"Chamberlain's deal with Hitler has become shorthand for naive, weak leadership."
Newsweek, June 23, 2008
It was George Bush who raised the specter of Munich and appeasement. He raised it in reference to Iran and Palestine. He used it as a slur against Barack Obama because Obama said he would talk to such people.
Then McCain picked it up. He said, "Yes, there have been appeasers in the past, and the president is exactly right, and one of them is Neville Chamberlain. I think Barack Obama needs to explain why he wants to sit down and talk with a man [Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad] who is the head of a government that is a state sponsor of terror, that is responsible for the killing of brave young Americans, that wants to wipe Israel off the map and denies the Holocaust."
What actually happened at Munich back in 1938?
The western end of Czechoslovakia was called the Sudentland. A large part of the population was ethnically German. They were campaigning to be an autonomous region. Hitler demanded they be united with the Fatherland, and then made it clear he would go to war to make it happen.
England and France didn't want to go to war. They convened a conference with Germany and Italy and cut a deal that allowed Hitler to occupy the territory he was claiming in return for a promise to go no further. Six months later, the eastern part of the country, Slovakia, seceded and became a pro-Nazi state. The next day, Hitler invaded from the west and took over the rest of Czechoslovakia. Poland was next.
There is no parallel between talking to Iran and allowing Hitler to occupy part of Czechoslovakia on his way to taking over the whole of it. Iran has not expressed any territorial ambitions. Nor does it have the means to carry them out. It has expressed a belief that Israel should not exist as a state. It certainly does not have the ability to do much about it. Should it acquire nuclear weapons, the best it could hope for against Israel, which already has nuclear weapons, a far better ability to deliver them, plus the backing of the US, would be detente, with neither country able to dare attack the other.
There is no parallel between talking to the Palestinians and the Munich agreement. Every US government since the creation of Israel has talked to the Palestinians, and to the Israelis, in the hope of reaching a peace accord, because there is no other solution, short of one group exterminating the other.
In 1991 the Soviet Union fell apart.
Georgia was one of the countries that reclaimed its independence. A large portion of the population of two areas of Georgia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia, are ethnically Russian. As usual, the Western media--and as far as I can tell, America's State Department and intelligence services, and our academics--are vastly ignorant of the actual state of things.
There are two possible pictures.
One is that the people of South Ossetia would be much happier to be part of Russia. Just as the Sudenten Germans actually preferred to join Germany. There was a referendum in which 95 percent of the people voted and 99 percent of the votes were for separation from Georgia. These are suspiciously high numbers, and nobody, not even the Russians, recognized the legality of it.
The other is that "South Ossetia is not a territory, not a country, not a regime. It is a joint venture of siloviki generals and Ossetian bandits for making money in a conflict with Georgia" (Yezhednevny Zhurnal, 8/12/08, translation by Radio Free Europe, reprinted by the New York Times). Siloviki are the Russian equivalent of America's neo-cons, with the addition that most of them come out of the old Soviet state security services, like Vladimir Putin.
Now Russia has invaded Georgia in defense of the South Ossetians. They've occupied the territory and plan to stay. It cuts Georgia almost in half.
Back in May, Russia moved "unarmed peacekeeping forces" into Abkhazia.
That lopped off the northwest section of the country. Now those peacekeeping forces have turned out to have guns, artillery, and tanks and have invaded Georgia--to protect the Abkhazians of course. It is possible that the Russians were actually out to protect their fellow Slavs. And will happily stop at the new borders.
There is another scenario.
The Russians are deeply unhappy with the loss of the countries they controlled in Soviet and tsarist times. These include the Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Russia would like to have them back. All of them have some ethnically Russian population that needs to be defended from discrimination and oppression.
Putin watched George Bush expend America's military forces--and use up the American people's appetite for war--in Afghanistan and Iraq. There wasn't even enough left to make a credible ground threat against Iran. If the US couldn't do that, how could they stand up to Russian aggression?
The great principle of international law and international relations since World War II has been the territorial integrity of sovereign nations. But the Bush administration reset the rules on that, too.
So it was a great time to strike.
A Russian officer, commanding troops in the Georgian city of Gori, was quoted by NPR on August 14 as saying: "If the American president can take Baghdad, then why can't the Russians take Tblisi?"
Russian forces now occupy about a third of Georgia.
John McCain believes in the policies that made that possible. Sarah Palin believes - like George Bush - that the policies that made that possible were ordained by God. Even though she lives in the state that is closest to Russia, her one claim to foreign policy experience, there is no indication that she has made the connection.
If the situation is allowed to stand, the government of Georgia will know that it has no real allies and must become a compliant state in the Russian sphere of influence. If that doesn't happen, Russia has made it very clear that it can manufacture a new pretext, and take the rest of the country. Indeed, it is already making noises about doing so.
If that's successful, then perhaps Azerbaijan, which is rich with oil, will be next. Or the Ukraine. Each success, according to the classic theory of appeasement, will encourage more aggression.
George Bush is a great admirer of Winston Churchill, the man who stood up to Hitler after Neville Chamberlain appeased him. George Bush was, until recently, also a great admirer of Vladimir Putin. "I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy," he said. "That's the beginning of a very constructive relationship. I wouldn't have invited him to my ranch if I didn't trust him."
Putin has a long-term plan to re-establish hegemony as it was under Stalin, as it was under the tsars. It may take 10, 20, or 30 years.
George Bush has always dreamed that when historians looked back at him, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan would look heroic and foresighted, and they would see Winston Churchill. More likely, they will see them foolish adventures that allowed the invasion of Georgia and a new Munich, in which Bush got to play Neville Chamberlain.
Larry Beinhart is the author of Wag the Dog, The Librarian, and Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin. All available at nationbooks.org
His new novel: SALVATION BOULEVARD will be published on September 16, 2008, by Nation Books
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