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Context of 'May 15-16, 2008: Bush Accuses Obama, Democrats of Favoring ‘Appeasement’ of Terrorists While Speaking to Israeli Knesset, Fierce Criticism Ensues'

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Ed Gillespie.Ed Gillespie. [Source: ABC News]Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Ed Gillespie tells CNN that former ambassador and administration critic Joseph Wilson contributed money to the presidential campaigns of Democratic contenders Al Gore and John Kerry. Gillespie tells CNN interviewer Judy Woodruff: “So I think there is a lot more to play in here. There is a lot of politics. The fact is that Ambassador Wilson is not only a, you know—a former foreign service officer, former ambassador, he is himself a partisan Democrat who is a contributor and supporter of Senator Kerry’s presidential campaign.… [Wilson] has a partisan history here, as someone who supports John Kerry… This is a guy who’s a maxed out contributor to John Kerry, who has spoken to organizations that are seeking to defeat the president of the United States.” Wilson will later write, “The point he was trying to make, I suppose, was that it was justifiable for a Republican administration to expose the identity of an undercover CIA officer, if she happened to have a husband who had contributed to Democratic campaigns” (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003). Wilson has also contributed campaign donations to Republicans, including the 2000 presidential campaign of George W. Bush. Hours after Gillespie’s CNN comments, Wilson sees Gillespie in a CNBC “green room,” and asks him if he knows about these contributions to Republicans. Gillespie admits that he does, saying, “They are part of the public record.” Wilson will later write, “So he knew but decided not to disclose all the information he had about them.” Gillespie will later falsely claim that he acknowledged Wilson’s contributions to both parties during his CNN appearance. [CNN, 9/30/2003; Wilson, 2004, pp. 389-390]

Entity Tags: Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Republican National Committee, Ed Gillespie, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Reactions to President Bush’s commutation of Lewis Libby’s prison sentence (see July 2, 2007) are mixed, and split largely along partisan divides.
Democrats: Commutation 'Disgraceful,' 'Tramples' on Principle of Equal Justice - Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) calls the decision “disgraceful” and says history will judge Bush “harshly” for it. Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a 2008 presidential contender, says, “This is exactly the kind of politics we must change so we can begin restoring the American people’s faith in a government that puts the country’s progress ahead of the bitter partisanship of recent years.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), another presidential candidate, says Bush’s decision shows that “cronyism and ideology trump competence and justice.” Former Senator John Edwards (D-NC), another presidential contender, says, “Only a president clinically incapable of understanding that mistakes have consequences could take the action he did today.” Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), another presidential hopeful, states, “I call for all Americans to flood the White House with phone calls tomorrow expressing their outrage over this blatant disregard for the rule of law.” Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says: “As Independence Day nears, we’re reminded that one of the principles our forefathers fought for was equal justice under the law. This commutation completely tramples on that principle.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says Bush has “abandoned all sense of fairness when it comes to justice.… The president’s commutation of Scooter Libby’s prison sentence does not serve justice, condones criminal conduct, and is a betrayal of trust of the American people.” House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-MI) says that “until now, it appeared that the president merely turned a blind eye to a high ranking administration official leaking classified information. The president’s action today makes it clear that he condones such activity.”
Republicans: Commutation 'the Right Thing' but Political Damage May Be Severe - While most Republican lawmakers do not issue public comments, House Minority Whip Roy Blunt (R-MO) says: “President Bush did the right thing today in commuting the prison term for Scooter Libby. The prison sentence was overly harsh, and the punishment did not fit the crime.” Former Senator Fred Thompson, also a 2008 presidential hopeful and a long-time supporter of Libby’s (see After October 28, 2005 and March 7, 2007), says Bush should issue a full pardon for Libby, adding, “This will allow a good American who has done a lot for his country to resume his life.” Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani calls the commutation a “reasonable” and “correct” decision. [Bush commutes Libby prison sentence, 7/2/2007; CNN, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] But other Republicans are not so sanguine. “The dirty little secret is that in his own way, Bush has shown as much contempt for the law as [former President Bill] Clinton did,” says Curt Smith, a speechwriter for President George H. W. Bush. An unidentified Washington Republican says, “We have now witnessed the evisceration of the Bush presidency by its own hand.” A senior Republican operative observes: “Thirty months in jail was absolutely excessive, but zero is offensive to the average American. Commuting to 60 days in jail would have made this a lot more palatable to the average person.” [New York Daily News, 7/8/2007]
Wilson: Libby a 'Traitor' Who 'Endangered ... Country's National Security' - Joseph Wilson, a former ambassador and vehement war critic whose wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, was exposed as a covert CIA agent by Libby, says both he and his wife are “deeply disappointed” by Bush’s decision. “The president’s actions send the message that leaking classified information for political purposes is acceptable,” Wilson says. “Mr. Libby not only endangered Valerie and our family, but also our country’s national security.” Asked if he has anything to say to Libby, Wilson says with apparent anger: “I have nothing to say to Scooter Libby. I don’t owe this administration. They owe my wife and my family an apology for having betrayed her. Scooter Libby is a traitor.”
Law Professor Calls Commutation 'Hypocritical and Appalling' - Law professor Douglas Berman says the commutation is “hypocritical and appalling from a president whose Justice Department is always fighting” attempts by judges and lawmakers to lower the punishment called for under federal sentencing guidelines. Berman says Bush’s message amounted to “My friend Scooter shouldn’t have to serve 30 months in prison because I don’t want him to.” Most polls show overwhelming public support for Libby’s jailing. [Politico, 7/2/2007; CNN, 7/2/2007; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Fred Thompson, Curt Smith, Valerie Plame Wilson, Douglas Berman, Charles Schumer, Barack Obama, Roy Blunt, Nancy Pelosi, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Joseph C. Wilson, Hillary Clinton, John Conyers, Harry Reid, Joseph Biden, George W. Bush, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, John Edwards

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

President Bush, speaking to the Israeli Knesset in Jerusalem on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s founding, accuses Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, and other Democrats of favoring “appeasement” of terrorists in the same way some Western leaders “appeased” Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler in the days before World War II. Bush does not name Obama or any other official specifically, but White House aides soon acknowledge Bush intended the remarks to apply to Obama. Bush tells the Knesset: “Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.… There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain their words away. This is natural. But it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.” CNN calls the remarks “a not-so-subtle attempt to continue to raise doubts about Obama with Jewish Americans,” and a follow-up to similar remarks made by Senator John McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, who has charged that Obama enjoys the support of Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas. Obama called McCain’s Hamas allegation a “smear” and says of Bush’s remarks: “It is sad that President Bush would use a speech to the Knesset on the 60th anniversary of Israel’s independence to launch a false political attack. It is time to turn the page on eight years of policies that have strengthened Iran and failed to secure America or our ally Israel.… George Bush knows that I have never supported engagement with terrorists, and the president’s extraordinary politicization of foreign policy and the politics of fear do nothing to secure the American people or our stalwart ally Israel.” Obama’s campaign says Obama favors “tough, direct presidential diplomacy with Iran without preconditions, and is willing to meet with the leaders of all nations, friend and foe.” Obama has never said he favors talks with any radical group such as Hamas, which both he and the US State Department have labeled a terrorist organization. [CNN, 5/15/2008]
Angry Responses from Democratic Lawmakers - The response from Democratic lawmakers, Bush administration critics, and Democratic supporters is quick and angered. One of the harshest responses is from Senator Joe Biden (D-DE), the head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a former presidential contender himself. Biden minces few words by saying: “This is bullsh_t, this is malarkey. This is outrageous, for the president of the United States to go to a foreign country, to sit in the Knesset… and make this kind of ridiculous statement.” Of Bush, Biden says: “He is the guy who has weakened us. He has increased the number of terrorists in the world. It is his policies that have produced this vulnerability that the US has. It’s his [own] intelligence community [that] has pointed this out, not me.” He also notes that Bush’s Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have both suggested opening dialogues with their enemies. “If he thinks this is appeasement, is he going to come back and fire his own cabinet?” Biden asks. “Is he going to fire Condi Rice?” Biden later says he regrets the use of the profanity, but then says that Bush is engaging in “long-distance swiftboating” of Obama, referring to Bush’s 2004 campaign strategy of telling false stories about his Democratic challenger Senator John Kerry (D-MA) and Kerry’s Vietnam service. Kerry says that Bush “is still playing the disgusting and dangerous political game Karl Rove perfected, which is insulting to every American and disrespectful to our ally Israel. George Bush should be making Israel secure, not slandering Barack Obama from the Knesset.” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) says: “Not surprisingly, the engineer of the worst foreign policy in our nation’s history has fired yet another reckless and reprehensible round. For the president to make this statement before the government of our closest ally as it celebrates a remarkable milestone demeans this historic moment with partisan politics.” For a brief time, the White House attempts to deny that Bush was referring to Obama, a denial that Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) does not believe. “There is no escaping what the president is doing,” he says. “It is an attack on Senator Obama’s position that we should not be avoiding even those we disagree with when it comes to negotiations and diplomacy.” Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY), also a Democratic presidential contender, says: “President Bush’s comparison of any Democrat to Nazi appeasers is both offensive and outrageous on the face of it, especially in light of his failures in foreign policy. This is the kind of statement that has no place in any presidential address and certainly to use an important moment like the 60th anniversary celebration of Israel to make a political point seems terribly misplaced. Unfortunately, this is what we’ve come to expect from President Bush. There is a very clear difference between Democrats and Republicans on foreign policy and that difference will be evident once we take back the White House.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) says that Bush’s remarks are “beneath the dignity of the office of the president and unworthy of our representation” at the celebration of Israel’s 60th anniversary. Referring to McCain, Pelosi says, “I would hope that any serious person that aspires to lead the country, would disassociate themselves from those comments.” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) says: “The tradition has always been that when a US president is overseas, partisan politics stops at the water’s edge. President Bush has now taken that principle and turned it on its head: for this White House, partisan politics now begins at the water’s edge, no matter the seriousness and gravity of the occasion. Does the president have no shame?” [Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008; Politico, 5/15/2008]
Other Responses - Democratic columnist and political strategist Paul Begala writes: “George W. Bush is unworthy of the presidency. He is a disgrace to himself, our nation, and the high office he holds.” Bush “dishonor[ed] himself”, Begala continues, “by using one of the world’s most important pulpits to launch a false and vicious political attack against Barack Obama.” Begala notes that he is a staunch supporter of Israel, and writes: “It is especially appalling to supporters of Israel that Mr. Bush would stand on a hilltop in Jerusalem to invoke the Holocaust in order to make a cheap and deeply dishonest political point. I am a person of faith, so it is especially galling that a man who calls himself a brother in faith would stand in the Holy Land and violate one of the Commandments God gave to Moses: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.‘… As an American I am ashamed that such a man represents me.” [Huffington Post, 5/15/2008] The Boston Globe publishes an editorial accusing Bush of breaking “an unwritten rule against partisan politicking on foreign shores. He also displayed confusion about his own policies—and about the cause of his calamitous foreign policy failures.” Like others, the Globe notes that Bush officials have engaged in talks with Iran, and says that by overthrowing Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, the Bush administration has done a great deal “to enable Iran.” The Globe compares Obama’s foreign policy to the “tough and prudent statecraft in the mold of Bush’s father and his secretary of state, James Baker.” The Globe concludes: “Maybe the worst thing about Bush’s Knesset attack on Obama is that it shows how oblivious Bush still is to his own failings. His unilateral military ventures, his disdain for international treaties and organizations, his refusal to negotiate with Iran when the regime in Tehran was eager to cut a deal with the United States—these mistakes produced the disasters that Obama or another successor will have to overcome.” [Boston Globe, 5/16/2008] Columnist Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer writes: “President Bush went on foreign soil today, and committed what I consider an act of political treason: Comparing the candidate of the US opposition party to appeasers of Nazi Germany—in the very nation that was carved out from the horrific calamity of the Holocaust. Bush’s bizarre and beyond-appropriate detour into American presidential politics took place in the middle of what should have been an occasion for joy.” As others observe, Bunch writes that Bush crossed a line that previous presidents have tried to avoid: criticizing members of the opposing party on foreign soil. He writes: “As a believer in free speech, I think Bush has a right to say what he wants, but as a president of the United States who swore to uphold the Constitution, his freedom also carries an awesome and solemn responsibility, and what this president said today is a serious breach of that high moral standard.… [W]hat Bush did in Israel this morning goes well beyond the accepted confines of American political debate. When the president speaks to a foreign parliament on behalf of our country, his message needs to be clear and unambiguous. Our democracy may look messy to outsiders, and we may have our disagreements with some sharp elbows thrown around, but at the end of the day we are not Republicans or Democrats or liberals or conservatives. We are Americans.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 5/15/2008]
Republican Responses - Few Republicans speak publicly regarding Bush’s comments. One who is willing to do so is Ed Gillespie, an advisor to the White House. He attempts to deny that Bush meant the remarks to apply to Obama—a denial soon contradicted by other White House officials—then claims that Bush and the White House want to stay out of the presidential campaign. Instead, Gillespie says: “The president is stating American policy and his policy toward Iran and toward Hezbollah and toward al-Qaeda.… We are happy to allow for Senator Obama and others to express their own points of view on these things.” McCain refuses to distance himself from the remarks, and instead attacks Obama for expressing a willingness to open talks with Iran. McCain does not note that Bush administration diplomats have held three rounds of discussions with Iranian officials in the last year. [CNN, 5/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Barack Obama, Boston Globe, Hamas, Harry Reid, Condoleezza Rice, Ed Gillespie, CNN, Will Bunch, Hillary Clinton, Richard (“Dick”) Durbin, Joseph Biden, John McCain, John Kerry, Robert M. Gates, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, Paul Begala, Rahm Emanuel

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

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