Thursday, May 15, 2008

"Munich", "Munich", go away!

The "Munich analogy" is itself becoming an analogy of history degraded to slogans and then degraded to even more mindless slogans, producing an all-too-real threat inflation that causes all-too-real problems.

Our Dear Leader Bush was addressing the Israeli Knesset (Parliament) on Thursday and he used the Munich analogy to criticize Obama; he didn't mention Obama by name, but the White House made it clear that he was one of the appeasers referenced. But I want to note before getting to more specifics that Dear Leader was so off-base on this one that it actually drove Chris Matthews, yes, that Chris Matthews, into acting like a real journalist for several consecutive minutes! It was that bad.

Dear Leader said:

"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," Bush said. "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."
Obama fired back immediately. Joe Lieberman agreed with Dear Leader. And that bold, independent Maverick McCain ... agreed with Bush 100%. (See quotes below.)

The Munich analogy as it has become embedded in the American political vocabulary over the decades has usually been used to refer to backing down unwisely in the face of a military aggressor. Bush's usage today is a neocon version that takes it into a further step of deterioration: "appeasement" in his Knesset speech means even negotiating with a potential enemy.

Wasn't it the neocons political god Winston Churchill who said on that topic the "jaw, jaw" is better than "war, war"? John Kennedy's famous line - "Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate." - doesn't sound like cowardly shirking of duty to me. It sounds more like plain common sense.

But in CheneyWorld, we've gone from "Munich" being a bad deal (the more-or-less reality-based version) to a cowardly backing down from a dangerous aggressor (the threat-inflation version) to the problem having been the whole idea of even attempting to use diplomacy to avoid war. If it keeps going down this path, "Munich" will eventually mean the cowardly failure to invade and occupy Germany in 1921 or so when Hitler's political career was just getting started. Even with Bush's version, any attempt to seriously apply historical lessons from the "Munich" experience of 1938 has evaporated into the air.

Sen. Joe Biden, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, called Bush's comment "bulls**t". A perfectly sober analysis, I would say.

Chris Matthews is the walking embodiment of what is wrong with our sad excuse for a press corps these days. But credit where credit is due. He at least pinned down some fool rightwing radio ranter named Kevin James on what he knew about "Munich". And the guy didn't know squat. Enjoy the show in text and video at Chris Matthews Stumps Right-Wing Radio Host: ‘Tell Me What Chamberlain Did?’ ‘I Don’t Know’ 05/15/08.

Let's not go overboard. Since this Kevin James guy has a head so empty that even OxyContin probably isn't in there, Matthews looked like a well-informed guy by contrast. But even in those unaccustomed moments of committing an act of journalism, he was a little shaky on some details. He didn't seem to know much about William Borah (rightwing isolationist Senator who actually admired Hitler), who Dear Leader referenced in his Knesset speech. And he was kind of shaky on whether the Munich Conference was in 1938 or 1939. (It was 1938.)

See: 'Appeasement' remark by Bush sets off political fray by Johanna Neuman Los Angeles Times Online 05/15/08

McCain: Bush ‘Exactly Right’ On ‘Appeasement’ Remark, Praises Reagan’s Handling Of Iran Hostage Crisis 05/15/08. The bold Maverick even had the gall to say:

Yes, there have been appeasers in the past, and the president is exactly right, and one of them is Neville Chamberlain. I believe that it’s not an accident that our hostages came home from Iran when President Reagan was president of the United States. He didn’t sit down in a negotiation with the religious extremists in Iran, he made it very clear that those hostages were coming home.
What a shameless bunch of hooey! Leave aside for the moment Reagan's arms-for-hostages deal that Ollie North and his boys ran for him that became infamous as the Iran-Contra scandal.

There's a substantial body of mostly circumstantial evidence, circumstantial but very persuasive in an historical sense, that the Reagan campaign did negotiate with Iran behind the backs of the Carter administration in 1980 to delay the release of the hostages until after the 1980 election. Yes, I know that conventional wisdom considers this "October surprise" story to be a silly conspiracy theory.

But I'm one of maybe ten people in the US who believes that it was Oswald in the book depository with the rifle in 1963. Single assassin. And I'm probably the only person alive who doesn't believe Jack Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe had an affair (though I'm willing to concede there's evidence for a one-night stand that could convince a reasonable person). Which is not evidence of any kind for the October surprise. But I'm just saying.

Gary Sick laid out the evidence in his 1991 book October Surprise: America's Hostages in Iran and the Election of Ronald Reagan. Robert Perry reported on his own two-year investigation of the story in Trick or Treason: The October Surprise Mystery (1993). Sick's book provoked the Democratic-controlled Congress into a desultory investigation, which concluded with no thorough digging into the story. But the investigations did produce some additional information, as Perry reports in his account.

It's too bad the investigation wasn't pressed much more seriously. One of the key players in the October Surprise story, for instance, was Laurence Silverman, who went on to become a federal judge who played a disreputable role in the Whitewater witch-hunt against the Clintons in the 1990s.

The Congressional investigations drug on into 1992. But this was the year the Establishment press went off the cliff with the Whitewater story. We were entering a new era of press malfunction. The Republicans in Congress belligerently opposed the investigation. The press poo-poohed the evidence. And the Dems finally gave it up.

Now, the Maverick can say, "He didn’t sit down in a negotiation with the religious extremists in Iran, he made it very clear that those hostages were coming home."

Will any of the Great American's Hannah Montana fan-boys and -girls in the press dig into what a ditzy statement that is? Hell could freeze over tomorrow, too. Life is full of surprises.

Joe Lieberman has really become a sad case, as we see in Lieberman On Bush Comparing Democrats To Nazi-Appeasers: 'The President Got It Exactly Right' 05/15/08:

President Bush got it exactly right today when he warned about the threat of Iran and its terrorist proxies like Hamas and Hezbollah. It is imperative that we reject the flawed and naïve thinking that denies or dismisses the words of extremists and terrorists when they shout "Death to America" and “Death to Israel,” and that holds that — if only we were to sit down and negotiate with these killers — they would cease to threaten us. It is critical to our national security that our commander-in-chief is able to distinguish between America’s friends and America’s enemies, and not confuse the two.
This viewpoint doesn't see diplomacy as even part of foreign policy in dealing with potentially hostile states or groups. Foreign policy without diplomacy is not really foreign policy, it's just straight-up militarism. War and the threat of war are the only tools in that toolbox.

And for anyone who actually cares about the history of the Munich Conference and what real lessons sane people might learn from it, I can't recommend highly enough Jeffrey Record's The Specter of Munich: Reconsidering the Lessons of Appeasing Hitler (2007), which I reviewed on 01/02/07. It's a serious book but it's not that long and it's very accessible.

Most of the book's text is available online from the US Army's Strategic Studies Institute (SSI), Appeasement Reconsidered: Investigating the Mythology of the 1930s (Aug 2005).

The scary thing is, people like Dick Cheney and Rummy and the rest of Bush's crew actually make policies and invade countries based on thinking that's this disconnected from the actual experience of the past. Used in this way, the "lessons of Munich" just become a magic talisman to use against anyone who disagrees with your foreign policy of the moment.

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