderful party leader who also helped to sabotage Wilson's League of Nations. He was from Bush's party.

And another thing. Just which leader or which nation today can realistically be compared to Hitler? Iran's leaders deny the Holocaust. They sponsor terrorist groups. Democrats and Republicans would all agree aboout these things. But Iran simply does not have the geopolitical clout that Germany had in the 1930s. Because we are talking about a nation, not an amorphous group of terrorists, they could conceivably be negotiated with. The Neo-Conservative Republicans seem to have forgotten that the Cold War was won not by arms, but by a much slower process of dialogue, trade, cultural interchange, and, yes, negotiation. The Berlin Wall came down without a shot being fired. Bush's continual refusal to talk to Iran's leaders has pushed them into the willing arms of the Russians, who are happy to help them build oil and gas pipelines and trade with them. Furthermore, many in Washington, even some Republicans, have come to recognize that it will be impossible to forge a peace in Iraq without somehow involving the Iranians.

Leaving aside historical analogies, Bush himself has at times been a negotiator, so that must make him "an appeaser." At almost the very moment the President was declaring one should never negotiate with terrorists, his administration announced that it was sending massive food aid to North Korea. This is part of the complex negotiations that have, with some success, sought to turn that nation away from its nuclear program. Thus Bush's own administration has been doing the very thing for which he criticized the Democrats.

Bush is trying to distract attention from his foreign policy failures. But his shoot-first-preemptive-strike-cowboy approach to the world has not yielded success in Afghanistan or Iraq. His administration arrogantly refused to listen to its allies. France and Germany both tried to dissuade him from invading Iraq, but Bush told the world that US intelligence information was more reliable than theirs and charged ahead. However, the French and the Germans got it right. There was no pressing national security reason to rush into that war. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. Bush either lied or his intelligence services were incompetent. Either way, it was an expensive mistake that has cost hundreds of billions of dollars and led to the deaths of more than 100,000 people, the vast majority civilians. The Iraq War has increased instability in the Middle East and served as a training ground for terrorists. Bush's interventionism has also indirectly driven up the cost of oil, because the Iraqui oil fields are not producing as much as they might. Anyone who thinks the US is more secure or better off economically than it was before the invasion of Iraq has not been paying attention.

John McCain had an oportunity to show he was not like the President, but he has endorsed Bush's attack on the Democrats. So much for his claims to represent "straight talk." Perhaps the fall ballots should read "McBush" so voters will know what he represents. For McCain's remarks show once again that he is a throwback from another age, living in the mental universe of the Cold War where he was trained as a military man. McCain by temperment and education is not prepared to be a negotiator or to understand the world as a complex place. He is the candidate who thought it was funny to sing "Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran" to a Beach Boys tune. He is unfit to be President precisely because he has all that Cold War and Vietnam military experience. The world is a different place now.

Finally, suppose we were to evaluate Bush by his own Rambo standards. Seven years after the 9/11 attacks, he has been unable to find Osama bin Laden. By any measure, he has been a miserable failure.