The deadly peril in ap­pease­ment

When in history has a despot ever been per­ma­nently con­cil­i­ated?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - By Clifford D. May

ppease­ment” gets a bad rap but, strictly speak­ing, the word im­plies noth­ing more than an at­tempt to make peace. If ag­grieved ad­ver­saries can be paci­fied by rea­son­able con­ces­sions, what’s wrong with that?

Of course, when most of us talk about ap­pease­ment, we have in mind the pol­icy of Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Neville Cham­ber­lain who, in 1938, went to Mu­nich in the hope of ap­peas­ing Ger­many and thereby achiev­ing “peace for our time.” Win­ston Churchill fa­mously ad­mon­ished and pre­dicted: “You were given the choice be­tween war and dis­honor. You chose dis­honor and you will have war.”

It’s only fair to make two points in Cham­ber­lain’s de­fense. First, he did not orig­i­nate the pol­icy of ap­pease­ment. Start­ing in the 1920s, many in Bri­tain be­lieved that too much blame for the Great War had been heaped on Ger­many’s shoul­ders and that the Treaty of Ver­sailles was un­just. Given that premise, the pos­si­bil­ity that ap­pease­ment might lead to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion was hardly base­less. In “The Roots of Ap­pease­ment,” the great his­to­rian Sir Martin Gil­bert de­scribed this ef­fort as, ini­tially at least, “a noble idea, rooted in Chris­tian­ity, courage and com­mon sense.”

Sec­ond, through­out the 1930s, war-weary Bri­tons al­lowed their mar­tial vigor to di­min­ish even as Ger­many was ag­gres­sively re-build­ing its mil­i­tary mus­cles. Churchill rec­og­nized how reck­less this was but his ar­gu­ments proved un­per­sua­sive, in part be­cause his op­po­nents branded him a “war­mon­ger.” The re­sult was that by the time of the Mu­nich meet­ing, Cham­ber­lain could not cred­i­bly threaten to use force to stop Ger­many from march­ing into the Sude­ten­land or any­where else on the con­ti­nent.

So is ap­pease­ment a good pol­icy or a bad pol­icy? I would ar­gue that it is, at best, a de­lay­ing tac­tic. “An ap­peaser,” Churchill also ob­served, “is one who feeds a crocodile, hop­ing it will eat him last.” But when in history has a tyrant or an em­pire builder ever been per­ma­nently con­cil­i­ated?

I sus­pect you know where I’m head­ing. For six and half years, Pres­i­dent Obama has reached out to Amer­ica’s clench-fisted ad­ver­saries and en­e­mies. Dur­ing his first months in of­fice, he at­tempted to “re­set” re­la­tions with Rus­sia. To demon­strate his com­mit­ment, he can­celled the mis­sile shield the United States had promised to in­stall in Poland and the Czech Re­pub­lic. We now know that Mr. Putin was not pro­pi­ti­ated. What we don’t know is how far Mr. Putin will go — and into which neigh­bor­ing coun­tries in ad­di­tion to Ukraine and Ge­or­gia.

The fol­low­ing year, Pres­i­dent Obama turned a blind eye to the Green Revo­lu­tion against Iran’s theocrats. Sim­i­larly, in 2011, he de­clined to sup­port peace­ful dis­sent against Syr­ian dic­ta­tor Bashar al-As­sad. Next, he de­clined to sup­port the sec­u­lar op­po­si­tion that co­a­lesced in re­sponse to the As­sad regime’s bru­tal re­pres­sion of that dis­sent. This was a gift not just to Mr. As­sad but also to his pa­trons, Rus­sia and Iran.

This year, the pres­i­dent reestab­lished diplo­matic re­la­tions with the Cas­tro regime in Cuba and promised to re­store trade re­la­tions — con­ces­sions that have so far gone un­re­cip­ro­cated. Cy­ber at­tacks by China and North Korea have not been re­warded but nei­ther have they pro­voked se­ri­ous con­se­quences.

As for the deal Mr. Obama has ne­go­ti­ated with Iran, it will en­rich and em­power the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic’s rulers. In ex­change, they are promis­ing to de­lay a nu­clear weapons pro­gram they claim has never ex­isted.

It’s only fair to point out that these poli­cies are less a de­par­ture from the past than the ex­ten­sion of a long-de­vel­op­ing ten­dency. Pres­i­dent Rea­gan did not seek to ap­pease the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic but nei­ther did he make Iran’s rulers pay a steep price for the in­va­sion and oc­cu­pa­tion of the U.S. em­bassy and the de­ten­tion and tor­ture of Amer­i­can hostages. He re­sponded feck­lessly to the 1983 slaugh­ter of 241 Amer­i­can ser­vice mem­bers in Beirut as well as other atroc­i­ties di­rected against Amer­i­cans by Hezbol­lah, Iran’s proxy in Le­banon.

Pres­i­dent Clin­ton did noth­ing about the 1996 Kho­bar Tow­ers at­tack that killed 19 U.S. ser­vice­men, an act of war “planned, funded, and spon­sored by se­nior lead­er­ship in the gov­ern­ment of the Is­lamic Re­pub­lic of Iran,” ac­cord­ing to a fed­eral court rul­ing in 2006.

This up­date: Last week, the Saudis re­port­edly cap­tured the re­puted mas­ter­mind of that at­tack, Ahmed al-Mughas­sil, a se­nior leader of another Ira­nian-backed ter­ror­ist group, Hezbol­lah al-Hi­jaz (the Hi­jaz is a re­gion of Ara­bia). He had been liv­ing in Beirut un­der the pro­tec­tion of Le­banese Hezbol­lah.

It’s worth not­ing that the fam­i­lies of Kho­bar Tower vic­tims have never re­ceived com­pen­sa­tion. In­stead, un­der the Iran agree­ment, bil­lions of dol­lars will be re­leased to the rulers re­spon­si­ble for the slaugh­ter.

Those who or­ches­trated Iran’s at­tempt to blow up the Cafe Mi­lano in Georgetown in 2011 have got­ten away with it, too. Two years ago, Mannsor Arbab­siar, an Ira­nian Amer­i­can, was sen­tenced to 25 years in prison for his role but, ac­cord­ing to pros­e­cu­tors, he had been re­cruited by a se­nior of­fi­cial in Iran’s Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard Corps, the most pow­er­ful or­ga­ni­za­tion in Iran.

There have been a few ex­cep­tions to this trend. In ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Sovi­ets, Pres­i­dent Rea­gan re­ally did pre­fer no deals to bad deals. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush forced Sad­dam Hus­sein to dis­gorge Kuwait. Pres­i­dent Clin­ton used air power to save Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties in the Balkans. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush top­pled the Sad­dam regime and, even­tu­ally, found a gen­eral ca­pa­ble of de­feat­ing both al Qaeda in Iraq and Ira­ni­an­backed Shia mili­tias. Pres­i­dent Obama backed rebels fight­ing Libyan dic­ta­tor Moam­mar Gad­hafi.

From all these ex­pe­ri­ences, lessons can be learned. Not among them: that there’s no vi­able al­ter­na­tive to ap­pease­ment and that ap­pease­ment should there­fore be en­shrined as Amer­ica’s de­fault pol­icy in a world where free peo­ples are, in­creas­ingly, an en­dan­gered species. Clifford D. May is pres­i­dent of the Foun­da­tion for De­fense of Democ­ra­cies and a colum­nist for The Washington Times.


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