The War on Terror: No waterís edge
While re-reading Sir Winston Churchillís Their Finest Hour, this observer was struck by some obvious similarities between the early days of World War II and these early days in the War on Terror.
First, the personalities: Great Britainís leader, Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was the head of Britainís Conservative Party. U.S. President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, was the leader of Americaís Democratic Party.
Today, the party orientations are reversed: Prime Minister Tony Blair leads Britainís Labor Party. President George W. Bush leads Americaís Republican Party.
But the villains are pretty much the same: Adolph Hitler was the absolute dictator of NAZI Germany for 12 years. Hitler was aided and abetted by a network of dictatorships that ran on an axis from Berlin to Mussoliniís Italy to Tojoís Japan.
Saddam Hussein was the absolute dictator of Iraq for 24 years. Saddam is aided and abetted by Osama bin Ladenís al Qaeda network operating along an axis that runs from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank through the Arab countries of the Middle East, through non-Arab Iran and through the Muslim portions of the Indian Sub-continent, on through Maylasia and into the Philippines. Add to that: Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist organizations whose primary focus (like Hitlerís) is the extermination of the Jews.
While the challenges faced by Churchill and Roosevelt and by Bush and Blair are daunting and, in some respects, very much the same, the domestic politics of both the United States and Great Britain have taken what, by any objective measure, is a terrible and different turn for the worse.
The relationship between Prime Minister Churchill and Neville Chamberlain, the Prime Minister Churchill replaced, could not have been more civil. Despite the fact that Chamberlainís policy of appeasement of Hitlerís expansionist foreign policy put Great Britain (to use a baseball analogy) six runs behind in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, Churchill kept Chamberlain in his Cabinet and went out of his way to be kind to the failed statesman.
Instead of insisting the ailing Chamberlain and his family vacate Number Ten Downing Street (as was the custom), Churchill told the Chamberlainís to take their time about moving. And, when they did move, Churchill insisted they move only next door to Number Eleven.
In Great Britainís darkest hour, Churchill led a coalition government comprised of representatives of political parties ranging from the most liberal to the most conservative. Out-numbered, out-gunned and with London under constant Luftwaffe bombardment, English men and women of all political stripes set aside their political differences to oppose the common foe.
Constrast that with the political climate of todayís Great Britain and the United States. Prime Minister Tony Blair is being lambasted by members of his own Labor Party and by the parties even more to the Left. Interestingly, Blairís major support for the War on Terror comes from Britainís Conservative Party.
Only two of the nine Democrat presidential contenders evidence a desire to see the United States prevail in Iraq, in particular, and win the War on Terror, in general: Senator Joe Lieberman, who is Jewish, has a natural and vested interest in the continued existence of the State of Israel. Congressman Dick Gephardt, whose core constituents are red, white and blue flag-waving members of Big Labor, has consistently supported the Bush Administrationís war efforts.
The other seven Democrats spend day and night attempting to undermine U.S. foreign and military policy. By contrast, while the 1940 election between President Roosevelt and his Republican opponent, Wendell Willkie, was hard fought on domestic issues, when it came to the common foe, they made common cause.
Churchill recalled of that time: ďIn spite of the tenacity and vigor with which these four-yearly contests were conducted, and the bitter differences on domestic issuesÖ the Supreme Cause [defeat of Hitler] was respected by the responsible leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike.Ē
In 1940, politics ended at the waterís edge.
William Hamilton, a nationally syndicated columnist and featured commentator for USA Today, is the co-author of The Grand Conspiracy and The Panama Conspiracy Ė novels about terrorist attacks on Coloradoís water supply and on the Panama Canal, respectively.
©2003. William Hamilton.