WASHINGTON, D.C. -- This week in his speech before the national convention of the American Legion, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made an unconscionable faux pas. He defended our present policy in Iraq and our war on terror by citing historic events and quoting Winston Churchill and Georges Clemenceau. That is a rude way to discuss policy with one's Democratic opponents. The historical record is a particularly sore subject with the likes of Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid, who inveighed against Rumsfeld's speech as "reckless." History has not been going his way for a while. Reid's equivalent in the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, spoke of the secretary's impairment ... and she was not referring to his golf swing. Sen. Jack Reed, a Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, accused Rumsfeld of questioning the critics' patriotism.
These are very touchy pols. Reid went on to elaborate that the administration that Rumsfeld serves "is more interested in lashing out at its political enemies ... than it is in winning the war on terror and in bringing an end to the war in Iraq." But Rumsfeld never in his entire speech mentioned "political enemies." As James Taranto notes in his indispensable "Best of the Web Today" column, the only American politician Rumsfeld mentioned was the late Sen. William Borah, who upon hearing of Hitler's 1939 invasion of Poland sighed: "Lord, if only I could have talked with Hitler, all this might have been avoided." Borah was a Republican isolationist, so perhaps we can understand the aforementioned Democrats' indignation. As I say, they are exceptionally touchy.
But they are also ignoramuses. The entire speech is cast on a very high level. It is dispassionate, erudite and difficult to refute. The only individuals Rumsfeld criticizes are a handful of journalists and whoever in Amnesty International called Gitmo "the gulag of our times." Otherwise he sticks to a theme that is unassailable. Our opponents in Iraq and among the terrorists are nihilists, every bit as dangerous as the Nazis. In the years prior to World War II, Rumsfeld argues, "a sentiment took root that contended that if only the growing threats that had begun to emerge in Europe and Asia could be appeased (world war) might be avoided." Rumsfeld asserts that the appeasers suffered from "a certain amount of cynicism and moral confusion," concluding with a paraphrase of Churchill's great line that the appeaser seems to believe that if he feeds the alligator enough, "the alligator will eat him last."