Poor Pol Pot.
He just can’t get any respect.
Despite a solid resume as a crazed, brutal dictator responsible for killing approximately 1.7 million of his own people, his name never comes up when the caretakers of American empire set their sights on an enemy du jour.
The same goes for Josef Stalin, Chairman Mao, General Franco, Idi Amin, Attila the Hun, Caligula and Vlad the Impaler.
No, when it’s time to fire up the Great American Fear Factory for another “lobbying blitz” and bellicose “product launch,” America’s policymakers conjure up the darkest star of human history. They say “Hitler.”
Saddam Hussein? Say “Hitler.”
Slobodan Milosevic? Say “Hitler.”
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad? Say “Hitler.”
And now, as if on cue, Secretary of State John Kerry said “Hitler.”
Faced with sparse domestic and international support for launching expensive cruise missiles into the middle of a civil war, Kerry re-booted the Hitler franchise by comparing Syria’s Bashar al-Assad to history’s first name in unchecked evil. In fact, he compared Assad to Hitler and Saddam Hussein. Looks like Saddam is now in an elite class of evildoer.
Evoking Hitler is the foreign policy equivalent of yelling “fire” in a crowded theater. Comparisons to Hitler are meant to spark an immediate, visceral reaction and designed to “clear out the building.” Once the dissent leaves the room, the debate has effectively ended. It also demarcates a rhetorical red line. If you cross it, you are siding with Hitler.
And no one wants to be on the side of Hitler.
At least, that’s what Team Obama is banking on with its next “lite” war. The Peace Prize President likes bombs and missiles and drones, and that means war without American body bags and graves and, therefore, much domestic fallout.
Team Obama is also banking on ignorance—of historical context and basic historical facts—on the part of the media, members of Congress and the American people. Adolf Hitler started World War II. He invaded Western Europe, Eastern Europe and Russia. Over twenty million Russians died. So did 2.5% of the world’s entire population. Hitler declared war on the United States without direct provocation and, when coupled with casualties fighting Hitler’s Japanese allies in the Pacific, some 400,000 Americans died. And then there is the Holocaust. Six million European Jews died in a systematic genocidal pogrom.
Bashar al-Assad, on the other hand, is fighting a complicated civil war with competing ethnic, religious and proxy factions. He has invaded no one. Declared war on no one. But he is a dictator. Some 100,000 people have died. And, according to Team Obama and their French partners, he used chemical weapons on his “own people.”
That fact does make him comparable to another Baathist bad guy—Saddam Hussein. According to “Professor” Kerry, Saddam’s use of gas on his “own people” and on Iranian people sets him apart from guys like Stalin and Mao who, history has shown, are responsible for the deaths of millions of people.
But does that make him Hitler?
Rather, was Saddam, like Bashar, more comparable to other dictators and despots of the 20th Century? How about the Shah of Iran, General Suharto, General Pinochet or Colonel Qaddafi?
They all ruled with iron-fisted brutality—as evidenced by the Shah’s infamous SAVAK, Suharto’s purges of communists and political opponents, and Pinochet’s bloody, neo-fascist repression. They all subverted democracy. They all killed their “own people.”
Perhaps the problem with those far more rational comparisons is that those dictators were all supported by the United States. Even Qaddafi had his day in the sun after 9/11 “changed everything” and he traded his WMDs and access to his oil for a free pass from Washington. In fact, the 20th Century saw both tacit and explicit US support of various repressions, dictatorships, mass killings and, in a particularly woeful period during the 1980s, Central American death squads. So far—from Egypt to Saudi Arabia and across Central Asia—the 21stCentury isn’t much better.
But the problem is even deeper than that litany of compromised values.
If chemical weapons are sui generis—thus, uniquely abhorrent—then it is truly unfortunate that Kerry lumped Assad with Saddam the very same week that documents confirmed US implicit and active support for Saddam’s use of chemical weapons during the Iran-Iraq War. What’s more, the US did nothing when he used them on his “own people.” Maybe that was because Saddam wasgassing the Kurds, which was quietly welcomed by America’s steadfast allies in Turkey who, like US client Saddam, were also fighting an internal war against Kurdish rebels.
Apparently, Kerry and Co. don’t read Foreign Policy magazine or, for that matter, much actual history. Or, if they do, they must hope that Congress and the media don’t dust of books or search Lexis-Nexis. They might find that it was just a short time ago that a “rendition-obsessed” US government sent “suspects” to be tortured by Assad’s regime!
However, Kerry’s knack for revisionism is nothing new. Remember that classic line from the 2004 election about funding for the Iraq War? While choking on some pretzel logic, Kerry said, “I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.”
Well, he may also have been for Bashar before he was against him. Until the Arab Spring came along, Assad was a darling of Washington’s foreign policyand media establishment. Now, also as if on cue, the Daily Mail publishes a cozy picture of then-Senator Kerry and his wife sharing dinner with the Assads in 2009 to discuss, perhaps, regional peace efforts. Although we don’t know what was said, the picture is reminiscent of Don Rumsfeld’s famous, grainyhandshake picture with then-dictator Saddam Hussein in 1983.
And that’s history. No matter how much Team Obama refuses to acknowledge it, it does have a nasty habit of repeating itself—like those incessant Nazi documentaries on the History Channel. Hopefully, enough people have watched enough Nazivision™ to see that this sad, belligerent effort to protect Obama’s credibility strains the bounds of credulity.
If nothing else, he won’t be compared to Pol Pot.
JP Sottile is a freelance journalist, published historian, radio co-host and documentary filmmaker (The Warning, 2008). His credits include a stint on the Newshour news desk, C-SPAN, and as newsmagazine producer for ABC affiliate WJLA in Washington. His weekly show, Inside the Headlines w/ The Newsvandal, co-hosted by James Moore, airs every Friday on KRUU-FM in Fairfield, Iowa. He blogs under the pseudonym “the Newsvandal“.