By John Prados
(John Prados is a senior analyst with the National Security Archive in Washington, DC. His forthcoming book is Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA (Ivan Dee Publisher))
"In the past week Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has twice invoked the historical analogy to appeasement—referring to the years just before World War II, culminating in the Munich conference of September 1938—to frame the globe’s current struggle with terrorism in apocalyptic terms. Vice President Dick Cheney has used the same analogy, without even gracing it with a name, to defend what he calls the “battle for the future of civilization.”
The correct lesson to be drawn from Munich today is that when presidents and their administrations raise its specter, it is a sure sign they want to pursue extravagant policies, usually of violence, based on narrow grounds with shaky public support. Today the Munich analogy functions as a provocation, a red flag before a bull. It is dangerous because it claims that the only solution to any situation is to fight—Cheney’s point exactly. Having done nothing beyond silly propaganda—despite its own claims—to undermine the jihadists by eliminating the economic and political oppression that form the basis of jihadist appeal, the Bush people counsel that the fight is everything and that talking is “appeasement.” We have seen in Lebanon lately just how misguided is that approach.
Bush administration history is like their reality—faith-based. President Bush himself, along with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, characterized those who saw and spoke the truth about the run-up to the Iraq war as “revisionists”—historians who try to change the conventional wisdom about the past. Cheney not long ago declared it was “inexcusable” to repeat that truth. The same speeches that contain the Munich claims portray the Iraqi and Afghan people as “awakening to a future of hope and freedom” (Cheney) and say the U.S. strategy in Iraq “has not changed” (Rumsfeld).
The faith is that if you repeat falsehoods enough times the public will believe them. There is another historical analogy there—a real one—to Adolf Hitler’s henchman, Josef Goebbels. He called it the “Big Lie.” No wonder the administration’s flacks need friendly audiences."