Earlier in April I wrote about the inevitable hurricane of barely-informed Neville Chamberlain-Adolf Hitler comparisons in which political discourse drowns whenever the United States negotiates with a former enemy state. The latest round of such references concerns the Obama administration’s potential deal with Iran, and it’s in that context that New York magazine’s Jonathan Chait—with the assistance of an admirable amount of intern labor—has made a major contribution to the field of Appeasement Reference-ology. Chait and his researchers’ work concerns Weekly Standard columnist Bill Kristol, who has, of course, compared Obama’s negotiations with Iran to Chamberlain’s appeasement of Hitler. But Kristol has taken the comparison a step further and cast hardline Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the tough, truth-telling Winston Churchill to Obama’s doofus-like, puny-brained Chamberlain. (Churchill replaced Chamberlain as British prime minister in 1940 and, of course, was instrumental in helping lead the Allies to victory.) Wrote Kristol in March:
When Netanyahu walks to the podium of the House of Representatives on March 3, he’ll undoubtedly have in mind an earlier speech given by a foreign leader to a joint meeting of Congress. On December 26, 1941, Winston Churchill addressed Congress, though in the smaller Senate Chamber rather than in the House, as so many members were out of town for Christmas break.
Churchill enjoyed the great advantage in December 1941 of having an American president who, after Pearl Harbor, was a clear and unambiguous ally in the war for the West. Netanyahu has no such advantage. So it might be hard for him to say, as Churchill did, that here in Washington he had ‘found an Olympian fortitude which, far from being based upon complacency, is only the mask of an inflexible purpose and the proof of a sure, well-grounded confidence in the final outcome.’
What Chait has done is document the rich tradition of Churchill-Chamberlain-Hitler references into which Kristol’s current analysis fits, cataloguing a remarkable 61 occasions during the last 18 years in which Kristol has compared a current event to something that one of those three figures did. Unlike many other allusions to that era, though, Kristol’s references actually evince a great deal of historical knowledge. He knows so much about the Churchill years that everything, not just appeasement, reminds him of them. For example:
53. George W. Bush’s election triumph.
“How sweet it is to contemplate the misery of people who think like this. And how doubly sweet the joy felt by the president’s supporters after those same (misleading) exit polls had plunged them — us — into 12 long hours of anxious gloom. ’Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result,’ Churchill quipped. This week millions of Republicans know just what he was talking about.” (11/15/2004)
You know how when Bugs Bunny gets hungry whatever he’s looking at will turn into a delicious, juicy hamburger? Bill Kristol’s view of the world is apparently like that except with a delicious, juicy Winston Churchill.