Seems Like Old Times

Paul Greenberg

9/21/2009 3:11:49 PM - Paul Greenberg

For those who like their fashions retro, these are the good old days -- all over again. Especially if you liked the look of the 1930s. Fashion doesn't apply just to clothes but to ideas, including those about foreign policy. And now appeasement is in again.

Naturally, it's called something else now, for appeasement acquired a bad reputation in the Thirties. These days it's being marketed under a new brand name, realism. And it can be worn with accessories like isolationism to complete the ensemble. Together, they produce a whole, not-so-new attitude toward threats from abroad. Mainly, let's ignore them.

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As in: Why be beastly to the Russians by setting up a missile defense system on what Moscow used to consider its turf -- eastern Europe -- and may still? Let's call the whole thing off.

The current regime in Russia, which brings to mind many a past regime in Russia, can only be delighted as this administration goes back to the old sphere-of-influence division of the continent. So delighted it will reciprocate, and cooperate in pressing the Iranians not to develop their nuclear weapon and the means to deliver it. And all will end happily. Or maybe just end.

Banish such entirely too realistic thoughts from your mind. Surely neither Moscow nor Teheran will take our dismantling our defenses as a sign that we're dismantling our defenses.

If we're nice to them, they'll be nice to us. That seems to be the pivot-point of this president's new foreign policy. It certainly worked with North Korea. Look how negotiating with Pyongyang, while supplying it with all kinds of goodies and promising still more, has kept Dear Leader from developing a Bomb of his own.

It's worked so well that Iran's little fuehrer is following the same diplomatic -- and military and technological -- strategy. Who can blame him? We've shown him how to get a Bomb of his own: Negotiate endlessly, but keep those centrifuges spinning. And soon it will be too late to keep Ahmadinejad and (mad) Company from becoming a nuclear power. Now there's a thrilling prospect.

The moral of this retro fashion show: Our new president, a decent man, makes the same mistake decent men the world over make when they deal with the indecent: They assume their own openness and generosity will be met in kind, when such displays may only convince the indecent we're pushovers, and encourage their depredations rather than deter them. Through the clouded lens of history turned into stereotype, we tend to forget what a decent sort of chap Neville Chamberlain really was.

This present discussion isn't just about a missile system. Any more than the Cold War was just about throw-weight, geopolitics, overseas bases and Wars of National Liberation. In essence it was a contest of wills, of the spirit, an inner conflict -- about whether the West still had enough faith in its values to defend them and itself. Or whether we would go on trying to appease those who wish us no good.

If you have your doubts about the Kim Jong-Ils and Mahmoud Ahmadinejads of the world, why, that's just antiquated Bush Era or even Reagan Era thinking. What this country needs is a foreign policy that's even older. One that goes back to the 1930s.

Once again we're being told that the West will be stronger if we act weaker, world peace will be more secure if we mollify those who threaten us, and our allies will be just as loyal and trusting if we slip out of the commitments we've made to them. Never mind that the 1930s led inevitably to the 1940s and the greatest war in history. (Retro fashions, however appealing, do have their dangers.)

This is where the basic American fantasy comes into play -- that we can retreat from the world. Who needs a missile defense system based in Poland and the Czech Republic, anyway? What we need is a more comprehensive anti-missile system, as our secretary of defense has just explained. It'll be ready by 2015 or maybe 2020. Iran's mullahs surely will not produce their nuclear weapon before we've completed our defensive system, considerate souls that they are.

Don't worry about the Poles and Czechs; they'll understand if we back out of this deal. They're used to being betrayed. With them, it's almost a tradition. They'll be quite happy with this new arrangement, or pretend to be. Complaining about it would only advertise their vulnerability. Once again they're becoming expendable. Just like old times.

Once again the West will have a leader who knows how to negotiate, extend an open hand, visit foreign capitals to make conciliatory speeches, and return with Peace In Our Time. Seems like old times, having you to walk with, seems like old times, having you to talk with.

There's just one possible hang-up. In 1938, the Czechs went along quietly as the guarantees they'd been given proved worthless. They should have known the West would abandon them as soon as push came to invasion. And maybe they did know, but what realistic choice did they have but to join the ranks of Captive Nations?

But this time the little country most endangered is not in Europe but in the Middle East, always a tricky neighborhood. It's Israel, and it's the joker in this deck. What happens as Teheran moves ever closer to getting its own Bomb, or imports one from North Korea, and develops the means to deliver it? Or just re-exports it to Hezbollah or Hamas or some other front group for immediate, fiery delivery?

The Israelis may not be prepared to go gently into that terrifying night. They may not just sit there and wait to be vaporized. Again. After all, they're a nervous people, and have reason to be. And this time they have an army, navy and air force, and maybe a trick or two up their sleeve. Like nuclear weapons of their own, though they try not to noise it about. Washington's scrapping these plans for a defense against Iranian missiles sends the Israelis an unmistakable message: On us you shouldn't depend. Just as they always knew, or should have known, they are alone. They may even act alone.