Monday, March 23, 2009
Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines appeasement as "to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions usually at the sacrifice of principles."
The cries of appeasement from hard-core right wingers over President Obama's olive branch to Iran this past week are unjust, misguided, myopic and just plain foolish.
Let's take a step back for a quick moment for a little historical context. The political figure whose name is most synonymous with appeasement is former British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain (1937-1940), in particular for signing the Munich Agreement in September 1938, allowing Adolph Hitler's Germany to annex the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. The co-signers were Germany, France and Italy. The cowardly treaty, which unofficially became known as the Munich Dictate or Munich Betrayal, made everyone happy of course except the Czechs, and it also infuriated Hitler, who felt pressured into participating in the sort of bourgeois diplomatic ritual he utterly despised. He held Chamberlain in contempt as a result. Appeasement didn't stop Hitler. In March 1939 Germany invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia and began its march across Europe. It began its Blitz of England in September 1940. Chamberlain and "appeasement" are infamously and inextricably tied forever.
To draw parallels between Chamberlain's foreign policy failures and Obama's attempt to engage our enemies is patently unfair and irresponsible. To understand why, it's critical to have some modern context. We've just been through eight years of disengagement by the Bush administration. We had a reckless, testosterone-starved Jesus-driven cowboy march into the White House declaring Iran, North Korea and Iraq the "Axis of Evil". From virtually the get-go, Bush's foreign policy strategy could be summed up in just a few short words: U.S. good, everyone else bad, enemies really bad. Therefore, you don't talk with your enemies, you don't negotiate with your enemies, you don't enjoin your enemies. Instead, you antagonize your enemies, you motivate and inspire your enemies, and you embolden and strengthen your enemies through big-stick rhetoric and cowboy swagger. Oh, and you bomb the shit out of them for no justifiable reason (that would be Iraq for those of you who are having trouble following this lefty diatribe). And in the process you damn-near alienate every one of your allies and severely tarnish America's reputation for diplomatic greatness. Might even say you make America hated throughout the world.
So it's no shocker that perhaps it's time for a new strategy. A policy of engagement, whereby the united States uses its diplomatic powers and not just its military muscle. A foreign policy centered on the negotiating table and not some arrogant frat-boy's bully-pulpit. Thankfully, we now have a president who gets it. A president more interested in world peace than proving to his daddy that he's not the colossal fuck-up he always thought, or that the history books will soon surely prove.
What Obama did last week was brilliant. All of it. From going on the Jay Leno program and speaking directly to the American people (pissing off the mainstream media, which tends not to like being marginalized or circumvented) to addressing the Iranian people who, by the way, are 70% under the age of 30 and are much more Westernized than you would think. Obama bypassed Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah Komenei much in the same way he did his end-run around the American press. Oh this Obama guy's smart, alright. He didn't beat the Clinton machine and become the country's first black president, at 46, because he lacks vision.
And that vision says, let's talk to the enemy. Let's engage them. Let's bring pressure on their governments by opening a dialogue directly with their people. Let's negotiate, but let's not forget our goal of protecting America, nor our unyielding commitment to use force when all else fails.
As John F. Kennedy famously said, "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." Amen.