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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Fighting all the Hitlers

(updated below)

(cross-posted at C&L -- will post more later this afternoon)

As Bush followers gear up for another election year campaign to start a war, they are using exactly the same rhetorical tactics and are revealing precisely the same mindset to which we were subjected during the 2002 campaign for the Iraq War. What is starkly apparent from this repetition is that their awareness of history and knowledge of the world is sadly confined to one singular event, which is all they know and which, rather bizarrely, they have a need to live over and over and over again.

To pro-Bush war supporters, the world is forever stuck in the 1930s. Every leader we don't like is Adolf Hitler, a crazed and irrational lunatic who wants to dominate the world. Every country opposed to our interests is Nazi Germany.

From this it follows that every warmonger is the glorious reincarnation of the brave and resolute Winston Churchill. And one who opposes or even questions any proposed war becomes the lowly and cowardly appeaser, Neville Chamberlain. For any and every conflict that arises, the U.S. is in the identical position of France and England in 1937 – faced with an aggressive and militaristic Nazi Germany, will we shrink from our grand fighting duties in appeasement and fear, or will we stand tall and strong and wage glorious war?

With that cartoonish framework in place, war is always the best option. It is the only option for those who are noble, strong, and fearless. Conversely, the sole reason for opposing a war is that one is a weak-minded and weak-willed appeaser who harbors dangerous fantasies of negotiating with madmen. Diplomacy and containment are simply elevated, PC terms for “appeasement.” War is the only option that works.

Bill Kristol, the pundit and Weekly Standard editor who likely exerted the greatest influence in persuading Americans to support an invasion of Iraq, is not the slightest bit deterred, or ashamed, by the fact that virtually every bit of pre-war wisdom he offered led to disaster and every prognostication he made was dead wrong. To the contrary, he is once again parading around with pretenses of great warrior nobility and military wisdom, this time leading the war dance against all of the new Hitlers in Iran.

His latest column is his most overt call yet to war against Iran, and he cannot even wait one paragraph to dredge up the only historical event that he knows:

IN THE SPRING OF 1936--seventy years ago--Hitler's Germany occupied the Rhineland. France's Léon Blum denounced this as "unacceptable." But France did nothing. As did the British. And the United States.

To Kristol, being serious and avoiding the mistakes of France “would mean serious preparation for possible military action [against Iran]--including real and urgent operational planning for bombing strikes and for the consequences of such strikes.” And not only do we need to go to war against Iran, we need to do it very quickly:

It is not "moral progress" to put off serious planning for military action to a later date, probably in less favorable circumstances, when the Iranian regime has been further emboldened, our friends in the region more disheartened, and allies more confused by years of fruitless diplomacy than they would be by greater clarity and resolution now.

Anyone who opposes this mindlessly militaristic approach simply seeks, of course, to “appease the mullahs.”

This sort of cheap equivalence between Hitler and the tyrant de jour is rather disorienting. One minute, Hitler is a singular manifestation of unique and unparalleled evil to which nothing should ever be compared, lest the uniqueness of his atrocities be minimized. The next minute, though, there are nothing but Hitler spawns running around everywhere, and we need to constantly wage war against each of them in order to avoid suffering the fate of 1938 Czechoslovakia and Neville Chamberlain.

This rhetorical stunt is not new. The current President's father insisted (.pdf) that Saddam was the equivalent of Adolf Hitler back in 1990 when it was time to launch the Persian Gulf War:

The most significant aspect of Bush's personal demonization of Saddam Hussein was his comparison of the Iraqi leader to Adolph Hitler. Sometimes this comparison was implicit rather than explicit: “In World War II, the world paid dearly for appeasing an aggressor who could have been stopped.” . . . . .

On one occasion, he even implied that the Iraqi leader was worse than Hitler: “This morning, right now, over three hundred innocent Americans – civilians – are held against their will in Iraq. Many of them are reportedly staked out as human shields near possible military targets, something even Adolph Hitler didn't do.”

And prior to the latest Iraq war, claiming that we had to fight Hitler again was the favorite tactic of the neoconservatives:

Appearing on the "Meet the Press" on February 23, Bush administration official Richard Perle compared the charade of visits by United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq with the infamous 1944 visit by Red Cross officials to the Nazis' Theresienstadt ghetto, where the performance of the prisoners' orchestra helped lull the visitors into believing that Nazi treatment of the Jews was not so terrible after all. Perle was referring to Saddam Hussein's systematic effort to hide Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. . . .

Perle's remark was the latest in a series of statements by U.S. officials drawing analogies between current events and those of the Nazi era. President Bush, in his speech after the September 11 attacks, said that Muslim terrorists "follow in the path of Nazism." Other U.S. officials have compared European reluctance to confront
Saddam with Europe's reluctance to confront Hitler in the 1930s.

And now, of course, we have yet another set of Hitlers – this time, a whole governing council of them – ruling over a new Nazi German, in Iran, and we therefore must march to war. As Digby recently pointed out:

Iran is a member of the axis 'o evil. It is, therefore, already presumed to be batshit crazy and the new president has certainly helped with his holocaust denial and loony rhetoric. It will not be that difficult for Bush and his minions to transfer their earlier madman images to Iran.

That, of course, is the central strategy, and it is best accomplished through the never tired Hitler imagery. But this sort of mindset is as simplistic as it is manipulative and, as intended, is a rock-solid recipe for eternal war. Not every dictator is irrational and suicidal. Most are not, including the most brutal. Throughout the 20th Century, the U.S. was able quite successfully to contain, negotiate with, and even form discrete common alliances with a whole array of dictators, thugs, murderous cretins and even militaristic madmen.

And the U.S. is not unique in that regard. No country is pure, and every country, driven by rational self-interest, finds ways to achieve co-existence even with the most amoral regimes. The notion that we have to wage war or even threaten war against every hostile, tyrannical government is itself sheer lunacy, and yet that is the premise driving this crusade for more war.

To be sure, Saddam Hussein was a brutal thug who murdered and oppressed his citizens with virtually no limits, etc. etc., but the notion that he was ever in a league with Adolph Hitler in terms of the threats he posed, the capabilities he possessed, or even the ambitions he harbored, was always transparent myth. This equivalence is even more fictitious with regard to Iran, which -- although saddled with a highly unpopular president who is clearly malignant and who uses nationalistic rhetoric to boost the morale of his base – is a country that is, in fact, ruled by a council of mullahs which has exhibited nothing but rationality and appears to be guided by nothing other than self-interest.

We were led into invading Iraq by a group of people who are as bloodthirsty as they are historically ignorant. They are stuck in a childish and stunted mental prison where every event, every conflict, every choice is to be seen exclusively through the prism of a single historical event, an event which – for a variety of reasons, some intellectual, some cultural, some psychological – is the only one that has any resonance for them. Even as we are still mired in their last failed war, they are attempting to impose these stunted historical distortions to lead us into a new one.

The now well-known principle, Godwin's Law, holds: "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler" increases and that once such a comparison is made, "the thread in which the comment was posted is finished and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever debate was in progress." That principle should be applied 100-fold to foreign policy choices, especially decisions about whether to start new wars.

UPDATE: Gregory Djerejian at The Belgravia Dispatch has compiled a series of pre-Iraq war denials from the president and top military and civilian officials which are strikingly, and alarmingly, similar to those being issued now with regard to Iran. As Djerejian documents, many of the denials with regard to Iraq -- including those made to our ex-closest European allies -- are, if not outright false, highly misleading.

Is there anyone who doubts that the administration's denials that they have intentions to engage in a military assault on Iran are equally misleading? Either way, the array of unreliable and misleading statements made with regard to many matters prior to the invasion of Iraq have completely destroyed this government's credibility, making its word automatically subject to serious doubt by any rational person -- including, most destructively, its own citizens, in a way that is almost certainly unprecedented in our nation's history (h/t Hypatia).

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