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Of Moralism And Munich

“So this is our Munich moment,” Secretary of State John Kerry said today.

Got it? If you don’t think we should bomb Syria to pay Bashar Assad back for allegedly gassing his own people, you are the modern equivalent of a Hitler-appeaser.

Remember, it was the specter of Munich that the Bush administration used to talk the country into this ruinous Iraq war. In 2006, Marisa Morrison considered the way the Munich analogy led US politicians to make ill-advised policy decisions. Excerpt:

If analogies-in particular, the lesson of Munich-often lead to incorrect judgments, why are they still present in policy discourse?  As part of the prologue to America’s “last great war”, the Munich Agreement remains imprinted on the collective U.S. imagination.  In the discussion following the comments of Record and Dueck, Michael Vlahos remarked that World War II-related analogies connect Americans to “our mythical past”, allowing us to preserve our sense of national identity. The war’s continued relevance is such that Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, neither of whom actually experienced that conflict, used examples from that era to justify certain policy decisions.

Furthermore, the lessons of Munich are unlikely to be discarded because Americans tend to have a poor knowledge of history.  In order to gain approval for proposed military interventions, American presidents often present their policies in moralistic terms.  To successfully appeal to the citizenry’s sense of moral outrage, presidents and policymakers must paint their enemies as wicked and irrational.  As Hitler may be the only recent historical figure that almost all Americans recognize as unquestionably evil, policymakers have been quick to point out the resemblance between the German dictator and contemporary U.S. adversaries.  Of course, these comparisons tend to be faulty. Even the cruel and aggressive Saddam Hussein was not as disposed to risk-taking as Hitler was.

If American cruise missiles don’t fly into Damascus, will Assad annex the Mideast equivalent of the Sudentenland? I am aware that he is a nasty piece of work, but I am not aware that he is an expansionist whose desires for Syrian lebensraum threatens America’s vital interests.

In that same press conference (see above video), Kerry says that the world has guarded the chemical weapons red line “for a hundred years.” Um, really? Where was the “world” when Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurds of Halabja? Nowhere to be found, because rightly, no nation saw a vital interest at stake in that infamous war crime. Was America and the rest of the world appeasing Saddam by ignoring his sarin attack on innocent people? Besides, Saddam was fighting Iran at that time, and was useful to the West to keep the soldiers of the Islamic Republic of Iran occupied. Does Kerry think the US should have led a campaign to bomb Baghdad to defend this red line? If not, why Syria? Why now? No doubt because unlike Saddam’s Iraq, Assad’s Syria is allied to Iran. Kerry’s moralizing is designed to give cover and political impetus to a policy of containing Iran. I am pleased to see Iran contained, but not at the cost of bringing an Islamic fundamentalist regime to power in Syria, and a holocaust of Syrian Christians and minority Muslims, to say nothing of dragging the United States into yet another Mideast war.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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