Bush’s Speech in the Knesset and Appeasement

From those on the Left we heard the refrain that we should care about what are allies think of us. The unpopularity of Bush among Europeans is marshaled as evidence as to the failure of his foreign policy. What conclusion are we the draw when Bush appears at the the parliament of a US ally to a standing ovation? I guess not much if that ally is Israel.

This week George Bush delivered a well-received speech to the Knesset reaffirming the commitment of the US to Israel. Masada is a plateau overlooking the southern end of the Dead Sea, where first century Jews committed mass suicide rather than submit to the the Romans. It is a potent symbol of Jewish resistance. Bush invoked this symbolism when he said to receptive audience, “Citizens of Israel: Masada shall never fall again, and America will be at your side.

Later Bush criticized those, many of them in Europe, who wish to attempt to purchase peace at the expense of Israel”

“Some people suggest if the United States would just break ties with Israel, all our problems in the Middle East would go away. This is a tired argument that buys into the propaganda of the enemies of peace, and America utterly rejects it. Israel’s population may be just over 7 million. But when you confront terror and evil, you are 307 million strong, because the United States of America stands with you.”

As noteworthy as these commitments are, we are in a election year and the speech was received with political sensitive ears. Bush warned against empowering terrorists with the legitimacy of negotiation:

“Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: “Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.” We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

Senator Barrack Obama was not named and the paragraph would have likely been ignored after single day  like the rest of the speech by a media that isn’t much interested. Yet Obama considered it a “a false political attack.”

Why he really reacted the way he did?  Perhaps it was just political calculation. It is not obvious that the paragraph was intended as an attack, at least not directly at Obama, but what was false about it. Certainly, Obama does not dispute the history of Nazi appeasement. So his objection must reduce to whether negotiation with “terrorist and radicals” amounts to appeasement. Does unconditional negotiation grant terrorists and radicals an implicit concession of legitimacy? Obama says he is ready to debate anywhere and anytime about foreign policy.  Allow me to submit the debate topic for which Obama can take the affirmative: “Negotiation with terrorists is not appeasement.”

Appeasement is not the same as negotiation nor is it even identical to  trading land for peace.  Rather it is acquiescence to aggression with the hope that the aggression will be forestalled. The quintessential example was British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement in 1938 with Nazi Germany. Chamberlain agreed to cede Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland to “appease” Hitler expansionist ambitions. Chamberlain’s subsequent boast of “peace in our time” was contradicted when a year later Hitler invaded Poland.

Nonetheless, the “land for peace” equation is not necessarily appeasement. The Israelis managed to swap the Sinai Peninsula, originally seized from Egypt in the Six Day war, for a peace that has lasted decades. The Israelis found  a earnest partner for negotiation in Anwar Sadat. Unfortunately, Sadat was assassinated by the same radical Islamic movement that Bush warned about in his speech to the Knesset.

Hence, the question about negotiation that lies in the debate between Bush and Obama reduces to whether Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah more closely resemble Sadat or Hitler as a negotiation partner. At present, given the vicious anti-Semitism of radical Islam, the case for an affinity to Hitler rather than Sadat is easier to make.

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