The magic word "negotiations" -- leading to "agreements" that "defuse tensions" -- is being loudly touted as a substitute for military force, as if there were no history to test this fashionable belief. After the First World War, the ink was barely dry on the Treaty of Versailles before a series of negotiations began, leading to numerous international agreements in the 1920s and 1930s, climaxed by the Munich agreement of 1938, which was said to create "peace in our time."
Our time proved to be very short, as the most catastrophic war in history began less than a year later.
Negotiations that end in agreements are always a political success, if judged by the euphoria produced. Yet they also produce something else -- utter contempt for the weakness and gullibility of those who sign treaties that offer no realistic prospects of restraining the aggressors. That contempt emboldened others to attack in World War II, as it has emboldened North Korea today.
If there was one decisive moment that marked the turning point in the Cold War, it was when Ronald Reagan refused to play this game and rejected an agreement in a meeting in Iceland with Mikhail Gorbachev. At one point, President Reagan told Chairman Gorbachev that what the Soviet Union was proposing was just not serious -- and he got up from the table and walked out.
That is exactly the wrong thing to do, according to the political left. But why did Reagan so often get the right results using methods that the deep thinkers were convinced were wrong, while the deep thinkers so often get the wrong results from methods that they were convinced were right?
People less consumed by their own sense of wonderful specialness might even try to learn from their many failures. But that is not the political left today or at any time in the past.