Like many in Britain who had lived through World War One, Chamberlain was determined to avert another war. His policy of appeasement towards Adolf Hitler culminated in the Munich Agreement in which Britain and France accepted that the Czech region of the Sudetenland should be ceded to Germany. Chamberlain left Munich believing that by appeasing Hitler he had assured 'peace for our time'. However, in March 1939 Hitler annexed the rest of the Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia, with Slovakia becoming a puppet state of Germany. Five months later in September 1939 Hitler's forces invaded Poland. Chamberlain responded with a British declaration of war on Germany.
In his speech to the Knesset, President Bush warned against a policy of appeasement vis-a-vis the rogue regimes of Iran and Syria. Senator Obama immediately responded by taking personal offense
. The usual, all too leftist media pundits came out in full sarcasm jackets to excoriate Bush and defend the putative target of Bush's criticism. Chris Matthews of MSNBC
not least of them:
"What did Neville Chamberlain do wrong in 1939?" (This was later corrected to 1938.)
"It all goes back to appeasement," James said.
"You have to answer this question," Matthews insisted, losing patience. "What did he do?"
James was unable to explain.
"You're making a reference to the days before our involvement in World War II when the war in Europe began," Matthews explained, before continuing his demand for an answer: "I want you to tell me now, as an expert: What did Chamberlain do wrong?"
James continued to dodge the question, simply calling Chamberlain an "appeaser."
Matthews charged: "Your problem, Kevin, is--you don't know what you're talking about. And you don't understand that there's a difference between talking to the enemy and appeasing."
The statement highlighted in red more or less covers the gist of Obama's defense of his proposed plans: I'm only going to talk to them. What can be the harm in that?
It's really not such a clear policy outline. What can be the point of speaking to a regime that has openly expressed genocidal intentions about another nation?
It's not the "simply talking" that invokes the menace of Chamberlain's policies.
A "policy" is very much like a decision or a set of decisions
... a policy is not itself a statement, nor is it only a set of actions,
... we can infer what a person's ... policy is either from the statement he makes about it, or, if he makes no statement or we don't believe his statement from the way he acts.
... The term policy usually implies some long-term purpose in a broad subject field... In the sphere of government development activities, governments have policies, plans, programmes and projects, each of these in succession being a little more short-term, more specific in place and timing than the previous and each successively more executive ...
... we can provisionally define a policy as a set of decisions which are oriented towards a long-term purpose or to a particular problem.
IV: Speaking to the enemy is not, in and of itself, a policy. It is one action, in a succession of actions, which are fitted into an over whole vision of a solution to a problem. So Obama is technically correct in asserting that his willingness to speak to Ahmadinejad is, in and of itself, not an act of appeasement. Nor is it a policy.
But the unease with his declared intentions lies in the absence of a clearly-articulated and visible policy in which his decision and following action to speak to Ahmadi would make sense.
What is he looking to achieve by these conversations? A public relation opportunity? Cancellation of Iran's nuclear ambitions? Reconciliation with Israel's existence?
But all these have already been tried, as Ami Isseroff notes, here:
Supporters of "engagement" should take note: The EU has been talking to Iran about its nuclear program for many years, but has made no progress whatever. The US is a tacit party to these negotiations and Iran knows it. For them, negotiations are only about accepting their terms. The US has been talking to Iran about its interference in Iraq and has made no progress... So what is there to talk about with them?
What is Obama's larger, greater vision, of which his act, of speaking to Ahmadinejad, is but the first step?
We don't know. We don't have any idea how he will proceed from the moment (sure to come) when he finds out that for the Iranians, "negotiations are only about accepting their terms".
When Chamberlain decided to speak to Hitler, he was doing only that, speaking to Hitler. Speaking to Hitler in and of itself was not appeasement. The successive negotiations that took place, once this initial conversation took place, culminated in the notorious agreement of 1938 "Peace in our time".
So, when you consent to sup with the devil, you need to have a very long term clear vision of what to expect. This vision is absent in Obama's proposed "policies". They are not "policies" at all. Unless he conceals something which I find hard to believe. He has a very open and candid demeanour.