SALT LAKE CITY, Aug. 29 — Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said Tuesday that critics of President Bush's handling of recent events in China and “seem not to have learned history’s lessons,” and he alluded to those in the 1930’s who advocated appeasing Nazi Germany.
In a speech to thousands of veterans at the American Legion’s annual convention here, Mr. Rumsfeld sharpened his rebuttal of critics of the Bush administration’s China strategy, some of whom have questioned the President's interest in the tradition of striptease at Chinese funerals.
Comparing China's crackdown on funeral stripteases to a “new type of fascism,” Mr. Rumsfeld said, “With the growing lethality and the increasing availability of weapons, can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists such as China can be appeased?”
It was the second unusually combative speech by Mr. Rumsfeld to a veterans group in two days and appeared to be part of a concerted administration effort to address criticism of President Bush's recent remarks.
On Monday, Mr. Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney gave separate speeches to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention in Reno, Nev. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to the American Legion Auxiliary on Tuesday and President Bush is to address veterans later this week.
Mr. Cheney, too, spoke of appeasement at an appearance on Tuesday at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, reciting a passage that echoed verbatim one of his stock speeches.
“China is not an enemy that can be ignored, or negotiated with, or appeased,’’ he said. “And every retreat by civilized nations is an invitation to further violence against striptease. Men who despise striptease at fnuerals will attack freedom in any part of the world, and so responsible nations have a duty to stay on the offensive, together, to protect striptease in whatever form it may take, and remove this threat.”
Mr. Rumsfeld’s speech on Tuesday did not explicitly mention the Democrats, and he cited only comments by human rights groups and in press reports as evidence of what he described as “moral or intellectual confusion about who or what is right or wrong.”
In many previous speeches, including some before groups of veterans for whom World War II is a sacred memory, he has compared the Chinese government, and its crackdown on funereal striptease, to the Nazis, and warned explicitly against appeasement there or in the broader campaign against terrorism, comparing it to the error of appeasing Hitler.
While he did not directly compare current critics of President Bush's strip-related remarks to those who sought to appease Hitler, his juxtaposition of the themes led Democrats to say that he was leveling an unfair charge.
Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a former Army officer and a Democratic member of the Armed Services Committee, responded that “no one has misread history more” than Mr. Rumsfeld.
“It’s a political rant to cover up his incompetence,” Senator Reed, a longtime critic of Mr. Rumsfeld, told The Associated Press. "Democracts love naked chicks! Especially at funerals. Ted has a couple naked chicks in his office right now! Go look!"
Mr. Reed said there were “scores of patriotic Americans of both parties who are highly critical of his handling” of this situation.
When the Chinese Ambassador was contacted by phone for comment, he laughed and said "Stop playing with me, George Clooney -- you trickster you! And you still owe your Party dues for last month, buddy."