Steve Chapman
On April 1, 2001, a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter collided over the South China Sea, forcing the Americans to make an emergency landing on Chinese soil. But the Chinese government said it would not release the crew until it got an apology.

The Bush administration tried to find other ways to satisfy the Chinese. Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed regret. Then the president did the same. No result.

Vice President Dick Cheney said the U.S. would not apologize. He was wrong. In the end, the administration got the crew back only after sending the Chinese a letter saying it was "very sorry."

It was such a humiliating outcome that Mitt Romney accused George W. Bush of "apologizing for America," adopting "a policy of appeasement" and being "timid and weak."

Just kidding. Romney has used those words, but he wasn't talking about Bush. He was talking about Barack Obama.

Yes, Obama. The same president who ordered the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, ordered a military surge in Afghanistan, took out dozens of jihadists in Pakistan with drone missiles, used American air power to topple Moammar Gadhafi and stuck to the Iraq timetable set by his predecessor.

Rick Santorum agrees with Romney on Obama, saying that "for every thug and hooligan, for every radical Islamist, he has had nothing but appeasement." Newt Gingrich accuses the president of "weakness, appeasement and timidity."

The problem with Romney and other Republican leaders is not so much that they are wrong but that they have taken up residence in a bizarre fantasy world where concepts like "true" and "false" have no meaning. They operate on the model suggested by Bush political adviser Karl Rove, who famously ridiculed those in "the reality-based community."

Reality, however, has a way of trumping delusions. Calling Obama an appeaser is like calling Eli Manning a klutz. The only thing odder than saying it is expecting anyone to believe it.

But the appeasement line is a treasured and durable GOP theme. Republicans used it successfully in the 1970s against George McGovern and Jimmy Carter.

They revived it to pummel Democrats who opposed aid to the Nicaraguan rebels in the 1980s, the first war with Iraq in 1991 and the second war with Iraq in 2003. Whenever Democrats resisted military action favored by Republicans, they got painted bright yellow.

The Republicans tried it again in 2008, accusing Obama of pathetic naivete in offering to talk with North Korea and Iran without preconditions. But the tactic didn't have its intended effect. _

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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