Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld trotted out the big guns yesterday, so to speak. Though he’s taken turns at being both an apologist as well as an ideologue when it comes to the administration’s policies, he spoke Monday night to thousands of veterans at the annual convention of the American Legion, and gave a hard-line defense of the Iraq war.
It was, as the New York Times reported, “unusually combative.” Among other things, Rumsfeld drew on a well-worn historical metaphor: Chamberlain’s appeasement of the Nazis at Munich, wondering aloud, “With the growing lethality and the increasing availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?”
Drawing a parallel between unnamed critics of the war in Iraq with those who tried to deal with Hitler in 1938, Rumsfeld arrives at the following conclusion: “Any kind of moral and intellectual confusion about who and what is right or wrong can severely weaken the ability of free societies to persevere.” This is the kind of argument that shuts out any further discussion, because any further discussion is, de facto, a kind of appeasement. Bloggers on the left — predictably — weren’t feeling the love.
Matthew Yglesias at TPM Café sees a political motivation behind the timing of the comments: “This, I think we can assume, is the fall campaign. The idea is to psyche the Democrats out. To make them think they can’t win an argument about foreign policy. To make them act like they can’t win an argument about foreign policy. And to thereby demonstrate to the American people that even the Democrats themselves lack confidence in their own ability to handle these issues.”
Then of course there’s the question of the acuity of Rummy’s historical comparison between 1938 and 2006. “It is Rumsfeld who hasn’t learned the lessons of history,” writes Carolyn Kay at Democrats.com. “Hitler made several overt moves that could have been stopped, but the appeasers said no. Iraq, on the other hand, did not make one overt move against us, and had no means to do so. Thus, the comparison is to the Vietnam war, not to World War II.” And many bloggers look back to an older post by Juan Cole at his blog, Informed Comment, subtly titled, “The Crock of Appeasement.” Cole makes the argument that the right doesn’t understand what it is saying when it unequivocally blackens the concept of appeasement.
He writes: “Taken seriously, the doctrine of ‘no appeasement’ on the right would mean we are stuck in perpectual war, always doomed to be on the offensive, always dedicated to gobbling up more of other people’s territory and wealth even at the expense of living in constant dread of being blown up and being forced to give up the civil liberties which had made American civilization great. It would never be possible to negotiate a truce with any enemy. That would be appeasement. It would never be possible to compromise. That would be appeasement. It would never be prudent to withdraw troops from a failed war. That would be appeasement. In other words, the rightwing doctrine of ‘no appeasement, ever’ actually turns you into Hitler rather than into Churchill.”
Or, in other words, as V so eloquently states it in his myspace blog, “Rumsfeld declaring war on fascists is like Dracula declaring war on vampires.”