Americans tend to revere our pre-eminent honorary citizen, Sir Winston Churchill. That view is apparently not shared by Barak Obama, who unceremonious returned to the British embassy the bust of the great wartime leader (which George W. Bush had received from Tony Blair shortly after 9/11).
Most of the rest of us, however, look back with admiration and respect at “Winnie’s” inspiring, indefatigable and ultimately successful leadership of Great Britain through World War II. Interestingly, few recall how reviled Churchill was for most of the two decades preceding that terrible conflict.
In fact, his assessment of the growing dangers posed to Britain and the Free World was not just unwelcome among Brits who wanted no more death and destruction after the horrific bloodletting of the so-called “War to End All Wars.”
He was reviled and treated as a political pariah for taking to the floor of parliament again and again to warn that another conflagration was coming. His enemies belittled him; he largely lived in self-imposed internal exile; and his public friends were few.
Yet, Churchill’s role in keeping the flame of freedom burning during those “wilderness years” was arguably as important as his subsequent service to king and country.
He challenged the pollyannish British intelligence assessments of the Nazi rearmament program and goaded Her Majesty’s government into beginning to correct its woeful under-investment in military procurement.
Churchill took it upon himself, despite his unpopularity, to travel the country and educate Britons, often in small groups, about the mounting dangers in Europe and around the world that their leaders refused to see — or discuss.
In so doing, he helped prepare the country for the hardships ahead and the sacrifices that would be required to meet them.
Not least, the former first lord of the admiralty took the initiative in helping a small team of British scientists and engineers develop a secret capability — radar — that they would bring to fruition just in time to save their nation from the worst of Hitler’s aerial attacks.
Without this breakthrough, the badly outnumbered Royal Air Force would have been no match for the German Luftwaffe.
Today, there is a Churchill in our midst.
Like the original “Last Lion,” he is loathed and slandered by his critics. His utterances about the present and growing threats and his past service to his country are savaged by the national leadership, even as they try to dismiss him as “discredited” (as Sen. Carl Levin put it on Sunday) or a liability for his party (as innumerable political operatives and pundits insist).
Our Churchill’s name is Dick Cheney.
The Churchillian qualities of our former vice president were much in evidence last Wednesday night when he received the Center for Security Policy’s Keeper of the Flame award. Despite his characteristic soft-spoken delivery, Mr. Cheney rendered a withering indictment of the Obama administration’s security policies.
Much of the media and policy commentariat has focused on the Cheney characterization of Mr. Obama’s deliberations about Afghanistan as “dithering” and his failure to implement the strategy the president announced seven months ago (based, as it happens on analyses provided privately by the Bush-Cheney team). Mr. Cheney’s critique, however, was much more wide-ranging.
He called the “abandonment of missile defense in Eastern Europe . . . a strategic blunder and a breach of good faith” and “a serious blow to the hopes and aspirations of millions of Europeans.” He observed that “The impact of making two NATO allies walk the plank won't be felt only in Europe. Our friends throughout the world are watching and wondering whether America will abandon them as well.”
Mr. Cheney warned that “Anybody who has spent much time in that part of the world knows what Vladimir Putin is up to. And those who try placating him, by conceding ground and accommodating his wishes, will get nothing in return but more trouble.”
He said the Obama administration had “moved blindly forward to engage Iran's authoritarian regime” and “missed an opportunity to stand with Iran's democrats, whose popular protests represent the greatest challenge to the Islamic Republic since its founding in 1979.”
Dick Cheney was at his most Churchillian in his defense of those who serve their country in these dangerous times: “To call enhanced interrogation a program of torture is not only to disregard the program's legal underpinnings and safeguards. Such accusations are a libel against dedicated professionals who acted honorably and well, in our country's name and in our country's cause . . . For all that we've lost in this conflict, the United States has never lost its moral bearings — and least of all can that be said of our armed forces and intelligence personnel.
“They have done right, they have made our country safer, and a lot of Americans are alive today because of them.”
Winston Churchill considered his inability to prevent the carnage of World War II to be a personal failure.
In truth, then, as now, the responsibility ultimately rests not with the watchman who sounds the alarm, but with those who fail to heed his warnings. We cannot afford to make that mistake again by ignoring the formidable insights and sound prescriptions articulated by our Churchill.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is President of the Center for Security Policy, a columnist for the Washington Times and host of the nationally syndicated program, Secure Freedom Radio.
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