The “appeasement” parrots of the GOP

Except for Ron Paul, the Republican candidates target the president with their own ill-informed policy

Topics: Iran, Republican Party, 2012 Elections, ,

The "appeasement" parrots of the GOPLIned up against Iran (Credit: Reuters)

With the country still struggling to pull itself out of an economic recession, foreign policy has not rated the highest among issues discussed by the Republican presidential candidates. But among those foreign policy issues that have been debated, one has dominated the agenda: Iran. And other than Ron Paul, the candidates have arrived at the same verdict on President Obama’s Iran policy: It is appeasement.

Speaking at a forum last month, the candidates lined up to launch the charge at Obama. “For every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he [Obama] has had nothing but appeasement,” said former Sen. Rick Santorum. “Internationally, President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy,” said former Gov. Mitt Romney. In September, standing alongside hard-line supporters of Israel’s settlements, Texas Gov. Rick Perry similarly condemned the administration’s “Middle East policy of appeasement” — at almost precisely the same moment that Obama was delivering a speech defending Israel at the United Nations and demanding that Iran meet its nuclear treaty. In late December, Newt Gingrich said on an Iowa radio program, “You have an Obama administration who’s dedicated to appeasing our enemies and dedicated to giving away our secrets.”

It’s not a particularly surprising line of attack. “Appeasement,” with its obvious reference to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s capitulation to Adolf Hitler at Munich in 1938, is probably the single most overworked accusation in the conservative foreign policy lexicon, a free-floating, no-evidence-required assertion of weakness and surrender. The charge has become so unmoored from any actual historical context that many who use it are not even aware of its provenance. During the 2008 presidential campaign, “Hardball’s” Chris Matthews famously humiliated right-wing shout radio jock Kevin James by repeatedly asking what had actually happened at Munich, to which a red-faced James could only repeatedly scream, “Appeasement!”



One can disagree with the Obama administration’s two-track approach of engagement with and pressure on Iran. But to describe that approach as “appeasement” is to declare oneself desperately in need of a dictionary. The Obama administration has overseen the adoption of some of the most stringent multilateral sanctions ever on Iran. It has undertaken unprecedented defense cooperation with regional allies, including the placing of a NATO missile defense radar system in Turkey, to Iran’s continued outrage. And the administration successfully facilitated the appointment of a special U.N. human rights monitor for Iran to track the regime’s continued abuses.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent jaunt through Latin America, intended to combat the perception that Iran is increasingly isolated, was a bust, long on photo ops and statements of solidarity from the likes of Hugo Chavez, but short on actual measures that might help Iran out. The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Iranians’ efforts to protect their savings from rampant, sanctions-induced inflation by offloading rials for more stable currencies had gotten so bad that Iranian authorities cracked down on the practice.

There is a legitimate argument to be had over whether the punishing measures taken by the international community will actually push the Iranian government toward a compromise on its nuclear program, which it insists is for peaceful purposes, but about which the International Atomic Energy Agency continues to have troubling unanswered questions. At the very least, though, one would think that enacting such measures would inoculate the administration from the charge of being weak on Iran. But no, some of Obama’s conservative critics have gone so far as to redefine appeasement as simply the act of talking to one’s adversaries, as columnist Charles Krauthammer did when he insisted that the administration’s efforts at negotiations with Iran “did nothing but confer legitimacy on the regime.”

In reality, talks with Iran have served as a force multiplier for other efforts to put pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. As one Israeli defense official told me for an article last year, the Israelis themselves were very skeptical that talks with Iran would have any benefit, but now recognize that the effort “contributed to building international consensus” around the problem. Negotiations have actually done the opposite of conferring legitimacy on the regime — they made clear to the world, and to the Iranian people, that the Iranian government, not the U.S., was the central obstacle to a resolution, thereby facilitating further sanctions. On Monday, Nicholas Burns, the under-secretary of state for political affairs during the George W. Bush administration, told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that “Iran is probably more isolated today than the day that President Obama took office.”

Conservative mendacity aside, it’s worth looking at what former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the patron saint of the anti-appeasement crowd, had to say about it. “The word ‘appeasement’ is not popular, but appeasement has its place in all policy,” Churchill told an audience in 1950. “Make sure you put it in the right place. Appease the weak, defy the strong.” Returning to the theme later that year, he noted that “Appeasement in itself may be good or bad according to the circumstances.”

It should come as no surprise that the views of Churchill the man are quite a bit more nuanced than those of Churchill the Neocon Dashboard Saint, but what might this mean with regard to Iran? It means remembering that, despite the significant self-inflicted setbacks created by our invasion of Iraq, the U.S. is still dealing from a position of considerable strength against a weaker power in Iran. The U.S. has by far the largest military in the world, with an annual defense budget of over $700 billion, while Iran spends around $9 billion per year.

This certainly doesn’t mean that the U.S. should acquiesce to an Iranian nuclear weapon, but it does suggest that the U.S. and its partners should at least consider making explicit what was implicit in the proposed 2009 deal on fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor: a recognition of Iran’s right to domestic enrichment in exchange for the complete satisfaction of the IAEA’s concerns, and a commitment to ongoing verification. At the very least, talks should continue to be pursued in the hope of establishing some line of regular communication between the U.S. and Iran as a way to calm tensions, which are running high over Iran’s provocative threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, and the assassination of another Iranian nuclear scientist.

Finally, as we face a new round of calls for preventive war against Iran, from many of the same people who advocated preventive war against Iraq, it’s very much worth remembering that the Iraq war provided a greater strategic benefit to Iran than any “appeasement” conceivably could. Some of those gains have been lost in recent years, partly as a result of the Arab Spring, partly as a result of the Obama administration’s hard diplomatic work, and partly because of Iran’s own incompetence and belligerence. Clearly, Iran continues to represent a challenge to the U.S. and its interests on a number of fronts, but it’s important to keep that challenge in perspective, and not allow ourselves to be marched into another ruinous military adventure with unforeseeable consequences through the ridiculous idea that anything short of war is  “appeasement.”

Matt Duss, policy analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, is a regular contributor to Salon. Follow him @mattduss

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>