For some reason, Bushes follow me to Hungary. In 1989 I was in Budapest
shortly before the groundbreaking visit of George Bush Sr, when communism in
eastern Europe was starting to crumble. Last month I was there again and, sure
enough, Junior followed suit on Thursday.
His theme was that there was an analogy between the Iraq war and the Hungarian uprising of 1956 (whose 50th
anniversary will be celebrated in October). “Iraqis, he said, would take
inspiration and ‘draw hope’ from Hungary’s success.” Depending on how you look
at it, this is either gross historical ignorance, a stunning piece of chutzpah,
or a subconscious acknowledgement of the reality of Iraq.
Start with the differences. Hungary was oppressed by a foreign occupier; Iraq
by a domestic tyrant. Hungarians asked for foreign assistance (which didn’t
come); Iraqis didn’t. Hungary achieved freedom by its own efforts – briefly in
1956, more durably in 1989; Iraq’s tyrant was overthrown by a foreign
It’s therefore not surprising that the results have been very different.
Hungary after 1989 quickly established a market economy and liberal democracy.
It is now a stable and prosperous member of the EU.
Iraq, three years on, is a mess, with no obvious prospect of improvement. It
may eventually become a normal country (or countries), but an awful price will
have been paid.
There is, however, an analogy as well; not between two oppressors, but
between two invaders. The Soviet invasion of 1956 and the American invasion of
2003 are two of the most egregious breaches of international law in the last
half century. Each deposed an internationally recognised government, and each
was met with popular resistance. No doubt the Americans acted with much more
benign motives, but good intentions should not be allowed to excuse either
lawlessness or stupidity.
It took the Hungarians another 33 years after 1956 to get rid of their
occupiers. Let’s hope Bush doesn’t regard that as a guideline for the American
presence in Iraq.