Feature

Foreign policy: Is negotiation ‘appeasement’?

Want to watch a “Democrat go nuts”? said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. The trigger word, it turns out, is “appeasement." Addressing the Israeli Knesset last week, President Bush said that there are

Want to watch a “Democrat go nuts”? said The Wall Street Journal in an editorial. The trigger word, it turns out, is “appeasement.’’ Addressing the Israeli Knesset last week, President Bush said that there are those “who believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals,” and that in his view such “appeasement” strategies would be no more effective than they had been in stopping Hitler back in 1939. No sooner had the A-word passed Bush’s lips than Barack Obama, campaigning in Oregon, lashed back at what he saw as a personal attack. Bush hadn’t actually mentioned Obama, of course, but given the latter’s oft-stated willingness to negotiate with Iran, Syria, and other rogue states, we can see how Bush’s “appeasement” talk might have “hit a nerve.” Ever since George McGovern in 1972, Democrats have been losing presidential elections because of a perceived weakness on national defense. If the glib Obama “has an Achilles’ heel, this is it.’’

President Bush’s struggles with the English language continue, said Peter Scoblic in the Los Angeles Times. “Appeasement,” for the record, means to make concessions to an enemy in order to avoid violence, like giving your lunch money to a schoolyard bully, or letting Hitler annex part of Czechoslovakia so as not to have to fight him over it. “Negotiation,” on the other hand, implies only that you communicate with an enemy—which is all Obama has said he’d do. The notion that the only manly way to treat enemies is to threaten or bomb them harkens back to the conservative lunacy so prevalent during the Cold War, when right-wingers denounced Harry Truman’s and Dwight Eisenhower’s containment policies as “appeasement,’’ and clamored for confrontation with the Soviet Union and China. Do Bush and his allies really think a civilization-ending nuclear war would have been preferable to negotiation and containment? The idea that “every enemy is Hitler” and that diplomacy never works is “positively ludicrous.”

Even Bush doesn’t truly believe his own crude, politically motivated rhetoric, said Trudy Rubin in The Philadelphia Inquirer. At almost the same moment he was saying that appeasement has been “discredited by history,” his defense secretary, Bob Gates, was saying he wants to “sit down and talk with” the Iranians. Condoleezza Rice has already met with the leaders of Syria. In recent months, the Bush administration actually won important concessions by negotiating with North Korea. Bush was clearly trying to smear Obama with this speech, but in the process he managed also “to smear his own foreign policy and his own team.”

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