Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Obama Is America’s Version of Stanley Baldwin

 by Victor Davis Hanson// National Review

Both leaders put their successors in a dangerous geopolitical position.

Last year, President Obama assured the world that “we are living in the most peaceful, prosperous, and progressive era in human history,” and that “the world has never been less violent.”

Translated, those statements meant that active foreign-policy volcanoes in China, Iran, North Korea, Russia, and the Middle East would probably not blow up on what little was left of Obama’s watch.

Obama is the U.S. version of Stanley Baldwin, the suave, three-time British prime minister of the 1920s and 1930s.

Baldwin’s last tenure (1935–1937) coincided with the rapid rise of aggressive German, Italian, and Japanese Fascism.

Baldwin was a passionate spokesman for disarmament. He helped organize peace conferences. He tirelessly lectured on the need for pacifism. He basked in the praise of his good intentions.

Baldwin assured Fascists that he was not rearming Britain. Instead, he preached that the deadly new weapons of the 20th century made war so unthinkable that it would be almost impossible for it to break out.

Baldwin left office when the world was still relatively quiet. But his appeasement and pacifism had sown the seeds for a global conflagration soon to come.

Obama, the Nobel peace laureate and former president, resembles Baldwin. Both seemed to believe that war breaks out only because of misunderstandings that reflect honest differences. Therefore, tensions between aggressors and their targets can be remedied by more talk, international agreements, goodwill, and concessions.

Ideas such as strategic deterrence were apparently considered by both Baldwin and Obama to be Neanderthal, judging from Baldwin’s naÏve efforts to ask Hitler not to rearm or annex territory, and Obama’s “lead from behind” foreign policy and his pledge never to “do stupid sh**” abroad.

Aggressors clearly assumed that Obama’s assurances were green lights to further their own agendas without consequences.

Iran routinely threatened U.S. Navy ships, even taking ten American sailors into custody early last year. Obama issued various empty deadlines to Iran to cease enriching uranium before concluding a 2015 deal that allowed the Iranians to continue working their centrifuges. Iran was freed from crippling economic sanctions. And Iran quietly received $400 million in cash (in the dead of night) for the release of American hostages.

All that can be said about the Iran deal is that Obama’s concessions likely ensured he would leave office with a non-nuclear Iran soon to get nuclear weapons on someone else’s watch.

Obama green-lighted the Syrian disaster by issuing a red line over the use of chemical weapons and then not enforcing it. When Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad called Obama’s bluff, Obama did nothing other than call on Russian president Vladimir Putin to beg Assad to stop killing civilians with chemical weapons.

Nearly five years after Obama issued his 2012 red line to Syria, and roughly a half-million dead later, Assad remains in power, some 2 million Middle Eastern refugees have overrun Europe, and Assad is still gassing his own citizens with the very chemical agents that the Obama administration had boasted were removed.

Obama’s reset policy with Russia advanced the idea that George W. Bush had unduly polarized Putin by overreacting to Russian aggression in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. But Obama’s concessions and promises to be flexible helped turn a wary but opportunistic Putin into a bold aggressor, assured that he would never have to account for his belligerence.

Middle Eastern terrorism? Obama assured us that al-Qaeda was “on the run” and that the Islamic State was a “jayvee” organization. His policy of dismissing the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” along with his administration’s weird assertions that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was “largely secular” and that “jihad” did not mean using force to spread Islam, earned the U.S. contempt instead of support.

Russia and China launched cyberattacks on the U.S. without worry of consequences. Both countries increased their defense budgets while ours shrank. China built artificial island bases in the South China Sea to intimidate its neighbors, while Russia absorbed Crimea.

North Korea built more and better missiles. Almost weekly, it threatened its neighbors and crowed that it would soon nuke its critics, the American West Coast included.

In other words, as was true of Europe between 1933 and 1939, the world grew more dangerous and reached the brink of war. And like Stanley Baldwin, Obama was never willing to make a few unpopular decisions to rearm and face down aggressors in order not to be forced to make far more dangerous and unpopular decisions later on.

Baldwin was popular when he left office, largely because he had proclaimed peace, but he had helped set the table for the inevitable conflict to be inherited by his successors, Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill.

Obama likewise ignored rumbling volcanoes, and now they are erupting on his successor’s watch.

In both cases, history was kind while Baldwin and Obama were in office — but not so after they left.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

About victorhanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture. He recently published an historical novel The End of Sparta (2012), a realistic retelling of Epaminondas invasion and liberation of Spartan-control Messenia. In The Father of Us All (2011), he collected earlier essays on warfare ancient and modern. His upcoming history The Savior Generals(2013) analyzes how five generals in the history of the West changed the course of battles against all odds. He was awarded the National Humanities Medal in 2007 and the Bradley Prize in 2008. Hanson, who was the fifth successive generation to live in the same house on his family’s farm, was a full-time orchard and vineyard grower from 1980-1984, before joining the nearby CSU Fresno campus in 1984 to initiate a classical languages program. In 1991, he was awarded an American Philological Association Excellence in Teaching Award, which is given yearly to the country’s top undergraduate teachers of Greek and Latin. Hanson has been a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford, California (1992-93), a visiting professor of classics at Stanford University (1991-92), a recipient of the Eric Breindel Award for opinion journalism (2002), an Alexander Onassis Fellow (2001), and was named alumnus of the year of the University of California, Santa Cruz (2002). He was also the visiting Shifrin Professor of Military History at the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland (2002-3). He received the Manhattan Institute’s Wriston Lectureship in 2004, and the 2006 Nimitz Lectureship in Military History at UC Berkeley in 2006. Hanson is the author of hundreds of articles, book reviews, scholarly papers, and newspaper editorials on matters ranging from ancient Greek, agrarian and military history to foreign affairs, domestic politics, and contemporary culture. He has written or edited 17 books, including Warfare and Agriculture in Classical Greece (1983; paperback ed. University of California Press, 1998); The Western Way of War (Alfred Knopf, 1989; 2d paperback ed. University of California Press, 2000); Hoplites: The Ancient Greek Battle Experience (Routledge, 1991; paperback., 1992); The Other Greeks: The Family Farm and the Agrarian Roots of Western Civilization(Free Press, 1995; 2nd paperback ed., University of California Press, 2000);Fields without Dreams: Defending the Agrarian Idea (Free Press, 1996; paperback, Touchstone, 1997; The Bay Area Book reviewers Non-fiction winner for 1996); The Land Was Everything: Letters from an American Farmer (Free Press, 2000; a Los Angeles Times Notable book of the year); The Wars of the Ancient Greeks (Cassell, 1999; paperback, 2001); The Soul of Battle (Free Press, 1999, paperback, Anchor/Vintage, 2000); Carnage and Culture (Doubleday, 2001; Anchor/Vintage, 2002; a New York Times bestseller); An Autumn of War (Anchor/Vintage, 2002); Mexifornia: A State of Becoming (Encounter, 2003),Ripples of Battle (Doubleday, 2003), and Between War and Peace (Random House, 2004). A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War, was published by Random House in October 2005. It was named one of the New York Times Notable 100 Books of 2006. Hanson coauthored, with John Heath, Who Killed Homer? The Demise of Classical Education and the Recovery of Greek Wisdom (Free Press, 1998; paperback, Encounter Press, 2000); with Bruce Thornton and John Heath, Bonfire of the Humanities (ISI Books, 2001); and with Heather MacDonald, and Steven Malanga, The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s (Ivan Dee 2007). He edited a collection of essays on ancient warfare, Makers of Ancient Strategy (Princeton University Press, 2010). Hanson has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, International Herald Tribune, New York Post, National Review, Washington Times, Commentary, The Washington Post, Claremont Review of Books, American Heritage, New Criterion, Policy Review, Wilson Quarterly, Weekly Standard, Daily Telegraph, and has been interviewed often on National Public Radio, PBS Newshour, Fox News, CNN, and C-Span’s Book TV and In-Depth. He serves on the editorial board of the Military History Quarterly, and City Journal. Since 2001, Hanson has written a weekly column for National Review Online, and in 2004, began his weekly syndicated column for Tribune Media Services. In 2006, he also began thrice-weekly blog for Pajamas Media, Works and Days. Hanson was educated at the University of California, Santa Cruz (BA, Classics, 1975, ‘highest honors’ Classics, ‘college honors’, Cowell College), the American School of Classical Studies, Athens (regular member, 1978-79) and received his Ph.D. in Classics from Stanford University in 1980. He divides his time between his forty-acre tree and vine farm near Selma, California, where he was born in 1953, and the Stanford campus.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: