Appeasement -- It won't work this time

Posted: Sep 06, 2006 12:01 AM
Appeasement -- It won't work this time

Last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that those who don't take the radical Islamist terrorist threat as seriously as the Bush administration does suffer from a "moral and intellectual confusion." He compared them to the British appeasers of Hitler before WWII.

I did a left-wing radio call-in show after the speech in which the callers accused Rumsfeld of calling them pro-Nazi for opposing President Bush on the war. Of course Rumsfeld was suggesting no such thing. But it is worth reviewing the history and meaning of appeasement -- both for those who hurl the charge and for those who are charged.

The use of the term appeasement to describe a nation's foreign policy first emerged in the 1930s in England to describe the Ramsey McDonald/Stanley Baldwin/Neville Chamberlain British governments' policy of avoiding military conflict with Hitler's Germany by yielding to his territorial demands.

But it is important to note that prior to then, the term was typically used as a positive description of individual action, such as in the phrase "appeasements of Divine displeasures," (Ralph Cudworth, the Cambridge Platonist, 1678.)

Just so, the British governments of the 1930s thought they were acting both ethically and in the best interest of their people. While there were a few pro-Nazis and anti-Semites in Britain (mostly in the upper classes), Chamberlain and most of his government were neither.

They did think Germany had been unfairly dealt with in the Versailles Treaty after WWI. And they did think it reasonable, natural and more or less inevitable that the 80 million German-speaking people of Europe would be re-united under one nation. Thus they appeased Hitler's demand for the Rhineland, anschluss (union) with Austria and the invasion of the Sudetenland (German-speaking part of Czechoslovakia.

And if that were all Hitler had wanted, Chamberlain would have gone down in history as the 20th century's greatest statesman and peacemaker. (And Winston Churchill would have been remembered -- if he was remembered at all by the general public -- as an antique, Edwardian warmonger and troublemaker.)

But appeasement -- in and of itself -- is neither inherently unwise nor immoral. It depends on the facts of each case. While the term had not been used before the 1930s, the policy has been a mainstay of both weak and powerful governments throughout history.

In 1862, during our civil war, in the Trent Affair, after a Union ship violated British maritime rights, the British threatened war if Lincoln didn't capitulate on the matter. His cabinet wanted war, but Lincoln "appeased" the British on the theory of "one war at a time." Bravo Abe the appeaser.

In 1555, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V signed the Religious Peace of Augsburg, whereby he gave in to the newly Protestant princes of his most Catholic empire and permitted them and their subjects to practice Lutheranism. He thereby delayed by 63 years the onset of the Thirty Years War -- which eventually killed 30-40 percent of the entire German population in Europe, plus vast numbers of Spanish, Swedes, Danes, French, Dutch, Italian and others.

That act of "appeasement" certainly delayed, and -- but for some foolish diplomacy and bad luck in the early 1600s-- might well have avoided one of history's great calamities. Good Call, Charles V the Appeaser.

Both Charles V and Abe Lincoln were bold, aggressive statesmen. For them, appeasement wasn't a character trait, it was a specific policy judgment.

Giving in to the demands of others sometimes makes good sense. Throughout the 19th century, the British Empire was constantly appeasing minor potentates around the world in order to keep them off the warpath.

The questions today are: What constitutes appeasement of radical Islamists? And is it likely to make us safer?

Some of Bush's critics are quite straightforward appeasers (if not using that phrase). My friend Pat Buchanan and Michael Scheuer (former head of CIA's bin Laden unit and author of "Imperial Hubris") state that the reason bin Laden is attacking us is because of our foreign policy of supporting Israel and authoritarian Muslim governments such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. They argue we should reverse those policies and thereby take ourselves out of the terrorist line of fire.

All those critics who say we should change our foreign policies because we are causing the Islamists to attack us are -- whether they use the term or not -- arguing to appease aggressors by changing ourselves in conformity with the aggressor's desires.

The politically correct crowd who say we should change the way we talk, think and behave, change our surveillance of Muslims, even here in America, because it offends Islamist sensibilities -- wish to gain safety by appeasing the violent and offended Islamists.

These arguments are not immoral or cowardly. If we could vouchsafe America from the danger of nuclear, biological and other mass slaughters of millions of our citizens, it would be reckless not to carefully consider such appeasements.

This is an issue of threat assessment. The appeasers don't see the threat as so great. Thus they think we are overreacting and even adding to the problem.

But for President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair, Australian Prime Minister Howard and (considerably lower on the food chain) me and millions of others, we are convinced that no amount of appeasement of the terrorists' desires will make us safer.

As I wrote in my book last year ("The West's Last Chance"), just as Hitler's Nazis, the radical Islamists are irreconcilable and unlimited in their goals. And, they are expanding their reach into the broad grass roots of Islam throughout the world (including in Europe and the United States).

A maximum effort to extirpate the malignancy is the only and best defense for our way of life.

I'm not against the appeasers because they are immoral or cowardly. I merely disagree with them because I believe that, like Neville Chamberlain, they underestimate the threat, and are thus dangerously wrong.