|This article originally appeared in
|Tall Tale of Two Wars
Bush’s attempt to compare Iraq to World War II is a stretch
|By ERIC J. LYMAN
June 4, 2004
ROME – The last time President George W. Bush and his French counterpart Jacques Chirac saw each other was at
the United Nations in September 2003. The two men spoke privately: Chirac pulled Bush aside and mentioned what
he called France's "bitter experience" as colonizers in Muslim Algeria, and warned his American counterpart of the
possibility that post-war period Iraq could dissolve into an unsolvable chaos.
Reportedly, Bush smiled and patted Chirac on the back. "Jacques," Bush said, "I couldn't disagree more."
This week Bush brings to Europe his own historical analogies in the hopes of somehow convincing longstanding
U.S. allies here that America's war resembles the war fought here six decades ago. He would be wise to measure his
words very, very carefully.
A Tough Sell
Despite the fact that the sort of chaos in Iraq Chirac warned Bush about now dominates the world's headlines, don't
expect Chirac to greet Bush with a smiling "I told you so" when the two meet again this weekend.
Yes, European leaders remain leery about playing a part in White House photo ops. But they also seem to be hoping
that the U.S. president's visit to Italy and France – to commemorate the 60th anniversaries of the liberation of Rome on
June 4 and the D-Day landing in France on June 6 – will start the process of healing the wounds inflicted when most
of the continent turned its back on America when it announced plans to invade Iraq.
France, for example, will host a series of activities to commemorate D-Day. World leaders expected to attend include
British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Russian Premier Vladimir Putin, Germany's Gerhard Schroeder (the first German
chancellor to attend a D-Day commemoration, by the way, but more on that in a moment), and even Britain's Queen
Elizabeth. But only Bush has been invited to a private dinner hosted by Chirac and his wife Bernadette at the Elysée
Palace, France's version of the White House. Dinner table conversation? According to remarks televised last week,
Chirac says the two men will discuss ways to "develop a government in Iraq that the world can be proud of."
On the surface at least, the European press seems to be telling the same story. France's LeMond, Spain's El Mundo,
the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in Germany, and La Repubblica in Italy – each of which editorialized
strongly, loudly, and often against the war before it started – all ran editorials this week discussing the need for
European cooperation to establish a stable and democratic government in Iraq. Italian state broadcaster RAI even ran
a program last weekend suggesting that if Europe as a whole takes a pass on establishing the peace and helping
rebuild Iraq, the continent risks being "marginalized" by history.
But a closer look reveals a different view. Many see Bush's visit as a desperate attempt to create some kind of moral,
symbolic linkage between the liberation of Europe and his war in Iraq – a sentiment Bush already expressed before
leaving the states in a speech Wednesday at the Air Force Academy. But Bush will have a much tougher time selling
such analogies in Europe, especially in the wake of revelations about the treatment of Iraqi prisoners, the Shiite
uprising in the country, and the beleaguered campaign in Fallujah.
Popular works like Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation and Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan have helped
turn the 1944 D-Day landing into an iconic, defining moment in what history treats as the United States' last good war.
It's no surprise that Brokaw and Private Ryan star Tom Hanks made presentations at the Memorial Day dedication of
the new World War II Memorial in Washington.
That Schroeder will go to Normandy's beaches – his predecessor Helmut Kohl was not even invited to 50th
anniversary celebrations in 1994 – is testament to the fact that even a country that had for so long treated its Nazi past
with a mixture of embarrassment and apathy is now starting to view the allied invasion of Europe as its own liberation
from the clutches of Hitler.
Bush would obviously like nothing more than situate Iraq squarely in that tradition, to give it an invidious moral weight
that the battles in Europe 60 years ago carry.
The president should tread lightly in making such comparisons, as those Americans who have traveled to Western
European capitals recently will understand. My work as a journalist requires me to travel a great deal, and since the
start of last year I have been to nine of the 15 countries that made up the European Union before the recent expansion.
During those travels, complaints about U.S. foreign policy have been omnipresent.
To cite just one example here in Rome, the left-leaning Italian newspaper L'Unita has incorporated an image of the
multi-colored peace flag into their masthead that had previously remained unchanged for nearly 80 years (even
opposition to Mussolini couldn't prompt that change). The same rainbow flag, now faded, still hangs from balconies
and flag posts almost everywhere I look.
Bush's visit only promises to animate European complaints. As many as a quarter of a million people are expected to
protest against the war when Bush arrives in Paris (though reports are they'll be kept far from the Elysée Palace
during the during the Chirac-Bush dinner). And at least that many are expected to take to the streets when Bush is in
Rome to call on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, whose support of Washington is starting to cost him
politically. Violence is possible in both cities. The situation in Rome is so dire that the U.S. embassy issued a warning
to Americans in the city, advising them to stay away from the protests that are expected to engulf the entire center of
Tourists and expatriates like me won't be the only ones inconvenienced by the week's events. So too will the third
European head of state Bush will visit: Pope John Paul II.
One of the harshest critics of the war, John Paul reportedly considered snubbing Bush on his visit. In the end, the
Vatican, the world's tiniest country, agreed to give Bush a mere 25 minutes of the frail Pope's time. The Holy See
reportedly lost what little patience he had left for America's Iraq policy after the prison abuse scandals. As the Vatican's
foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, commented, the prison scandal was a more serious blow to the United
States than September 11, except "the blow was not inflicted by terrorists but by Americans against themselves."
The United States had its dark moments even during World War II, but you can bet that when Bush arrives at the
Vatican his search for contemporary Iraqi parallels with Europe's last great war will not include any mention of Abu
Copyright © Eric J. Lyman.
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