Why Winston Wouldn't Stand For W
George W. Bush always wanted to be like a wartime British prime ministers. He is. But it's not the one he had in mind.
Like Bush and unlike Churchill, Chamberlain came to office with almost no understanding of foreign affairs or experience in dealing with international leaders. Nonetheless, he was convinced that he alone could bring Hitler and Benito Mussolini to heel. He surrounded himself with like-minded advisers and refused to heed anyone who told him otherwise.As we have seen Bush has had no respect for congress and here he looks a lot more like Chamberlain than Churchill.
In the months leading up to World War II, Chamberlain and his men saw little need to build up a strong coalition of European allies with which to confront Nazi Germany -- ignoring appeals from Churchill and others to fashion a "Grand Alliance" of nations to thwart the threat that Hitler posed to the continent.
Unlike Bush and Chamberlain, Churchill was never in favor of his country going it alone. Throughout the 1930s, while urging Britain to rearm, he also strongly supported using the newborn League of Nations -- the forerunner to today's United Nations -- to provide one-for-all-and-all-for-one security to smaller countries. After the League failed to stop fascism's march, Churchill was adamant that, to beat Hitler, Britain must form a true partnership with France and even reach agreement with the despised Soviet Union, neither of which Chamberlain was willing to do.
Like Bush, Chamberlain also laid claim to unprecedented executive authority, evading the checks and balances that are supposed to constrain the office of prime minister. He scorned dissenting views, both inside and outside government. When Chamberlain arranged his face-to-face meetings with Hitler in 1938 that ended in the catastrophic Munich conference, he did so without consulting his cabinet, which, under the British system, is responsible for making policy. He also bypassed the House of Commons, leading Harold Macmillan, a future Tory prime minister who was then an anti-appeasement MP, to complain that Chamberlain was treating Parliament "like a Reichstag, to meet only to hear the orations and to register the decrees of the government of the day."
As was true of Bush and the Republicans before the 2006 midterm elections, Chamberlain and his Tories had a large majority in the Commons, and, as Macmillan noted, the prime minister tended to treat Parliament like a lapdog legislature, existing only to do his bidding. "I secretly feel he hates the House of Commons," wrote one of Chamberlain's most fervent parliamentary supporters. "Certainly he has a deep contempt for Parliamentary interference."And the parallels continue when it comes to dissent.
Churchill, on the other hand, revered Parliament and was appalled by Chamberlain's determination to dominate the Commons in the late 1930s. Churchill considered himself first and foremost "a child" and "servant" of the House of Commons and strongly believed in the legislature's constitutional role to oversee the executive (even when, after becoming prime minister, he often railed against MPs who criticized him). In August 1939, when Chamberlain rammed through a two-month parliamentary adjournment just weeks before the war began, Churchill -- then still a backbencher -- exploded with anger in the House, calling the prime minister's move "disastrous," "pathetic" and shameful." He encouraged his anti-appeasement colleagues to mount similar attacks against Chamberlain, and when one of them, Ronald Cartland, called the prime minister a dictator to his face in the same debate, Churchill congratulated Cartland with an enthusiastic, "Well done, my boy, well done!"
Likewise, Churchill almost certainly would look askance at the Bush administration's years-long campaign to shut down public debate over the "war on terror" and the conflict in Iraq -- tactics markedly similar to Chamberlain's attempts to quiet his opponents. Like Bush and his aides, Chamberlain badgered and intimidated the press, restricted journalists' access to sources and claimed that anyone who dared criticize the government was guilty of disloyalty and damaging the national interest. Just as Bush has done, Chamberlain authorized the wiretapping of citizens without court authorization; Churchill was among those whose phones were tapped by the prime minister's subordinates.History will judge Bush as harshly as it judges Neville Chamberlain - that will be the Bush/Cheney legacy.