On Thursday, President Bush spoke to Israel’s Knesset — the country’s parliament — as part of the commemoration of the 60th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence. Part of his speech, however, may have been directed closer to home, as he appeared at one point to take a shot at Barack Obama for his foreign policy positions.
“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,” Bush said. “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.”
To many observers, this seemed like a reference to Obama and his stated position about negotiating with countries like Iran. CNN’s Political Ticker blog has reported, “White House aides privately acknowledged the remarks were aimed at the presidential candidate and others in his party.” At a briefing, though, White House press secretary Dana Perino denied that Bush’s remarks were aimed at Obama. “It is not [directed at Obama],” Perino said. “And I would think that all of you who cover these issues and have for a long time have known that there are many who have suggested these types of negotiations with people that President Bush thinks we should not talk to. I understand when you’re running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you — that is not always true and it is not true in this case.”
Obama has already hit back at Bush. In a statement released to reporters, Obama said:
It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel. Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power — including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy — to pressure countries like Iran and Syria. George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the President’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.
By the way, the quote Bush used about talking to Hitler was from Sen. William Borah, a Republican from Idaho. It has come into vogue recently, at least in part because of its use by conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, who has employed it often over the past 20 years in writing about several other countries he saw as the next Nazi Germany; he used it, for example, to describe China in 1989 and North Korea in 1994. It’s also stripped from some relevant context — Borah wasn’t saying that solely out of naiveté, as Bush, Krauthammer and others have implied. He was a prominent isolationist and an admirer of Hitler. In 1938, speaking of the German dictator, Borah said, “There are so many great sides to him.” After Hitler occupied the Sudetenland, Borah said, “Gad, what a chance Hitler has! If he only moderates his religious and racial intolerance, he would take his place beside Charlemagne. He has taken Europe without firing a shot.”