Napoleonic Appeasement

It is not easy to fathom the mindset that believes Obama has found a path to peace in our times. We call it appeasement because that is what Neville Chamberlain, its best-known advocate, proudly called it.  Appeasers believe that every opponent is a reasonable person suffering only from an inferiority complex, in need of friendly outreach and professional counseling.  It is a twin error with isolationism, which is the belief that we have enemies only because we have friends.

We tend to frame appeasement in 1930’s Hitlerite terms.  Since the reductio ad hitlerum is properly suspect (one only needs to counter that “Iran is not Hitler”), it may be useful to look for other examples.

In the early years of the 19th century, European leaders were perplexed by the problem of an aggressively revolutionary France.  The Chamberlains and Obamas of the day thought that they could cut deals with Napoleon.

Here are some prescient words from a 1954 doctoral thesis on the subject.

The defenders of the status quo therefore tend to begin by treating the revolutionary power as if its protestations were merely tactical; as if it really accepted the existing legitimacy but overstated its case for bargaining purposes; as if it were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions.  Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists; those who counsel adaptation to circumstance are considered balanced and sane… 

“Appeasement”… is the result of an inability to come to grips with a policy of unlimited objectives. But it is the essence of a revolutionary power that it possesses the courage of its convictions, that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their ultimate conclusion.

It does not take much vision to see in these words the thinking of the Islamic Republic of Iran:  “a revolutionary power that it possesses the courage of its convictions, that it is willing, indeed eager, to push its principles to their ultimate conclusion.”

Think about today’s leaders in the West (including Mr. Obama), “…treating the revolutionary power as if its protestations were merely tactical...” As if “Death to America!” and “Erase Israel from the Map” were just political sloganeering!

“…as if it really accepted the existing legitimacy but overstated its case for bargaining purposes…”  As if Iran really wanted to live in peace with its neighbors, or anyone else (except other Shiite Muslim theocracies, of which there are thankfully none yet)!

“…as if it were motivated by specific grievances to be assuaged by limited concessions…”  As if the Mullahs really wanted only to build nuclear power plants, so they could end their reliance on foreign oil!  (Has any diplomat ever asked Iran why it wants or needs ANY nuclear capacity?)

“Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists”, as Mister Netanyahu, Joe Lieberman, and other voices in the Wilderness know only too well.  Someday (heaven forfend), their names may be listed on a tragic honor roll along with that of Winston Churchill.

As for the wishful optimists, the “balanced and sane” folks who counsel “adaptation to circumstance”, well, you know who they are.

[If you are interested in the name of the doctoral student who wrote the above analysis, it is Henry Kissinger, in A World Restored; Europe After Napoleon: The Politics of Conservatism in a Revolutionary Age.  It is well worth a read.]
As always, I’d be interested in your reaction.  Just click the “Leave a comment” button up top, and have at it.
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