Commentary Magazine


Topic: Neville Chamberlain

Peres, Chamberlain, and the Quest for Peace

Shimon Peres’s retirement as Israel’s president will be one more opportunity for journalists to try and sum up a career that has spanned the entire history of his nation. As was true of many other moments when it seemed as if Peres had exited the spotlight for good, eulogies may also be premature today. Peres is planning on using his time in the future to promote various initiatives and may well seek to play the kingmaker of the left in future efforts to topple or replace Benjamin Netanyahu as the country’s prime minister. But since this is almost certainly the end of his time in public office, some appreciation of his impact on Israel is appropriate.

As an Agence France Presse article today noted, at 90, Peres truly can claim the title of “the last of Israel’s founding fathers.” That’s more than an honorific. As that piece pointed out, as an aide to Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, Peres played a significant role in the creation of Israel’s defense establishment and nuclear deterrent. In the 1970s, he was seen as the leader of the more hawkish wing of the Labor Party and supported the building of the first West Bank settlements. That he eventually became the leading figure in the peace movement and the architect of the failed Oslo process and then later left Labor to join Ariel Sharon’s centrist Kadima Party shows not so much his evolution as a thinker as the fact that opportunism can lead a politician, especially one who was considered an indefatigable schemer, all over the place if he hangs around long enough.

Nevertheless, despite decades of varied public service during which he held every major office his country could offer and enough achievements to fill several lifetimes, it is for Oslo and the peace process that Peres will be most remembered. That this, his most important initiative, failed cannot be denied and it is on that failure many will judge him. Yet those who are inclined to damn Peres for his colossal misjudgment of the Palestinians would do well to read Winston Churchill’s 1940 eulogy for Neville Chamberlain, the historical figure to which many of the outgoing Israeli president’s fiercest detractors often compared him.

Read More

Shimon Peres’s retirement as Israel’s president will be one more opportunity for journalists to try and sum up a career that has spanned the entire history of his nation. As was true of many other moments when it seemed as if Peres had exited the spotlight for good, eulogies may also be premature today. Peres is planning on using his time in the future to promote various initiatives and may well seek to play the kingmaker of the left in future efforts to topple or replace Benjamin Netanyahu as the country’s prime minister. But since this is almost certainly the end of his time in public office, some appreciation of his impact on Israel is appropriate.

As an Agence France Presse article today noted, at 90, Peres truly can claim the title of “the last of Israel’s founding fathers.” That’s more than an honorific. As that piece pointed out, as an aide to Israel’s first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion, Peres played a significant role in the creation of Israel’s defense establishment and nuclear deterrent. In the 1970s, he was seen as the leader of the more hawkish wing of the Labor Party and supported the building of the first West Bank settlements. That he eventually became the leading figure in the peace movement and the architect of the failed Oslo process and then later left Labor to join Ariel Sharon’s centrist Kadima Party shows not so much his evolution as a thinker as the fact that opportunism can lead a politician, especially one who was considered an indefatigable schemer, all over the place if he hangs around long enough.

Nevertheless, despite decades of varied public service during which he held every major office his country could offer and enough achievements to fill several lifetimes, it is for Oslo and the peace process that Peres will be most remembered. That this, his most important initiative, failed cannot be denied and it is on that failure many will judge him. Yet those who are inclined to damn Peres for his colossal misjudgment of the Palestinians would do well to read Winston Churchill’s 1940 eulogy for Neville Chamberlain, the historical figure to which many of the outgoing Israeli president’s fiercest detractors often compared him.

Churchill despised Chamberlain’s appeasement policies as well as having no great personal affection for his former rival. But the death of the man who had come back from Munich waving a piece paper signed by “Herr Hitler” and saying that he had brought his country “peace for our time” did not cause Churchill to revisit Chamberlain’s obvious mistakes. Churchill was motivated in part by a desire to keep many of Chamberlain’s old supporters in Parliament from causing trouble. He also remembered his predecessor’s loyal service as a subordinate during the first months of his premiership and was moved by Chamberlain’s fortitude in suffering from the illness that took his life. But whatever the reasons for his decision, the great orator chose a different frame of reference for thinking about the great appeaser:

No one is obliged to alter the opinions which he has formed or expressed upon issues which have become a part of history; but at the Lychgate we may all pass our own conduct and our own judgments under a searching review. It is not given to human beings, happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. …

It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart-the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour. Whatever else history may or may not say about these terrible, tremendous years, we can be sure that Neville Chamberlain acted with perfect sincerity according to his lights and strove to the utmost of his capacity and authority, which were powerful, to save the world from the awful, devastating struggle in which we are now engaged. This alone will stand him in good stead as far as what is called the verdict of history is concerned.

Like many other journalists who asked Peres about the dangers of the path he was charting for Israel at the height of Oslo euphoria, in 1994 he gave me his standard answer at the time. He said that such questions were like reading the disclaimer on the back of an airline ticket that warned of the possibility of a crash. One had to have faith in the pilot, the plane, and the importance of the destination, he told me, rather than dwell on the negative possibilities. As it turned out, the peace plane he was flying was badly constructed and operated more on his wishes than a grasp of reality, which led to its crash, a result that led to the deaths and injuries of many Israelis.

If Peres has outlasted some of his critics and is still considered popular, he cannot outrun history. But even as we judge him for his mistakes, his detractors must never forget his lifetime of service to Israel or that the real blame for the collapse of Oslo belongs to Yasir Arafat and the culture of Palestinian rejectionism that continues to thwart efforts to end the conflict. Just as that “wicked man” Adolf Hitler cheated Chamberlain, so, too, did Yasir Arafat trick Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin, and all those who cheered the signing of the Oslo Accords. While Shimon Peres, like Chamberlain, must answer for his mistakes, the true blame for the carnage that Oslo wrought belongs to the terrorist, not the would-be peacemaker.

Read Less

Iran Deal and Munich: A Fair Comparison?

Since Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama announced the nuclear deal with Iran on Saturday, outrage over what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly termed a “historic mistake” has been intense, especially among supporters of Israel. That has led some observers to invoke comparisons with the 1938 Munich agreement in which the Western powers betrayed Czechoslovakia in an attempt to appease Adolf Hitler’s Germany. While invective along these lines has been flying around the Internet and Twitter, the question of whether Munich should be mentioned in the same breath as the agreement signed this past weekend in Geneva was discussed this morning by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. According to Stephens, the deal Obama is claiming as a triumph for diplomacy is “worse than Munich.”

Is he right? There are those who will claim it is impossible to compare any event with one that is associated with the Holocaust and still win an argument. But whether you think the deal is as bad as Stephens thinks or whether the price of a mistake with Iran is as costly as the West’s miscalculations about Hitler, the real answer depends on whether Iran betrays Obama.

Read More

Since Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama announced the nuclear deal with Iran on Saturday, outrage over what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly termed a “historic mistake” has been intense, especially among supporters of Israel. That has led some observers to invoke comparisons with the 1938 Munich agreement in which the Western powers betrayed Czechoslovakia in an attempt to appease Adolf Hitler’s Germany. While invective along these lines has been flying around the Internet and Twitter, the question of whether Munich should be mentioned in the same breath as the agreement signed this past weekend in Geneva was discussed this morning by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Bret Stephens in the Wall Street Journal. According to Stephens, the deal Obama is claiming as a triumph for diplomacy is “worse than Munich.”

Is he right? There are those who will claim it is impossible to compare any event with one that is associated with the Holocaust and still win an argument. But whether you think the deal is as bad as Stephens thinks or whether the price of a mistake with Iran is as costly as the West’s miscalculations about Hitler, the real answer depends on whether Iran betrays Obama.

As to the merits of the Iran deal, the facts are very much with Stephens in terms of the feckless nature of this diplomatic endeavor. The agreement loosened sanctions and handed over billions in frozen cash to the Islamist regime while tacitly legitimizing the Iranian nuclear program and its drive for a weapon even as it claims to do the opposite. While administration supporters can claim that the sanctions relief involves a fraction of the existing restrictions, neither can they claim that Iran’s supposed concessions do anything to roll back the nuclear progress Tehran has made in the last five years. Instead of making the world, and even Israel, safer, as Obama and Kerry have insisted, it makes it more likely that Iran will get a nuclear deal in the long run as well as heightening the chances of a Middle East arms race involving Saudi Arabia and new outbreaks of violence involving current and perhaps future Iranian allies like Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas.

While there is no direct analogy between Britain and France’s decision to carve up the Czechoslovak homeland in order to appease Germany’s territorial demands, should Iran get a nuclear weapon the comparison with Munich may be apt. While one can make an argument that the Iranian regime isn’t crazy enough to actually use a nuke on Israel, given the genocidal threats they’ve made against the Jewish state, dismissing their desire to perpetrate a second Holocaust after some of their leaders have spent years denying the first one, should Iran go nuclear in the future, the deal will be thought of as being as every bit as much of a betrayal of Israel as Munich.

Stephens also makes an important point when he speaks of Obama’s desire for détente with Iran as being far less defensible than British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s decision to trust “Herr Hitler.” Britain and France were weak in 1938. It can, as Stephens points out, be argued that delaying the war with Germany by a year, during which Britain built up its military forces, hurt Hitler even if it did result in the annihilation of the Czechs. Though appeasers might have been justified in thinking they had no better option in 1938 than to give in to Hitler, there is no comparable excuse available for Obama and Kerry. Iran is weaker than the West and its economy is, thanks to the sanctions that Obama opposed and delayed implementing, in tatters. Yet, the U.S. negotiated with Iran as if it was the weaker party. Like Chamberlain and French President Edouard Daladier, Obama sued the ayatollahs for peace while saying that the only alternative to appeasement was war. Though no one wants a war with Iran, the alternative was to toughen the sanctions and to increase pressure on Iran and to, at least, demand that it begin dismantling the nuclear program. Like the appeasers of 1938 who thought Hitler couldn’t be persuaded to back down and therefore must be given what he asked for, Obama gave in to Iranian demands because they insisted on them.

Iran is not the hegemonic power that Nazi Germany was. Nor can it attack the West on equal or superior military terms as Germany did. But the assumption that Iran has no capability or desire to commit genocide is merely a matter of faith. Once they get a nuke, and it can be argued that the Iran deal is a bridge to a containment policy rather than one aimed at prevention, genocide or at least a war with incalculable consequences becomes a possibility.

But as bad as the Iran deal was, the real analogy to Munich is the way in which Obama and Kerry not only ignored the concerns of the nations endangered by an Iranian nuke—Israel and Saudi Arabia—but also excluded them from the negotiations. Like the Czechs who were told by Chamberlain that they had no choice but to accept the dismemberment of their country, Israel and the Saudis have been callously told they can either like the deal or lump it.

Yet the problem for many people with any Munich problem is not so much the differences between the two situations but with the entire idea of appropriating any event that is part of the World War Two timeline to describe another conflict. It is an iron rule of debate that the first person to invoke the Holocaust usually loses and in the eyes of some any talk about Munich is always going to be viewed as over the top no matter how strong the analogy might be.

That may be so, but the flipside of this argument is that the problem with the Iran deal is not what it means for the world today but what will follow from it. Opponents of the appeasers of 1938 like Winston Churchill were unable to convince grateful Britons who were overjoyed that war had been averted no matter what the cost to listen to their warnings. They could point to the probable consequences, but until Hitler marched into Prague and then invaded Poland despite promising Chamberlain that he wouldn’t, it was just talk. So, too, are the critics of appeasing Iran powerless to do much to stop Obama’s policy until the Iranians prove them right.

Until that happens, Obama’s defenders can accuse Stephens and others like him of hyperbole and hysteria. But once Iran cheats on the deal and uses its weak terms to get closer to its nuclear ambition, they will sound a lot more credible even to liberals who are trying their best to ignore this debate. At that point, as the world trembles before a nuclear-armed state sponsor of terror run by Islamist fanatics, Stephens’s suggestion that Obama and Kerry are the same as the appeasers of Hitler, “minus the umbrellas,” will seem tame.

Read Less

Churchill, Edward VIII, and ‘Arms and the Covenant’

Christopher Hitchens doesn’t like The King’s Speech. Not because of its cinematic qualities, which he appreciates, but because of its political ones. According to him, the movie is a “a gross falsification of history” because it shows Churchill as “generally in favor of a statesmanlike solution to the crisis of the abdication” and because it neglects to portray Edward VIII as “a firm admirer of the Third Reich” and George VI as an appeaser and anti-Churchill.

When I first read Hitchens’s piece, my mind flashed back to an article Hitchens contributed to the Atlantic in July/August 2002, an article that, as the subtitle puts it, “takes the Great Man down a peg or two.” It occasioned a characteristically understated and effective response from my adviser Paul Kennedy, who pointed out the “misinformation” that Hitchens appeared to be circulating. Not at all abashed, Hitchens continues to regret that “it seems we shall never reach a time when the Churchill cult is open for honest inspection.”

It’s curious that Hitchens both criticizes the “Churchill cult” for supporting the Great Man, and George VI for supposedly failing to do so. But Hitchens is shooting at several targets simultaneously: Churchill for being a monarchist, and the monarchy for existing. When coupled with his opposition to appeasement, the result is not always convincing.

Of Edward VIII, let us say little. Hitchens may be putting it too strongly when he characterizes him as firmly committed to the Third Reich — Edward was too self-centered and witless to be firmly committed to anything but his own desires, which was why he didn’t last long on the throne — but there’s no doubt he was an embarrassment and a liability. Fortunately, his ability to do mischief was seriously limited by the fact that he was a constitutional monarch. And, regrettably, his opinions were far from unique: in mid-1930s Britain, they were held by many people whose views mattered a good deal more than his.

George VI deserved better than he gets from Hitchens, who believes that the monarch’s supposedly shabby history “can easily be known by anybody willing to do some elementary research.” Yes, George supported Chamberlain and initially distrusted Churchill. In this, he was sadly far from unusual. What Hitchens doesn’t point out is that, once Churchill was in charge, George gave him — in the words of David Cannadine, a far from friendly historian — “loyal and increasingly admiring support throughout the war.” If Hitchens wants to call out the monarchy’s errors before May 1940, that’s fine; but there’s no “post-fabricated myth of its participation in ‘Britain’s finest hour.’” The participation was real, and if George had a bad peace, he had a good war. The same can be said of many others. Read More

Christopher Hitchens doesn’t like The King’s Speech. Not because of its cinematic qualities, which he appreciates, but because of its political ones. According to him, the movie is a “a gross falsification of history” because it shows Churchill as “generally in favor of a statesmanlike solution to the crisis of the abdication” and because it neglects to portray Edward VIII as “a firm admirer of the Third Reich” and George VI as an appeaser and anti-Churchill.

When I first read Hitchens’s piece, my mind flashed back to an article Hitchens contributed to the Atlantic in July/August 2002, an article that, as the subtitle puts it, “takes the Great Man down a peg or two.” It occasioned a characteristically understated and effective response from my adviser Paul Kennedy, who pointed out the “misinformation” that Hitchens appeared to be circulating. Not at all abashed, Hitchens continues to regret that “it seems we shall never reach a time when the Churchill cult is open for honest inspection.”

It’s curious that Hitchens both criticizes the “Churchill cult” for supporting the Great Man, and George VI for supposedly failing to do so. But Hitchens is shooting at several targets simultaneously: Churchill for being a monarchist, and the monarchy for existing. When coupled with his opposition to appeasement, the result is not always convincing.

Of Edward VIII, let us say little. Hitchens may be putting it too strongly when he characterizes him as firmly committed to the Third Reich — Edward was too self-centered and witless to be firmly committed to anything but his own desires, which was why he didn’t last long on the throne — but there’s no doubt he was an embarrassment and a liability. Fortunately, his ability to do mischief was seriously limited by the fact that he was a constitutional monarch. And, regrettably, his opinions were far from unique: in mid-1930s Britain, they were held by many people whose views mattered a good deal more than his.

George VI deserved better than he gets from Hitchens, who believes that the monarch’s supposedly shabby history “can easily be known by anybody willing to do some elementary research.” Yes, George supported Chamberlain and initially distrusted Churchill. In this, he was sadly far from unusual. What Hitchens doesn’t point out is that, once Churchill was in charge, George gave him — in the words of David Cannadine, a far from friendly historian — “loyal and increasingly admiring support throughout the war.” If Hitchens wants to call out the monarchy’s errors before May 1940, that’s fine; but there’s no “post-fabricated myth of its participation in ‘Britain’s finest hour.’” The participation was real, and if George had a bad peace, he had a good war. The same can be said of many others.

And then there’s Churchill. Hitchens’s main charge is that Churchill was unreasonably (even intoxicatedly) loyal to Edward, at the expense of the “Arms and the Covenant” lobby he was building “against Neville Chamberlain’s collusion with European fascism.” It’s a minor point, but at the time of the abdication crisis, Stanley Baldwin, not Neville Chamberlain, was prime minister. More important, Hitchens overrates “Arms and the Covenant” and (strangely for a man who detests the “Churchill cult”) relies on the almost hagiographic Churchill biographer William Manchester for his evidence.

But as Graham Stewart points out in his massive Burying Caesar: The Churchill-Chamberlain Rivalry, while the abdication crisis did hurt Churchill, the potential of “Arms and the Covenant” was limited. To succeed, it had to win substantial support among Tory MPs — and given the traditional loyalty of the Conservative Party to its leaders, and Churchill’s long battle against the Government of India Act, there was almost no chance of this. The left and right were soon divided by their reactions to the Spanish Civil War, and the entire movement faded when quiet seemed to return to most of the continent in early 1937. In short, there is not much reason to believe that Hitler would have been stopped in 1936-37 if only Churchill had dumped Edward.

And what of Churchill’s attitude toward Edward? He was, as Stewart puts it, “emotional and sentimental” about the monarchy. But Stewart also approvingly quotes the New Statesman’s assertion that Churchill’s advice to the king “will be found to have been impeccable from every constitutional point of view.” Churchill’s monarchism did not spring only from sentiment. It sprang also from his belief that constitutional monarchies were a force for stability and democracy. He regarded the end of the German monarchy with regret and argued that, if the German people had been allowed to keep a kaiser — not Wilhelm — as a focus for loyalty, Hitler might never have won power.

Such views are, of course, not subject to proof. But as Churchill said at the time, they are worthy of reflection. It may not be a coincidence that, in spite of the errors of those who occupied the throne, it was the British people who believed in their constitutional monarchy who stood up to Hitler, and the monarchist Churchill who led the fight. Hitchens likes the fight. What he doesn’t like is the stubborn traditionalism that made it possible.

Read Less

A Bad Christmas Card, and in Retrospect, Even Worse

I don’t spend a lot of time hanging out on British Liberal Democrat message boards. But a friend has pointed out a wonderful post — I hesitate to say it’s really in the spirit of the season, for reasons that will soon be obvious — by Stephen Tall on LibDemVoice, reproducing a Christmas card contained in the Conservative Party Archive and sent in 1938 by R.J. Rosie, a prominent physician, to Percy Cohen, a Jewish Conservative and then a member of the Conservative Research Department.

As Tall puts its:

The year is 1938, and you’re looking for a suitably seasonal picture for the front of your Christmas cards. A festive image which will convey seasonal goodwill to all humanity.  What could better symbolise those eternal truths than an international peace treaty signed by the two major European powers which had once been at war?

And so Rosie’s card for the year featured Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Adolf Hitler, complete with swastika armband, and included an insert with the infamous “peace in our time” pledge. Really not a good choice, and an object lesson in the dangers of making political points with Christmas cards. As an alternative, Tall links to one of Clementine and Winston Churchill’s Christmas cards that — though not very seasonal — does feature a beautiful summer-time view of the Weald of Kent from Chartwell, painted by Churchill himself.

I don’t spend a lot of time hanging out on British Liberal Democrat message boards. But a friend has pointed out a wonderful post — I hesitate to say it’s really in the spirit of the season, for reasons that will soon be obvious — by Stephen Tall on LibDemVoice, reproducing a Christmas card contained in the Conservative Party Archive and sent in 1938 by R.J. Rosie, a prominent physician, to Percy Cohen, a Jewish Conservative and then a member of the Conservative Research Department.

As Tall puts its:

The year is 1938, and you’re looking for a suitably seasonal picture for the front of your Christmas cards. A festive image which will convey seasonal goodwill to all humanity.  What could better symbolise those eternal truths than an international peace treaty signed by the two major European powers which had once been at war?

And so Rosie’s card for the year featured Neville Chamberlain shaking hands with Adolf Hitler, complete with swastika armband, and included an insert with the infamous “peace in our time” pledge. Really not a good choice, and an object lesson in the dangers of making political points with Christmas cards. As an alternative, Tall links to one of Clementine and Winston Churchill’s Christmas cards that — though not very seasonal — does feature a beautiful summer-time view of the Weald of Kent from Chartwell, painted by Churchill himself.

Read Less

The Worst Brit PM: Loser of the Colonies or Appeaser of Hitler?

As we await the results of today’s British elections, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about the outcome, given the dismal choices facing the voters there. David Cameron, the not-very-conservative Conservative leader who doesn’t appear to be much of a friend to the United States, might be the best of the lot compared with Gordon Brown and Labour, and especially with the hard-left anti-Israel venom emanating from the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, but that is to damn Cameron with faint praise.

But whoever the next resident of No. 10 Downing Street may be, the Times of London has provided readers with an interesting feature about his predecessors, ranking the top 50 British prime ministers. A panel of political writers and journalists — not historians — composed the list, but it still is enough to spark a lively conversation about the subject.

At the top of the list (no surprise here) is Winston Churchill, though it should be noted that the panel wasn’t unanimous about the choice, with one of the members voting for the overall No. 2 choice: David Lloyd George, who led Britain to victory during World War One. The rest of the top 10 were: William Gladstone, William Pitt the Younger, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Robert Peel, Clement Atlee, Earl Grey (it pays to have a tea named after you), Robert Walpole, and Benjamin Disraeli. (In case his buddy George W. Bush is interested, Tony Blair was ranked number 16, tied with the elder William Pitt.)

More curious than the leaders in the poll, most of whom are obvious choices, were the ones at the bottom. For those of us whose view of 20th century British history was primarily formed by our interest in the battle between Churchill and the “guilty men” who appeased Hitler, it is fascinating to note that while Neville Chamberlain’s name is synonymous with infamy, the Times panel thinks that he wasn’t really all that bad, ranking him at 34th, which is not so good but far from the bottom. Interestingly, fellow appeaser Stanley Baldwin, who preceded Chamberlain, was ranked fairly high at 14th, apparently because of the slick way he handled the abdication of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle the Duke of Windsor.

So who did the panel think were the worst prime ministers? Interestingly, the bottom three of this list of 49 men and one woman were the three Brits who lost the American colonies: Lord George Granville, the Duke of Grafton, and Lord North (1770-1782), who was the last and the least. There’s no question that these three were terrible British leaders, but I’m not exactly sure what it says about the Times of London — or Britain for that matter — that their panel thinks the creation of the United States was a greater disaster for their country than a policy of appeasement that led to a global war and to Auschwitz. I’d have thought that our friends across the pond had gotten over the results of the Battle of Yorktown a long while ago, but perhaps now that President Obama has put an end to the “special relationship” with Britain, the chasm between our two nations — divided, as G.B. Shaw said, by “a common language,” is even greater than we could have imagined.

As we await the results of today’s British elections, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm about the outcome, given the dismal choices facing the voters there. David Cameron, the not-very-conservative Conservative leader who doesn’t appear to be much of a friend to the United States, might be the best of the lot compared with Gordon Brown and Labour, and especially with the hard-left anti-Israel venom emanating from the Liberal Democrats led by Nick Clegg, but that is to damn Cameron with faint praise.

But whoever the next resident of No. 10 Downing Street may be, the Times of London has provided readers with an interesting feature about his predecessors, ranking the top 50 British prime ministers. A panel of political writers and journalists — not historians — composed the list, but it still is enough to spark a lively conversation about the subject.

At the top of the list (no surprise here) is Winston Churchill, though it should be noted that the panel wasn’t unanimous about the choice, with one of the members voting for the overall No. 2 choice: David Lloyd George, who led Britain to victory during World War One. The rest of the top 10 were: William Gladstone, William Pitt the Younger, Margaret Thatcher, Sir Robert Peel, Clement Atlee, Earl Grey (it pays to have a tea named after you), Robert Walpole, and Benjamin Disraeli. (In case his buddy George W. Bush is interested, Tony Blair was ranked number 16, tied with the elder William Pitt.)

More curious than the leaders in the poll, most of whom are obvious choices, were the ones at the bottom. For those of us whose view of 20th century British history was primarily formed by our interest in the battle between Churchill and the “guilty men” who appeased Hitler, it is fascinating to note that while Neville Chamberlain’s name is synonymous with infamy, the Times panel thinks that he wasn’t really all that bad, ranking him at 34th, which is not so good but far from the bottom. Interestingly, fellow appeaser Stanley Baldwin, who preceded Chamberlain, was ranked fairly high at 14th, apparently because of the slick way he handled the abdication of Queen Elizabeth’s uncle the Duke of Windsor.

So who did the panel think were the worst prime ministers? Interestingly, the bottom three of this list of 49 men and one woman were the three Brits who lost the American colonies: Lord George Granville, the Duke of Grafton, and Lord North (1770-1782), who was the last and the least. There’s no question that these three were terrible British leaders, but I’m not exactly sure what it says about the Times of London — or Britain for that matter — that their panel thinks the creation of the United States was a greater disaster for their country than a policy of appeasement that led to a global war and to Auschwitz. I’d have thought that our friends across the pond had gotten over the results of the Battle of Yorktown a long while ago, but perhaps now that President Obama has put an end to the “special relationship” with Britain, the chasm between our two nations — divided, as G.B. Shaw said, by “a common language,” is even greater than we could have imagined.

Read Less

Dreams of Disarmament

Mark Steyn predicts future historians will marvel at the omission of any discussion of Iran at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit:

For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.

For the proper historical analogy, we may have to look back even further – to the 1921 Washington Conference on naval disarmament in the Pacific, which Churchill described in the opening chapter of “The Gathering Storm:”

At the Washington Conference of 1921 far-reaching proposals for naval disarmament were made by the United States, and the British and American governments proceeded to sink their battleships and break up their military establishments with gusto. It was argued in odd logic that it would be immoral to disarm the vanquished unless the victors also stripped themselves of their weapons.

Chalk it up to the early twentieth century belief that it was ships that killed people. Churchill wrote that Japan, then just becoming a rising Pacific power, “watched with an attentive eye.” Two decades later, the U.S. ended a world war in the Pacific with bombs not yet invented when the U.S. had led the world in dreaming of disarmament.

The 2010 Washington Conference was an idea President Obama announced last year in his Prague disarmament speech, which set forth his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The speech featured the odd logic that America had a moral responsibility to disarm, as “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The speech was marred by North Korea’s firing, on the morning of the speech, rockets designed to demonstrate a long-range missile capability, and neither Iran nor North Korea found the speech particularly persuasive: a year later, they still resist Obama’s solution to their nuclear weapons programs – talks.

Future historians may find the Prague speech a useful guide to the themes that pervaded the Obama administration. Obama began by noting that, when he was born, “few people would have predicted that someone like me would one day become the President of the United States” – an observation he would repeat in the video he sent as the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall without him. He noted the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution had “showed us that peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire, and expose the emptiness of an ideology,” proving “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon” – but stood by in silence months later as he watched regime-threatening demonstrations in Iran.

He provided another trademark “let me be clear” moment – one the Czechs learned several months later was not quite as clear as they thought:

So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.  As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.)

The balance of the speech set forth a lengthy series of proposals – arms reductions, treaties that would be “sufficiently bold,” strengthened international inspections, “real and immediate consequences” for rule-breakers, a global summit, etc. – ending with an applause-producing assertion that “Yes, we can.”

It was all there: the self-referential view of history, the rhetoric divorced from reality, the disingenuous let-me-be-clear assurance, the implicit denigration of his country for its supposed sins, the celebration of the moral leadership he would bring to the world, the panoply of proposals – all delivered while rockets were fired and centrifuges were spun, with no U.S. response other than a conference at which the rockets and centrifuges were not discussed.

Mark Steyn predicts future historians will marvel at the omission of any discussion of Iran at this week’s Nuclear Security Summit:

For once, the cheap comparisons with 1930s appeasement barely suffice: To be sure, in 1933, the great powers were meeting in Geneva and holding utopian arms-control talks even as Hitler was taking office in Berlin. But it’s difficult to imagine Neville Chamberlain in 1938 hosting a conference on the dangers of rearmament, and inviting America, France, Brazil, Liberia, and Thailand . . . but not even mentioning Germany.

For the proper historical analogy, we may have to look back even further – to the 1921 Washington Conference on naval disarmament in the Pacific, which Churchill described in the opening chapter of “The Gathering Storm:”

At the Washington Conference of 1921 far-reaching proposals for naval disarmament were made by the United States, and the British and American governments proceeded to sink their battleships and break up their military establishments with gusto. It was argued in odd logic that it would be immoral to disarm the vanquished unless the victors also stripped themselves of their weapons.

Chalk it up to the early twentieth century belief that it was ships that killed people. Churchill wrote that Japan, then just becoming a rising Pacific power, “watched with an attentive eye.” Two decades later, the U.S. ended a world war in the Pacific with bombs not yet invented when the U.S. had led the world in dreaming of disarmament.

The 2010 Washington Conference was an idea President Obama announced last year in his Prague disarmament speech, which set forth his vision of a world without nuclear weapons. The speech featured the odd logic that America had a moral responsibility to disarm, as “the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon.” The speech was marred by North Korea’s firing, on the morning of the speech, rockets designed to demonstrate a long-range missile capability, and neither Iran nor North Korea found the speech particularly persuasive: a year later, they still resist Obama’s solution to their nuclear weapons programs – talks.

Future historians may find the Prague speech a useful guide to the themes that pervaded the Obama administration. Obama began by noting that, when he was born, “few people would have predicted that someone like me would one day become the President of the United States” – an observation he would repeat in the video he sent as the world celebrated the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall without him. He noted the Czechs’ Velvet Revolution had “showed us that peaceful protest could shake the foundations of an empire, and expose the emptiness of an ideology,” proving “moral leadership is more powerful than any weapon” – but stood by in silence months later as he watched regime-threatening demonstrations in Iran.

He provided another trademark “let me be clear” moment – one the Czechs learned several months later was not quite as clear as they thought:

So let me be clear: Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile activity poses a real threat, not just to the United States, but to Iran’s neighbors and our allies. The Czech Republic and Poland have been courageous in agreeing to host a defense against these missiles.  As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven. (Applause.)

The balance of the speech set forth a lengthy series of proposals – arms reductions, treaties that would be “sufficiently bold,” strengthened international inspections, “real and immediate consequences” for rule-breakers, a global summit, etc. – ending with an applause-producing assertion that “Yes, we can.”

It was all there: the self-referential view of history, the rhetoric divorced from reality, the disingenuous let-me-be-clear assurance, the implicit denigration of his country for its supposed sins, the celebration of the moral leadership he would bring to the world, the panoply of proposals – all delivered while rockets were fired and centrifuges were spun, with no U.S. response other than a conference at which the rockets and centrifuges were not discussed.

Read Less

New World’s Record for Chutzpah: Obama’s Seder

Some 19 years ago, the first president Bush earned the enmity of American Jews with his rant about being “one lone guy” standing up against the horde of AIPAC activists exercising their constitutional right to petition Congress. Bush’s statement symbolized the intolerance and enmity that his administration felt toward Israel and its American friends. But say one thing for that Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@#$ the Jews” Baker: at least they never pretended to be anything but what they were, country-club establishment Republicans who were not comfortable with Israel or Jewish symbols. Not so Barack Hussein Obama.

After a week spent beating up on Israel, blowing a minor gaffe into an international incident, subjecting Israel’s prime minister to unprecedented insults that Obama would never think of trying on even the most humble Third World leader, and establishing the principle that the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem — even in existing Jewish neighborhoods — is illegal and an affront to American interests – after all that, Obama plans on spending Monday night mouthing a few lines from the Passover Haggadah at a Seder held in the White House.

According to the New York Times, Obama will take part in a Seder in the Old Family Dining Room along with a band of court Jews such as David Axelrod. The Seder, as the newspaper notes, will end, according to tradition, with the declaration of ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ (Never mind the current chill in the administration’s relationship with Israel.)”

There will, no doubt, be many American Jews who are still so insecure in their place in American society that they will feel flattered that even a president who has proved himself the most hostile chief executive to Israel in a generation will pay lip service to Judaism in this way. No doubt the planting of this sympathetic story on the front page of the Sunday New York Times is calculated to soften the blow of his Jerusalem policy and his disdain for Israel in the eyes of many of Obama’s loyal Jewish supporters.

The vast majority of American Jews are not only liberals; they are, as they say in Texas, “yellow dog Democrats,” meaning they would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the Democratic ticket. But surely a sycophantic article like the Times feature must grate on even their sensibilities. Can any Jew with a smidgeon of self-respect or affection for Israel think that having a president say “Next year in Jerusalem!” while sitting at a table with matzo and macaroons makes up for policies that treat the 200,000 Jews living in the post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods of their own ancient capital as illegal settlers on stolen land?

Perhaps Obama and his coterie of Jewish advisers think they are entitled to expropriate the symbols of Judaism to lend legitimacy to their anti-Israel policies. Of course, if Obama had any real sympathy for the people of Israel or the Jewish people, he might instead spend Monday night reevaluating a policy that appears to concede nuclear weapons to the rabid Jew-haters of Islamist Iran and reinforces the intransigence of the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority and its allies across the Muslim world.

This week, Alan Dershowitz, who still counts himself among Obama’s supporters, warned the president that if he failed on Iran, his legacy would be indistinguishable from that of Neville Chamberlain, who appeased Hitler. He’s right, but it looks as though Chamberlain is becoming Obama’s model because, in addition to employing appeasement strategies, the president’s diktat on Jerusalem and the West Bank is faintly reminiscent of the British White Paper of 1939, which forbade the entrance of more Jewish immigrants into Palestine as the Holocaust loomed and sought to restrict the Jewish presence in most of the country.

But like the elder George Bush, at least Neville Chamberlain had the good manners not to try to portray himself as a friend of the Jews by having a Passover Seder at Number Ten Downing Street while simultaneously pursuing such policies.

Some 19 years ago, the first president Bush earned the enmity of American Jews with his rant about being “one lone guy” standing up against the horde of AIPAC activists exercising their constitutional right to petition Congress. Bush’s statement symbolized the intolerance and enmity that his administration felt toward Israel and its American friends. But say one thing for that Bush and his secretary of state, James “f@#$ the Jews” Baker: at least they never pretended to be anything but what they were, country-club establishment Republicans who were not comfortable with Israel or Jewish symbols. Not so Barack Hussein Obama.

After a week spent beating up on Israel, blowing a minor gaffe into an international incident, subjecting Israel’s prime minister to unprecedented insults that Obama would never think of trying on even the most humble Third World leader, and establishing the principle that the Jewish presence in eastern Jerusalem — even in existing Jewish neighborhoods — is illegal and an affront to American interests – after all that, Obama plans on spending Monday night mouthing a few lines from the Passover Haggadah at a Seder held in the White House.

According to the New York Times, Obama will take part in a Seder in the Old Family Dining Room along with a band of court Jews such as David Axelrod. The Seder, as the newspaper notes, will end, according to tradition, with the declaration of ‘next year in Jerusalem.’ (Never mind the current chill in the administration’s relationship with Israel.)”

There will, no doubt, be many American Jews who are still so insecure in their place in American society that they will feel flattered that even a president who has proved himself the most hostile chief executive to Israel in a generation will pay lip service to Judaism in this way. No doubt the planting of this sympathetic story on the front page of the Sunday New York Times is calculated to soften the blow of his Jerusalem policy and his disdain for Israel in the eyes of many of Obama’s loyal Jewish supporters.

The vast majority of American Jews are not only liberals; they are, as they say in Texas, “yellow dog Democrats,” meaning they would vote for a yellow dog if it were on the Democratic ticket. But surely a sycophantic article like the Times feature must grate on even their sensibilities. Can any Jew with a smidgeon of self-respect or affection for Israel think that having a president say “Next year in Jerusalem!” while sitting at a table with matzo and macaroons makes up for policies that treat the 200,000 Jews living in the post-1967 Jewish neighborhoods of their own ancient capital as illegal settlers on stolen land?

Perhaps Obama and his coterie of Jewish advisers think they are entitled to expropriate the symbols of Judaism to lend legitimacy to their anti-Israel policies. Of course, if Obama had any real sympathy for the people of Israel or the Jewish people, he might instead spend Monday night reevaluating a policy that appears to concede nuclear weapons to the rabid Jew-haters of Islamist Iran and reinforces the intransigence of the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority and its allies across the Muslim world.

This week, Alan Dershowitz, who still counts himself among Obama’s supporters, warned the president that if he failed on Iran, his legacy would be indistinguishable from that of Neville Chamberlain, who appeased Hitler. He’s right, but it looks as though Chamberlain is becoming Obama’s model because, in addition to employing appeasement strategies, the president’s diktat on Jerusalem and the West Bank is faintly reminiscent of the British White Paper of 1939, which forbade the entrance of more Jewish immigrants into Palestine as the Holocaust loomed and sought to restrict the Jewish presence in most of the country.

But like the elder George Bush, at least Neville Chamberlain had the good manners not to try to portray himself as a friend of the Jews by having a Passover Seder at Number Ten Downing Street while simultaneously pursuing such policies.

Read Less

Dershowitz Throws Down the Gauntlet to Obama

Let’s give credit where it’s due. In the past, I’ve written about Alan Dershowitz’s defense of the Obama administration (here and here) as well as about his recent attack on J Street.

Despite Dershowitz’s outstanding pro-Israel record, I’ve taken him to task for his loyalty to Obama and refusal to call the president out for his decision to downgrade the alliance with Israel. But it looks as if the Harvard Law professor is finally starting to lose patience with the man whose candidacy for the presidency he supported so enthusiastically. In today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Dershowitz stops short of condemning the administration, but he delivered as stark a challenge to the president as one could imagine regarding Iran.

Pulling no punches, Dershowitz instructs Obama that no one remembers that Neville Chamberlain was a successful reformer who not only helped restore Great Britain’s financial stability during the Depression but also passed landmark legislation on unemployment and retirement benefits. Instead, all history remembers is Chamberlain’s “failure to confront Hitler.” It is, he writes pointedly, “Chamberlain’s enduring legacy.” And if Obama does not act to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, anything he achieves on health care or the economy will count for nothing when compared to the impact of a failure on Iran.

“History will not treat kindly any leader who allows so much power to be accumulated by the world’s first suicide nation,” Dershowitz writes. Like Chamberlain with Hitler, “Mr. Obama will come to symbolize the failure of the West if Iran acquires nuclear weapons on his watch.”

Dershowitz is right, both about the nature of the threat from Iran and about Obama’s place in history if he allows Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons. But does Obama take the threat as seriously as Dershowitz? Everything the president has done since he took office leads us to believe the answer is no. A year of feckless engagement and weak diplomacy has led the Iranians to believe Obama is a weakling who will do nothing but appease and talk. The threat of force has been taken off the table, and only recently has the administration begun to speak seriously about sanctions on Iran — but even then, the measures considered aren’t tough enough and lack the support of China and Russia. Beyond wrongly blaming Israel for his failure to rally the world to America’s position, Obama has done little to indicate he cares deeply about the threat.

Thus, while we applaud Dershowitz for throwing down the gauntlet to Obama, we have to wonder how long will he wait before he concedes that the man in the White House is more of a Chamberlain than the Winston Churchill that the West needs so badly today.

Let’s give credit where it’s due. In the past, I’ve written about Alan Dershowitz’s defense of the Obama administration (here and here) as well as about his recent attack on J Street.

Despite Dershowitz’s outstanding pro-Israel record, I’ve taken him to task for his loyalty to Obama and refusal to call the president out for his decision to downgrade the alliance with Israel. But it looks as if the Harvard Law professor is finally starting to lose patience with the man whose candidacy for the presidency he supported so enthusiastically. In today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required), Dershowitz stops short of condemning the administration, but he delivered as stark a challenge to the president as one could imagine regarding Iran.

Pulling no punches, Dershowitz instructs Obama that no one remembers that Neville Chamberlain was a successful reformer who not only helped restore Great Britain’s financial stability during the Depression but also passed landmark legislation on unemployment and retirement benefits. Instead, all history remembers is Chamberlain’s “failure to confront Hitler.” It is, he writes pointedly, “Chamberlain’s enduring legacy.” And if Obama does not act to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, anything he achieves on health care or the economy will count for nothing when compared to the impact of a failure on Iran.

“History will not treat kindly any leader who allows so much power to be accumulated by the world’s first suicide nation,” Dershowitz writes. Like Chamberlain with Hitler, “Mr. Obama will come to symbolize the failure of the West if Iran acquires nuclear weapons on his watch.”

Dershowitz is right, both about the nature of the threat from Iran and about Obama’s place in history if he allows Tehran to obtain nuclear weapons. But does Obama take the threat as seriously as Dershowitz? Everything the president has done since he took office leads us to believe the answer is no. A year of feckless engagement and weak diplomacy has led the Iranians to believe Obama is a weakling who will do nothing but appease and talk. The threat of force has been taken off the table, and only recently has the administration begun to speak seriously about sanctions on Iran — but even then, the measures considered aren’t tough enough and lack the support of China and Russia. Beyond wrongly blaming Israel for his failure to rally the world to America’s position, Obama has done little to indicate he cares deeply about the threat.

Thus, while we applaud Dershowitz for throwing down the gauntlet to Obama, we have to wonder how long will he wait before he concedes that the man in the White House is more of a Chamberlain than the Winston Churchill that the West needs so badly today.

Read Less

The Silence of the Lamb

In an interview last week with Al Arabiya, Hillary Clinton expressed surprise that “engagement” has failed, since “so many experts” thought it would succeed:

People say to me all the time, what happened to Iran? … When President Obama came in, he was very clear that he wanted to engage, and that’s what he’s been trying to do — reaching out to the Iranian people, reaching out to the Iranian leadership. And you have to ask yourself, why, when so many experts thought that there would be a positive response to President Obama’s outreach, has there not?

It’s a puzzler. But who were those experts who thought an outstretched hand, a video, an apology, a private letter, and a speech would cause Iran to slow (much less agree to stop) its nuclear weapons program? How many thought a nine-month period for response would produce anything other than nine months of uninterrupted centrifuge-spinning? Was there some hitherto unknown academic study of lion-lamb relations that gave the experts cause for optimism?

An explanation for the Iranian reaction is suggested by the question Ruth Wisse once asked in a different context: “Did the bleat of the lamb excite the tiger?” Obama set a deadline, then another, and then discarded any deadline at all; the result was open contempt from Iran’s president. The current effort to move to the “pressure track” of a UN resolution (with a strong letter to follow) is accompanied by public assurances from the secretary of state that the “engagement track” remains open and that the third track has been removed from the table. This is a foreign policy that would embarrass Neville Chamberlain.

The explanation Clinton gave to Al Arabiya for the expert-confounding situation was that the power of the Revolutionary Guard has been growing. But that explanation elicits the question: what caused it to grow? Bill Kristol’s analysis from 2006 now looks prophetic:

One of the bad side effects of our looking weak and hesitant is that in the last year Ahmadinejad’s been running around provoking everyone, behaving like a madman, thumbing his nose at the U.S. and the West — and he pays no price. And if one were an opponent of Admadinejad in Iran — not a dissident, but someone in government who is kind of a more cautious type, and you’ve been warning, “gee, this will get us in trouble” — and [Admadinejad] gets in no trouble at all — it’s very bad for the internal dynamics in Iran. I think we have inadvertently helped to strengthen [hardliners] in Iran by not responding vigorously.

Clinton’s Al Arabyia interview marked the inauguration of a new, exculpatory administration meme: don’t blame us for the failure of our “engagement” policy — it was thwarted by the triumph of the Iranian hardliners. But that triumph was the predictable result of the policy itself.

Obama’s obsessive “reaching out to the Iranian leadership,” starting in his inauguration speech and continuing month after month in spite of no Iranian response, sent an unmistakable signal — one confirmed when he stood mute after the fraudulent Iranian election; confirmed again after he offered a muffled response to the secret nuclear facility in Qom; confirmed yet again when he remained silent as each of his “deadlines” passed; and confirmed even now by his continuing silence on the subject as he devotes his speeches and attention to ObamaCare. Lions know a lamb when they see one.

In an interview last week with Al Arabiya, Hillary Clinton expressed surprise that “engagement” has failed, since “so many experts” thought it would succeed:

People say to me all the time, what happened to Iran? … When President Obama came in, he was very clear that he wanted to engage, and that’s what he’s been trying to do — reaching out to the Iranian people, reaching out to the Iranian leadership. And you have to ask yourself, why, when so many experts thought that there would be a positive response to President Obama’s outreach, has there not?

It’s a puzzler. But who were those experts who thought an outstretched hand, a video, an apology, a private letter, and a speech would cause Iran to slow (much less agree to stop) its nuclear weapons program? How many thought a nine-month period for response would produce anything other than nine months of uninterrupted centrifuge-spinning? Was there some hitherto unknown academic study of lion-lamb relations that gave the experts cause for optimism?

An explanation for the Iranian reaction is suggested by the question Ruth Wisse once asked in a different context: “Did the bleat of the lamb excite the tiger?” Obama set a deadline, then another, and then discarded any deadline at all; the result was open contempt from Iran’s president. The current effort to move to the “pressure track” of a UN resolution (with a strong letter to follow) is accompanied by public assurances from the secretary of state that the “engagement track” remains open and that the third track has been removed from the table. This is a foreign policy that would embarrass Neville Chamberlain.

The explanation Clinton gave to Al Arabiya for the expert-confounding situation was that the power of the Revolutionary Guard has been growing. But that explanation elicits the question: what caused it to grow? Bill Kristol’s analysis from 2006 now looks prophetic:

One of the bad side effects of our looking weak and hesitant is that in the last year Ahmadinejad’s been running around provoking everyone, behaving like a madman, thumbing his nose at the U.S. and the West — and he pays no price. And if one were an opponent of Admadinejad in Iran — not a dissident, but someone in government who is kind of a more cautious type, and you’ve been warning, “gee, this will get us in trouble” — and [Admadinejad] gets in no trouble at all — it’s very bad for the internal dynamics in Iran. I think we have inadvertently helped to strengthen [hardliners] in Iran by not responding vigorously.

Clinton’s Al Arabyia interview marked the inauguration of a new, exculpatory administration meme: don’t blame us for the failure of our “engagement” policy — it was thwarted by the triumph of the Iranian hardliners. But that triumph was the predictable result of the policy itself.

Obama’s obsessive “reaching out to the Iranian leadership,” starting in his inauguration speech and continuing month after month in spite of no Iranian response, sent an unmistakable signal — one confirmed when he stood mute after the fraudulent Iranian election; confirmed again after he offered a muffled response to the secret nuclear facility in Qom; confirmed yet again when he remained silent as each of his “deadlines” passed; and confirmed even now by his continuing silence on the subject as he devotes his speeches and attention to ObamaCare. Lions know a lamb when they see one.

Read Less

Getting It Straight

Maybe the Obama-inspired tremor that began in Chris Matthews’ leg has traveled up to his head and done some damage.

Last night on Hardball, Matthews was discussing–what else?–President Bush’s unconscionable Obama attack in the Knesset. The conversation with conservative radio host Kevin James wended round to the career of Neville Chamberlain, and Matthews began to excoriate James for being ignorant of history. Things got very heated, and James fired back, recounting recent historical examples of America’s failure to counter terrorist acts against the U.S. When James mentioned Bill Clinton’s lackadaisical response to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, Matthews’s chimed in:

Wasn’t the USS Cole under Bush? . . . Kevin, when you’re trying to make a historic reference, get it straight.

Of course, the USS Cole was not attacked during George Bush’s presidency, but during Bill Clinton’s. However, the mistake is understandable. While the attack occurred during the Clinton administration, it was under George Bush (in 2002) that the U.S. fired a missile on Yemeni soil and took out the attack’s planner Abu Ali al-Harithi. I’m sure that’s what Matthews was referring to. . .

Maybe the Obama-inspired tremor that began in Chris Matthews’ leg has traveled up to his head and done some damage.

Last night on Hardball, Matthews was discussing–what else?–President Bush’s unconscionable Obama attack in the Knesset. The conversation with conservative radio host Kevin James wended round to the career of Neville Chamberlain, and Matthews began to excoriate James for being ignorant of history. Things got very heated, and James fired back, recounting recent historical examples of America’s failure to counter terrorist acts against the U.S. When James mentioned Bill Clinton’s lackadaisical response to the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, Matthews’s chimed in:

Wasn’t the USS Cole under Bush? . . . Kevin, when you’re trying to make a historic reference, get it straight.

Of course, the USS Cole was not attacked during George Bush’s presidency, but during Bill Clinton’s. However, the mistake is understandable. While the attack occurred during the Clinton administration, it was under George Bush (in 2002) that the U.S. fired a missile on Yemeni soil and took out the attack’s planner Abu Ali al-Harithi. I’m sure that’s what Matthews was referring to. . .

Read Less

Brown Comes A Cropper

On Friday, the Daily Telegraph reported results “among the most devastating for any government in the history of opinion polling”: the proportion of voters satisfied with Gordon Brown as prime minister has fallen to 23 percent. As the New York Times put it yesterday, this is a complete “reversal of fortune” from Brown’s summer dominance. His only consolation is that he has time to recover before he has to call an election in May 2010.

We have seen this movie before. In April 1955, Anthony Eden, the prime minister in waiting since 1951, took over Number 10 from Winston Churchill. Eden won a general election in May 1955, but by January 1957, destroyed by the Suez Crisis, he was out of office, replaced by Harold Macmillan.

Brown’s error was to fail to do the one thing Eden did right: hold (and win) an election soon after coming to power. Tony Blair tripped Brown up by leaving in June: Brown could not have gone to the polls until early October. But Brown made matters worse first by dithering, and then by announcing on October 6 that he had decided against calling an
election. By late September, the Tories were making up ground; since then, they have sprinted ahead.

The parallel is not just between Eden and Brown. The Marquess of Salisbury was followed in 1902 by Arthur Balfour, who lasted only three years. Stanley Baldwin was replaced by Neville Chamberlain in 1937, who left in May 1940. Winston Churchill was followed by Eden, gone in 1957. Harold Macmillan’s successor was Alec Douglas-Home, who survived only a year. Harold Wilson made room in 1976 for James Callaghan, who lost to Thatcher in 1979. Margaret Thatcher dominated the 1980’s, but her heir John Major, though he won victory against the odds in 1992, was routed by Blair in 1997. And now Blair’s heir has run onto the rocks six months after ousting his former leader.

Read More

On Friday, the Daily Telegraph reported results “among the most devastating for any government in the history of opinion polling”: the proportion of voters satisfied with Gordon Brown as prime minister has fallen to 23 percent. As the New York Times put it yesterday, this is a complete “reversal of fortune” from Brown’s summer dominance. His only consolation is that he has time to recover before he has to call an election in May 2010.

We have seen this movie before. In April 1955, Anthony Eden, the prime minister in waiting since 1951, took over Number 10 from Winston Churchill. Eden won a general election in May 1955, but by January 1957, destroyed by the Suez Crisis, he was out of office, replaced by Harold Macmillan.

Brown’s error was to fail to do the one thing Eden did right: hold (and win) an election soon after coming to power. Tony Blair tripped Brown up by leaving in June: Brown could not have gone to the polls until early October. But Brown made matters worse first by dithering, and then by announcing on October 6 that he had decided against calling an
election. By late September, the Tories were making up ground; since then, they have sprinted ahead.

The parallel is not just between Eden and Brown. The Marquess of Salisbury was followed in 1902 by Arthur Balfour, who lasted only three years. Stanley Baldwin was replaced by Neville Chamberlain in 1937, who left in May 1940. Winston Churchill was followed by Eden, gone in 1957. Harold Macmillan’s successor was Alec Douglas-Home, who survived only a year. Harold Wilson made room in 1976 for James Callaghan, who lost to Thatcher in 1979. Margaret Thatcher dominated the 1980’s, but her heir John Major, though he won victory against the odds in 1992, was routed by Blair in 1997. And now Blair’s heir has run onto the rocks six months after ousting his former leader.

Historian David Cannadine has described this pattern in twentieth-century British history as “the village fiddler after Paganini”: a dominant leader followed by a supposedly heavyweight successor who immediately comes a cropper. Why? Bad luck is a political reality, and the Prime Ministerial successors, taken as a group, may simply have been less talented than their predecessors.

But fundamentally, the pattern exists because in parliamentary systems a government can fall with a single vote. Therefore, as Churchill put it, “the loyalties which centre upon number one are enormous. If he trips he must be sustained.” But though a British party will manifest intense loyalty to the leader that puts it into power, it never feels as strongly about his successor.

Occasionally, as in 1957, a party can discard the successor and rally around a new leader: Brown may be forced to make way for a new Labour leader at a time not of his choosing. But such successes are rare. The odds are that Brown, having turned down, will keep going that way and ride his party to defeat.

Read Less

Mattel in Hell

On Friday, the world’s largest toymaker humbled itself before the world’s most populous communist state, a move that Kitty Pilgrim called “an unbelievable act of appeasement.” While Thomas Debrowski’s apology to Beijing may not have the same significance as Neville Chamberlain’s deal in Munich, the CNN anchor certainly had a point.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,” said Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, to Li Changjiang, the head of China’s product-safety agency. The California-based toymaker can’t be sorry enough when it comes to consumers, but the kowtow to Li and the Chinese people was a bit much. “It’s like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice,” noted Senator Charles Schumer.

Read More

On Friday, the world’s largest toymaker humbled itself before the world’s most populous communist state, a move that Kitty Pilgrim called “an unbelievable act of appeasement.” While Thomas Debrowski’s apology to Beijing may not have the same significance as Neville Chamberlain’s deal in Munich, the CNN anchor certainly had a point.

“Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologizes personally to you, the Chinese people and all of our customers who received the toys,” said Debrowski, Mattel’s executive vice president for worldwide operations, to Li Changjiang, the head of China’s product-safety agency. The California-based toymaker can’t be sorry enough when it comes to consumers, but the kowtow to Li and the Chinese people was a bit much. “It’s like a bank robber apologizing to his accomplice,” noted Senator Charles Schumer.

It’s hard to create sympathy for a company that has just had to recall 19.6 million defective products intended for children, but the Chinese have done just that. For one thing, it was clear that Beijing was determined to humiliate Mattel. Debrowski was scheduled to meet with Li, but the Beijing official at the last moment said he would not get together unless reporters were present. Li, from his overstuffed chair, then administered a finger-wagging lecture to the obviously uncomfortable Debrowski as cameras rolled.

So the real story is not Mattel. It is China. China’s officials know they cannot solve the structural problems of Chinese manufacturing within the context of their one-party system, in which corruption runs rampant and central authorities have little control over local officials. Therefore, they are choosing to deal with a public relations nightmare by going on the attack against foreigners. Li Changjiang was angry because Mattel’s public comments in the United States did not always note that recalls involved products with defective designs—improperly secured magnets—when it talked about products with excessive levels of lead paint.

Yet Li’s tirade went well beyond this omission. He told Mattel in public that its stringent recall policy was “unacceptable.” Beijing may have the right to adopt whatever standards it wants for its own citizens, but it has no place telling American companies—and by implication the American government—what rules to apply to protect American consumers. Now that Chinese officials have used a public forum to try to dictate Washington’s products-safety policy, it is the responsibility of the Bush administration to demand publicly that China stop its interference in our efforts to look after the well-being of our own children.

Read Less

Riding Hurd

Last year we had to endure James Baker, one of the chief culprits for the genocide in Bosnia, lecturing the Bush administration about Iraq. Now Douglas Hurd, his British counterpart in the early 1990’s, calls for a British equivalent of the Baker-Hamilton report—an inquiry that would ask the question: “How did we [the British] follow the Americans in this gross miscalculation of what would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein?” Hurd insists that “this would not be a ‘trial of Tony Blair,’” but his denial rings hollow. “Under our next prime minister we have to learn again what we have forgotten: the art of working with the United States as an effective junior partner capable of independent thought, and of ensuring that reasonable advice is listened to, and that eventual questions are answered.”

Read More

Last year we had to endure James Baker, one of the chief culprits for the genocide in Bosnia, lecturing the Bush administration about Iraq. Now Douglas Hurd, his British counterpart in the early 1990’s, calls for a British equivalent of the Baker-Hamilton report—an inquiry that would ask the question: “How did we [the British] follow the Americans in this gross miscalculation of what would happen after the fall of Saddam Hussein?” Hurd insists that “this would not be a ‘trial of Tony Blair,’” but his denial rings hollow. “Under our next prime minister we have to learn again what we have forgotten: the art of working with the United States as an effective junior partner capable of independent thought, and of ensuring that reasonable advice is listened to, and that eventual questions are answered.”

Can this be the same Douglas Hurd who, as Conservative foreign secretary, was largely responsible for the European Union’s disastrous policy on Yugoslavia, including an arms embargo which prevented the Bosnians from defending themselves against Serbian genocide and ethnic cleansing? The same Douglas Hurd who warned against armed intervention to halt the dictator Slobodan Milosevic, first in Bosnia and then in Kosovo? The same Douglas Hurd who was told at the time by his former boss Margaret Thatcher: “Douglas, Douglas, you would make Neville Chamberlain look like a warmonger”? The same Douglas Hurd who, within a year of retirement, returned to Belgrade in 1996 on behalf of the bank that now employed him, NatWest Markets, to negotiate with Milosevic about the privatization of Serbian utilities? Not only was Mr. (now Lord) Hurd eager to profit from the Serbianctator’s desire to sell state assets in order to generate cash to preserve his brutal tyranny—he even tried to justify it by claiming that his motive was the altruistic one of “liberalizing” Serbia, and that Milosevic “could have been rehabilitated.”

As the historian Brendan Simms points out in his brilliant Unfinest Hour: Britain and the Destruction of Bosnia (London, 2001), there was never any likelihood of Milosevic changing. As for Hurd’s campaign to prevent Western intervention—“the calculated caution and gravitas, the sage warnings, and the weighty caveats: this was all bluff.” Once the Blair government adopted a policy diametrically opposed to that of John Major and Douglas Hurd, which resulted in the Kosovo War and the fall of Milosevic, the bluff was called. Hurd, Baker,and the whole gang of “realists” were discredited: “None of them had the faintest idea what they were talking about.”

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.