An Apology to Neville Chamberlain

Paul Greenberg
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Posted: Apr 04, 2015 12:01 AM
An Apology to Neville Chamberlain

The great pretense, the false suspense, the grand charade, the whole production number is about over. After months, after years of pretending that negotiations to keep Tehran's mullahs from getting their own nuclear weapon, the cover has been lifted and -- Ta-da! -- the grand finale begins with an all too familiar chorus: Peace in Our Time!

Uncork the champaign, serve the caviar and get ready to applaud what should be a real hit. Call it "Munich: The Sequel."

Back in 1938, the original production got a big reception from the waiting world, too, maybe bigger, because the audience could take it seriously back then. Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who directed the show, may have been naive, just putty in the Fuehrer's hands. For he had finally agreed to sell out his Czechoslovak allies in exchange for what was going to be peace everlasting. But lest we forget, no one doubted the Englishman's sincerity, or that of the crowds that greeted him when he proudly waved a worthless piece of paper in the air that was supposed to be a solemn agreement.

Yes, here and there a few observers understood it was all a swindle. Like a lonely member of Parliament named Winston Churchill, and he was charitable, understanding that Mr. Chamberlain and his country were the victims of a great swindle, not its perpetrators. The prime minister had negotiated in good faith, but his sincerity would be rewarded with treachery. And so it was.

Those who negotiated the Munich Agreement in 1938 could not have known how tragically it would turn out. Those who so proudly announced the deal consummated in Lausanne just a couple of days ago had Munich to learn from -- but didn't. Instead, they plunged ahead, forsaking this president's repeated promises to stand fast against the mullahs' developing their own nuclear weapon. To cite just some of this president's oh-so-solemn assurances:

"I will continue to be clear on the fact that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be profoundly destabilizing for the entire region. It is strongly in America's interest to prevent such a scenario." --Barack Obama, June 5, 2008 in Cairo.

"We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. And so it's unacceptable. And I will do everything that's required to prevent it. And we will never take military options off the table." --Barack Obama, June 5, 2008.

"Iran's development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable. And we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening." --Barack Obama, November 7, 2008.

"There should be no doubt --the United States and the international community are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons." --Barack Obama, July 1, 2010.

"Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal." --Barack Obama, January 24, 2012.

And on and on, year after year, promise after promise. Today it should be clear just how worthless such promises were. But perhaps I'm mistaken. (It's been known to happen.) And perhaps all the paper precautions announced this week along with the deal may yet suffice to keep Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. Wouldn't that be nice? Not only nice -- it would be miraculous. But today this president's rosy-hued promises sound like little more than cynical ploys.

Does anyone who's followed this process really believe that such assurances are worth any more than Herr Hitler's when he got his agreement at Munich? Maybe, just maybe, they are. And maybe pigs will develop wings.

As the West is played for a fool again, a glib equation has been made between Neville Chamberlain in 1938 and Barack Obama in 2015, but that comparison doesn't hold up on closer inspection.

Neville Chamberlain was sincere.

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Not since our last messianic president, Woodrow Wilson, has the country had a leader who believed he could conduct American diplomacy so unilaterally -- without the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate no matter what the Constitution says. The result in Wilson's case was tragedy. His great dream of a League of Nations insuring the peace of the world was doomed without American participation when the Senate failed to approve the Treaty of Versailles he had engineered. Not that the League could have survived anyway as the aggressors of the world -- German Nazis, Italian fascisti, Japanese imperialists -- proved more than a match for its naivete.

The outlook for Barack Obama's unilateral diplomacy appears just as bleak. He and his legal eagles may succeed in following the letter of the Constitution by dubbing this deal with Tehran's mullahs and the usual European collaborators an executive agreement instead a treaty, but not its spirit. The rest of his "strategy," which amounts to appeasing Iran, is just as crafty and likely to prove just as futile. Or maybe you're one of those who believe that it's a great victory getting Tehran to delay its bomb by a matter of months -- or maybe just days -- rather than dismantling it altogether. Some of us find that idea laughable.

Israel's irrepressible prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, whose interest in this deal is not just a matter of constitutional niceties but his country's very survival, may have said it best: "Such a deal would not block Iran's path to the bomb. It would pave it."