Bush's "some believe" trick
Carlton M. Caves
2008 May 16

President I'm-not-golfing-to-show-solidarity-with-the-troops Bush, displaying his unerring sense for inappropriate behavior, treated his speech to the Israeli Knesset commemorating Israel's 60th anniversary as a campaign event:

Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century. Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: "Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided." We have an obligation to call this what it is---the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.

Democrats, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, immediately objected to Bush's characterization of them as appeasers, while Bush's aides pursued the usual strategy of stoking the story, through denials and whisperings, with the aim of keeping it alive long enough that everyone could speculate about who these anti-American "some" are.

This is the oldest and most reprehensible trick in the Bush gang's thoroughly worn-out playbook. "Some" are accused of undermining America's interests. Here they only "seem to believe" things, but these things quickly escalate into the equivalent of appeasing Hitler, so that just seeming to believe them is enough to warrant condemnation. The vile "some" don't have to be identified, because they are the ones who jump up and object to the accusation. Bush's aides whisper confidentially to the press that, yes, indeed, those who object are precisely the anti-Americans the president was referring to. Meanwhile his press secretary issues weaselly denials: "No, the president was not referring to those who have objected, but, hey, why are they so sensitive? Perhaps they really are the anti-Americans the president didn't say they are."

In this edition of the trick, presidential counselor Ed Gillespie gave perhaps the most revealing response. Asked if the White House had anticipated that the president's comment would be interpreted as an attack on Barack Obama, Gillespie replied, "We did not anticipate that it would be taken that way, because it's kind of hard to take it that way if you look at the actual words of the President's remarks, which are consistent with what he has said in the past. ... There was some anticipation that someone might say, oh, it's an expression of, a rebuke to former President Carter for having met with Hamas. That was something that was anticipated. No one wrote about that or raised that as a question." Without in any way licensing the factuality of Gillespie's statement---the Bush gang is the gang that can't speak straight---it is useful to note that he is admitting that the point of the game is to get others to identify the anti-Americans. Why not accuse people directly, as an honorable person would? Because innuendo is more effective. It allows Bush and his gang to deny accusing anybody, while the right-wing press, abetted by coverage in the mainstream press, goes to work casting the net of anti-Americanism as widely as possible.

The president and his gang have been using this sort of innuendo since at least the 2002 Congressional election. For Bush, it's a habit that can't be broken, a habit that reveals as much as anything about the character of this vicious, little man. But you would think that at least a few people in his gang would tell him that the worm has turned in American politics and that he really ought to remove this trick from his bag.

Bush is a thoroughly incompetent, pathetically inadequate person masquerading as president of the United States, and the American people have finally caught on to this and made him the most unpopular, indeed despised president in history. As a result, to be attacked by Bush is the most sought after badge in American politics, there being no surer road to success than running against Bush and his failures. Barack is, I am sure, pleased as punch to be punched by Bush, because it allows him to run against Bush instead of against McCain. Moreover, in this case, Bush's accusations help to discredit McCain's own reprehensible attacks on Barack as a pawn of Hamas and thus to tie McCain more closely to Bush. McCain is almost certainly wondering what he has to do to merit a piece of Bush's innuendo.

As a result of losing three straight special elections, the Congressional Republicans are waking up to this situation---and panicking. They now see that Bush has profoundly alienated the majority of Americans and especially those between 20 and 30. They face the very real prospect of losing an entire generation of voters. I think it is now impossible for them to disentangle themselves from Bush, so one can hope that they will be dealt the severe rebuke they deserve in November.

Not that Democratic rule will be perfect. Democrats will be subject to the same abuses of power as afflict any ruling party, but they will get some things done that need to be done, and they will start from a position that is much closer to addressing America's and the world's real problems in the 21st Century. In addition, a thorough repudiation of the Congressional Republicans is required if the Republican party is ever to be freed of its right-wing extremism. It must be made absolutely clear to Republicans that they will be marginalized to the Deep South, the Plains, and upper Mountain West unless they become something more than the party of big money and Christian fundamentalists.

Not much has been written about the content of Bush's remark, but it deserves close scrutiny, because it promotes three serious errors in thinking---Bush thinks? Well, somebody else wrote the speech---which tumble out in such quick succession that it's hard to separate them. Let's go at them from the end backwards.

First, Bush equates talking and negotiating with adversaries with appeasement. Appeasement is giving in to an aggressive adversary's demands from a position of weakness in the hope that giving a little now will stave off further demands. That this is a bad idea is indeed a lesson of history, but talking and negotiating, especially from a position of strength, are quite different. Indeed, refusing to talk, when one is the stronger party, is a sign of insecurity. A problem here is that the Bush gang has quite seriously weakened our position in the world---especially in the Middle East---but we are still the most powerful nation in the world, and we should act like it by not fearing to talk to our adversaries.

Second, Bush equates Islamic radicals and terrorists with Hitler and Hitler's Germany. Islamic fundamentalism is indeed a serious threat to peace and stability in the 21st Century, but it isn't Hitler's National Socialism, which gained absolute control of the most powerful nation in Europe, thus placing Germany's military prowess at the service of the thuggish Nazi philosophy. In contrast, power in the Arab and Muslim world is fractured. Islamic fundamentalism has nothing like the powerful German state at its disposal. Equating Islamic fundamentalism with Hitler's Germany is a serious mistake, because it draws the wrong lessons from history, prejudicing us toward military solutions of problems that require social, cultural, and economic approaches. We've now seen how successful Bush's military adventures have been. We need to try something else.

Third, Bush equates talking and negotiating with adversaries with the idea that you will be able to convince them, by some ingenious argument, to adopt your point of view. This is such a silly notion that it is probably over-reading Bush's remark to take it seriously. But he did say it, and if this is what he believes negotiation is about, then it is clear why he doesn't bother with it. Nobody thinks that the purpose of negotiation is to convince an adversary to adopt your position. Negotiation is all about finding what is really important to each side, with the goal of reaching agreements that allow the two sides to tolerate one another. If tensions can be defused, then time---in the case of countries, 20 or 30 years, or even more---might lead to a deeper acceptance on both sides. A good negotiator keeps that longer goal in mind, but it's not his immediate objective.

There's one other group that really needs to pay attention to Bush's remark and its context, and that's the Israelis. There is a reason why American presidents generally obey the rule, which Bush broke, that partisan politics stops at our shores. Part of the reason is to present a united front abroad, but another, equally important part is to protect other countries from seeming to take sides in our partisan debates. By applauding Bush's appeasement line, the Knesset appeared to endorse Bush's innuendo. It is true that the Israeli right wing, by clearly favoring Bush and by encouraging an unholy alliance with Christian fundamentalists in the US, is creating a serious problem for Israel in the US. Israelis need to step back and think. Do they want to be so closely identified with one of the worst presidents in our history?

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