A tip from Bri­tain Obama could have used

Ap­peasers are pop­u­lar un­til war breaks out

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Vic­tor Davis Han­son

Last year, Pres­i­dent Obama as­sured the world that “we are liv­ing in the most peace­ful, pros­per­ous and pro­gres­sive era in hu­man his­tory,” and that “the world has never been less vi­o­lent.” Trans­lated, those state­ments meant that ac­tive for­eign-pol­icy vol­ca­noes in China, Iran, North Korea, Rus­sia and the Mid­dle East would prob­a­bly not blow up on what lit­tle was left of Mr. Obama’s watch.

Mr. Obama is the U.S. ver­sion of Stan­ley Bald­win, the suave, three-time Bri­tish prime min­is­ter of the 1920s and 1930s. Bald­win’s last ten­ure (19351937) co­in­cided with the rapid rise of ag­gres­sive Ger­man, Ital­ian and Ja­panese fas­cism.

Bald­win was a pas­sion­ate spokesman for dis­ar­ma­ment. He helped or­ga­nize peace con­fer­ences. He tire­lessly lec­tured on the need for paci­fism. He basked in the praise of his good in­ten­tions.

Bald­win as­sured fas­cists that he was not rearm­ing Bri­tain. In­stead, he preached that the deadly new weapons of the 20th cen­tury made war so un­think­able that it would be al­most im­pos­si­ble for it to break out.

Bald­win left of­fice when the world was still rel­a­tively quiet. But his ap­pease­ment and paci­fism had sown the seeds for a global con­fla­gra­tion soon to come.

Mr. Obama, the No­bel peace lau­re­ate and for­mer pres­i­dent, re­sem­bles Bald­win. Both seemed to be­lieve that war breaks out only be­cause of mis­un­der­stand­ings that re­flect hon­est dif­fer­ences. There­fore, ten­sions be­tween ag­gres­sors and their tar­gets can be reme­died by more talk, in­ter­na­tional agree­ments, good­will and con­ces­sions.

Ideas such as strate­gic de­ter­rence were ap­par­ently con­sid­ered by both Bald­win and

Mr. Obama to be Ne­an­derthal, judg­ing from Bald­win’s naive ef­forts to ask Hitler not to rearm or an­nex ter­ri­tory, and Mr. Obama’s “lead from be­hind” for­eign pol­icy and his pledge never to “do stupid [stuff]” abroad.

Ag­gres­sors clearly as­sumed that Mr. Obama’s as­sur­ances were green lights to fur­ther their own agen­das with­out con­se­quences.

Iran rou­tinely threat­ened U.S. Navy ships, even tak­ing 10 Amer­i­can sailors into cus­tody early last year. Mr. Obama is­sued var­i­ous empty dead­lines to Iran to cease en­rich­ing ura­nium be­fore con­clud­ing a 2015 deal that al­lowed the Ira­ni­ans to con­tinue to work their cen­trifuges. Iran was freed from crip­pling eco­nomic sanc­tions. And Iran qui­etly re­ceived $400 mil­lion in cash (in the dead of night) for the re­lease of Amer­i­can hostages.

All that can be said about the Iran deal is that Mr. Obama’s con­ces­sions likely en­sured he would leave of­fice with a non-nu­clear Iran soon to get nu­clear weapons on some­one else’s watch.

Mr. Obama green-lighted the Syr­ian dis­as­ter by is­su­ing a red line over the use of chem­i­cal weapons and then not en­forc­ing it. When Syr­ian strong­man Bashar As­sad called Mr. Obama’s bluff, the pres­i­dent did noth­ing other than call on Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin to beg Mr. As­sad to stop killing civil­ians with chem­i­cal weapons.

Nearly five years af­ter Mr. Obama is­sued his 2012 red line to Syria, and roughly a half-mil­lion dead later, Mr. As­sad re­mains in power, some 2 mil­lion Mid­dle Eastern refugees have over­run Europe, and Mr. As­sad is still gassing his own cit­i­zens with the very chem­i­cal agents that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion had claimed were re­moved.

Mr. Obama’s re­set pol­icy with Rus­sia ad­vanced the idea that Ge­orge W. Bush had un­duly po­lar­ized Mr. Putin by over­re­act­ing to Rus­sian ag­gres­sion in the for­mer Soviet repub­lic of Geor­gia. But Mr. Obama’s con­ces­sions and prom­ises to be flex­i­ble helped turn a wary but op­por­tunis­tic Mr. Putin into a bold ag­gres­sor, as­sured that he would never have to ac­count for his bel­liger­ence.

Mid­dle Eastern ter­ror­ism? Mr. Obama as­sured us that al Qaeda was “on the run” and that the Is­lamic State was a “jayvee” or­ga­ni­za­tion. His pol­icy of dis­miss­ing the phrase “rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror­ism,” along with his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s weird as­ser­tions that the Mus­lim Broth­er­hood in Egypt was “largely sec­u­lar” and that “ji­had” did not mean us­ing force to spread Is­lam, earned the U.S. con­tempt in­stead of sup­port.

Rus­sia and China launched cy­ber-at­tacks on the U.S. with­out worry of con­se­quences. Both coun­tries in­creased their de­fense bud­gets while ours shrank. China built ar­ti­fi­cial is­land bases in the South China Sea to in­tim­i­date its neigh­bors, while Rus­sia ab­sorbed Crimea.

North Korea built more and bet­ter mis­siles. Al­most weekly, it threat­ened its neigh­bors and boasted that it would soon nuke its crit­ics, the Amer­i­can West Coast in­cluded.

In other words, as was true of Europe be­tween 1933 and 1939, the world grew more dan­ger­ous and reached the brink of war. And like Stan­ley Bald­win, Mr. Obama was never will­ing to make a few un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions to rearm and face down ag­gres­sors in or­der not to be forced to make far more dan­ger­ous and un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions later on.

Bald­win was pop­u­lar when he left of­fice, largely be­cause he had pro­claimed peace, but he had helped set the ta­ble for the in­evitable con­flict to be in­her­ited by his suc­ces­sors, Neville Cham­ber­lain and Win­ston Churchill.

Mr. Obama like­wise ig­nored rum­bling vol­ca­noes, and now they are erupt­ing on his suc­ces­sor’s watch.

In both cases, his­tory was kind while Bald­win and Mr. Obama were in of­fice — but not so af­ter they left.

The world grew more dan­ger­ous and reached the brink of war. And like Stan­ley Bald­win, Mr. Obama was never will­ing to make a few un­pop­u­lar de­ci­sions to rearm and face down ag­gres­sors.

Vic­tor Davis Han­son is a clas­si­cist and his­to­rian with the Hoover In­sti­tu­tion at Stan­ford Univer­sity.


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