05/16/2008 12:27 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

George W. Bush and "Appeasement"

George W. Bush's remarks before the Israeli Knesset, where he charged Barack Obama with "Appeasement" for seeking diplomatic alternatives to war with Iran shows that despite his abysmal approval ratings and lame duck status he is going to insert himself into the politics of 2008. That might be a good thing for the Democrats.

Obama's call for negotiations with Iran has been welcomed by governments throughout the world and follows the advice of the conservative "Iraq Study Group" headed by Lee Hamilton and James Baker. How that stance constitutes "Appeasement" of any nation or any leader is anybody's guess.

I am so sick of hearing the "Appeasement" argument trotted out whenever some right-wing blowhard wants to sound "tough" and dismiss diplomacy no matter how badly the historical context screams out for it. Lyndon Johnson used "Appeasement" to justify standing "tough" in Vietnam with disastrous results. Now Bush repeated this old canard to try to politically isolate anyone who doesn't see the world through his jaundiced eyes. John McCain naturally agrees with Bush and vowed never to talk to U.S. adversaries unless they totally capitulate to U.S. demands ahead of time.

Like the old comic strip character, "Pogo," said during the Vietnam War: "We have seen the enemy, and it is us."

During the last week of September 1938, when the leaders of two democracies, Edouard Daladier of France and Neville Chamberlain of Great Britain, met in Munich with two fascist dictators, Benito Mussolini of Italy and Adolf Hitler of Germany, the goal was to push Hitler east. Hitler's intentions were clear. He sought "Lebensraum" in Eastern Europe and considered the Slavs an inferior race to his own and the Bolsheviks the biggest single threat to Western Civilization. Hitler wished to absorb into the German Reich the largely German-speaking Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia, a nation carved out by the Versailles Treaty after Germany's defeat in World War One. The hyper-nationalist, flag-waving, right-wing Nazi regime in Berlin never accepted Czechoslovakia's legitimacy.

Hitler's call for seizing the Sudetenland was THE classic "stab-in-the-back" argument: the civilian diplomats who "betrayed" Germany at the end of WWI were all left-liberal "traitors" who sold out the nation at Versailles. (We hear the same argument from our own right-wing revisionists of the Vietnam War.) All Hitler was doing, in his view, was restoring what rightfully belonged to Germany.

Severely weakened by the Great Depression and in no position to make military threats, Chamberlain and Daladier hoped to push Hitler's ambitions eastward. The one unifying belief all four leaders shared was their fanatical hatred of the Soviet Union and anything remotely related to International Communism. A strong and well-armed Nazi regime in Central Europe, they believed, was a necessary buffer to Soviet power. And with their own domestic economic crises and their labor unions going communist, France and England focused their attention not on the threat of fascism but on the growing influence of the Soviet Union. (Their positions on the Spanish Civil War bear this fact out.)

France and England hoped Germany would spark a shooting war with the Soviet Union and then they could sit back and watch the fascists and communists tear each other apart. It didn't work out that way.

If Chamberlain and Daladier could negotiate with Hitler and Mussolini, why couldn't they also talk to Josef Stalin? Stalin was interested in resurrecting some form of the old "Triple Entente" alliance system that attempted to box in Germany in the years leading up to World War One. It might have been a long shot, but had France and England been open to including Russia in the negotiations Germany might have been stuck with an instant two-front war if it invaded any of its neighbors, east or west. German power might have been checked. As it turned out, after June 22, 1941, the Soviet Union ended up being allied with France and England anyway (and with the United States after December 7, 1941), so maybe the whole damn bloody thing could have been avoided with some creative diplomacy. That's the real lesson of "Appeasement" and it is the opposite of what the Right Wing says it is.

I'm only pointing out that there was a historical context to the 1938 Munich deal that gets lost in the din of contemporary saber rattlers.

This piece of 20th Century "history," wholly denuded of its context, has been the most abused "lesson" of World War Two. Those who want to use military violence always justify their actions by smearing those who oppose them as "Appeasers." Every U.S. president since Harry Truman has used this argument in one form or another.

But "history" also shows quite clearly that sometimes negotiations and diplomacy are much smarter and far less dangerous avenues of settling international disputes than always reflexively reaching for the guns and the cruise missiles.

What's needed in the Middle East is a comprehensive Non-Aggression Pact that includes all of the major players: the EU, Russia, Israel, Iran, Muslim states outside the region, the United States, the Arab League, etc. The region must be a nuclear-free zone and any act of military aggression must be outlawed by mutual security agreements, and not dictated by the United States, which under Bush has lost its credibility as an honest broker. The US must redeploy its troops out of Iraq and some kind of just settlement must be negotiated between Israel and Palestine. More wars and attacks and concrete walls and occupations and bombings and terrorist attacks and targeted assassinations and check points are doomed to failure. Negotiations and diplomacy must take over where military violence has failed.