Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Roots of Obama’s Appeasement

The president’s disastrous foreign policy is as much a product of his own vanity as anything else.

by Victor Davis Hanson // National Review Online

Photo via NRO

Photo via NRO

Members of the Obama administration have insisted that the Taliban are not terrorists. Those responsible for the recent Paris killings are not radical Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood is largely secular. Jihad is a “legitimate tenet of Islam.” And “violent extremism,” “workplace violence,” or “man-caused disaster” better describe radical Islamic terrorism. Domestic terrorism is just as likely caused by returning U.S. combat veterans, according to one report by a federal agency.

What is the point of such linguistic appeasement?

The word “appeasement” long ago became pejorative for giving in to bullies. One side was aggressive and undemocratic; the other consensual and eager to avoid trouble through supposedly reasonable concessions.

But appeasement usually weakened the democratic side and empowered the extremist one.

The architect of appeasement — for example, Neville Chamberlain, former prime minister of Great Britain — was predictably a narcissist. Chamberlain believed that his own powers of oratory, his insights into reason, and his undeniably superior morality would sway even a thug like Adolf Hitler.

President Obama currently is convinced that his singular charisma and rare insight into human nature will convince the Taliban to peacefully participate in Afghan politics. Obama will supposedly also win over the Iranian theocracy and show it how nonproliferation is really to everyone’s advantage.

“Reset” diplomacy with Putin was supposed to lessen tensions — if, after the 2012 election, Putin just had more exposure to a flexible statesman of Obama’s wisdom.

Throughout history, without the vanity of the conceder, there would never have been appeasement.

Appeasement also always subordinates the interests of vulnerable third parties to the appeaser’s own inflated sense of self. When Chamberlain and the French prime minister Edouard Daladier signed the 1938 Munich Pact, they worried little about the fate of millions of Czechs who lost their country — and less about millions of Poles who were next in line for Hitler’s Blitzkrieg.

Reset diplomacy with Russia in 2009 was not much concerned about the ensuing danger to Crimeans or Ukrainians. When the Taliban takes over, hundreds of thousands of reformist Afghans will die.

Obama sees a deal with Iran as a way to cement his legacy as a breakthrough statesman. In comparison, the long-term consequences of a nuclear Iran on the security of tiny Israel or on the stability of the largely Sunni Arab Middle East are future and more abstract concerns for others.

Even major concessions never satisfy aggressive powers. It is a traditional Western liberal delusion — brought on by our wealth, leisure, and the good life — that autocrats appreciate magnanimity rather than see it as timidity to be exploited further.

Hitler fumed that the compliant Chamberlain at Munich was a “worm” for making such concessions to him and boasted that he would stomp on that “silly old man” on the next occasion he saw him.

Releasing Guantanamo prisoners, or ignoring red lines to Syria, deadlines to Iran, and step-over lines to Russia, did not win over aggressors. Gestures of appeasement and empty threats only emboldened terrorists and green-lighted dictators to ratchet up nuclear enrichment, or violence against their own people — or to go into Ukraine.

When a top Russian general brags that its nuclear force is now more powerful than America’s, or when Raúl Castro warns that Cuba now expects an early return of the U.S. base at Guantanamo Bay as the price of normalization, past American concessions seem to have whetted their appetites for more confrontations.

The euphemisms for radical Islamic terrorism have not curbed it. They have not improved U.S. popularity in the Middle East.

The appeasing party is not always the weaker one. In 1938, Combined British and French military power was greater than that of the Third Reich. President Jimmy Carter had far more military options than did the Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran during the 1979–80 hostage crisis.

Instead, stronger democratic nations feel that they can continue to enjoy short-term calm and peace of mind — and let others worry about any long-term likelihood of aggression. Maybe by treating jihad, terrorism, and radical Islam as taboo words, radical Muslim terrorists will respond and become less threatening.

In truth, appeasement, not deterrence, is the more reckless path. With serial concessions, democratic leaders convince aggressors that they must be stronger than they actually are. Those fantasies increase the likelihood that weaker dictators and terrorists will miscalculate and set off a deadly confrontation down the road.

Yet the public often prefers appeasement. Military preparedness and investment are too costly. Backing up threats seems too scary. Churchills and Reagans sound shrill. Alliances, deterrence, and balance of power sound so old-fashioned. Evil and good are derided as too simplistic. Defusing a crisis now is preferable to ensuring one down the road.

Appeasement continues not because it works, but because it serves the pretensions of narcissists.

© 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

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.

18 Thoughts on “The Roots of Obama’s Appeasement

  1. Joe D'Agostino on February 5, 2015 at 7:59 am said:

    A new congressional majority is elected and we are subjected to lessons about a new foreign threat. How do I put these two together? The new congressional majority is going to do and offer nothing new beyond more obstruction and creating more internal government crises with an ideological fascination with foreign threats so one does not recognize the internal threat of a government that fails to govern, a democracy that is paralyzed and is unable to create a legislative program to solve the problems created by the needs of the governed,

    Are there problems with the health care system in the US? Is dismantling Affordable Care a way forward or a way back? What would replace it?

    Is there a problem with the banking and financial systems with too big too fail corporations taking more and more risks at the expense of the general public? Does anyone even notice or are the politicians all in on the game? Does this not need a new call to clean up campaign finance?

    Not as important as lessons in the newly important Muslim threat, I guess.

  2. Hi Dr. Hanson,

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    http://tinyurl.com/ns2kvsz

  3. Dr. Hanson is a clear thinker and among the giants of contemporary commentators. He is my first or second choice depending whose article I read first. However, the comment regarding Chamberlain needs reflection. I am not well read on Chamberlain’s personality, though I do know he was schooled in classic British Colonialism that used appeasement at times and to good use. I would appreciate comments from those better informed.

  4. Hoi Polloi Boy on February 5, 2015 at 8:37 am said:

    “President Obama currently is convinced that his singular charisma and rare insight into human nature…”

    With respect, far too much credit is given to Mr. Obama with this statement. Usually the simplest explanation suffices. Mr. Obama hates America, Christianity, Jews and is a Muslim at heart. His mission is to do destroy America, through unconstitutional acts, unfettered immigration, unsustainable spending growth and debt, class warfare, verbally and actively minimizing the Islamic threat thereby emboldening them further as well as dismantling the military.

  5. David Park on February 5, 2015 at 9:10 am said:

    Barak Obama, if actually an intellectual, is a type quite bereft of wisdom and common sense both of which have been bruised into numbness by an angry and oversized ego.

  6. Sorry, Putin ne suis pas Stalin. Washington has other reasons to get him regime-changed out — just like it aims for Netanyahu. The Obama-ization of America, you see, does not totally dispense with the boast: “We’re No. 1.”

  7. John Lewis on February 5, 2015 at 10:56 am said:

    That is very well said.

    One reads that the Iranian negotiators at the Iran-US talks routinely abuse and insult their US counterparts. Little good has the US won there!

  8. Michael Soccio on February 5, 2015 at 11:00 am said:

    Another excellent article. I am in the middle of reading The Rise and Fall Of The Third Reich and the similarities of the behavior of Obama and his followers to Chamberlin and others to Nazi aggression is so very clear. The world is in trouble if we don’t begin to stand up against aggression.

  9. And the jihadist fifth column continues to warmly stroke his vanity…they’re the only ones who truly understand him.

  10. Rocco Pirro on February 5, 2015 at 4:07 pm said:

    I see that Obama is justifying his attitudes towards the Islamists by pointing out the atrocities done in the name of Christ during the Inquisition by the Catholic Church 500 years ago. I don’t know wether to laugh or cry at this but I do believe that as long as this man is President of the United States, we are in grave danger.

  11. virgilio on February 5, 2015 at 5:12 pm said:

    Sir, I’m not an educated man, what I’m going to say is of what I understand of what is going on right now of our government, though I agree with all your evaluation and histories past. I believe God is using Obama to give a lessons to all.Obama was chosen because I think he was just raised by his mother and without the help of somebody who is the head of a family like the father. So,he is a product of a single family, who grew to be weak and effeminate man because a woman rule over him.(Isaiah3:12) He is almost the same with the Barack of the Bible who do not want to go to war even though God was leading him. He will only go if Deborah is going with him, and still holding his hand.(Judgea4:8) And the thing too is Obama got no real power or strength because God broke the pride of Americas power.(Lev.26:19-20). So I would say even though I don’t agree with the words he is using in the problems that are here and his actions which there is none, what can I say. But I’m always praying that God guide and help us and our leaders.

  12. dupere on February 5, 2015 at 6:41 pm said:

    With the signing of China into the World Trade Organization in 2001, the fate of Nations was sealed. That ” day of infamy” paved the way for Obama to gain power and set the country on it’s downward spiral. The fate of the United States as a soon-to-be bankrupt country was sealed. The fate of the Middle East churning in blood and hell was written— as was the destiny of the European Union slowly breaking apart. Now all that’s left is the sands in the hourglass counting down to the the biggest question mark the Western World faces——What direction do the BRIC nations take in response to an Obama-led National decay. Will it be long-suffering and cooperation, or separation and let loose the dogs of war. Obama and Putin, how much damage one man can do as yet to be revealed.

  13. linnea on February 5, 2015 at 7:15 pm said:

    Appeasement seems to be built-in to the DNA of the American and international left. What’s worse they are consumed with placing the culpability of Islamic terror on the doorsteps of western civilization rather than were it belongs at the feet of sadists and murderers. This is very destructive in its defeatism towards our will to wage war against those who desire our demise. This attitude was poking its ugly head just after 3000 Americans were incinerated on 911 by claiming it was blowback and that killing afghans would just cause more terror. Defeat, surrender.

    September of 2001 al-qaeda not only had plans for America, but were going to destroy the Indian parliament building with massive truck bombings, but the plot imploded and was exposed. They then struck Bali in 2002 with a ruthless bombing targeting Australian tourists. Why? Because Australia helped in the transition of East Timor where Muslim genocide against Christians was stopped. For that al-qaeda could never forgive the crusaders for taking Muslim land away. Odd since East Timor is mostly Christian. Well, if you stop genocide by Muslims you made an enemy. Its why al-qaeda destroyed the UN headquarters in Baghdad in 2003 to murder the lead diplomat who oversaw East Timor transition. Draw cartoons or write books tst upset Muslims, we you brought it on. Educate women or remove a serial killing crime family from Iraq, you deserve an insurgency. On and on.

    There is no rational reason why Isamists want blood and slaughter. Looking for reasons as to why they hate us it irrational on a monumental scale. We will have to surrender or freedom of the press, subjugate women and efface our humanity to give in to the Islamist demands. If the left wntbto surrender to them do not in our name.

  14. dupere on February 5, 2015 at 7:30 pm said:

    From the washington free beacon, “Iran: the americans are begging us for a deal.” Obama’s finest hour. It may lead to Netanyahu losing his moment of Zen and going for broke… It may also damage our relations with the one and only Saudi Arabia.

  15. Gregory Hoy on February 5, 2015 at 8:12 pm said:

    Obama has a psychological pathology of extreme narcissism, combined with a radical Leninist ideology and a pro-Islamist philosophy. The result has been a disaster for America in all categories of federal governance and administration, most notably in domestic economics and foreign policy.

    Chamberlain’s appeasement led directly to the Second World War. Obama’s appeasement is leading directly to a similar disaster with Iran. The only question is when?

  16. Jared Carter on February 5, 2015 at 11:29 pm said:

    Victor,
    The Winston Churchills and Ronald Regans the great statesmen are lost after the fact. Neville Chamberlains and Barack Obamas are thoughtless creatures of appeasement. They think not of the constraints and consequences. I enjoyed your latest column as you once again look at the art of historical detection. You as my mentor and teacher have taught me the danger of histories “great man” theories. Churchill was great and so was Reagan. They like Thucydides are lost to antiquity. Bridging the gap between histories appeasers and histories statesmen is no easy task. With liberalism comes appeasement. Those like Obama led the poor masses on a futile quest. Churchill was no ordinary great man nor was Reagan. Why? Because they both drove ordinary men and women, they were men who broke the pattern of time and shaped a new. The influence of the great men is still shaping the course of history. I have and will continue to label President Obama a Social Determinist. These leaders as you have brought out do not make history. While leaders like Churchill are for the ages. When the Obamas removed the Churchill bust from The White House perhaps they knew what it was to be social determinists. Lastly, Obama will differ from obscurity in the time and presence of a dominate figure. As a liberal and disillusioned Marxist. Excellent column.
    Jared William Carter
    Caruthers, Ca

  17. Carl Sesar on February 6, 2015 at 1:53 pm said:

    Obama is a narcissist, just like Chamberlain was, but unlike Chamberlain, who harbored good intentions, Obama isn’t appeasing Iran, he’s deliberately aiding and abetting Iran in its war against America and Israel.

    • bostonbart27 on February 16, 2015 at 4:09 pm said:

      Right On Carl, I agree on aiding and abetting – all this turmoil is right out of Alinsky’s “Rules for Radicals” His plan is working and will be carried forward by HRC, unless she is soundly defeated.

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