It’s Not Fair to Compare Bush to Stalin. He’s More Like Marx.

As I started to read Andrew Bacevich’s devastating and on-target review of Geoffrey Roberts’ revisionist new book about Josef Stalin, I began to think about President Bush’s similarities to Communist icons.

To my surprise, Bacevich beat me to it in the article. Pointing out that even Hitler spoke of peace (that would come at the end of his worldwide conquests), Bacevich writes:

Roberts credits the Soviet dictator with a self-induced sincerity. He finds “no reason to suppose that Stalin and the Soviet leadership did not believe their own propaganda about the essentially peace-loving policy of the USSR.” In this sense, Stalin’s commitment to “freedom and peace between peoples” bears comparison with President Bush’s post-9/11 commitment to eliminating tyranny. For Roberts, such high-minded professions mean everything. …

[S]ixty years before 9/11, Stalin promulgated a variant of what we today call the Bush Doctrine. “Defending our country”, he told a graduating class of Red Army officers in May 1941, “we must act offensively.” Stalin was anticipating the Bush Administration’s rationale for invading Iraq: Peace tomorrow requires the initiation of war today against those who stubbornly resist our legitimate demands.

President Bush himself has said things that could make Bacevich’s case for him. The best I can think of is:

I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace. We want there to be peace. We want people to live in peace all around the world. I mean, our vision for peace extends beyond America. We believe in peace in South Asia. We believe in peace in the Middle East. We’re going to be steadfast toward a vision that rejects terror and killing, and honors peace and hope.

I also want the young to know that this country, we don’t conquer people, we liberate people — because we hold true to our values of life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The security of our homeland, the need to make sure that America is safe and secure while we chase peace is my number one priority for the country.

But I think Bush is more like Marx than he is like Stalin.

Like Marx, he correctly identified a terrible problem— the murderous dictatorships in this world, as opposed to the awful plight of the mid-19th-century lower working class. Also like Marx, he seized on an exciting policy of maximizing conflict, without stopping to think of likely counterreactions, likely results, and the dangers of concentrated, unchecked power.

Bacevich is correct that we cannot judge world leaders by their loftiest pronouncements. Still, I think somewhere lurking in Bush’s (actual) brain, as in Marx’s but unlike Stalin’s, was a desire for a better, happier world. Both identified actual problems in the real world, and both proposed a counterproductive approach that history suggested would flounder on human limitations. (Were the U.S. omnipotent and omniscient, and dedicated to setting up stable democracies in the wake of our invasions, the Bush Doctrine would be a terrific policy).

The counterargument about Bush’s belief in what he’s saying is that he hasn’t been eager to apply it to Saudi Arabia or Egypt or Uzbekistan or really very many places at all. I am of the view that Bush doesn’t recognize that because he is intellectually lazy, rather than consciously lying. But reasonable people can disagree.

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