I wanted to write at length about the recent brouhaha between the White House and the Democrats, led by Barack Obama, over President Bush's use of the word appeasement in describing attempts to negotiate with terrorist organizations and rogue states.
President Bush delivered his half-hour long speech to the Israeli Knesset as part of the 60th anniversary celebration of the nation of Israel. Here is a longer excerpt of the relevant portion of his speech:
The fight against terror and extremism is the defining challenge of our time. It is more than a clash of arms. It is a clash of visions, a great ideological struggle. On the one side are those who defend the ideals of justice and dignity with the power of reason and truth. On the other side are those who pursue a narrow vision of cruelty and control by committing murder, inciting fear, and spreading lies.
This struggle is waged with the technology of the 21st century, but at its core it is an ancient battle between good and evil. The killers claim the mantle of Islam, but they are not religious men. No one who prays to the God of Abraham could strap a suicide vest to an innocent child, or blow up guiltless guests at a Passover Seder, or fly planes into office buildings filled with unsuspecting workers. In truth, the men who carry out these savage acts serve no higher goal than their own desire for power. They accept no God before themselves. And they reserve a special hatred for the most ardent defenders of liberty, including Americans and Israelis.
And that is why the founding charter of Hamas calls for the “elimination” of Israel. And that is why the followers of Hezbollah chant “Death to Israel, Death to America!” That is why Osama bin Laden teaches that “the killing of Jews and Americans is one of the biggest duties.” And that is why the President of Iran dreams of returning the Middle East to the Middle Ages and calls for Israel to be wiped off the map.
There are good and decent people who cannot fathom the darkness in these men and try to explain away their words. It’s natural, but it is deadly wrong. As witnesses to evil in the past, we carry a solemn responsibility to take these words seriously. Jews and Americans have seen the consequences of disregarding the words of leaders who espouse hatred. And that is a mistake the world must not repeat in the 21st century.
Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history. (Applause.)
Some people suggest if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of the enemies of peace, and America utterly rejects it. Israel’s population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because the United States of America stands with you. (Applause.)
America stands with you in breaking up terrorist networks and denying the extremists sanctuary. America stands with you in firmly opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Permitting the world’s leading sponsor of terror to possess the world’s deadliest weapons would be an unforgivable betrayal for future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)
Ultimately, to prevail in this struggle, we must offer an alternative to the ideology of the extremists by extending our vision of justice and tolerance and freedom and hope. These values are the self-evident right of all people, of all religions, in all the world because they are a gift from the Almighty God. Securing these rights is also the surest way to secure peace. Leaders who are accountable to their people will not pursue endless confrontation and bloodshed. Young people with a place in their society and a voice in their future are less likely to search for meaning in radicalism. Societies where citizens can express their conscience and worship their God will not export violence, they will be partners in peace.
Barack Obama immediately released a statement condemning this speech and accusing the Bush White House of deliberately targeting him, since Obama has stated publicly that one of the immediate goals of his administration would be to meet with Iran without preconditions. (Writing at National Review Online, Andrew McCarthy noted, "Can Somebody Explain to Me how Obama sat in Wright’s church for 20 years and managed never to hear anything, but hears 20 seconds of a Bush speech that doesn’t mention him and perceives a shameful personal attack?")
Democrats also criticized President Bush for "attacking" them while on "foreign soil," and then claimed that they have never attacked or undermined the President while on foreign soil:
CHRIS DODD: When presidents are out of country, people avoid attacking the president.
JAMIE RUBIN: The most ugly form of American politics brought to another shore.
NANCY PELOSI: You know, we have a protocol, that we don't criticize the president when he is on foreign soil.
BILL RICHARDSON: Bad form in criticizing a presidential candidate on foreign soil.
HAROLD FORD: You don't attack presidential candidates or presidents on foreign soil.
SUSAN RICE: A deliberate attack by the president on foreign soil.
ROBERT GIBBS: An unprecedented political attack on foreign soil.
JOHN EDWARDS: The president of the United States should not engaged [sic] in this kind of politics outside the shores of the United States. It's just not right!
Of course the list of Democrats who have attempted to undermine President Bush while on foreign soil is a long and shameful one -- Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Howard Dean, John Kerry, Jimmy Carter, Jim McDermott, Jay Rockefeller, etc. Such a claim is one of the biggest lies told so far in this year's presidential campaign.
In his reaction statement, Barack Obama said,
Instead of tough talk and no action, we need to do what Kennedy, Nixon and Reagan did and use all elements of American power -- including tough, principled, and direct diplomacy - to pressure countries like Iran and Syria.
And earlier, after receiving the first round of criticism for his plan to meet with Iran without preconditions, Obama explained,
"I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did."
Unfortunately, history does not support Barack Obama's claims. Roosevelt never negotiated with Mussolini, Hitler, or Tojo. Roosevelt and Truman both held summit meetings with Stalin, but Stalin was an ally of the United States in our fight against Hitler. And the only negotiations between Truman and Stalin, the meetings at Yalta and Potsdam, directly paved the way for Stalin to enslave Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain. Likewise, it was John F. Kennedy's 1961 summit meeting with Khrushchev that led Khrushchev to believe that JFK was an inexperienced leader who would have trouble making hard decisions. And after Kennedy's failed Bay of Pigs invasion, Khrushchev believed that Americans were "too liberal to fight." Khrushchev's mind was changed only after JFK brought the world to the brink of nuclear war during the Cuban missile crisis.
And lest we forget what Ronald Reagan's position on appeasement was:
Those who would trade our freedom for the soup kitchen of the welfare state have told us that they have a utopian solution of peace without victory. They call their policy "accommodation." And they say if we only avoid any direct confrontation with the enemy, he will forget his evil ways and learn to love us. All who oppose them are indicted as warmongers. They say we offer simple answers to complex problems. Well, perhaps there is a simple answer--not an easy answer--but simple.
If you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based upon what we know in our hearts is morally right. We cannot buy our security, our freedom from the threat of the bomb by committing an immorality so great as saying to a billion now in slavery behind the Iron Curtain, "Give up your dreams of freedom because to save our own skin, we are willing to make a deal with your slave masters." Alexander Hamilton said, "A nation which can prefer disgrace to danger is prepared for a master, and deserves one." Let's set the record straight. There is no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there is only one guaranteed way you can have peace--and you can have it in the next second--surrender.
Admittedly there is a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson in history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face--that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight and surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand--the ultimatum. And what then? When Nikita Khrushchev has told his people he knows what our answer will be? He has told them that we are retreating under the pressure of the Cold War, and someday when the time comes to deliver the ultimatum, our surrender will be voluntary because by that time we will have weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he has heard voices pleading for "peace at any price" or "better Red than dead," or as one commentator put it, he would rather "live on his knees than die on his feet." And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don't speak for the rest of us. You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin--just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard 'round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn't die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well, it's a simple answer after all.
You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, "There is a price we will not pay." There is a point beyond which they must not advance. This is the meaning in the phrase of Barry Goldwater's "peace through strength." Winston Churchill said that "the destiny of man is not measured by material computation. When great forces are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits--not animals." And he said, "There is something going on in time and space, and beyond time and space, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty." (emphasis added)
All of this leads one to ask, what is the purpose of negotiation, when should it be used, and how should it be used?
After the appeasement controversy broke, Seattle Times editorial writer Bruce Ramsey claimed that, in fact, Bush and others had misunderstood the prelude to the Second World War. Ramsey originally wrote,
What Hitler was demanding was not unreasonable. He wanted the German-speaking areas of Europe under German authority. He had just annexed Austria, which was German-speaking, without bloodshed. There were two more small pieces of Germanic territory: the free city of Danzig and the Sudetenland, a border area of what is now the Czech Republic.
We live in an era when you do not change national borders for these sorts of reasons. But in 1938 it was different. Germany’s eastern and western borders had been redrawn 19 years before—and not to its benefit. In the democracies there was some sense of guilt with how Germany had been treated after World War I. Certainly there was a memory of the “Great War.” In 2008, we have entirely forgotten World War I, and how utterly unlike any conception of “The Good War” it was. When the British let Hitler have a slice of Czechoslovakia, they were following their historical wisdom: avoid war. War produces results far more horrible than you expected. War is a bad investment. It is not glorious. Don’t give anyone an excuse to start one.
After receiving a storm of criticism, Ramsey drastically re-wrote his piece, with no explanation or indication that his piece had been subsequently edited. It is frightening that ignorant revisionists such as Ramsey might be given a voice in an Obama administration. By 1938, the fact that Hitler was an evil man was plainly evident, particularly in his plan for destroying Europe's Jews and building a physically superior race of people through eugenics, forced sterilization, abortion, and euthanasia. The British made a grave error when they gave a madman legitimacy by sacrificing innocent people under his boot, common languages be damned.
I believe that Western post-modern liberals have unwittingly turned negotiation into a tool of domination for use by various rogue interests. The West's adversaries recognize the collective guilt felt by post-WWII Westerners over the evils of Naziism, the Cold War, and colonialsim, and they have not hesitated to use that guilt as a psychological weapon against us.
Since Vietnam, liberals have continually approached negotiations as an exercise in self flagellation. It has been a de facto assumption by liberals that international negotiations must center around an atonement process for all the sins of the West. Our adversaries are given every chance to enumerate those sins and demand penance. Only in the rarest of circumstances is this process reversed.
By default, then, our adversaries are rarely expected to confess their own evils or make significant concessions during the negotiation process. In fact, it has become entirely acceptable for our adversaries to totally ignore all the terms agreed upon in negotiations. They do this because they know that only a major violation that poses an imminent threat to world peace will actually merit the use of force from the West.
Thus John Kerry went to Paris in 1971 to negotiate a peace treaty with the Viet Cong that required no real concessions from them. Thus liberals embraced the ascension to power of Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini as a triumph of the underdog, and Jimmy Carter completely failed to understand how such a religious man could not want peace. Victor Davis Hanson notes:
It was not for nothing that on Nov. 17, 1979--less than two weeks after the militants stormed the American Embassy in Tehran--the Ayatollah Khomeini ordered the release of 13 female and black hostages, singling them out as part of the brotherhood of those oppressed by the United States and cloaking his continuing slaughter of Iranian opponents and attacks on U.S. sovereignty in a self-righteous anti-Americanism. Twenty-five years later, during the antiwar protests of last spring, a group called Act Now to Stop War and End Racism sang the same foolish chorus in its call for demonstrations: "Members of the Muslim Community, Antiwar Activists, Latin-American Solidarity Groups and People From All Over the United States Unite to Say: 'We Are All Palestinians!' "
Thus Osama Bin Laden's 1998 fatwa, "The rule to kill Americans and their allies--civilians and military--is a sacred duty for any Muslim," was met only by indictments issued by US criminal courts and a handful of aborted attempts at extradition by force. Thus the PLO and Hamas have been allowed to continually engage in terrorist acts against Israeli civilians, with only Israel held accountable for the results of its counterstrikes.
Thus Hezbollah is allowed to completely ignore every provision of UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Not only has Hezbollah (financed by Iran) completely rearmed itself, it has now installed its own communications infrastructure throughout Lebanon, it now controls the Beirut airport and most of the major roadways in southern Lebanon, and it has threatened a military take-over of the Lebanese government. The solution, according to liberal pundits and State Department diplomats? Negotiate, accommodate, and by default legitimize everything Hezbollah has taken by brute force and violence.
Thus -- until the United States intervened with military force in 2003 -- Saddam Hussein violated every term of UN Security Council Resolution 687 with impunity.
When conservatives speak disparagingly of negotiation, this is the track record they have in mind. With respect to Barack Obama, there is legitimate concern because he has not enunciated any specific intent to depart from the left's 40 year track record of accommodation and navel-gazing.
On the other hand, militarism has also failed to achieve peaceful ends. The toppling of the Hussein regime in Iraq after Al-Qaeda had become somewhat of a regional power engaged in a global mission destroy Western influence in Muslim lands and return control of Muslim nations to the hands of fundamentalist extremists was, at least in the short term, a strategic miscalculation that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Whether the toppling of Saddam a decade earlier, when there was no militant force ready to fill the void of power in Iraq, would have led to a more stable situation is a scenario that is interesting to consider, but impossible to agree upon with any degree of certainty.
And during the 1970's and 1980's, particularly in Central and South America, the US sold arms and provided paramilitary training to nations controlled by some of the world's most brutal governments, simply because they pledged to join the US in the fight against the spread of Soviet-backed Communism in the Americas. Again, tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of Central and South Americans died at the hands of these oligarchies and military dictatorships, with the US downplaying the violence as simply the cost of freedom. We armed the Shah of Iran, and when the Shah was toppled we sold arms to Saddam Hussein -- but suspended those sales when his intentions became obvious.
So what do we do? Here are a few ideas:
First, honor the threat. Treat every single threat as serious until proven otherwise. The gravest mistake made by the West during the last 40 years has been the systematic dismissal of pure evil as a justified reaction of marginalized peoples against their oppressors. There is no justification for evil, nor is there any truth to the false belief that "dialog" alone can be used to compel evil men to nonviolently surrender their power.
Parties responsible for evil in the world today (North Korea, Iran, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, etc.) must be held responsible for their actions. They should be publicly excoriated and then challenged to clean up the messes that they have made. We should dismiss once and for all the dangerous post-modern assumption that only dominant cultures are capable of committing evil, and therefore the 20th century's most wealthy and powerful nations (e.g. the US, the UK, and Israel) are really the world's most dangerous rogue states.
If citizens wish to volunteer as "human shields," let them live in Israel adjacent to the Gaza strip, or in Jerusalem, or in southern Lebanon, or in the (thankfully diminishing) areas of Iraq still controlled by Al-Qaeda. Have them report what they see. Encourage them to show the after-effects of terrorist bombings and shootings, missile attacks, and armed raids. Give the world a vivid picture of the effects of evil. Send those suffering under the dominion of evil a clear message: we stand with you, you are not alone.
It is far better to defeat evil before it permeates an entire nation. Had Germany's religious and political establishment stood up to Hitler's domestic terrorism in 1933, the world may have avoided a costly war. But in the wisdom of the day, it was more important to avoid "conflict" than to confront evil. For us, the most important thing to remember is this -- when confronting evil there will always be conflict. Violence committed by one side does not have to compel the other side to respond violently, but conflicts between evil-doers and resistors will cost human lives and inflict great suffering. That is the price we must pay in order to confront evil.
For nations already under the control of evil powers, we should pledge diplomatic and cultural solidarity with factions inside at-risk nations that oppose their violent regimes. Areas such as Lebanon and the West Bank are controlled by terrorists because their citizens have either been brainwashed into believing that violence is the only legitimate means of maintaining a power structure, or they have been intimidated into living as slaves under the boot of violent masters, for fear of their lives. But the entire population of those areas does not support evil. Solidarity with those looking to end the violence is a must, along with a willingness for Americans to pledge whatever it takes -- even their lives -- in order to nonviolently convince the people in those areas that they can no longer support evil.
In Iran, the biggest threat to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes from within the nation itself, not from military posturing by the US. A significant number of Iranians do not want war with the US and do not want to be part of a nuclear arms race. Iran has a relatively fair election system. If Ahmadinejad can be defeated and Iran's nuclear program dismantled from the inside, the effect will be much more significant than any external threats posed by the United States. Solidarity was able to topple the Communist regime in Poland through a peaceful civil uprising by a population whose patience with tyranny had simply run out.
Negotiations are not the equivalent of surrender. Diplomacy doesn't mean continually seeking to avoid conflict. It is time that the UN and world diplomats learned these lessons.