‘Appeasement’ remark by Bush sets off political fray

by Michael O. Allen on May 16, 2008

The president, speaking to Israeli lawmakers, takes apparent aim at Obama in saying that negotiating with some dictatorships amounts to ‘appeasement.’ Obama calls it a ‘false political attack.’ By Johanna Neuman,Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, May 15, 2008

WASHINGTON — Addressing the Israeli parliament, President Bush set off a political firestorm today with an apparent criticism of Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential hopeful, over his position on negotiating with some dictatorships.

Obama, who has pledged to talk to regimes in Iran, Cuba and North Korea, promptly accused the Bush White House of launching “a false political attack” for suggesting such outreach amounts to appeasing dictators.

In a speech to Israel’s Knesset marking the 60th anniversary of that country’s independence, Bush said, “Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.”

“We have heard this foolish delusion before,” Bush said. “As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

Obama issued a statement calling it “sad” that Bush used the speech to take a partisan shot. “George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel,” he said in a statement.

The White House denied that Bush was referring explicitly to the Illinois senator, insisting that the speech was meant to respond to anyone who holds those views. Former President Carter is among those who have advocated talks with regimes.

Noting that “many” have suggested such talks, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino told reporters in Israel, “I understand when you’re running for office you sometimes think the world revolves around you. That is not always true. And it is not true in this case.”

Democrats, coalescing around Obama as their presidential nominee, treated the president’s remarks as the first salvo in the general election.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) criticized Bush and called on McCain to distance himself from the president’s remarks.

“We have a protocol, sort of a custom, informally around here that we don’t criticize the president when he is on foreign soil. One would think that that would apply to the president that he would not criticize Americans when he is on foreign soil,” said Pelosi, who was criticized for taking a diplomatic mission to Syria. “I think what the president said in that regard is beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation at that observance in Israel.”

“I would hope that any serious person would disassociate himself from the president’s remarks who aspires to leadership in our country.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), calling Bush “the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history,” called the statement a “reckless and reprehensible round.” Noting that the Bush administration has negotiated with North Korea and Libya, two state sponsors of terror, Reid call on the White House to “explain the inconsistency” between word and action.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said Bush’s remarks were “bull—-, … malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset … and make this kind of ridiculous statement.”

And Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), chair of the House Democratic caucus, issued a statement noting that traditionally, “when a U.S. president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: For this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?”

In Columbus, Ohio, Republican John McCain said he took the White House at its word that the president was not referring to Obama, but also criticized Obama for his stance.

“It shows naivete and inexperience,” McCain told reporters. Noting that Obama has said he is willing to sit down with regimes not friendly with the United States, McCain said, “My question is, what does he want to talk about?”

And Sen. Joe Lieberman, an Independent from Connecticut and a staunch McCain supporter, said that Bush “got it exactly right today when he warned about the threat of Iran and its terrorist proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah. It is imperative that we reject the flawed and naive thinking that denies or dismisses the words of extremists and terrorists.” Lieberman, the Democrats’ 2000 vice presidential candidate, added, “It is critical to our national security that our commander in chief is able to distinguish between America’s friends and America’s enemies, and not confuse the two.”

And Perino insisted that the speech only reflected Bush administration policy. The speech was not about ’08 politics,” she said. “If they want to try to make it about ’08 politics — and obviously be helped by the media — so be it. But … this is a long-established policy that he has held and that he has talked about all over the world…It’s not going to change now.”

[email protected]

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: