One sure sign that a president has reached his sell-by date–in addition to the collapse of his domestic agenda, the recruitment of friendly intellectuals for brainstorming sessions, and a steady trickle of subpoenas and jail sentences for his trusted henchmen–is the beginning of a “place in history” debate on newspaper op-ed columns. The Washington Post’s Sunday “Outlook” section got it all started some time back by asking several prominent historians to make a preliminary assessment of George W. Bush (the consensus seemed to be “at least he’s not Nixon.”) and yesterday, it continued its efforts to come to grips, printing a column by Lynne Olson, the author of a recent history focusing on Winston Churchill and the run-up to World War II. Bush himself is reportedly reading Olson’s book, so it may dismay him a bit to hear the author’s conclusion:
I think Bush’s hero would be bemused, to say the least, by the president’s wrapping himself in the Churchillian cloak. Indeed, the more you understand the historical record, the more the parallels leap out — but they’re between Bush and [Neville] Chamberlain, not Bush and Churchill.
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.
Olson goes on to make a very interesting case for the historical parallels between the styles of Bush and the prime minister whose very name has become synonymous with disastrous miscalculation. It just goes to underscore how far he–and we–have traveled since the fall of 2001.