A Churchillian moment

One of the constants in US foreign policy over the past century has been the durability of the Anglo-American alliance.

But despite the closeness of the two countries, cultural differences sometimes ruffle the relationship.

Thus some British historians, inflamed and encouraged by elements of the British press sometimes in more eager pursuit of titillation than substance, are having a little fit over Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's recent comparison of President Bush to that British icon, Winston Churchill.

Britons and Americans have fought alongside each other in World War I, World War II, Korea, the Gulf War, the war against Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and other military operations.

The alliance has endured through American presidencies Republican and Democratic, and British prime ministerships Conservative and Labour.

It has been cemented through historic partnerships – Roosevelt and Churchill, Thatcher and Reagan, and now George Bush and Tony Blair. Prime Minister Blair, a Labour Party leader more ideologically compatible with Bill Clinton than President Bush, has nevertheless been Mr. Bush's sturdiest foreign ally in the fight against terrorism, and has stood by him in his determination to oust Saddam Hussein as a menace to world peace who must go.

The comparison of Bush to Churchill, that extraordinary man who met an extraordinary need at an extraordinary moment in history, has left some British historians and editorialists huffing and puffing.

Churchill, my personal hero, is of course the giant who led Britain in World War II and played a significant role in saving the free world from fascism. He is revered by Britons as a symbol of British resolve and courage in their lonely stand against Hitler's advancing legions. His rolling oratory in the House of Commons and on the BBC inspired the British in their darkest hours.

But while Bush has not yet reached such a lasting niche in history, or such unique heights of oratory, the comparison is not without some legitimacy.

Coincidentally, I have been reading the latest biography of Churchill, by longtime British politician and author Roy Jenkins. He makes clear what an uphill road Churchill had to travel to galvanize Parliament and awaken the populace to Hitler's threat. Jenkins does not, of course, make comparisons with George Bush. But as he analyzes the challenges Churchill confronted with Hitler, there are similarities with the challenges Bush confronts in dealing with Saddam Hussein.

1. Churchill was a voice in the wilderness, warning as early as 1936 of the threat that was to precipitate war in 1939. So, too, George Bush has had the problem of not being taken seriously in his warnings of Saddam Hussein's menace.

2. Through 1937 and 1938, Churchill bridled under Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement in the face of Nazi tyranny, just as Bush has bridled over those who seek to appease Saddam Hussein.

3. Even after Chamberlain's appeasement policy was discredited and Churchill succeeded him as prime minister, Churchill waged a tense struggle with waverers in his war cabinet who, incredibly, leaned toward a settlement with Hitler that would have left Britain sitting out the war. Similarly, Bush is dealing with high-ranking members of his own party, both inside and outside government, who question the wisdom of involvement in Iraq.

4. The news in the early days of World War II was not good, and Churchill ruminated regretfully that the war would have been better fought in 1937, when Germany was weaker, than in 1939. Similarly, Bush is of the view that Saddam Hussein is better dealt with earlier, rather than after he has acquired nuclear weapons.

5. Finally, Churchill was frustrated by the lack of allies to resist the Germans and vowed to continue the fight alone while waiting for America, with its decisive military weight, to enter the war. So, too, if it comes to war with Iraq, may Bush have to fight without allies alongside him, save perhaps for the British.

Bush may not match Churchill's oratory, but his forcefulness in vowing to remove the tyranny of Saddam Hussein is remarkably similar to Churchill's against Hitler. His early perception of the threat in the face of doubters is also similar. So is his conviction that the menace were better neutralized earlier than later.

The war against terrorism, and the campaign to remove Saddam Hussein, has yet to play out. But there is something Churchillian in Bush's willingness to risk harm and stand almost alone to rid the world of evil.

• John Hughes, editor and chief operating officer of the Deseret News, is a former editor of the Monitor.

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