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September 24, 2009


The fact that Obama got some oral promises in return for placating Russia doesn't prove that it wasn't appeasement. Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler was also in exchange for promises.

My guess is that Russia's promises will not prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. First of all, as the Times points out, China is poised to veto Iran sanctions. It's not clear how we can change China's position or what the cost would be. Will Obama abandon Taiwan in exchange for a UN vote?

Second, even if sanctions were imposed by the Security Council, they're unlikely to work. Rogue countries might evade them, as they did with Saddam. Santions would hurt Europe as much as Iran.

Anyhow, I think the Mullahs would let the populace put up with the economic impact of sanctions until Iran became irreverably nuclear.

In short, the most likely scenario is that within a year or two Iran will have nuclear weapons and medium-range delivery missiles. Europe will have no defense against them.

I'd like to muse for a moment about Brendan's earlier comment that argument by historical analogy is a substitute for rational thought.

I understand that Brendan is opposed to analogies to Chamberlain's appeasement of Hitler. But while it's true that the left rarely wants to hear about appeasement, they love to remind us of Vietnam, America's history of slavery and racial discrimination, the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans, 19th Century treatment of the Indians, the McCarthy era and other examples of America's perfidy. It's not so much that the left is ahistorical as that they're selectively historical.

So yes, Brendan is right that forgoing certain defensive missiles in central Europe is categorically different from yielding to territorial claims. And I'll be watching for his future posts when he points out the categorical differences between the historical examples so beloved by the left and the current issues to which they're analogized.

And of course David is also right. If the quid pro quo for the missile decision is Russia's not opposing a Security Council resolution for additional sanctions on Iran, we just sold the cow for a bag of beans.

David is correct that whether this move by Obama is "appeasement" in the Chamberlain sense will only be proven by time.

It may turn out to have been a brilliant stroke of negotiating if it helps stop or at least slow down Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Or it may be that Obama traded the missile defense away for nothing, just as Chamberlain traded away Poland for nothing in the end. After all, appeasement is simply a negotiating strategy that at least in that case backfired and so earned a reputation as a poor strategy.

Isn’t it possible that Obama is employing a poor strategy, even if he has the best of intentions?

It also might be useful to recall that in the late 30's, Churchill's warnings regarding appeasement were considered "absurd", but in the end he was proved to be correct.

To simply call the use of the term “appeasement” absurd on its face is as intellectually lazy as those who throw the term around without providing any justification or reasoning.

Brendan, I just noticed your comment at the end - I missed it on my first reading:

"I hope we can all agree that there's a categorical difference between this sort of great powers diplomacy and giving land to Hitler so that he won't invade other countries."

Please explain how England's negotiating with Germany in the 30's was not also "great powers diplomacy"?

In both cases, is it not two great powers negotiating the security of lesser power countries? True, Obama didn't just hand over Poland, but there is a danger that Russian hegemony over this same country could increase due to this action.

I can agree that this move may not be considered as radical an appeasement as occurred in the 30’s, but in the end the effect may be similar.

Marty, thanks for the first point -- I added the word "routine" to clarify above (i.e. this is "routine great powers diplomacy" rather than appeasement of a genocidal dictator).

On the second point, I'm not sure anyone suggested that the missile defense system was there to protect Poland against Russian missiles, but I'm open to evidence to the contrary.

More generally, can any diplomatic concession or agreement be made that isn't appeasement under this framework? Was Reagan appeasing Russia when he negotiated quid pro quo arms deals with them during the Cold War?

Brendan -

Thanks for the clarification.

I didn't mean to imply that Russia might nuke Poland.

As I understand it, the shield was meant to protect our allies in eastern Europe (as well as even possibly protect our east coast) from an any missile attack e.g. Iran or NK. The point about Russian hegemony is that if we aren’t protecting these countries they may be forced to accept protection from Russia, and all that might be attached to that.

It appears to me that you simply dislike that the term "appeasement" is so loaded and feel that it might not be appropriate to ever use it.

My contention is that if a critic believes Obama’s decision was in effect a form of capitulation (i.e. a total give-away with little likelihood of receiving anything meaningful in return) and he presents arguments that explain his position, he should be free to use the term. You are free to disagree with his arguments of course, but to label him “intellectually lazy” because you disagree is unreasonable.

It's not only China who might oppose sanctions against Iran. France's foreign minister said in an interview Wednesday he was not in favour of plans to impose fuel sanctions on Iran to make it come clean on its nuclear programme. It's looking more and more as if Russia's vote in favor of sanctions will be valueless.

Incidentally, there seems to be an inconsistency in the Administration's rationales for withdrawing the Eastern European missile defense. First, they said the point was to replace the planned system with a supposedly better system. Now, they say the rationale is to get Russia's support for Iran sanctions. The second rationale would seem to imply that the new and improved anti-missile system won't be installed. Otherwise, what is Russia getting from this agreement?

David, I think we're not meant to look too closely into the reasoning. It's like looking at the sun--you're supposed to admire its brilliance but not stare at it lest you be blinded. Occupy your thoughts by chanting along.

Wow, so that's what diplomacy looks like. It's been awhile. And, there's still people trying to compare Obama with Chamberlain & Putin with Hitler. I will give them this, it's not intellectually lazy to grasp at straws and make really weak arguments sound official.

Where the argument really falls apart is the wisdom of placing a missile-defense shield in that region in the first place post 9/11. It was my recollection that this was the Bush Administration's idea and they had yet to convince both countries to ratify the idea. It is much more likely that placing a missile-defense shield in Eastern Europe made the situation much more unstable and increased tensions.

Further, the Obama administration is correctly making the decision to redirect missile defenses in the Mid-east region, where the threat is much more real - and providing more opportunities for real-world testing.

And, finally, it'd be nice to see the Obama administration pull the plug on boondoggles like missile defense systems in Eastern Europe. Given the actual dangers exhibited in the Middle East and our staggering defense spending, this would be a good reversal independent of what the Russians think. And, it apparently looks like we got something out of it. And, the Russians have effectively removed a threat from their region, so they see dividends having a dialogue with the US.

Obama's foreign policy so far has demonstrated maturity, cooperation, restraint and pragmaticism (Hillary gaffe aside).

In short, the most likely scenario is that within a year or two Iran will have nuclear weapons and medium-range delivery missiles. Europe will have no defense against them.

Except defense treaties with a nuclear superpower and the ballistic missile defense that was just announced. But besides those things, yes, nothing.

Otherwise, what is Russia getting from this agreement?

the new system won't be based in Eastern Europe - i.e. there won't be the presence of American power in Poland and the Czech Republican (well, beyond any promises of defense/treaties that might be in effect).

Maybe I am just viewing this a little too overly simplistic, but I would think that it would be much more favorable for the US to deal with Iran with Russia having our backs. If trading a long-range missile defense plan for short-range defense plan gets the Russians on our side and Iran to back down, then don't we all win?

As far as 'appeasement' goes, haven't conservatives learned their lesson from a couple of summers ago about using that tactic?

Adding to the urgency of the missile defense issue is the recent disclosure of Iran's secret nuclear enrichment site at Qum. President Obama should seek the advice of Bill Clinton, who well understands the consequences of failing to clean up Qum.

If trading a long-range missile defense plan for short-range defense plan gets the Russians on our side and Iran to back down, then don't we all win?

Sure, if Iran backs down, we all win. However, several earlier comments on this thread have detailed reasons why even if this move gets the Russians on our side (not guaranteed, since Putin has yet to speak) Russian support for a sanctions resolution has a negligible chance of getting Iran to back down.

Why don't all of you acknowledge the background of Bush's missile placement deal? G.H.W. Bush pledged to Gorbachev and Yeltsin that U.S. would not send troops to, or make commitmnts to, former Warsaw Pact nations or former Soviet Republics In return, Russia allowed East Germany to be absorbed by West Germany. Clinton broke GHW Bush's pledge for domestic political reasons and rushed NATO membership right up to Russia's borders GW Bush continued policy of appeasement of American voters of East European ancestry/

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