Thursday, August 31, 2006

Further clarification of Rumsfeld's "appeasement" anology

The Bushies clearly intend to evoke an atmosphere of shattering events, but their history is fractured and misleading, and their use of this analogy is a throwback to the methods that led America into Vietnam, among the nation’s greatest errors of the last century. In invoking Munich, Secretary Rumsfeld claims that the Western approach was based upon “a sentiment that took root that contended that if only the growing threats . . . could be accommodated, then the carnage . . . could be avoided.” He further presents this as “cynicism and moral confusion” and “a strange innocence” about the world.

None of this is true. There was no mass political movement demanding appeasement of Germany. Rather there was a specific policy choice—made primarily by Sir Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister of the time—to mollify Hitler and gain time for rearmament. In fact, the French wanted to stand on their alliance with the Czechs and fight Hitler, but were persuaded to back down. The British might even have been right within a certain narrow framework: For years they had restricted defense spending and were just starting to correct that, while Hitler’s promises—both to his military and his Italian allies—envisioned no war before 1942, which could have enabled an allied military buildup to bear fruit. The widely accepted charge that the Allies were wrong to “appease” Hitler stemmed in part from Neville Chamberlain’s extravagant declaration that Munich had brought “peace for our time”—when only a short time later World War II broke out.

The correct lesson to be drawn from Munich today is that when presidents and their administrations raise its specter, it is a sure sign they want to pursue extravagant policies, usually of violence, based on narrow grounds with shaky public support. Today the Munich analogy functions as a provocation, a red flag before a bull. It is dangerous because it claims that the only solution to any situation is to fight—Cheney’s point exactly. Having done nothing beyond silly propaganda—despite its own claims—to undermine the jihadists by eliminating the economic and political oppression that form the basis of jihadist appeal, the Bush people counsel that the fight is everything and that talking is “appeasement.” We have seen in Lebanon lately just how misguided is that approach.

Bush administration history is like their reality—faith-based. President Bush himself, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, characterized those who saw and spoke the truth about the run-up to the Iraq war as “revisionists”—historians who try to change the conventional wisdom about the past. Cheney not long ago declared it was “inexcusable” to repeat that truth. The same speeches that contain the Munich claims portray the Iraqi and Afghan people as “awakening to a future of hope and freedom” (Cheney) and say the U.S. strategy in Iraq “has not changed” (Rumsfeld).
John Prados, Rumsfeld's Misuse Of History


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