FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Bush’s Revisionist History

With the mainstream media fixated on remarks by preachers at Trinity United Church in Chicago, it has largely ignored far more consequential comments by the president of the United States. Unlike the church sermons, these remarks go to the heart of how George W. Bush has governed as the leader of the free world as well as the likely approach of John McCain, who endorsed what Bush had to say.

In remarks before the Israeli Knesset, President George Bush implicitly conflated Barack Obama’s willingness to talk with hostile foreign leaders with appeasement of the Nazis. To strengthen his case Bush cited an unnamed Senator who allegedly said, “As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland … ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.”

The Senator to whom this quote is attributed was not a Democrat, but Republican William Borah of Idaho. If Borah is to be a negative exemplar for today’s foreign policy, the upshot is the opposite of what President Bush would have us believe.

Unlike Obama, Borah was not an advocate of multilateral foreign policy committed to engagement with an often messy and unpleasant world. Like most other Republicans in the years between the world wars, and much like President Bush today, Borah was a nationalist who believed that America should act unilaterally to protect and advance its exceptional civilization and not tie its destiny to foreign peoples and regimes.

“I obligate this government to no other power,” Borah said during the debate over American participation in World War I. No “vital issue,” he said should be submitted “to the decision of some European or Asiatic nation.”

In 1919, Borah joined with a majority of other Republicans in the Senate to defeat the Versailles Treaty that would have committed the U.S. to joining the League of Nations. America’s disengagement from the world during the interwar years contributed to the rise of Nazi aggression under Adolf Hitler. After Germany’s invasion of Poland Borah again joined with a majority of Republicans in Congress to oppose revision of the Neutrality Act to permit trade with the allies. In 1940, Borah and most congressional Republicans opposed the draft and in 1941 they also opposed the provision of Lend Lease aid to the allies. Without these measures, the Nazis would almost certainly have conquered Great Britain and possibly Russia as well.

Conservative attacks on political leaders for negotiating with our alleged enemies are nothing new. In the waning days of the Cold War, conservatives blasted one of the own, President Ronald Reagan, for pursuing arms control agreements with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev.

In 1987, Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina and his political operative Tom Ellis formed The Leadership Coalition For Freedom Through Truth to “delegitimize the Soviet Union.” They urged Reagan to cease negotiating with the Soviets and to recognize that Gorbachev was not “a new kind of Soviet leader.” Conservative columnist Michael Johns charged that. “Seven years after Ronald Reagan’s arrival in Washington, the U.S. government and its allies are still dominated by the culture of appeasement.”

Conservative leaders Richard Viguerie and Howard Phillips forged an Anti-Appeasement Coalition that compared Reagan to Hitler’s notorious appeaser, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Republican Senator James A. McClure of Idaho said, “We still have a lot of faith in Reagan but there is a lot of distrust of the negotiating process, a feeling that it leads to concessions that are unwise.”

Undaunted by such criticism from the right, Reagan negotiated with Gorbachev the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty that eliminated Soviet and US missiles from Europe. Reagan scorned conservatives who “have accepted that war is inevitable” and sold the treaty to the American people. Without the removal of these deadly, hair-trigger missiles and the mutual trust that the Treaty engendered it is unlikely that the Berlin Wall would have fallen in 1989 and that freedom would have come to the satellite states of Eastern Europe without a single Soviet soldier firing a shot in defense of Communism.

The final irony in Bush’s revisionist history is that Borah may never have said the words that Bush quoted. The line about Hitler was not reported in the press at the time and doesg not appear in Borah’s correspondence. The line comes from a single source, journalist William K. Hutchinson error-filled memoir, in which he claims attributes the line to a private conversation with Senator Borah.

ALLAN J. LICHTMAN is a professor of history at American University. His latest book is White Protestant Nation.

 

More articles by:

Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael Duggin
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
Nomi Prins 
The Inequality Gap on a Planet Growing More Extreme
John W. Whitehead
Know Your Rights or You Will Lose Them
David Swanson
The Abolition of War Requires New Thoughts, Words, and Actions
J.P. Linstroth
Primates Are Us
Bill Willers
The War Against Cash
Jonah Raskin
Doris Lessing: What’s There to Celebrate?
Ralph Nader
Are the New Congressional Progressives Real? Use These Yardsticks to Find Out
Binoy Kampmark
William Blum: Anti-Imperial Advocate
Medea Benjamin – Alice Slater
Green New Deal Advocates Should Address Militarism
John Feffer
Review: Season 2 of Trump Presidency
Frank Clemente
The GOP Tax Bill is Creating Jobs…But Not in the United States
Rich Whitney
General Motors’ Factories Should Not Be Closed. They Should Be Turned Over to the Workers
Christopher Brauchli
Deported for Christmas
Kerri Kennedy
This Holiday Season, I’m Standing With Migrants
Mel Gurtov
Weaponizing Humanitarian Aid
Thomas Knapp
Lame Duck Shutdown Theater Time: Pride Goeth Before a Wall?
George Wuerthner
The Thrill Bike Threat to the Elkhorn Mountains
Nyla Ali Khan
A Woman’s Selfhood and Her Ability to Act in the Public Domain: Resilience of Nadia Murad
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
On the Killing of an Ash Tree
Graham Peebles
Britain’s Homeless Crisis
Louis Proyect
America: a Breeding Ground for Maladjustment
Steve Carlson
A Hell of a Time
Dan Corjescu
America and The Last Ship
Jeffrey St. Clair
Booked Up: the 25 Best Books of 2018
December 13, 2018
John Davis
What World Do We Seek?
Subhankar Banerjee
Biological Annihilation: a Planet in Loss Mode
Lawrence Davidson
What the Attack on Marc Lamont Hill Tells Us
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail