Monday, May 19, 2008

Hot Bush "Injection": A Brief History of Appeasement--What It Is, And What It Is Not

It was this morning, while on the elliptical machine, that I heard the 20th (when I began counting) reference to Bush having "injected" foreign policy, via his raising of "appeasement" before the Knesset, into the Democratic campaign debate.

Aside from the fact that a Bush injection would likely require more investigation from the FDA and CDC than vaccinations laced with 50% thimerosal, the discussion, which has shown surprising legs, has revealed a remarkable lack of basic knowledge about the distinctions between negotiation (e.g. Nixon's intervention with what was, at the time, a rogue Chinese state, which largely prevented conflict and helped to usher China into the family of nations) and appeasement--ranging from the Kevin James school of international policy negotiation based upon an utter lack of knowledge, to more informed but still significantly incomplete or incorrect understandings of appeasement as it has been used in this context.

Therefore, I provide you with a brief, fully accurate history of the "appeasement" that has been raised in these debates, so that those who wish to use actual fact in advancing their arguments can do so (For those who wish to continue to rely on insinuation, distortion, or the ritual, repetitive, seemingly talismanic use of the cry "He's an appeaser! You know! Like Munich! Like Chamberlain!" without knowing what this actually means, please proceed to Remedial History, room 101B. No gum).

The Munich Agreement:

The Brief Pre-History of Munich:

Hitler, levered into power in January of 1933 (ironically after the Nazi's first significant national election outcome decrease in 1932, after which they very well may have faded into their earlier insignificance) through the dramatic miscalculations of former Chancellor Von Papen (who, in his proposed role as Vice-Chancellor, hoped to be the "power behind the throne", and to return to the Chancellorship) and prominent Nationalist Alfred Hugenberg, among others to isolate and co-opt Hitler in a cabinet of Conservative Nationalists ("We've hired him"--Von Papen; "We've boxed him in"-Hugenberg), who persuaded the reluctant, aging President Hindenberg to accept this agreement, soon gained primacy and control over the cabinet, government, and increasingly the nation, through a series of questionable legislative (e.g. "The Enabling Act") and viciously revolutionary and counter-revolutionary (i.e., the elimination of other political parties, the Rohm Purge, brutal and cynical anti-Semitic actions by the SA, the Gleischaltung or "Coordination" of virtually all German organizations and press in 1934) actions.

After gaining such control, and with an autarkic economy that, from the start, invested huge sums in rearmament, Hitler brought the German military into coordination as well, under the aegis of the compliant General Blomberg, and with a shared mission of challenging the restraints placed upon German armament under the Versailles Treaty which followed World War I (Hitler's railing against this treaty had been a key element in the rise of the Nazis to power, particularly in the most dire economic phases of the Weimar Republic). In a series of shocking and escalating violations of this treaty, Germany announced the reestablishment of the German Air Force (1935), the reoccupation of the Rhineland (1936) and the Anschluss of Austria (1937); Hitler began an express drive for expansion conveyed as a correction of the Versailles Treaty, but in fact a clearly stated intent to increase the "living space" (Lebensraum) of Germany, and to attain hegemony in Europe (and, eventually, beyond).

In 1938, under the pretext of incorporating the Sudeten Germans who lived in Czechoslovakia (and utilizing Czech Nazi sympathizers to provoke manufactured "incidents" among this group), Hitler continued this expansionist drive by threatening, beginning in the famous "Weekend Crisis" of May 20-22, 1938, to attack Czechoslovakia on behalf of the Sudetens. Months of anti-Czech propaganda created by the Goebbels-controlled ministry continued through June, July and August. Following a vicious tirade at the conclusion of the Party Congress against the Czechs on Sept. 12, Hitler threatened action if the "issues" regarding the Sudetenland were not resolved. This provoked a wave of fear and disturbance across France and the Sudetenland.

As a result, on September 15, Neville Chamberlain flew to Munich to meet with Hitler. Hitler, in this first meeting, presented Chamberlain with an apparent fait accompli, stating that he would settle the matter himself "one way or another", clearly implying force. Chamberlain met this with the remark that under such conditions, there was no further point in talking--after which, Hitler tactically receded and stated that if the question of incorporation of the Sudetenland was open, discussions should continue. Hitler's ultimate goal here was to use the tactic of Sudeten independence to force Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudeten potion of its nation to Germany, claiming that "we want no Czechs"--e.g., the remaining part of the country--and that without such an incorporation, he would attack--thus unleashing the protective guarantees of France to Czechoslovakia, and thereby, a second World War.

Under such pressure, France and Britain placed weight on Czechoslovakia to cede the Sudetenland. Hitler, Mussolini, Chamberlain and Daladier (the French premier) provided the basis for the Munich Agreement--which indeed carved off the Sudetenland, leading to Chamberlain's notorious statement of "peace in our time"--set along side Goebbels statement that "We have achieved everything we wanted according to the small plan, while the big plan is...for the moment, not realizable".

Hitler, in fact, intended to incorporate the rest of Czechoslovakia--and was described as disappointed that the agreement had denied him the opportunity for a war against the Czechs that would allow him this full territorial conquest in a single step. In March of 1939, following a similar propaganda barrage regarding Slovakian nationalist independence, Hitler threatened the Czech President Benes with invasion should he not cede the rest of the nation. Under such threat, Benes collapsed, and the Germans seized the remaining portion of Czechoslovakia without resistance.

Ironically, these constant risk-all gambits led Hitler to his fatal mistake--the conquest of Poland, which, although "victorious", led Britain, France, and ultimately the USA to enter the fight against Germany, and Germany to seek to end the battle against these enemies by removing their most likely ally--the Soviet Union--a combined two front battle which led to the downfall of Nazi Germany.

Appeasement here was agreeing to give away Czechoslovakia. It was shameful--and wrong.

Negotiation: Talking To Leaders

Two examples:

Nixon's Rapprochement With China:

Despite the well-known failings of the Nixon Presidency, Nixon's engagement with China remains a signal achievement. Note that Nixon, throughout his career, was an ardent fighter of Communism. Thus, we might have fully expected him to take the "negotiation is weakness" position with a country that, at the time, was regarded as a rogue nation in the West.

Nevertheless, this fervent anti-Communist chose to negotiate--a marked change from previous U.S. policy--and continued to do so even as highly inflammatory border attacks occurred between China and the Soviet Union in 1969, stating that "We simply cannot afford to leave China outside the family of nations." (a statement that would likely draw the errant fire of commentators from the Right if it were uttered today). With a persistent diplomacy through 1969-1972, culminating in a meeting with Chou en Lai, these negotiations led to a dramatic thawing of relations with both China and the Soviet Union--where, in meetings with Leonid Brezhnev, an anti-ballistic missile treaty, a trade agreement worth a billion dollars, and a SALT treaty were signed.

Reagan and Gorbachev:

Reagan, of course, was noted for referring to the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire." Despite this stance, he too was willing to negotiate with Gorbachev in the interests of nuclear disarmament --and despite the objections of many on the Right, whose statements at the time regarding the weakness of negotiation could be easily grafted onto the present debates.

As we know, Reagan's meetings, according to Alan Greenspan, "started the sequence of geopolitical initiatives that led Mr. Gorbachev to figuratively tear down the Berlin Wall", and contributed to the break up of the Soviet Union.

Many from the right called for aggressive military action--for missiles first, rather than negotiation. Reagan, in negotiating, was proved right.

Note that in each case, the President talked with a leader who they regarded as hostile--in the face of those who argued then, as they do now, that talking--negotiation--signifies weakness.

In each case, talking--strong, informed negotiation--did not result in appeasement of the aggressor, but instead resulted in the desired outcome--in one case, the component breakup of the aggressor nation--in another the end of a threat of nuclear conflict--without a single loss of life.

Negotiation is not appeasement.

When negotiation is chosen, however, it will be the case that those who simply wished for the visceral strike--the simplistic first solution of subduing an enemy through the use of might--will not find satisfaction. We have seen the results of this position, throughout the years--from the events recounted in the first section, to the present.

Perhaps, in negotiation, it is *they* who have been appeased.

If so, given history--this was a favorable outcome indeed.