Appeasement, Diplomacy, and War



I read a recent piece on Vox about the right-wing obsession with Neville Chamberlain (who was, by the way, a member of the U.K.’s Conservative Party) and the way he made a deal with Adolf Hitler so Germany could, according to the author Katy Lee, “take over part of Czechoslovakia if he promised not to seize any more European territories. Chamberlain declared he had achieved “peace in our time.”  [One correction: Chamberlain actually uttered the words “Peace for our time” in his speech after the Munich agreement with Germany — and he was quoting Benjamin Disraeli].  Of course, Hitler broke his agreement and bombed Poland — which forced Britain into war with Germany.

Now, the article makes some good points about the way many on the right often evoke the term “appeasement” when say a President, who happens to be a Democrat, uses diplomacy and not war to achieve political goals with enemies. “Appeasement” has been used regularly used since the end of the Second World War to tar and feather moderates and progressives who seek diplomatic solutions to foreign policy political crises (Truman feared a less than hawkish stance against the Soviets would be viewed as appeasement, and Johnson had the same concerns over U.S. involvement in Vietnam).  The latest round of “appeasement” finger-pointing comes out of the six-nation framework to contain Iran’s nuclear program for military use. The reaction from conservatives (and some Democrats) has been to disrupt, deep-six, and destroy any kind of diplomatic path to ratcheting down the drumbeat to war with Iran over their nuclear program. The letter from Republican senators addressed to Iran telling them not to accept the framework for an agreement, coupled with the invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address influence Congress on Iran without notifying the White House is, according to some, treason — or something very close to it.  Yes, Congress is one branch of the government, but the Executive Branch is in charge of diplomacy and foreign affairs. Congress may have a role in the “advice and consent” department, but only when an agreement (or even a framework) is achieved — which is why you now have the Corker-Menendez bill requiring the Iranian government to show “whether Iran directly supported, financed, planned, or carried out an act of terrorism against the United States or a United States person anywhere in the world.” Now, the P5 + 1 deal is about containing Iran weaponizing nuclear material.  That’s the deal.  What’s not in the deal is any mention of state-sponsored terrorism.  So, these extra points are, as some have described, a “poison pill” to the bill designed to scuttle the framework –something Republicans, Netanyahu, and even a couple of Democrats seem to want.

Actions like this (i.e., trying to thwart a diplomatic solution to a possible war) have the smell of  the early part of the “Reagan Revolution,” where some hard-line conservatives went behind the back of a sitting president (Jimmy Carter) to strike a deal with hard liners in Iran to hold back the release of the hostages in 1980, and then, a few years later, went around laws enacted by Congress to sell Iran missiles and funnel some of the money from the sale to Nicaragua to arm a guerrilla group trying to violently overthrow the government. Both times, members of the GOP negotiated with Iran (an enemy of the U.S.) by making secret and illegal deals for their political aims. Is that treason?  Well, no lawsuits ever established if these acts were or weren’t treasonous because 1. The secret deal with Iran over the hostages lost its star witness on the eve of his testimony.  2. Key information about the Iran-Contra deal was destroyed.

Now that Barack Obama is President and trying to use a non-military method with P5 + 1 powers (i.e., UK, France, Russia, China, European Union, and Germany) to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, the right-wing in the U.S. and Israel have gone into overdrive to sink the deal. It’s clear what the right wants: war. War is the key to gaining and maintaining power and keeping the status quo, the status quo.

And as is clear in this day in age, the culture of bellicosity is a hallmark the right in the media, domestic politics, and foreign affairs.  Not a day goes by where there isn’t screaming and shouting about appeasement, Marxism, class warfare, reverse discrimination, guns, persecution of Christians, gays, democracy, blacks, Islam, abortion and, well, I could go on.  Suffice it to say that I’ve highlighted a rolling list of the “Big Bad of the Week” that is supposed to shock and scare us into wanting more security in the name of liberty. The sad part is that many of us fall for these tried and true (or maybe tired but, sadly, true) methods of propaganda. In short, Fear, anger, shock, and outrage — these are our Four Horsemen that keep us in an apocalyptic state of mind. Katy Lee, the writer of the Vox piece I linked to,  more than alluded to this in the conclusion of her article when she wrote:

…[T]he point is that for many Americans, the lesson was that foreign threats can never be managed or contained, but can only be defeated outright — and that failing to do so will only make the problem worse. If this seems bizarre to non-Americans — and believe me, it does to Brits — that’s because just about every other country had to learn how to cope with geopolitical adversaries through means other than vanquishing them outright. That is not something the US has really developed a familiarity with. It’s great to have strength and resolve, but when this is the only tool in your toolbox, that lack of flexibility can become a weakness, as well.

I generally agree with her, but she’s not entirely correct on containment — which was one plank of American foreign policy during the Cold War with the Soviet Union.  George Kennan’s article in Foreign Affairs in 1947 framed what containment meant, though it was interpreted to mean other things depending on which administration was in power at the time.  But nevertheless, the U.S. has been able to cope with geopolitical adversaries in the past (and present).  The saber-rattling and march to war in the waning years of the 20th and early parts of the 21st Centuries have been products of a particular kind of ideology that sees diplomacy in terms of non-negotiable demands, war as the preferred method of solving world problems, and change as something to be feared.

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