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Profiles in Self-absorption

Two new books paint damning pictures of administrations loyal only to themselves.

11:00 PM, Nov 25, 2003 • By HUGH HEWITT
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SOME BOOKS should be read in tandem. One pair for parallel reading: William Manchester's second volume in his life of Churchill, "Alone," and Rich Lowry's fine new effort: "Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years."

Manchester's book chronicles the wilderness years of the greatest man of the 20th century, and it is thus obliged to follow the doings of the not-so-great men who held power in Britain through most of the '30s, including Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain. Here is one small episode from those dreary years:

Meeting in executive session, the cabinet in early 1934 had decided to sell 118 Rolls-Royce Merlin engines to the German government. Chamberlain had declared that approval of the sale was a matter of principle; trade, like religion, should recognize no frontiers. The engines, he said, had been designed for civilian use, and he refused to yield ground when an Air Ministry minute pointed out that they could also "be used in small fighter planes." When word of this transaction first reached Churchill, he dismissed it as preposterous; but then the actual bill of lading arrived in a plain envelope. Immediately he proposed a total ban on aircraft deliveries abroad. The Royal Air Force needed every plane it could get, he said, and none should be sold to any other country--certainly not to Nazi Germany. Chamberlain, speaking for the cabinet, rejected his proposal because the trade policy of His Majesty's Government required that "deficiencies in the Defence Forces should be made up with the least possible interference with the export trade."

Compare that passage with Lowry's account of Clinton-era export of defense technology:

[Hughes Electronics chairman C. Michael Armstrong] could only be delighted when Clinton decided to hand licensing for commercial satellite launches to the export-friendly Commerce Department in 1996, and otherwise eased the way for satellite makers to do business with China. Bernard Schwartz, the chairman of another satellite maker, Loral Space & Communications, felt the same way. He was the biggest contributor to Clinton's campaign in 1996, and the biggest contributor to the Democrats in the 1998 midterm elections, giving $1.1 million to the Democratic Party between 1992 and 1998.

Business considerations also drove the administration's decontrols on the export of supercomputers which are extremely important in producing ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. In 1996, the administration began drastically increasing the power of computers that could be exported to China and Russia without a government-approved license, and Chinese and Russian military entities reaped a computing windfall.

Silicon Valley loved it. In the run-up to the 2000 election cycle, it favored the Democrats over the Republicans and was the fourth largest industry contributor to the Democratic National Committee.

The blindness to the mortal threats to England displayed by the Baldwin-Chamberlain administrations is unbelievable at this distance. How could they have not seen trouble coming?

The very same question will dog Clinton and his advisers in the coming years. Lowry's book gives a start to the necessary but unpleasant task of asking what was Clinton thinking? Manchester gives the answer to that question in regard to Baldwin and Chamberlain: Always and everywhere--themselves.

Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show, a nationally syndicated radio talkshow, and a contributing writer to The Daily Standard. His new book, In, But Not Of, has just been published by Thomas Nelson.