Sunday, July 01, 2007

Sunday reading: Bush is more like Neville Chamberlain than Winston Churchill

By Nancy Jane Moore

So says Lynne Olson, author of Troublesome Young Men, a book about Churchill and other young Tory members of the British Parliament who forced Chamberlain out.

What intrigued me the most about Olson's op-ed into today's Washington Post, though, wasn't just the parallels she drew between Bush and Chamberlain -- after all, as she points out, there's a certain amount of wishful thinking in comparing people to figures from history. Rather, it was her description of Chamberlain.

The shorthand definition of Chamberlain is that he was a wimp, that he appeased Hitler because he was afraid to stand up to him. But the truth is much more complicated. Olson asserts:
Like Bush and unlike Churchill, Chamberlain came to office with almost no understanding of foreign affairs or experience in dealing with international leaders. Nonetheless, he was convinced that he alone could bring Hitler and Benito Mussolini to heel. He surrounded himself with like-minded advisers and refused to heed anyone who told him otherwise.

In the months leading up to World War II, Chamberlain and his men saw little need to build up a strong coalition of European allies with which to confront Nazi Germany -- ignoring appeals from Churchill and others to fashion a "Grand Alliance" of nations to thwart the threat that Hitler posed to the continent.

She goes on to point out that Chamberlain muzzled the press, treated Parliament like a lapdog, and ignored the built-in checks and balances of the British system -- even refusing to take advice from his own cabinet. He was convinced that he alone knew what was right to keep the British people safe -- and the results were disastrous.

From Olson's take, Chamberlain appears to have been arrogant and stupid -- a dangerous combination. I gather she thinks he made the choices he did not out of fear, but out of the idiotic idea that he alone knew what he was doing and everyone else was wrong.

The op-ed is worth your time, and the book might help us all reevaluate how presidents, prime ministers and others should lead their countries.

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