Sunday, July 1, 2007

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Meet Neville Bush

Lynne Olson is the author of Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England. Today he has an op-ed in the Washington Post that discusses George W. Bush's admiration of Winston Chruchill. The key paragraph:

I've spent a great deal of time thinking about Churchill while working on my book "Troublesome Young Men," a history of the small group of Conservative members of Parliament who defied British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasing Adolf Hitler, forced Chamberlain to resign in May 1940 and helped make Churchill his successor. I thought my audience would be largely limited to World War II buffs, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the president has been reading my book. He hasn't let me know what he thinks about it, but it's a safe bet that he's identifying with the book's portrayal of Churchill, not Chamberlain. But I think Bush's hero would be bemused, to say the least, by the president's wrapping himself in the Churchillian cloak. Indeed, the more you understand the historical record, the more the parallels leap out -- but they're between Bush and Chamberlain, not Bush and Churchill.
Read the rest of Olson's essay to see the comparisons. For someone who was not terribly familiar with Chamberlain's leadership style, the parallels are quite surprising.

UPDATE: Meanwhile, in Slate, US Weekly editor Janice Min compares Bush to someone else entirely.

ANOTHER UPDATE: Peter Baker has a front-pager in the Washington Post today that discusses Bush's frame of mind. Olsen's book is mentioned explicitly -- Olson's analogy is implicit but shot through the piece.

posted by Dan on 07.01.07 at 08:09 PM


Gee, this Olson woman lives in her own private fantasy world, doesn't she? The press has been intimidated by the Bush administration? (Maybe she is thinking of FDR, who ordered tax audits for newspaper owners who criticized him.) The Bush administration has been wiretapping U.S. politicians? If Olson has information on that, she should share it.

posted by: y81 on 07.01.07 at 08:09 PM [permalink]

I don't know about analogies to Neville Chamberlain, who despite his reliance on Horace Wilson was very "hands-on" compared to Bush. Chamberlain on the other hand allowed himself to be taken in (several times) by Hitler. In perfect fairness, we can't say that Bush has ever done anything as bad as that.

Setting that to one side, Bush is long overdue for some needling questions about his advertised admiration for Churchill. It's all Bush can do, after all, to find his way from one end of a complete English sentence to the other without a script; Churchill wrote dozens of books, and eschewed the use of staff to write his official statements until he was well into his 70s. Churchill had extensive combat experience in four different wars, experience that informed his thinking when he had to direct British generals himself; Bush avoided combat, and during most of the Iraq war avoided engagement with operations, on which his Secretary of Defense had the final say. Churchill was a much admired statesman but a tone-deaf politician; when he had seriously contested elections in his various constituencies he lost more than he won. Bush is far abler and more engaged in the mechanics of electoral politics than he is in any aspect of the work that government does.

There are good reasons for Churchill to be admired, studied and even, to some degree, emulated by American politicians. It's unfortunate that for so many of them he's become no more than a base to touch, a symbol that in times of crisis one will be "resolute" or "determined."

posted by: Zathras on 07.01.07 at 08:09 PM [permalink]

Olson's piece is even more ridiculous when you consider the extreme lengths Churchill went to preserve operational security and intelligence sources. If Bush even tried to use a tenth of the deceptive tactics Churchill employed (e.g. allowing Coventry to be bombed to preserve the Ultra secret), someone would leak and Bush would be impeached.

The idea of alliances is also analogizing the wrong thing. If Britain had been strong enough to stop Germany by itself in 1940, Churchill would have advocated that course instead of waiting around for a tortuous diplomatic effort to win over allies. But Britain was not strong enough, so Churchill had to swallow an alliance with Stalin. The military balance facing the US in 2003 versus Iraq was rather different.

posted by: srp on 07.01.07 at 08:09 PM [permalink]

Oslon spends most of the essay describing, in detail, actions by Chamberlain then claiming, without supporting details, that Bush did the same thing. Hogwash.

I grew up on a farm and I recognize fertilizer when I smell it.

As for the Slate piece, sorry I only read the movie reviews in Slate. They are the only articles with any hint of objectivity in that e-rag.

posted by: Useless Sam Grant on 07.01.07 at 08:09 PM [permalink]

Quite creative! Usually lefties like Olson simply go for the "Bush=Hitler" agitprop. So Kudos to Olson for going above and beyond.

posted by: A.S. on 07.01.07 at 08:09 PM [permalink]

Like everyone else above says, the comparison is nonsense.

posted by: alenda lux on 07.01.07 at 08:09 PM [permalink]

"The White House was in the midst of tough negotiations with Rangel over trade pacts. But Bush did not try to cut a deal with Rangel, chatting instead about baseball. "He talked a lot about the Rangers," Rangel said. "I didn't know what the hell he was talking about.""

So can we call BS the next time Rangel or one of his democratic colleagues whines about how partisan the President and the Republicans are - and about how you used to be able to get a beer after work with members of the opposition? Is a flight from DC to NY (what, 45 minutes?) really the best time to get into a knock down fight over trade pacts?

So Bush makes a little conversation and Rangel, as crotchety and ungracious as ever, pretends that means Bush is "detached" or losing it. It's trade pacts for goodness sake! It's not like they were discussing an imminent terrorist strike or the latest intelligence from Iraq.

posted by: Dan on 07.01.07 at 08:09 PM [permalink]

"Olson's piece is even more ridiculous when you consider the extreme lengths Churchill went to preserve operational security and intelligence sources."

And Bush is reckless with operational security and intelligence sources. Not a point in favor of Bush being like Churchill.

posted by: Jon H on 07.01.07 at 08:09 PM [permalink]

Before reading the article I thought Olson was going to compare Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler to Bush's appeasement of the left on certain issues such as domestic spending and immigration policy. Bad guess.

posted by: Alan K. Henderson on 07.01.07 at 08:09 PM [permalink]

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