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Bush's Troubling FDR 'Apology'

By Robert Parry
May 12, 2005

At the 60th anniversary of Nazi Germany’s defeat, George W. Bush upstaged celebrations of the Victory in Europe by making – and demanding – selective apologies from the victorious Allies for what happened after World War II.

Bush, who almost never admits his own presidential mistakes, apologized for Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s supposed acceptance of a divided Europe at Yalta and taunted Vladimir Putin to apologize for Soviet abuses during the Cold War. Bush also tossed out a few more U.S. historical apologies, such as regretting slavery, to put Putin on the spot.

But Bush’s V-E Day speech on May 7 contained a dangerous and deceitful subtext that nearly everyone in the ever-clueless U.S. news media missed as they fell over themselves to praise the president’s performance on his European trip.

Bush’s troubling message was that the only real U.S. mistake in the Cold War was not to aggressively challenge the Soviet Union right after the defeat of Germany, even if that meant vastly more bloodshed. Bush also expressed no regret for some of the most egregious U.S. actions in the Cold War, such as complicity in genocide in Guatemala, state terrorism in Chile or the fearsome death toll in the Vietnam War.

By his silence on those points, Bush suggested that he saw nothing wrong in the Cold War’s most brutal anticommunist strategies, except that they weren’t ruthless enough. If Bush could go back in time, he would have been an ally of Gen. Curtis LeMay and other hard-line anticommunists who favored crushing the Soviet Union at all costs, including the risk of nuclear war.

Yalta Lie

In Bush’s FDR apology, he also revived an old right-wing canard about the Yalta conference where Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Josef Stalin reached agreement about principles to govern the post-war world.

Contrary to the right-wing myth that the Yalta agreement simply ceded control of Eastern Europe to the Soviets, it actually foresaw a transitional period during which the Allies would help “the liberated peoples to destroy the last vestiges of Nazism and Fascism and to create democratic institutions of their own choice.”

The 40-year division of Europe developed in the following years as Cold War tensions worsened. The United States focused on preventing a communist victory in Greece and on assuring electoral victories for anticommunist parties in Western Europe, while the Soviet Union clamped down on political freedoms in Eastern Europe. [See Jacob Heilbrunn’s “Once Again, the Big Yalta Lie,” Los Angeles Times, May 10, 2005.]

In his May 7 speech, Bush extrapolated from his distorted historical analysis of Yalta to justify his invasion of Iraq and other potential actions in his pursuit of a new world order.

“We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations, appeasing or excusing tyranny, and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability,” Bush said about the Yalta agreement. “We have learned our lesson; no one’s liberty is expendable. …And so, with confidence and resolve, we will stand for freedom across the broader Middle East.”

‘Democracy’ Redefined

In other words, the bloody chaos in Iraq – including more than 1,600 dead U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of dead Iraqis – has not shaken Bush’s faith in the neoconservative strategy of worldwide “democratic” revolution, whatever the cost.

The U.S. press corps also continues it unwillingness to question the sincerity of Bush’s supposed commitment to “democracy,” even though Bush himself gained power after losing the popular vote in Election 2000 and stopping a recount in Florida. He then joked, “If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier – so long as I’m the dictator.” [For more, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush & Democracy Hypocrisy.”]

What’s also left out is that the neoconservative definition of democracy bears little resemblance to the word’s traditional meaning, that of an informed electorate freely debating and deciding policies in the public interest.

To the neocons, the term “democracy” means a government that accepts “free market” economics and has some democratic trappings, even if information is systematically manipulated or repression exists behind the scenes.

Though the U.S. press corps often presents Bush’s “democracy” strategy as a radical break from the “real-politik” past, the Bush Doctrine actually fits well with the traditions of the Cold War when Washington reacted hostilely to the popular will when it threatened U.S. interests.

So, despite flowery rhetoric about “liberty,” Bush and the neocons – just like their predecessors in the Cold War – are disdainful of “democracy” when the people elect “irresponsible” populists like Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti or Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In 2002, the Bush administration welcomed a short-lived coup against Chavez. In 2004, Washington backed a coup that forced Aristide into exile.

Similarly, during the Cold War, U.S. administrations worked to overthrow democratically elected governments in a number of countries, including Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), the Congo (1961) and Chile (1973). Sometimes elected leaders were killed, like Patrice Lumumba in the Congo and Salvador Allende in Chile.

In nearly all these cases, the putchists followed their coups with brutal dictatorial regimes that kept the population in line through torture, imprisonment and murder. During these depredations, the U.S. government helped the dictators or looked the other way.

Different Speech

If George W. Bush truly wanted to make democracy more than a rhetorical device, he would have given a very different speech at the V-E Day anniversary in the Netherlands. He would have twinned his call for Moscow’s apologies with admissions of Washington’s anti-democratic excesses of the Cold War.

Bush would have apologized to the people of Iran for the CIA’s sponsorship of the 1953 coup; he would have begged forgiveness from Guatemala’s population for a quarter-century of repression that included genocide against Mayan tribes in the highlands; he would have expressed remorse over the tens of thousands of murdered, tortured and disappeared in Central America, South America and Africa; he would have voiced regret for the millions who perished in the Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. [For more details, see Robert Parry’s Lost History.]

If Bush had given that speech, he might have achieved enough moral high ground to squeeze an apology out of Putin for Soviet repression in Eastern Europe, especially the invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

But Bush didn’t apologize for U.S. excesses in the Cold War and the reason appears obvious: he doesn’t consider them to be excesses.

That also may explain why Bush has shown no inclination to hunt down and arrest anti-Castro Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, who reportedly has been hiding in South Florida for the past six weeks. Posada, who has been linked to terrorist attacks over three decades, is wanted in Venezuela for allegedly masterminding the 1976 in-air bombing of a Cubana airliner, killing 73 people.

Although U.S. inaction on the 77-year-old Posada muddies up the “moral clarity” of the War on Terror, Bush won’t crack down on Posada or other anticommunist Cold War terrorists. Bush apparently accepts the right-wing view that terrorism directed against Fidel Castro’s Cuba doesn’t deserve the same moral condemnation as other terrorism.

So even as Bush demands that countries around the world arrest and extradite terrorists regardless of political concerns, he is unwilling to live by the same rules in the United States. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush, Posada & Terrorism Hypocrisy.”]

Voting Abuses

One could argue, too, that if Bush really believed in “democracy,” he never would have dispatched thugs to Florida in November 2000 to intimidate vote counters or have sent his lawyers to the U.S. Supreme in December 2000 to stop a state-court-ordered recount of votes. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s Conspiracy to Riot” and “So Bush Did Steal the White House.”]

On the contrary, Bush would have joined Al Gore in insisting on a full-and-fair recount so the American people and the world would see a true commitment to the principles of democracy, where the people’s will is more important than who wins.

In 2002-03, a leader who truly cherished the principles of democracy would have told his supporters to respect dissidents who questioned the justification for the Iraq War. He would have resisted any temptation to win an important policy debate by impugning the patriotism of Americans who disagreed with him. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Politics of Preemption.”]

In 2004, such a leader would have vigorously objected when his political allies besmirched the war record of his political opponent. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Reality on the Ballot.”] A real pro-democracy leader would demand that his opponents get a fair shot at winning national elections and would fire political aides who muse about establishing a de facto one-party state. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Bush’s ‘Transformational’ Democracy.”]

He would order his party’s apparatchiks to bend over backward to avoid electoral dirty tricks. He would want to ensure that all votes are counted, especially those of African-Americans who suffered from centuries of racial prejudice, as Bush noted in his V-E Day speech. He would want America’s democracy to be the gold standard for the world.

If Bush were that true champion of democracy, he would insist, too, that his supporters do nothing to intimidate the nation’s news media. For instance, he would not have appointed a conservative ideologue, like Ken Tomlinson, to oversee public broadcasting with the goal of discouraging tough journalism in the name of “balance.”

Bush also would not have sat by silently as his supporters pressed for the dismissals of CBS journalists who had correctly reported on Bush’s shirking of his National Guard duty as a young man.

Even though the journalists did fall short in verifying the authorship of a memo that accurately summarized Bush’s actions, a leader truly committed to democracy would have admitted that the facts were true and warned against the chilling effect from firing journalists in that sort of dispute. Four “60 Minutes” producers did lose their jobs and Dan Rather was pushed out as evening news anchor over the memo.

Challenging Putin

For some Americans, one of the most painful moments of the V-E Day events came when Russian leader Putin was interviewed on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and launched into a lecture that included genuine criticisms of the U.S. democratic process.

Russia’s authoritarian leader cited how Bush’s allies on the U.S. Supreme Court had appointed him president over the electoral will of the American people and how American journalists had lost jobs for criticizing the U.S. president.

A visibly perturbed CBS interviewer, Mike Wallace, challenged Putin on his last claim by getting Putin to admit that he was referring to Dan Rather. “On our TV screens, we saw him resigning,” Putin said. “We understood that he was forced to resign by his bosses at CBS. This is a problem of your democracy, not ours.”

Defensively, Wallace pounced on Putin’s reference to Rather. “He still works for CBS News,” Wallace said. “He continues to work as a matter of fact on ’60 Minutes.’”

Wallace’s comment, however, was disingenuous. Putin was far closer to the mark in noting that Rather was forced into early retirement from his powerful CBS anchor slot and that four CBS producers were ousted amid a clamor for their heads from Bush’s defenders.

In dozens of cases over the past five years, when Bush could have stood up for democratic principles inside the United States, he didn’t. Instead, he has approached all political issues with scorched-earth strategies that enlist angry supporters who never grow tired of acting the part of the victim while shouting down weaker political opponents.

Nevertheless, when Bush steps onto the world stage and professes his love of democracy, U.S. journalists know that they can’t afford to show any skepticism. If they did, they would face denunciations from Bush’s minions as unpatriotic, un-American or “liberal.” Jobs would be lost; careers would be ruined.

So, the United States marches forward into a Brave New World where Washington’s international policies are virtually beyond criticism at home, where George W. Bush is the wise and idealistic leader, where history can be changed or ignored to suit his purposes, and where “democracy” becomes the justification for doing pretty much whatever the leader wants.


Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His new book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'

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