06/28/2006 07:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bush's Baghdad is no Budapest

It's been fifty years since Hungarians took to the streets of Budapest in an attempt to overthrow the communist government. Moscow sent in tanks and troops and crushed the rebellion. Washington watched. It was the middle of the cold war and the two superpowers had already agreed on how they were going to carve up post-World War II Europe. Hungary went to the Red Army.

Hungarians then cleverly created goulash communism: a coming to terms temporarily with the realpolitik of Soviet domination in a manner that allowed for freedoms and productivity unheard of in the rest of the Soviet bloc. Fast forward to the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and remember that it was the Hungarians who opened the sieve to allow East Germans to move to western Europe in their clattering Trabbies - a decision that led directly to the opening of the Wall. After that the dominoes fell fast and Soviet troops finally went home from the Warsaw Pact nations, Hungary included.

That history bears zero comparison to the debacle President Bush created in Iraq with his invasion and attempt at occupation, a debacle that gets worse day by day. Imagine the audacity of Bush standing at the Buda Castle and lecturing Hungarians that they would, as he put it, recognize the spirit of democracy in the Baghdad he visited last week.

Recognize democracy in the Baghdad he visited? He was spirited into the hyper-secure Green Zone secretly and spent a few heavily-guarded hours with a hand-picked audience. What the Hungarians would more likely recognize would be memories of similar visits from Moscow after 1956.

Hungarians have long memories of what they suffered (as my cousins living in Budapest have taught me over the years I've visited there before and after their recent bloodless revolution). President Lazlo Solyom made that clear when he lectured back at Bush about the abuses at Guantánamo: "This fight against terrorism can be successful only if every step and measure taken are in line with international law."

Instead of misreading history during his European drive-by, President Bush should go directly to Ft. Lewis, Washington and sit down with Lt. Watada, the first officer to refuse to deploy to the Iraq War on the grounds it is illegal and immoral. The commander-in-chief should ask this brave and honorable officer why he is risking his freedom and his career by disobeying orders. He might learn something from such a conversation to prevent him from making ludicrous comparisons regarding Budapest and Baghdad in the future.