National Commentary

Helen Thomas: National Leaders Let It Slip Out




WASHINGTON – Now they tell us!

In the last days of his presidency, Dwight D. Eisenhower cautioned that the “federal government’s collaboration with an alliance of military and industrial leaders, though necessary, was vulnerable to abuse of power.”

Eisenhower also warned that American citizens need “to be vigilant in monitoring the military-industrial complex.”

“Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with all peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Considering the mercenary aspects of the U.S. war against Iraq, it’s clear that Eisenhower’s warning has been ignored. Many have profited from the war to the tune of billions of dollars. Eisenhower would be appalled today at the gross corruption that has flourished in the aftermath of the U.S. invasion.

Other presidents also had something to say in their parting shots.

President Lyndon B. Johnson said, “Every president lives, not only with what is, but with what has been and what could be.” In retrospect, Johnson left a lasting legacy with his “Great Society” program of social legislation but he could not overcome the failures of the Vietnam War.

As he left the White House, Jimmy Carter said the “presidency is the most powerful office in the world and among the most severely constrained by law and custom.” He also said “thoughtful criticism and close scrutiny of all government officials by the press and the public are an important part of a democratic society.”

Ronald Reagan took his leave from the White House by patting his own back.

“. . . a final word for the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America, who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends, we did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference.”

It’s not just American leaders who unload as their governing days wane. The Israelis know they cannot keep defying United Nations resolutions against the building of illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian lands.

According to the Washington Post, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir in 1992 revealed he was “never serious about peace negotiations” with the Palestinians. Shamir played for time and tried to drag out the talks for a decade, while settling hundreds of thousands more Israelis in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Were the American officials so naive that they believed him?

Now Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister who also served in Shamir’s cabinet and had supported the goal of “a greater Israel,” is leaving his post with a different approach.

Olmert recently acknowledged in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Yediroth Aharonot that as a supporter of settlements in East Jerusalem for a long time, he was “unwilling to look at reality in all its depth.”

Olmert’s turnaround is remarkable, but in line with Peace Now, the Israeli pro-peace group.

“We have to reach an agreement with the Palestinians, the meaning of which is that in practice, we will withdraw from almost all the territories,” Olmert said.

Israeli withdrawal from the territories captured during the 1967 war is the price of peace with the Palestinians. The problem is that Olmert’s high-minded words do not match his deeds. During his two-year tenure as prime minister he has continued Shamir’s expansionist settlement policy.

Peace Now says settlement construction nearly doubled during Olmert’s tenure and that the number of Israelis living on the West Bank increased more than 10 percent, to 290,000.

Now we come to outgoing President Bush. Admitting mistakes does not come easy for this proud man. Nor does he take responsibility easily. Let’s hear what he has to say in his farewell address.