Friday, May 16, 2008

Throw a rock into a congregation of collies, retrievers, poodles, spaniels and assorted other aristocrats and you can be sure the dog yelping in unexpected pain is the one you hit.

President Bush, marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel, reminded the Knesset yesterday that the appeasement of evil is the route to catastrophe.

“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,” he said. “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 — which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

How could anyone with even a Classic Comics understanding of history quarrel with that? Who could doubt that negotiating with terrorists is an exercise for fools? Who doubts that we’ve heard delusional appeasement talk all through history? Who would quarrel with the proposition that “the comfort of appeasement” has been repeatedly discredited by history? Where better to say this than to those who live with the risks and perils of appeasement of Islamist thugs in the Middle East?

Well, a lot of prominent Democrats, beginning with Barack Obama, that’s who. The orator prince of the South Side of Chicago was reduced to splutter and slash. “It is sad … this false political attack … it’s time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally in Israel.”

Then he repeated the naive musings of inexperience that could be taken for appeasement talk, prescribing “tough, principled and direct diplomacy to pressure countries like Iran and Syria.” Nancy Pelosi, the dowager queen of San Francisco Democrats, said the president’s remarks were “beneath the dignity of the office” and Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, the Clinton utility man, asked whether “this president has no shame.” Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware, ever eager to steal the cliches of others, couldn’t decide whether to affect the voice of the barnyard or reflect the twitter of the ladies’ tea room: The president’s remarks were “[the effluvia of a bull]” or “malarkey.”

A White House aide noted that the president had sounded similar warnings before, and if the president’s hysterical critics wanted to identify the appeasers, they could look to Jimmy Carter and his passionate embrace of Syrians and Palestinian terrorists on his merry prankster appeasement tour of the Middle East, just now concluded. Mzz Pelosi demanded that John McCain disavow the president, presumably in the way that she and other prominent Democrats did not disavow the peanut farmer from Plains.

“The American senator” in the president’s citation, who imagined that he could have led Hitler to the Lord with a few well-chosen words in 1939, was William E. Borah of Idaho, an isolationist Republican of the early 20th century, a ladies’ man of Clintonian appetite and an orator with Barack Obama’s reputation for spinning smooth appeasement talk. Sen. Borah, like Sen. Obama, thought his golden tongue would resolve all arguments in his favor, and, like Bill Clinton, imagined that his sexual prowess was irresistible. Sometimes it was. He left a small-town law practice in Kansas early in the century when he got a young woman “in the family way” and her male relatives suggested that he leave town on the next train. He departed for distant Idaho. Once elected to the U.S. Senate, he cut a wide swath of notoriety in Washington, where he conducted a long affair with Alice Roosevelt Longworth, whom delighted capital gossips called “Aurora Borah Alice.” You might think Sen. Obama, Mzz Pelosi, Mr. Emanuel and Joe Biden would be flattered that the president cited someone of skills and appetites so familiar to them.

Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times.

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