“The German dictator, instead of snatching the victuals from the table, has been content to have them served to him course by course.” Winston Churchill, October 5, 1938.
Bret Stephens, at the Wall Street Journal, writes a…well…basically loses his mind:
After World War II the U.S. created a global system of security alliances to prevent the kind of foreign policy freelancing that is again becoming rampant in the Middle East. It worked until President Obama decided in his wisdom to throw it away. If you hear echoes of the 1930s in the capitulation at Geneva, it’s because the West is being led by the same sort of men, minus the umbrellas.
Worse than Munich, 1938; worse than Paris, 1973. Just worse. The worst.
The column is impressively unhinged. The treaty with Iran will cause all sorts of disasters in the six months it lasts. Apparently, both the Saudis and the Egyptians will manage to go from zero to nuclear weapons in those 180 days, and Hezbollah will gain “strength, clout, and battlefield experience” so powerful that Israeli forces will be overwhelmed. Assad, I’m sorry to say, is the slacker in the predictions. He will only “remain in power.” The least the Syrian leader could do would be to challenge Kim Jong Il’s golfing record.
Stephens doesn’t really understand Munich. He rather likes it, thinking it was a cunning delaying action by Chamberlain:
Britain and France’s capitulation to Nazi Germany at Munich has long been a byword for ignominy, moral and diplomatic. Yet neither Neville Chamberlain nor Édouard Daladier had the public support or military wherewithal to stand up to Hitler in September 1938. Britain had just 384,000 men in its regular army; the first Spitfire aircraft only entered RAF service that summer. “Peace for our time” it was not, but at least appeasement bought the West a year to rearm.
This is the John Charmley historical school, where appeasement brought time for the British to build up their forces. What Stephens has forgotten (or perhaps never knew) is that Munich not only gave the British and French another year to arm themselves, it also gave the Germans another year to build up their forces, forces which were, in 1938, just as weak as those of the allies.
What Stephens has forgotten (or perhaps never knew) is that Munich essentially traded a reasonable strategic position for an awful one. Czechoslovakia had a small but powerful army with modern weapons, and a solid defensive position anchored in the Sudeten Mountains. With the British and French threatening from the west, a German campaign to conquer Czechoslovakia would have been difficult at best. The army of Poland (the country which Britain and France ended up rising to the defense of a year later) was not nearly as good as the Czech forces, and Polish geography did not offer the same substantial natural defenses.
What Stephens has forgotten (or perhaps never knew) is that Munich pushed Stalin to think that he needed an alliance with the German. That alliance, once negotiated, doomed Poland and left Germany free of the threat of a second front (until June, 1941, of course). Munich took what was a difficult and threatening position for the British and French and turned it into a catastrophe of the first order. It was a diplomatic disaster that remains almost without parallel in the modern world and that comparing anything to it risks looking the fool.
The Iran agreement – the temporary, highly stringent, demanding Iran agreement – will loosen the strictures of western sanctions a tiny bit in return for a fairly substantial number of Iranian concessions. It is not, no matter how much Stephens quotes the Iranian President, a license to continue enriching uranium. Even if it were, when it expires in six months, the US (and Israel) will still overmatch the Iranians in every single aspect of military power by such a degree as to be ludicrous. There is no Soviet Union to ally itself with Iran. There is no Poland to serve as Iran’s target. There is no Iranian Wehrmacht, ready to unleash blitzkrieg through the Low Countries. There are no lessons applicable here, except to remember that Chamberlain, as Churchill put it, led Britain to a “total and unmitigated defeat,” and that Stephens has forgotten the past in order to misunderstand the present.