Appeasing Contest

If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know that the word of the week is “appeasement”. President Bush popped it up in an address to the Knesset, and Barack Obama, waving off his teammates, managed to get himself under it and make the catch. And now Pat Buchanan, who is clearly off his meds, is hollering imprecations from the bleachers.

The underlying issue appears to be whether or not we ought to be having diplomatic talks with folks like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Iran’s proxies in Lebanon and Palestine. Opinions vary, but some have made the not unreasonable observation that to do so might not be the wisest course. After all, we are talking about parties that have openly declared their implacable commitment to our destruction and that of our allies — and it is probably safe to assume that any agreement they might make with us is certain to be violated when it suits their interests, and, furthermore, that no amount of discussion is going to change any of that. So why bother talking to them?

President Bush, showing his customary care with words, referred to such negotiation as “appeasement”. Is it? Well, no, not quite, though it is a precondition of appeasement, and reasonable people might argue that it would go farther than we ought to in dignifying and elevating those who regard, for example, Israel as a “stinking corpse” that will soon be “wiped off the map”.

To appease literally means to “pacify”, and I don’t suppose any of you are foolish enough to imagine that any sort of discussion will pacify, for example, Hezbollah and Hamas. The West’s repeated and emboldening concessions to the Nazis in the 1930’s, however, which culminated in the shameful diplomatic collapse at Munich, lent a somewhat different meaning to the term, to wit: to accede cravenly to a bully’s demands in the hope that in return he will spare you a beating. This is clearly not what any of our current crop of political celebrities is suggesting that we do, but Mr. Obama has gone out of his way to receive President Bush’s remarks as a grave personal insult, and to insist that this is indeed what Mr. Bush implies he is recommending. For all I know, Mr. Obama may be right, though why he should be so bothered by it is more revealing of how thin his own skin is than of any previously unsuspected tactlessness, or sloppiness with language, on the part of Mr. Bush. At the very least it makes it quite plain that Mr. Obama is far more concerned about disparagement of himself than of the nation he seeks to lead.

Meanwhile, Pat Buchanan, who only occasionally has both oars in the water at the same time, has now disgorged an outstandingly loony essay on the matter. In it we learn that Adolf Hitler, far from being the rapacious, genocidal fiend to whose bloodstained ledger history has charged the Holocaust and the subjugation and subsequent destruction of Europe, was actually a pretty reasonable guy who was just looking out for the well-being of his constituents, as any responsible elected official ought to do. In fact, we discover that it was the fault not of the Nazis, but of Poland and Czechoslovakia’s mulish refusal to negotiate the surrender of their territory — and of those silly Brits for having a defense agreement with the Poles — that World War Two and all that other unpleasantness had to happen at all.

You just can’t make this stuff up. Pat Buchanan, on the other hand, can. See for yourself here.

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  1. the one eyed man says

    I think it’s worth pointing out that the arguments you cite against talking to Iran were also used in the cold war regarding Russia and China. Both countries had an “implacable commitment to our destruction and that of our allies:” Kruschev famously said he would “bury us,” and Mao was committed to the destruction of the West. We were told that it would be futile to engage in SALT talks with Russia because they would never abide by a treaty. Both countries were run by ruthless and violent tyrants who subjugated their own people. Unlike Iran, however, both China and Russia had both the military force and the weaponry to destroy us.

    The neocons of that era told us that any dialogue was useless and the only option was military. (Even when Gorbachev ran Russia, Norman Podhoretz wrote an essay saying that Russia was so incorrigible and posed such an imminent threat that the only viable option we had at the time was to attack them with nuclear weapons before they attacked us). Needless to say, they were proved wrong by history. We had a fairly decent relationship with Russia – at least until Putin and his thugs came along – and while our relationship with China is contentious, the issues are economic and diplomatic rather than military. Most importantly, the prospect of war with either country is now virtually unthinkable.

    Diplomacy is the art of combining carrots and sticks to obtain maximum leverage. Neville Chamberlain was all carrot and no stick. Discussion does not equal surrender. Nobody is under any illusion that talking to the mullahs will turn them into freedom-loving Jeffersonians. The hope is that some combination of economic and diplomatic engagement will lead to a less belligerent Iran without nuclear facilities. Even if talks with Iran fail, it will be in our strategic interest to pursue them. If we are ultimately to have Iran join what was once called the fellowship of nations, then it will be because popular dissatisfaction with the mullahs will lead them to be overthrown or replaced. We are currently seen by Iranians as an aggressive country with no interest in Iran or its people with the exception of its oil. If we engage them and we still fail, at least we will be seen in a different light, with Western values as an alternative to their current system.

    Obama was right to howl after Bush spoke, not least because it is political suicide to be defined by Republicans. The notion that talking to Iran equals Neville Chamberlain is ludicrous – even Bush’s Secretaries of Defense and State have acknowledged the obvious truth that no progress will occur until there is dialogue. I suppose that in Bush’s view, Nixon made a big mistake in going to China. Perhaps the reason that Nixon is our second most reviled President – leaving the top spot to Bush – is that at least he had a foreign policy achievement he could point to.

    Posted May 21, 2008 at 10:50 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    Well, I haven’t really taken sides here, Peter — though I am not as sanguine as you about the benefits of discussion with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in my opinion simply cannot be trusted. I also think your opinion that we are seen by all Iranians as simply an aggressor nation with our eye on Iranian oil is far from the mark; it is my understanding, from what I have read and from conversations with Iranians, that while George Bush is not the most popular man in the Mideast, many Iranians were glad to see us take out Saddam, and that among young and more secular types the US is looked upon with considerable favor.

    I generally agree that there’s nothing wrong with speaking to one’s enemy as long as doing so doesn’t provide a diplomatic screen behind which he can buy time and appear more interested in peaceful coexistence than he actually is. Hitler is probably the best example; he would make big speeches about his peaceful intent, and make agreements along the lines of “this is all I ask, I promise — give me this and everything will be hunky-dory” — and all the while he meant nothing of the sort, and was simply preparing to make new demands or land grabs down the road from an always-increasing position of power.

    As for Russia and China, well, when Iran produces a Gorbachev or a Chou En-Lai, by all means let’s chat.

    Posted May 21, 2008 at 11:11 am | Permalink
  3. the one eyed man says

    My guess is that Ahmadinejad is a figurehead, and the real power lies with mullahs behind the throne. Not that he and his statements aren’t reprehensible — only that others pull the strings.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that all Iranians think we are an evil empire — there is huge ambivalence about us, as there are many things about America which the Iranians seem to admire. No doubt many of them are thrilled that we invaded Iraq: we got rid of their largest enemy and boosted their power and influence throughout the region enormously. However, I am sure that pictures of Abu Ghraib, suffering Iraqis, etc. are played as often there as Reverend Wright is seen here on Fox News. (CNN had a report the other day about an American soldier using the Koran as target practice — I shudder to think of how it was reported on Al Jazeera).

    I would expect a significant and immediate change in the Iraqi perception of America if Barack Obama is elected President. Not only because he is a black man with an African name — or even because he is the un-Bush — but (to quote Mark McKinnon, who quit the McCain campaign as their chief advertising strategist yesterday because he wouldn’t work in any campaign against Obama) because his election “would send a great message to the country and the world.”

    Posted May 21, 2008 at 12:03 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    I don’t doubt that an Obama victory would be welcome in many corners of the world. However, as happy as it might make some of our “allies”, I have no doubt that it would be welcomed even more warmly by a great many of our foes. My primary concern is whether it is in our best interests, and about that I haven’t made up my mind.

    Posted May 21, 2008 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  5. Why would enemies of the USA welcome a man who can make us stronger by tendering a human, (rather than a corrupted-corporate)- national image for the world’s people to admire?

    Obama has been a uniter for many folks from many walks of life…Bush has riven our nation apart from the wider world as well as each-other within our social fabric.

    A change in direction seems a good thing to most Americans at this time. Why would it also be welcomed by our enemies?

    Posted May 25, 2008 at 3:22 pm | Permalink
  6. Malcolm says

    Pat, as Louis Armstrong said about jazz, if you have to ask, you ain’t never going to know.

    Posted May 25, 2008 at 3:38 pm | Permalink