I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Chamberlain/appeasement cliche

Newt Gingrich spoke at a fundraiser for a GOP Congressional candidate yesterday and made explicit one of the core issues that the 2006 election will resolve:

To deal with the threat [of "nuclear bombs destroying U.S. cities"], he said, "we want to replace the North Korean regime. We want to replace the Iranian regime and the Syrian regime. We would like to replace them without using military force if we can."

When Gingrich says "we would like to replace them without using military force if we can," he means, of course, that he wants military force used (i.e. new wars waged) on those countries. It is almost certainly the case that military force is the only way to accomplish regime change in those three countries. That means that, in addition to staying in Iraq indefinitely, we will have three new Iraqs -- including in two countries with far greater military force than Iraq could have dreamed of having (one of which has nuclear capabilities).

It is hard to overstate how extremist is the warmongering agenda of those who exert the most influence among Bush supporters. Isn't that what Democrats should be asking Americans most clearly and aggressively - do you really want to stay in Iraq indefinitely, and on top of that, have whole new wars with Iran and Syria, perhaps with North Korea? That is what Newt Gingrich says he wants, and he is hardly alone.

The President's supporters try to decorate their thirst for war by depicting it as some sort of compelled Churchillian defense in the face of unprecedented evil, but it is really nothing more noble than reckless warmongering of the most dangerous kind. Although Donald Rumsfeld's invocation of the "Neville Chamberlain appeasement" insult is being treated as some sort of serious historical argument, it is, in fact, the most tired, overused and manipulative cliche used for decades by the most extreme warmongers in Washington to attack those who seek alternatives to war.

In fact, though Ronald Reagan has been canonized as the Great Churchillan Warrior, back then he was accused of being the new 1938 Neville Chamberlain because he chose to negotiate with the Soviets and sign treaties as an alternative to war. Conservative Caucus Chair Howard Phillips, for instance, "scorned President Reagan as 'a useful idiot for Kremlin propaganda,'" and published ads which, according to a January 20, 1988 UPI article (via LEXIS):

likens Reagan's signing of the INF Treaty to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's signing of an accord with Nazi Germany's Adolf Hitler in 1938. The ad, with the headline, ''Appeasement Is As Unwise In 1988 As In 1938,'' shows pictures of Chamberlain, Hitler, Reagan and Gorbachev overhung by an umbrella. Chamberlain carried an umbrella and it became a World War II symbol for appeasement.

According to the January 19, 1988 St. Louis Post-Dispatch (via LEXIS), when Pat Robertson was campaigning for President in Missouri in 1988, he "suggested that President Ronald Reagan could be compared to Neville Chamberlain . . . by agreeing to a medium-range nuclear arms agreement with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev." The Orange Country Register editorialized in September, 1988 that "Ronald Reagan has become the Neville Chamberlain of the 1980s. The apparent peace of 1988 may be followed by the new wars of 1989 or 1990." And even the very same Newt Gingrich, in 1985, denounced President Reagan's rapprochement with Gorbachev as potentially "the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938 at Munich."

Rumsfeld himself has been tossing around the Chamberlain insult in order to promote his pro-war views for almost 30 years. The Associated Press reported on November 26, 1979 on efforts to oppose ratification of the SALT treaty: "'Our nation's situation is more dangerous today than it has been any time since Neville Chamberlain left Munich, setting the stage for World War II,' Rumsfeld said at a news conference."

Screaming "appeasement" and endlessly comparing political opponents to Neville Chamberlian is not a serious, thoughtful argument, nor is it the basis for any sort of foreign policy. At best, it is an empty, cheap platitude so overused by those seeking war as to be impoverished of meaning. More often than not, though, it is worse than that; it is the disguised battlecry of those who want war for its own sake, and who want therefore to depict the attempt to resolve problems without more and more new wars as being irresponsible and weak.

This same mindset -- even, in some cases, the very same individuals -- now launching the "Chamberlain/appeasement" insult even viewed Ronald Reagan that way because he negotiated and signed treaties with the Soviets and tried to find ways to avoid constant wars. The Cold War didn't end with wars on the Soviets but with engagement of them and treaties with them, signed by the Neville Chamberlain of the 1980s, Ronald Reagan. Those who considered Reagan a Chamberlain appeaser back then were radicals and extremists (and were viewed as such). They still are extremists, but they also happen to be the ones guiding the dominant political party in our country and they don't just want to prolong the war in Iraq but want several new wars (at least). That ought to be the principal issue in this election.

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