Storm Over “Appeasement”

Posted on May 16, 2008 In Blog

The front page of the NYTimes is among the many media outlets reporting that several passages in President Bush’s historic speech to the Knesset are being “widely interpreted” as an attack on Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

The passage in question is where the President rebukes those who “seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals” as “the false comfort of appeasement which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

Team Obama took this as an attack, and issued a rapid response, as did House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Hillary Clinton and others, decrying Mr. Bush’s using a ceremonial occasion overseas to engage in this kind of politics.

The problem (and perhaps tragedy) here, is that the facts do not seem to justify this blow up, at least not yet.

We heard the speech live in Jerusalem yesterday, and as the President spoke those words the people that came to mind as advocating negotiations with terrorists (like Hamas) are folks like Jimmy Carter, leaders at the UN (who Mr. Bush explicitly blasted) and even some Israeli politicians sitting in the Knesset chamber who believe Israel should negotiate a cease fire with Hamas, for example – a position Barack Obama has never taken.

Now, some media (like MSNBC) cited the always useless “senior White House official” spinning the speech lines as anti-Obama. This claim is suspect. First, all the senior officials were quite busy traveling with the President (and it was a busy schedule). Second, this President and his Administration have a solid track record of being very careful to not use such events and thoroughly vetted speeches in such an inappropriate way. Third, Dana Perino, the president’s spokesperson, flatly denied the charge that the passage was an intentional attack on Obama.

But unfortunately, the facts don’t matter all that much now. The story is out there and the battle lines are drawn and what should have only been an historic moment for the US – Israel relationship has been sucked into the muck of politics by both parties.

We would like MSNBC, or any other media outlet which claims they got this spin from a White House source, to be pressed to identify who that source is so we can know if that’s true. And if it were not (or perhaps even if it were), we would prefer that the Democrats would have taken the high road in the context of an oblique critique such as this. But when the political stakes are so high, it’s disappointing to think there is more of this to come.