Neville Chamberlain, without the umbrella
posted at 10:00 am on May 9, 2008 by Ed Morrissey
After the win in North Carolina, Barack Obama fulminated about what the victory meant for America. On foreign policy, Obama said, it was a recognition that the US should talk to its enemies, in the same manner as FDR, Truman, and Kennedy did. At the time, I noted the strange claim and its complete ignorance of history, and today, Jack Kelly continues the history lesson for a constitutional scholar who clearly skipped 20th-century history:
I assume the Roosevelt to whom Sen. Obama referred is Franklin D. Roosevelt. Our enemies in World War II were Nazi Germany, headed by Adolf Hitler; fascist Italy, headed by Benito Mussolini, and militarist Japan, headed by Hideki Tojo. FDR talked directly with none of them before the outbreak of hostilities, and his policy once war began was unconditional surrender.
FDR died before victory was achieved, and was succeeded by Harry Truman. Truman did not modify the policy of unconditional surrender. He ended that war not with negotiation, but with the atomic bomb.
Harry Truman also was president when North Korea invaded South Korea in June, 1950. President Truman’s response was not to call up North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung for a chat. It was to send troops.
Perhaps Sen. Obama is thinking of the meeting FDR and Churchill had with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in Tehran in December, 1943, and the meetings Truman and Roosevelt had with Stalin at Yalta and Potsdam in February and July, 1945. But Stalin was then a U.S. ally, though one of whom we should have been more wary than FDR and Truman were. Few historians think the agreements reached at Yalta and Potsdam, which in effect consigned Eastern Europe to slavery, are diplomatic models we ought to follow. Even fewer Eastern Europeans think so.
When Stalin’s designs became unmistakably clear, President Truman’s response wasn’t to seek a summit meeting. He sent military aid to Greece, ordered the Berlin airlift and the Marshall Plan, and sent troops to South Korea.
Given the importance that Obama places on this approach to foreign policy — he seldom fails to mention it as an example of the “change” he’ll bring to Washington — one wonders why the media hasn’t pressed him on this rationalization. Obama isn’t merely saying that he’ll reinstitute diplomatic relations with Iran, which would emulate our relations with the Nazis and the Japanese prior to Pearl Harbor. Obama wants to have meetings without preconditions with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has publicly spoken of his desire to annihilate a key ally of the US, as well as Hugo Chavez, Raul Castro, and any number of thugs and tyrants. When did FDR, Truman, and Kennedy do that? Answer: never.
As I pointed out on Wednesday, even diplomatic contact didn’t help FDR with Japan and Germany. The Japanese used diplomatic negotiations as a stalling maneuver to get its Imperial Navy in place to destroy our Pacific Fleet in 1941. Our diplomatic relations with the Nazis only encouraged America Firsters and Nazi sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh to claim that Hitler had no animus towards the West and that he could be a bulwark against Bolshevism.
Maybe Obama could ask the Czechs how well unconditional talks worked for them during Munich. Neville Chamberlain insisted on holding peace talks to avoid war in Czechoslovakia, which could have defended itself as long as it held the fortifications in the Sudetenland long enough for Britain and France to beat Germany from the rear. Instead, Chamberlain carved up Czechoslovakia without its permission, and six months afterward, Hitler swallowed the rest of it whole. FDR, meanwhile, remained steadfastly neutral diplomatically until 1939, when he began clandestine support for the UK.
Negotiations with tyrants almost always leads to appeasement, which only postpones war until the tyrant is strong enough to wage it most effectively. It results in many more deaths and far more destruction because it gives the initiative and the timing to the tyrants, while building their credibility at home. William Shirer noted that the Germans were astounded when Hitler repeatedly bluffed the West during the years from 1935 to 1939, figuring each bluff would be called and Hitler destroyed as a political force. By the time he rolled into Poland unopposed except by the outmatched Poles, who expected actual military assistance from Britain and France, Germans would follow Hitler anywhere, convinced of his invincibility.
That’s what Obama’s “new approach” to foreign policy promises. It’s Neville Chamberlain without the umbrella. It certainly isn’t FDR or Truman.