Rumsfeld Says War Critics Appeasing New Fascism
A friend of mine emailed an MSNBC reprint of an AP story reporting that Don Rumsfeld today likened critics of the Iraq War to those who tried to appease Hitler in the 1930s.
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday accused critics of the Bush administration’s Iraq and counterterrorism policies of trying to appease “a new type of fascism.” In unusually explicit terms, Rumsfeld portrayed the administration’s critics as suffering from “moral or intellectual confusion” about what threatens the nation’s security and accused them of lacking the courage to fight back.
In remarks to several thousand veterans at the American Legion’s national convention, Rumsfeld recited what he called the lessons of history, including the failed efforts to appease the Adolf Hitler regime in the 1930s. “I recount this history because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism,” he said.
He said, for example, that more media attention was given to U.S. soldiers’ abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib than to the fact that Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith received the Medal of Honor.
“Can we truly afford to believe somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?” he asked.
“Those who know the truth need to speak out against these kinds of myths and lies and distortions being told about our troops and about our country,” he added.
John McQuain, however, thinks Burn’s account a “hatchet job” and does a side-by-side comparison with the story and a transcript of the speech. He’s right that the quotes, taken out of context and rearranged with Burns’ paraphrasing, puts Rumsfelds’ remarks in the worst possible light.
Still, there’s not much doubt that the SECDEF is at least strongly suggesting that administration critics are appeasers. Take, for example, this passage from the DefenseLink transcription:
We need to face the following questions:
- With the growing lethality and availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow vicious extremists can be appeased?
- Can we really continue to think that free countries can negotiate a separate peace with terrorists?
- Can we truly afford the luxury of pretending that the threats today are simply “law enforcement” problems, rather than fundamentally different threats, requiring fundamentally different approaches?
- And can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America — not the enemy — is the real source of the world’s trouble?
These are central questions of our time. And we must face them.
Are these really the central questions of our time? Is there really serious debate about these points?
While I agree that there are parallels between the Islamist menace and that posed by European Fascism, there are few serious leaders of the opposition party who are advocating the equivalent of appeasement. Indeed, military action against the Taliban in Aghanistan had near universal support and the main debate going in to Iraq was whether it was a diversion from the primary fight against al Qaeda and its allies.
Is anyone of consequence seriously arguing that we ought to negotiate a separate peace with al Qaeda?
Certainly, there are those who think the main way to deal with terrorist groups is through detective work and law enforcement actions such as recently thwarted the London hijacking plot. But nobody seriously objects to the use of lethal force against terrorist camps or leaders. Indeed, Democrats continue the silly argument that it’s the president’s fault we haven’t killed Osama bin Laden yet.
I suppose there is a significant element that argues that, if only the United States weren’t so friendly towards Israel and dependant on Middle Eastern oil, we would not be the object of terrorist attacks. Indeed, there’s some kernel of truth in that. But few serious people are advocating that we therefore ought to pull up stakes and become isolationist–and at least half of them are in the Buchanan wing of the GOP.
While there is legitimate debate over how best to combat Islamist terrorism, it is counterproductive to conduct it using straw man attacks and barely disguised ad hominem. If that’s the best defense of current policies the administration brain trust can come up with, they’re in serious trouble.
UPDATE: Steve Benen says this is “the Defense Secretary at his least sensible” and that “with neither facts nor narratives on his side, Rumsfeld was left to simply pound the table, and hope that no one snickered at the sad rants of the poor man who doesn’t know what he’s talking about.” Now, obviously, I disagree with the last part of that but ad hominem tends to beget ad hominem.
Digby diagnoses the speech: “This is not a real critique. It’s a psych-out designed purely to make the Democrats go wobbly and to get the media to portray them that way.”
Matt Yglesias, guesting at TPM, dubs the speech, “the full wingnut monte.” While I agree with him that this seems a preview of the fall campaign (if not part it) designed to intimidate Democrats into ceding ground on foreign policy matters, he ironically takes the bait:
We’re witnessing the bitter, bitter fruits of the Iraq War. Other nations learned that they must seek nuclear weapons as soon as possible to safeguard themselves from a newly trigger happy United States of America. Muslim opinion was sharply polarized against us. Iran and Syria were told that their cooperation against al-Qaeda was no longer needed because their governments would topple soon enough. A power vacuum was left on the streets of Baghdad that parties aligned with Iran have rushed to fill. The Arab-Israeli conflict was sidelined as something that would magically resolve itself once Saddam Hussein was out of the way. And America’s allies were taught that our government was not to be relied upon — that we operated with bad intelligence and initiated wars of choice without any real plans or ideas about how to cope with the aftermath.
Apparently, America — not the enemy — is the real source of the world’s trouble. I don’t think Democrats want to lead with that one.