Friday, May 16, 2008


American media are busily discussing a speech by President Bush in which he (Bush) said that anyone (Barrack Obama) who would meet with Iran or Hamas would be engaged in appeasement. Appeasement gets its negative connotation from the Munich Conference of the 1930's where Chamberlain from Britain and Daladier from France gave in to Hitler's demands in order to avoid another war. The most obvious thing that should be pointed out is that Hitler's subsequent aggression did not come from the fact that the French and English talked to him. The aggression came because Hitler came to the conclusion that Chamberlain and Daladier would never go to war and therefore there was no obstacle to his ambitions. The point is that "talking" is not the same as appeasement so the Bush allegation is way off base.

Another relevant example here is the confrontation between Kennedy and Khrushchev in the early 1960's. Initially Khrushchev concluded that he could push Kennedy around and hence he adopted a very aggressive posture. When, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy convinced Khrushchev that he was prepared to go to war to stem Soviet aggression Khrushchev was forced to back down. The result of this confrontation however, was increased talking and this increased talking resulted in considerable progress in US - Soviet relations in following years. So again, the key is not the refusal to talk. In the same way during the 1970's Nixon, who had made a name by being an anti-communist, made progress in Sino-American relations by abandoning the policy of isolating China. Instead Nixon became the first president to visit China and again much useful change was the result. Something similar happened during the 1980's in US - Soviet relations. Reagan, who again made a name as an anti - communist, made great progress by in fact being willing to talk to Gorbachev. The result led ultimately to the end of the USSR.

The examples show that talking to an opponent is not the same as appeasing them. When dealing with aggressors it is clearly vital to make clear that force will be used at some point to repel aggression. This is what went wrong at Munich. Hitler came to the conclusion that force would never be used. Once you make it clear that you are prepared to use force it seems clear that talking to potential aggressors can lead to positive progress. For Bush to misuse the word appeasement as he did simply does not provide anything useful to the issue of how to deal with Iran and its clients Hamas and Hezbollah.

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