WASHINGTON -- Though Wednesday marked the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, speeches by a series of U.S. presidential candidates at the Republican Jewish Coalition rang strongly with rhetoric that applied more to the European theater in the years before the outbreak of World War II.
In speech after speech, five of the six invited GOP candidates invoked the specter of "appeasement," the pre-WWII policy that many historians say emboldened Adolf Hitler to conquer Europe and carry out a full-scale genocide of its Jewish population. U.S. President Barack Obama, the Republicans said, was making a comparable mistake by "appeasing" Iran, "appeasing" Islamist extremists, even "appeasing" other countries who want to take America's place in the world.
Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum accused the Obama administration of the kind of "appeasement" of Iran that allowed Hitler to invade neighboring countries with impunity.
Michele Bachmann said, in reference to Iran President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that "again a madman is speaking, and it seems the world is again not listening."
Mitt Romney said, "Internationally, President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy. Appeasement betrays a lack of faith in America, in American strength and in America's future."
And Newt Gingrich, currently leading in the polls, used his time to rip into the Obama State Department, accusing it of "appeasement."
In such a setting, of course, there are few terms more loaded than "appeasement," the word used to describe British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of accepting German land-grabs in the late 1930s to avoid open war. When German troops reoccupied the Rhineland and annexed Austria, Europeans stood by. When Germany threatened to take over over Czechslovakia's Sudetenland, Chamberlain traveled to Munich to meet with "Herr Hitler."
Mindful of Chamberlain's famous words upon returning from Munich, none of the candidates promised "peace in our time." Instead, each called for a harder line against Iran and enemies of the United States or Israel. Only Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China who bypassed foreign policy to focus on restoring trust in government, didn't utter the 'A' word.
Romney, however, applied it widely. "This appeasement by this Administration has taken many forms," he said. "It includes offers to engage with the world's most despicable dictators. It consists of concessions to Russia to remove our missile defense sites from Poland and to exclude tactical nuclear weapons from the new, remarkably one-sided, New START treaty. President Obama even looks the other way as China employs unfair trade tactics that endanger our economy and kill jobs."
The conference was held a day after the president sought to heft the populist torch once carried by the Republican president Theodore Roosevelt. His would-be replacements forgot to mention one historical fact about the original "appeasers" in this country, though.
For even Gingrich, the former college history professor who managed to mention the presidential election of 1860, George Kennan's Long Telegram of 1946 and George Orwell's "1984," left out the inconvenient truth that in the years before Dec. 7, 1941, nearly all of the "appeasers" opposed to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's efforts to aid Europe were Republicans.
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