May 16, 2008

Appeasement: What Does This Mean?

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President Bush made waves in the media today, comparing negotiating with “terrorists and radicals” to negotiating with Hitler. The media quickly reacted by declaring this a veiled swipe at Obama and other Democrats. To quote CNN at the time I wrote this blog, “President Bush launched a sharp but veiled attack Thursday on Sen. Barack Obama and other Democrats, suggesting they favor ‘appeasement’ of terrorists…” Here are some of the highlights of what Bush said.

“Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along.”

“As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.'”

Of course, Obama quickly responded to this: “George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists.” Sen. Joe Biden was even more blunt, calling Bush’s comments “bulls–t.”

While I certainly believe that Bush launched a veiled attack, the media has misinterpreted the intent of his comments. Their analysis centers mostly around Obama and the 2008 election; they mention, but for the most part gloss over, another important angle of the story.

Bush can certainly make the case that Obama wants to negotiate with “radicals,” as Obama has called for talks with Ahmadinejaid with careful preparation but without preconditions; however, he would be flat out wrong if he said Obama wanted to negotiate with “terrorists.” Obama has never made such a comment, and thus the media’s analysis implies that the terrorist portion had been unfairly directed towards Obama. However, this implication by the media is not only speculative but potentially wrong. First of all, although Bush referred to both “terrorists and radicals,” the latter of which applies to Obama, the excerpt I pulled from CNN at the top of my blog only mentions the former, terrorists, making Bush sound more divisive than his original comments.

Furthermore, the reference to terrorists, unlike the reference to radicals, may not even be aimed at Obama at all. Considering that former President Carter recently held talks with Hamas, which both the United States and European Union recognize as terrorists, the mention of terrorists appears to be aimed at Carter, not Obama. Thus, it’s probably more accurate (though still a bit speculative) to say Bush had launched a veiled attack on both Obama and Carter.

This certainly would fit Bush’s mold, too. Bush may like to stick to his guns, but he does so whether it’s a Republican or Democrat holding the gun. He probably would have said the same thing if Obama, the likely nominee, had taken a hard line on negotiations, and Clinton, the unlikely nominee, had taken a soft line on negotiations. In fact, it likely would not matter who takes a soft line on negotations. The same Bush who does not care whether the public opinion polls agree with him or not does not care whether his target is a potential future President or not.

Mike Wacker is The Sun’s Assistant Web Editor. He can be reached at mwacker@cornellsun.com.