George Bush is such a stickler for the niceties of the presidency that he instituted a White House dress code and will not enter the Oval Office without a suit jacket. Thus, it’s mildly shocking that he would violate an unwritten nicety of the capital — partisanship stops at the water’s edge — and in rather ugly fashion.
Speaking to the Israeli parliament, 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. We have heard this foolish delusion before. 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.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.
Although the White House denies it, the dig was clearly aimed at Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama and Obama certainly took it that way. White House press secretary Dana Perino pointed out that Bush didn’t single out Obama by name but a White House as sensitively attuned to political nuance as this one knew that Obama’s professed willingness to negotiate with unsavory regimes versus Hillary Clinton’s more restrained approach had been an issue in the campaign.
The White House points out that Bush has said similar things before but not overseas, not on a state visit and not before the leadership of a foreign country with a powerful political base back in the United States where the invocation of Nazis has powerful emotional resonance.
Besides, the speech was slightly off point on the question of negotiating with “terrorists and radicals.” Under Bush, the U.S. administration has negotiated with Libya, successfully, is negotiating with North Korea (so far unsuccessfully), tried to negotiate with Saddam Hussein, and the administration has sat down with envoys from Iran and Syria. If the president is serious about a Mideast peace agreement we’ll be in serious negotiations with Hamas before he leaves office.
And that mocking reference to “an American senator.” It was William Borah of Idaho. He was a Republican.