Just Who Is Sleepwalking Through History?





Mr. Radosh is author of Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left and is a senior adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute.

The anti-war movement has not only been marching. It has been busy sending out mass e-mailings of Sen. Robert Byrd's recent remarks to the U.S. Senate. Anti-war groups apparently find the West Virginia Democrat's speech the most eloquent statement of their beliefs and arguments. Yet it is striking similar to a speech by Ohio Republican Sen. Robert A. Taft's in May 1940 -- a speech correctly viewed at the time as the epitome of isolationism.

Byrd gave his speech just as Secretary of State Colin Powell was presenting America's case to the U.N. Security Council, and Byrd clearly meant to give the Bush administration pause in its effort to gain international backing for military action against Saddam Hussein.

Taft gave his speech the month Nazi forces invaded Belgium, Holland and France; it was meant as a clarion call to those opposing President Franklin D. Roosevelt's efforts to aid America's friends. (Such isolationist sentiment in Congress, fortified by mass anti-war protests, forced FDR to rely on executive power to aid Britain as it fought on alone.)

In both cases, the opposing senators argued that the executive branch was moving America towards dictatorship, violating the norms of democratic policy -- flouting international law and taking unnecessary measures that would actually harm national security.

No threat: What President Bush wants, Byrd argues, is to "attack a nation that is not imminently threatening" but may be sometime in the future. An attack on Iraq would be completely "unprovoked" and is completely "not necessary at this time." Moral pressure alone is having what he calls a "good result in Iraq."

Similarly, Taft told the Senate that Hitler and the Nazis were not a threat to the United States. (Acknowledging that Hitler might well defeat Britain and rule Europe by "ruthless force," Taft still felt that such an "alternative seems preferable to present participation in a European war.")

Anti-democratic imperialism: If America moved to war, said Taft, the result would be "more likely to destroy American democracy" than to defeat Hitler. FDR, he feared, would "involve the United States in a war" and try to make it impossible for Congress to "refuse to declare war." Intervention was inherently flawed, Taft argued, because if the United States wished to "protect the small democracies," it would have to "maintain a police force perpetually" in Europe. And that, he warned, would be "imperialism."

Dealing with Saddam Hussein, Byrd argues, "is no simple attempt to defang a villain." Rather, it is a "turning point in U.S. foreign policy" and even of "the recent history of the world." What the president is doing, he suggested, is nothing less than embarking upon "the first test of a revolutionary doctrine applied in an extraordinary way," the doctrine of "preemption."

Byrd and his fellows eschew the administration for avoiding diplomacy, for refusing to face questions about the war's aftermath and even for contemplating becoming an "occupying power." Or, as Taft argued in a 1942 letter, America was about to establish a "world order" based on "policing of the entire world."

Lawbreakers: Then there's the flouting of international law, which Taft said, "seems to have lost [its] importance." Today, Byrd insists that the Bush administration is contravening "international law," with the unfortunate result that "U.S. intentions are suddenly subject to damaging worldwide speculation."

NO two eras are precisely the same. But the similarities are striking. Taft and his fellow isolationists persisted in viewing the threat to peace as coming only from their own president and nation. They denied the efficacy of viewing the Nazi regime as inherently evil. As the young historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. wrote in 1941, isolationist Republicans had "harassed, sabotaged and obstructed the attempts of the Administration to work for the destruction of Nazism."

Today, Sen. Byrd has not a word about Saddam Hussein's dangerous behavior. No, it is the Bush administration that has engaged in "reckless and arrogant" policies, especially that of an "extremely destabilizing and dangerous foreign-policy debacle," one symbolized by pronouncements Byrd deems "outrageous." The president is wrong to engage in such acts as "labeling whole countries as evil."

By not protesting, Byrd concluded, the Senate and the country are "sleepwalking through history."

Yet, as Sen. John McCain pointed out in a Senate speech delivered two days after Byrd, containment of Iraq has failed: A policy that "tolerates Saddam Hussein's threat by allowing him the means to achieve his ends is . . . an intellectual failure to come to grips with a grave and growing danger."

We know what happened in the 1940s: The United States was forced to accept its responsibilities and answer the Nazi assault with a full-fledged war, destruction of the enemy and the institution of democratization in Europe.

The naysayers like Taft were proved wrong. Yet today their successors, like Sen. Robert Byrd, work to obstruct the efforts of the Bush administration to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein. Just who is sleepwalking through history?


This article first appeared in the New York Post and is reprinted with the permission of the author.


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Clayton e. Cramer - 3/7/2003

"I don't think anyone wants atrocities to occur. But State approved torture of individuals is quite widespread. To consistantly apply a principle of "stop torturing or we bomb you" would require us to bomb two or three dozen nations, at the very least. Most of these nations are our "friends." And with cases like Abner Louima we might well wind up bombing ourselves."

So your argument is essentially that it is better to be consistently in the wrong, instead of inconsistently in the right.

"You chide liberals for advocating intervention in Bosnia but opposing an Iraq invasion as inconsistant application of principle. Perhaps. But the torture of individuals in Iraq is much different then the military genocide of an entire ethnic carried out by Serbian forces. One is a brazen war crime obvious to all, the other is a fuzzy line issue because every state has a recognized right to police it's own citizens, and the line between coercion and torture is easy to blur."

The mark of a real liberal: cutting someone's tongue out
is part of a state's "recognized right to police it's [sic]
own citizens", as is rape, use power tools and electrical
appliances on someone's hands and genitals.

"Besides, many Americans advocate torture to prevent terrorist attacks, as a day or two spent listening to right wing talk radio would demonstrate."

"Many Americans": odd, but I never realized that "right wing talk radio" was a vast majority--or even a small minority.


Clayton E. Cramer - 3/7/2003

And so past evil we have tolerated or condoned is an argument for more of the same?


clarence swinney - 3/2/2003

Clinton gave us:::
PEACE ON EARTH
GREATEST ECONOMY SINCE AGE OF DINOSAURS
GOD BLESS A TRUE FOLLOWER OF JESUS CHRIST(SEX OMITTED)

ALL THIS IN THE FACE OF $110,000,000 SPENT BY REPUBLICANS IN A FAILED EFFORT TO DESTROY A GREAT PRESIDENCY.

WHAT DID $110,000,000 BUY?

ONE PERSON (ONLY ONE) WAS "CONVICTED" OF A "FELONY" WHICH WAS COMMITED "WHILE WORKING FOR" PRESIDENT CLINTON.
clarence swinney


Josh Greenland - 3/2/2003

"I don't consider sovereignty of much importance when the government in charge tortures people to death, cutting out tongues for saying unkind things, and torturing children to death in front of their parents."

The US has very often supported governments and movements like that: UNITA, RENAMO, the Contras, Somoza's Nicaragua, apartheid South Africa, Guatemala, Pinochet's Chile, Franco's Spain, the Gaetano-Salazar regime of Portugal, Indonesia, Marcos's Phillipines, the Iran of Shah Reza Pahlevi, Mobutu's Zaire, Saudi Arabia.....


Steve Brody - 3/1/2003


The reality of our current situation is that the problems that we now face are due in no small way to Clinton's failure to address them during his presidency.

North Korea. Clinton strikes a deal, fails to monitor the situation and now we are dealing with a nuclear capable North Korea. There is evidence that Clinton knew North Korea was cheating before he left office.

Iraq. Clinton makes some strong statements, bombs Baghdad for a couple of days and then calls it good. He then allows Saddam to go back his WMD programs for 3 years without those pesky inspectors.

Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda declares war on us in 1993 with the attack on the WTC, and then follows it up with attacks on America in Mogadishu, the African embassies, and the Cole. Clinton shoots a couple of Cruise missiles at some deserted Al Qaeda training camps, bombs a Sudanese pharmaceutical factory and shrugs his shoulders.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, some Democrats, anonymously, rued the fact that Clinton hadn't gotten an opportunity to demonstrate his abilities because nothing like 9/11 had happened during his presidency. The fact is that Clinton got a lot of opportunities; he failed to act on them.


Jerry Sternstein - 3/1/2003

But Clinton did advocate what Bush is now seeking to accomplish in Iraq, and with much the same rationale: that Saddam must be defanged by force if necessary because leaving him armed with WMD will prove to have terrible consequences for us and others. And despite all his verbal facility, the results were the same. When Clinton made his pitch, it had little impact on the way the French, Belgians, Germans, and Russians responded to Saddam's resistence to the inspection regime, which was to shrug their shoulders and say tut, tut. Thus, without going to the Security Council for approval -- which he knew he would never get -- after Saddam refused to cooperate with UNSCOM and forced the inspectors to leave, Clinton ordered four days of bombing but did little more because of opposition by the French, et. al., though he knew that allowing Iraq to keep their WMD was suicidal. As Clinton said in 1998:

"What if [Saddam] fails to comply and we fail to act, or we take some ambiguous third route, which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction? ... Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he'll use the arsenal."

And remember, Clinton gave this warning long before 9/11, making his prediction about Saddam, that "some day, some way, I guarantee you he'll use the arsenal," even more chilling.


Gary Robeson - 2/28/2003

You are surely right that liberals would sing a different tune if Clinton was advocating invasion of Iraq, and there's good reason. Clinton would have made a more effective case from the beginning. Clinton would have the skill, energy and intellegence to form a military coalition, he would have eagerly gotten U.N. support first, rather then begrudgingly last.

More personally, we would not have had the suspicion that Clinton wanted to invade Iraq to enrich his buddies, since Iraq is not a Hollywood nation and has no major movie stars. It does have a hell of a lot of oil still sitting in the ground.

To top it off, to the intellegent citizen with good people reading skills, Clinton is one hell of a lot more honest president then Bush and Co.


Gary Robeson - 2/28/2003

I don't think anyone wants atrocities to occur. But State approved torture of individuals is quite widespread. To consistantly apply a principle of "stop torturing or we bomb you" would require us to bomb two or three dozen nations, at the very least. Most of these nations are our "friends." And with cases like Abner Louima we might well wind up bombing ourselves.

You chide liberals for advocating intervention in Bosnia but opposing an Iraq invasion as inconsistant application of principle. Perhaps. But the torture of individuals in Iraq is much different then the military genocide of an entire ethnic carried out by Serbian forces. One is a brazen war crime obvious to all, the other is a fuzzy line issue because every state has a recognized right to police it's own citizens, and the line between coercion and torture is easy to blur. Besides, many Americans advocate torture to prevent terrorist attacks, as a day or two spent listening to right wing talk radio would demonstrate

Maybe you should
Is consistancy in the world that any consistant unbiased application of a "stop torturing or we bomb you " policy would be


Clayton E. Cramer - 2/28/2003

"American unilateral preventative attack on a sovereign nation."

I don't consider sovereignty of much importance when the government in charge tortures people to death, cutting out tongues for saying unkind things, and torturing children to death in front of their parents.

It is quite sad to see liberals put the sovereignty of a nation ahead of ending these sort of atrocities. I suppose that we should be glad that these sorts weren't common in 1945, when they would have ben arguing that we should stop at the pre-war boundaries of Nazi Germany, to avoid injuring their "sovereignty."


Clayton E. Cramer - 2/28/2003

Nations invaded by Saddam Hussein: Iran, Kuwait.

Hussein has often compared himself to Saladin--from the same town in Iraq, Tikrit (http://www.iraqjournal.org/journals/021015-2.html, http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0206/p01s04-woiq.html, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/iraq/saddam.htm). Is that clear enough of a "take over the world" analogy?

You do admit that you don't have a problem with a war against Hussein to free the Iraqi people--you just don't believe that Bush intends to do that.

So this is just politics--liberals wouldn't have minded if Clinton had done it, but a Republican does it, and you just don't trust him.


Michael Green - 2/27/2003

I normally would not be inclined to answer Mr. Radosh, who usually is merely raving about how anyone to the left of him is a liar. In this case, though, his commentary merits a simple question that does a lot to explain why so many of us question the veracity of this administration in claiming the need to fight Iraq: whatever happened to that effort to find Osama Bin Laden? Mr. Radosh may remember that he was the one behind the September 11 attacks, not Saddam Hussein. Whether George W. Bush remembers that is unclear.


Anne Zook - 2/26/2003

If Saddam Hussein had gathered up an army and started invading his neighbors while giving public speeches about how he was going to take over the world, this would be a better analogy.

While Saddam Hussein is a monster who is unquestionably oppressing his own people, he's not currently in the process of making war on anyone else.

In any case, while I would support "a" war on Hussein designed to free the Iraqi people, I don't support this war because I don't think that's really what Bush, et. al., are trying to accomplish.


Gary Robeson - 2/26/2003

Whoever said what when, I'm sure we can agree that the article is primarily a comparison of Byrd to Taft. The dishonest aspect of this comparison is that Taft and the Republicans of 1941 had a track record of admiration for the Nazis and business deals with the Nazis.

Quick; who's has shaken Saddam Hussein's hand? Democratic Senator Byrd or Republican Administration official Donald Rumsfeld?

Who has signed lucrative contracts with Hussein's regime, Democratic Senator Byrd or Republican Vice President Dick Cheney?

Who has supported Hussein's regime after knowing about it's use of chemical weapons on it's citizens, Democratic Senator Byrd or formor Republican President and CIA chief George Herbert Walker Bush?

In these truly significant ways it is the Republicans of today who are most like the isolationists of 1941. Senator Byrd is not so much an isolationist as he is merely opposed to an American unilateral preventative attack on a sovereign nation.

The fact that many Republicans have done business with Saddam makes thier charges of his monstrosity transparently hypocritical. To Bush he looks more like an undependable partner who has double crossed us and now must be dumped, sort of like Hitler looked in 1943 to our oligarchs.

Sell us the rope for our own hanging indeed.

This Radosh piece is just another right-wing think tank pseudo-intellectual smear job.


Richard Henry Morgan - 2/26/2003

We read differently. I thought Radosh's point was not that Byrd was pro-Saddam, any more than Taft was pro-Hitler. BTW, you seem to have picked up on my point fairly well, though not exactly. Congratulations. The reference point of "today" in Radosh's article is made clear by the following quote:

Today, Byrd insists that the Bush administration is contravening "international law," with the unfortunate result that "U.S. intentions are suddenly subject to damaging worldwide speculation."

It would seem clear that in using "today" Radosh is referring to that one speech of Byrd's (a colloquial use while at the same time an indexical, you might say, as I doubt that Radosh wrote the article the same day), which indeed does not detail the dangers of Saddam's regime. There should be some limits, though, to the dilation of "today" -- I would suggest that something said 4 1/2 months ago just doesn't qualify. But others might not agree.


Gary Robeson - 2/25/2003

>Which part of 'today' don't you understand?

Apparantly, the rhetorical colloquial part whose semantic meaning is "contemporary."

You are too clever by half, with your "relativized" and your "indexical".

Next time you want to make a condecending picky point, try this: "When Radosh said 'today', he means exactly *today*, you simpleton, not yesterday and not 5 months ago!" Then we can all understand just how clever you are and be very impressed.

My point that Senator Byrd is not pro-Saddam as Radosh dishonestly intimates, stands unscathed.




William H. Leckie, Jr. - 2/25/2003

Not quite what I asked for--what was the rhetorical character of the German regime?

As for analogies, reductionism is a wonderful rhetorical tool. If Saddam can't prove a negative, he must have, etc., ad infinitum. But now we have the old "credibility" argument as icing. Having unzipped and hung it out (deployed his military machine)George now feels compelled to show he can use it or his virility's on the line. We do have an analogy the hawks regard as valid, besides the ridiculous comparisons to Hitler, and, indeed, both Mr. Morgan and I, on the scale of the cosmos, are hard to detect, I agree! We are closer to neutrons than we might imagine!

As for the legalism: Sure. So Saddam has been obstinate. George Bush is, too. The issue is whether war makes sense, which it rarely does, NOT whether the Iraqis are in violation of 1441 and there is formal--rather than substantive--authority to shed blood and treasure. The rhetoric from the right is stale; my favorite is "he gassed his own people." Yes, with our acquiescence and with material we supplied him.

You already have a glimmer of things to come with the Turks and their concern about the Kurds. Given recent performance in Afghanistan, what can we expect of a post-Saddam Iraq?


Richard Henry Morgan - 2/25/2003

"I suspect we might find resemblances, a certain symmetry, between current right-wing rhetoric and that of prewar German regime."

All analogies are suspect, as any two objects otherwise dissimilar can share a property upon which an analogy is made (like a neutron, I too am smaller than the universe, and therefore like the neutron I am hard to detect). As for the explicit case at hand, one of the slogans of Hitler was he had to protect ethnic Germans in Czechoslavakia, which doesn't seem to provide a current parallel (though others can no doubt be discovered and exploited pro or con). Analogies are like a--holes. Everybody's got one.


Richard Henry Morgan - 2/25/2003

"In the English language as I learned to speak it such an attack, especially against a militarily weaker nation, is still an unprovoked, "pre-emptive" war that we used to label and denounce as "aggression.""

I learned a different English language. Saddam agreed to a cesefire, a cessation of hostilities, in exchange for meeting the terms of the ceasefire agreement. Even Dr. Blix contends he has not met those terms -- the ceasefire is therefore null and void. Saddam's own behaviour is itself an attack on the regime of international law as embodied in the ceasefire agreement -- I'm sorry, I should say "an unprovoked attack".


Richard Henry Morgan - 2/25/2003

'Today' is an indexical, any proposition attached thereto having truth conditions relativized to the time of reference, and can't be determined by a search of past remarks. Which part of 'today' don't you understand?


dan - 2/25/2003

I am not a German historian, and so would like to pose this question: Just what was the official line--the buzzwords, slogans, cliches--the Nazi regime used to justify its military action against its enemies? I suspect we might find resemblances, a certain symmetry, between current right-wing rhetoric and that of prewar German regime.

The official excuse was that Poland had invaded Germany...

Hitler had some inmates at a local institution drugged, dressed in Polish Army uniforms, set out on the German side of the border, and shot. He invaded a couple of hours later.

The parallels are impressive, but not in quite the way the original author seemed to indicate!


William H. Leckie, Jr. - 2/25/2003

I wish we could hear more serious comment on the false analogies between Saddam Hussein and Hitler, and about the constant allusions from the right to a reprise of "appeasement" if we do not invade a cobbled-together Mesopotamian artifact of World War One whose dictator was so useful to US foreign policy during the Cold War.

Such analogies--exploiting the foggy nostalgia of "greatest generation" sentimentality to replace the great Cold War unifying threat--have been promoted with a purpose that's as much domestic as directed outward. We need to do more than dismiss them as ridiculous. They may--coming from the lips of Georges One and Two,their handlers, and their media flacks sound one-dimensional. But I think they're downright sinister.

I am not a German historian, and so would like to pose this question: Just what was the official line--the buzzwords, slogans, cliches--the Nazi regime used to justify its military action against its enemies? I suspect we might find resemblances, a certain symmetry, between current right-wing rhetoric and that of prewar German regime.


Gary Robeson - 2/25/2003

David Horowitz and Front Page Magazine have a proven track record of intellectual dishonesty. Mr Radosh seems to be a good fit for the likes of Horowitz. Wild simplifications and bold inaccuracies rule the day.

Radosh claims that:"Today, Sen. Byrd has not a word about Saddam Hussein's dangerous behavior." while offering no indications as to just what Saddam's recent dangerous behavior has been. The last time he gave another nation trouble was 11 years ago, and Senator Byrd supported our response.

About Saddam Sen Byrd says:" No one supports Saddam Hussein. If he were to disappear tomorrow, no one would shed a tear around the world. I would not." - Remarks before the Senate, 10/3/2002

Radosh's dishonest smear takes about 30 seconds with Google to collapse.

Speaking of dishonesty, a web site with pretentions to historical accuracy should not be scrubbing posts, as mine have been.


Bernard Weisberger - 2/24/2003

If Prof.Radosh is going to use historical analogy, he might do well to expand the scope of his history. In May of 1940 Hitler had openly renounced the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles, re-occupied the Rhineland, annexed Austria, sent miitary forces to help Franco in Spain, seized all of Czechoslovakia and the city of Memel in Lithuania, made war on Poland and seized its western half, then invaded and occupied Norway, and finally Holland and Belgium. Furthermore, at that point Hitler was incontestably superior in military power to his enemies. In contrast,since its 1991 defeat, Iraq's forces have fired no shots in anger except at U.S. warplanes which it claims to have invaded its airspace while patrolling the "no-fly" zones. Even Saddam's cited use of poison gas against the Kurds pre-dates 1990. And of course, the military superpower of today's world is the United States. The entire case for today's war is based on two presumptions embedded in the quotation from Senator McCain, Radosh's only piece of actual rebuttal to Senator Byrd. One is that Saddam may have "undetectable" hidden weapons and may use them in the future; the other is the untested proposition that he can only safely be deprived of them by immediate armed attack. In the English language as I learned to speak it such an attack, especially against a militarily weaker nation, is still an unprovoked, "pre-emptive" war that we used to label and denounce as "aggression."

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