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An Even More Ridiculous Munich Comparison

Jonathan Tobin makes [1] another ignorant Geneva/Munich comparison, and adds this bit of silliness to it:

But as bad as the Iran deal was, the real analogy to Munich is the way in which Obama and Kerry not only ignored the concerns of the nations endangered by an Iranian nuke—Israel and Saudi Arabia—but also excluded them from the negotiations. Like the Czechs who were told by Chamberlain that they had no choice but to accept the dismemberment of their country, Israel and the Saudis have been callously told they can either like the deal or lump it.

It might not seem possible to make an even more ridiculous comparison between the Iran deal and the Munich conference at this point, but Tobin has done it. The effect of Munich was to redraw international boundaries, deprive one state of part of is territory, and create the conditions for its eventual conquest. It was hardly the first time that Great Power diplomacy reached an agreement at the expense of a small nation, but it is one of the more egregious examples of it. Czechoslovakia had a very real and immediate stake in the major powers decided. Israel and Saudi Arabia have nothing comparable at stake in these talks, and it would be bizarre to think that either of them should be included.

Frankly, Israel and Saudi Arabia have no more stake in the negotiations with Iran than Turkey or Egypt or any other country in the region. Their objections have been loud, but that’s irrelevant. One might as well complain that Pakistan and Armenia were “excluded” from the negotiations. It is especially absurd to complain about Israel’s “exclusion” from these talks when it isn’t even party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. As a nuclear-armed state that doesn’t belong to the NPT, Israel has about as much business criticizing Iran’s compliance with the treaty as North Korea.

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27 Comments To "An Even More Ridiculous Munich Comparison"

#1 Comment By BD On November 27, 2013 @ 3:27 pm

If you’ll accept nothing short of war, then everything else is “Munich”.

But it seems the critics aren’t even considering WHY Munich was a mistake. Had that agreement included a mechanism to enforce its terms, for example by placing French and British troops in Czechoslovakia or having forces actually invade Germany in case of breach, then the Munich agreement itself never would have gotten such a bad rap. Instead, what made it so infamous was the fact that as soon as Hitler violated the agreement by invading the rest of that country, the French and British did nothing to retaliate or enforce the deal. The parallel here would be if Iran goes ahead and produces a bunch of nukes, and the U.S. and her allies just say “meh”. (And even then, an Iranian bomb wouldn’t have the WWII implications–simply having a weapon doesn’t mean it will be used, otherwise Pakistan and India would have nuked each other by now).

Most of the opposition to this deal is from Republicans just eager to oppose anything Obama does and Likudites who see anything short of crippling Iran in every way as a defeat.

#2 Comment By Thomas O. Meehan On November 27, 2013 @ 3:36 pm

There is I think, one similarity to Munich in the mentality of the anti-agreement forces. The antis see both the Third Reich and the Iranian government as the irredeemable other, never to be dealt with except in terms of suppression, if not destruction. They have been very successful in ingraining this mentality in the minds and emotions of our fellow citizens, especially among people describing themselves as conservatives.

The only corrective to this is to educate people about the nature and uses of foreign policy, free from emotional appeals of interest groups, both foreign and domestic. This must include a disinfectant purge of pressure group influence. Conservatives need to set their face against ethnic lobbies of all sorts. The only criteria for american foreign policy is that which benefits all Americans.

#3 Comment By philadlephialawyer On November 27, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

Stupid as it is, I don’t think it is anything new. I think the Munich trope has, for decades, pretty much meant that the US President and the USA were Chamberlain/UK and the Muslim bad guy du jour and his country were Hitler/Nazi Germany, and, usually, in the last twenty to thirty years, with Israel cast, as now, as Czechoslovakia.

Prior to that, it was different, as the US was still the UK, and the Russians/Chinese/North Koreans/North Vietnamese/Vietcong/Sandinistas/Cubans/etc were Nazi Germany, but with the Czech role being played by Eastern European countries, South Korea, South Vietnam, El Salvador, Angola, whatever Third World country was endangered by the Red Menace. So, in the Cold War version, the Czech of the day at least superficially resembled the real Czechoslovakia in the sense that that country itself was the one under discussion.

But, with Israel, it has long since come to pass that any US deal with Saddam or Gaddafi or Syria or even Pakistan or Iran constitutes a “Munich,” even though, as you say, Israel is only tangentially, at most, involved.

#4 Comment By Noah172 On November 27, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

Israel and the Saudis have been callously told they can either like the deal or lump it

Funny to see Jewish Zionists pretend to stand in solidarity with Saudi Arabia, a state which they normally detest. Is there a Yiddish equivalent of “crocodile tears”?

Poor Israel (with its 100-200-warhead nuke arsenal!). Poor Saudi Arabia (with more oil wealth than they know what to do with!).

These two nasty little regimes deserve each other.

#5 Comment By Patrick Harris On November 27, 2013 @ 4:41 pm

Is it really the case that Israel has no more at stake in this than Turkey or Pakistan? An Iranian nuclear strike on Israel may be highly unlikely, but when you’re talking about that kind of threat “remotely plausible”‘ is enough to be a serious concern (which is not to say it’s a good justification for war).

#6 Comment By Rachel On November 27, 2013 @ 4:58 pm

I really want someone to compile a list of all the things hawks have compared to Munich in the last six years. Any takers?

#7 Comment By Mark Vadnais On November 27, 2013 @ 5:18 pm

The neocons have changed one of their talking points. Instead of preventing Iran from a “nuclear weapons capability”, they now want to prevent Iran from “enriching nuclear material”.

#8 Comment By icarusr On November 27, 2013 @ 5:22 pm

Patrick:

Deterrence alone is enough to protect Israel against Iran. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have a right to be concerned, not because of any possibility of a nuclear attack by Iran, but because of inevitable pressures to develop their own nuclear arms in response. Pakistan is a regional power/menace/rival, and the so far the only Muslim nuclear country, and so it has every reason to be concerned.

The real point, however, is not whether one or more of these countries has reason to be concerned about an eventuality (nuclear armed Iran) that is even now uncertain, even if plausible. Rather, the point is whether imprecise, ignorant and manifestly idiotic comparisons to events seventy years ago in Europe that have no bearing whatever to the situation in the Middle East now help understand how to assess and deal with that “remotely plausible” scenario. They do not. It is not just intellectual laziness that compares every discussion or negotiation with an adversary to the next coming of Munich; it is rank dishonesty.

#9 Comment By James Canning On November 27, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

More rubbish from Jonathan Tobin.

Israel needs to be told: sign the NPT and get rid of your nukes.

#10 Comment By James Canning On November 27, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

Philadelphia – – Let’s not forget Curtis LeMay, the air force general who accused JFK of appeasing Krushchev, by imposing the quarantine on Cuba (Oct. 1962), instead of invading.

#11 Comment By Melvin Backstrom On November 27, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

BD,

“But it seems the critics aren’t even considering WHY Munich was a mistake. Had that agreement included a mechanism to enforce its terms, for example by placing French and British troops in Czechoslovakia or having forces actually invade Germany in case of breach, then the Munich agreement itself never would have gotten such a bad rap. Instead, what made it so infamous was the fact that as soon as Hitler violated the agreement by invading the rest of that country, the French and British did nothing to retaliate or enforce the deal.”

The problem with the British and French coming to the aid of Czechoslovakia after Germany annexed the Sudetenland was that there were no defenses between the Sudetenland and the rest of Czechoslovakia. This lack sharply contrasted with the major defense mechanisms that the Germans would have had to fight their way through to take the Sudetenland and then the rest of country by force. Estimates at the time were that Czechoslovakia could have held out alone against the Germans for weeks given the state of German re-militarization and the strength of the defenses. Hitler of course knew this, which is why he wanted Britain and France to give it to him rather than be forced to fight for it.

The blindness of Munich was that once Britain and France forced Czechoslovakia to give up the Sudetenland there was no way to then stop Hitler from annexing the rest of the country especially given how ill prepared they were at the time to fight Germany.

#12 Comment By EngineerScotty On November 27, 2013 @ 7:49 pm

Now, if Czechoslovakia were perfectly capable of whipping Germany’s butt, as Israel is of doing to Iran, there might be a point….

#13 Comment By Ken_L On November 27, 2013 @ 7:55 pm

Today I came across mention of a book I never heard of before: ‘The Wages of Appeasement: Ancient Athens, Munich, and Obama’s America’. By Bruce Thornton of the Hoover Institution, so no surprises there. It was published in March 2011, suggesting that the 1938 analogy has become such an embedded artefact in neo-con rhetoric that they don’t believe it requires any justification.

#14 Comment By philadelphialawyer On November 27, 2013 @ 9:21 pm

This guy at Daily Kos has published a three part “short” history of the Munich analogy/meme. But it only goes up to 2008.

[2]

#15 Comment By Puller58 On November 27, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

But Israel and Iran do need to sit down and hash out an end to their current conflict. The nuclear negotiations weren’t going to fit that bill since both sides would likely hurl invective at each other.

#16 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 28, 2013 @ 1:28 am

“The effect of Munich was to redraw international boundaries, deprive one state of part of is territory, and create the conditions for its eventual conquest.”

Sounds like what the Likud-controlled government of Israel is doing to Palestine.

Munich cuts both ways – and the hawks are on the wrong side of the equation.

#17 Comment By James Canning On November 28, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

Melvin, I don’t think the British leaders who made the deal with Hitler at Munich were “blind”. They hoped Hitler would keep his word and not plunge the continent into war. Sadly, Hitler was virtually insane in his lust for power.

#18 Comment By Ted On November 29, 2013 @ 3:43 pm

Daniel to continue a discussion in another post, I find your position on sanctions in this case to be unpersuasive. I agree with you and Mousavian that Bush screwed up royally by not negotiating earlier, and that sanctions that his administration backed were a waste of time. But I’m talking about what Obama did. Let’s look at the timeline.

1. Obama is elected partially on the idea of talking to Iran, and records the Nowruz greeting a month into his presidency. He gives the Cairo speech. No talk of new sanctions.

2. The disputed election happens, and the Iranian establishment cracks down on the Greens. Obama displays enormous restraint toward the Iranian government in his public statements.

3. In October of 2009, despite the bloodshed, the US has backchannel talks with Iran on the nuclear issue.

4. Nothing happens. Obama backs sanctions in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

5. Continued impact of the sanctions harms the Iranian economy.

“For years, Iran’s leaders have scoffed at Western economic sanctions, boasting that they could evade anything that came their way. Now, as they seek to negotiate a deal on their nuclear program, the leaders are acknowledging that sanctions, particularly those applied in 2010 on international financial transactions, are creating a hard-currency shortage that is bringing the country’s economy to its knees.”

[3]

6. Then the Iranians have another election, and elect the only moderate on the slate, and the leadership allows it. Instead of protests, there is approval. Why?

“this is an issue which I think preoccupies the vast majority of Iranians because they’re not only chafing under internal mismanagement and corruption but they’re also chafing under an incredibly draconian international sanctions regime. There are U.S. sanctions against Iran’s central bank, a European oil embargo, six U.N. Security Council resolutions. So, the quality of life of most Iranians has dropped precipitously during the era of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And so when Rowhani promised moderation, implicit in that was, you know, he was going to be the candidate that was going to resolve some of these international differences in order to lessen the sanctions.”

[4]

A mere five months later, we have an interim deal, and prospects have never been brighter for a thawing between the two nations.

I’m with you on almost all foreign policy issues. I think we’ve done a horrible job in a lot of ways. I agree with you on Obama and Libya. I agree with you that the Bush treatment of Iran was ridiculous. But Obama had to play with the cards he was dealt. He reached out early in his administration in ways that were politically difficult for him, and there was little progress. Three years of tighter sanctions and another election later, and suddenly we’re seeing enormous progress, the kind of progress that is enraging Israel, the Saudis, and much of Congress. Would we have seen this progress without Obama’s sanctions? I seriously doubt it.

I’m not saying that sanctions work in general. In fact, I think in most cases, they are counter productive. But this seems like the exception to the rule, and you’re going to have to do better than Mousavian’s piece to convince me otherwise. It seems to me like reflexive criticism of all sanctions is just as doctrinaire as the neocons need to ratchet up tension in all situations.

#19 Comment By a spencer On November 29, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

Ted, you lay out a good case.

I don’t mean to sound pedantic, but considering the sources: “Iranian leaders”, the mouthpiece-to-power New York Times and likely-to-accept-some-Beltway-spin NPR, I will suggest this is a great way for the Iranians to distract from the fact that they screwed up their economy themselves long ago, no limited to intolerable inflation in the 90s. Tanking economies obviously hurt people at the bottom more than the top, but if elites can provide enough distractions, well… we’ve seen it for ourselves. This helped the regime – including the Ayatollahs, Presidents and Parliament – cover up its domestic failures for an extended period of time.

Just saying – when the Iranians scoffed it may have been because they were getting away with bad management.

Sidebar/thread jack: Ahmadinejad was quite popular, at least in the beginning, especially in rural areas. He was elected by conservatives twice. I believe he worked to extend health care and played the shrewdest of populist cards by visiting every province in a huge country. Interesting documentary if anyone gets a chance to see it, LETTERS TO THE PRESIDENT directed by a Czech and released by Germany:
[5]
Gotta love the guy who simply asks Ahmadinejad for a wrench.

For even more interesting stories – like this one about gender re-assignment surgery in Iran, which is not only legal but fully endorsed and encouraged by the mullahs for those ‘non-existent’ homosexuals, BE LIKE OTHERS:
[6]

or NOSE IRANIAN STYLE, if you think its only the West that obsesses about looks:
[7]

#20 Comment By philadelphialawyer On November 29, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

Ted:

Is there any reason to think that Iran would not have accepted the same terms as it accepted in this deal years ago? In other words, while the sanctions certainly have not been good for Iran, did they really crack Iran, or did the USA simply, if belatedly, come to its senses and take the same deal that has more or less been on the table since at least the beginning of the Obama administration, if not even longer?

Indeed, from as early as 2003, Iran has been offering even broader co operation than the current deal calls for. Basically, Iran has made a more or less continuous series of reasonable offers, all of which the USA, and, sometimes, its allies too, have decided, until now, to reject.

[8]

Moreover, the notion that Iran “really” poses a threat to Israel, much less the USA, even if it had nuclear weapons is simply preposterous. The argument that “sanctions worked” is only plausible if there was something that needed to be done in the first place, some concessions from Iran that were actually necessary to the security interests of the USA, or even Israel, if that is considered to be of overwhelming importance to the USA.

Sure, US sanctions matter to most countries. All the more so if the US can get allies, other countries and international organizations to go along with them. I too disagree with Mr Larison, if such be his position, that sanctions have no effect. Certainly, they have negative economic effects, and that CAN translate into political change desired by those doing the sanctioning, particularly if the latter are many, powerful and economically advanced, and the sanctioned country is isolated, weak and economically backward. Of course, things CAN backfire as well, with sanctions only reinforcing the political elements in the sanctioned country disfavored by those applying the sanctions. There is no theoretical reason why they must work or must fail.

I think South Africa is the prime example, though, of sanctions working, and working as the sanctioners intended. But South Africa, with its dominant political class of folks of European heritage, was perhaps more vulnerable to sanctions than many other so called “rogue” countries. Despite SA’s wealth, power, resources, modern police state regime, and other advantages, its white population, particularly the more “liberal” sub groups, craved international, particularly European and Western, acceptance. Isolating SA in terms of international trade, but also diplomacy, culture, academics, and in other ways, even sports, had a big effect. Of course, the ANC and other internal revolutionaries mattered a great deal too, both for being so resolute in opposition and so magnanimous in victory, the latter allowing the regime to surrender gradually, without anarchy or mass slaughter. As did the Cubans, for helping destroy SA’s little empire in the neighboring States. But the sanctions definitely mattered too.

I see nothing like that happening in Iran now. Go and look at the US maximum demands over the years. The US is getting nothing like that now. Iran is not surrendering. The sanctions may have made it marginally more pliable, but they have hardly driven it to the table, groveling and desperate for a deal.

#21 Comment By Ted On November 30, 2013 @ 9:44 am

phillylawyer

My argument is about Obama, so anything before 2009 is irrelevant to me. The fact that Bush screwed up is apparent to anyone with a functioning brain.

There really isn’t much proof in your link that after 2009 Iran was offering anything like it was offering in the first term of Bush. In fact, the link talks about how Iran would make public offers, and then not close the deal. This was a ploy to look reasonable internationally while using anti-American rhetoric domestically to please the base. The proof that things have changed is the fact that we have an actual deal.

I agree with you that a nuclear Iran is not a threat to the world or Israel per se, but we have to play diplomacy with the world we have, not the world we want. The Israelis DO think a nuclear Iran is a threat to them. At the same time, hardline elements of Israeli politics don’t ever want to remove that threat, as you can see with Netanyahu’s reaction to ANY deal. Because of these perceptions, the deal is good for the United States for a couple of reasons.

1. It thaws our relationship with Iran somewhat.

2. It distances us from any possible foolish Israeli decision to bomb Iran to stall their nuclear program.

3. It shows the world that we are not joined at the hip with Israel.

I would argue that those things needed to be done, and therefore sanctions worked.

#22 Comment By Melvin Backstrom On November 30, 2013 @ 11:15 am

James Canning,

I’d say that merely hoping that Hitler would keep his side of the deal while handing him the keys to Czechoslovakia’s defense fortifications was pretty blind especially given what he’d written in Mein Kampf about subjugating the Slavs to create “Lebensraum” in the East for Germany. Churchill was one of the few British leaders who seems to have read it (apparently as early as 1933 when an English translation was published) and taken it seriously.

#23 Comment By philadelphialawyer On November 30, 2013 @ 4:51 pm

Ted:

“There really isn’t much proof in your link that after 2009 Iran was offering anything like it was offering in the first term of Bush. In fact, the link talks about how Iran would make public offers, and then not close the deal. This was a ploy to look reasonable internationally while using anti-American rhetoric domestically to please the base.”

I think not. I think the record shows that Iran has been serious about making a deal all along. And, as I said, that is true since 2009 and even before (which period is not irrelevant, from Iran’s standpoint, no matter your dismissal of Bush). It is the US leadership, again, both Bush and Obama, which has played the game of appeasing “the base” with bellicose, overblown rhetoric and by refusing to be reasonable, until now.

“The proof that things have changed is the fact that we have an actual deal.”

Yes, the fact that we now have a deal shows that something has changed. But what? I would say, mostly, it is the USA finally deciding to be reasonable.

“the deal is good for the United States for a couple of reasons.

1. It thaws our relationship with Iran somewhat.

2. It distances us from any possible foolish Israeli decision to bomb Iran to stall their nuclear program.

3. It shows the world that we are not joined at the hip with Israel.

“I would argue that those things needed to be done, and therefore sanctions worked.”

Sure, the deal is good for those reasons. But that hardly justifies the “therefore” viz a viz the “sanctions work[ing].” Again, the deal could have been made years ago, but the USA continually balked, under Bush and Obama.

#24 Comment By Jay C On November 30, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

@Ted:

“the deal is good for the United States for a couple of reasons.

1. It thaws our relationship with Iran somewhat.

2. It distances us from any possible foolish Israeli decision to bomb Iran to stall their nuclear program.

3. It shows the world that we are not joined at the hip with Israel.

I quite agree: which is probably why the Israeli government, and its enablers in the US, are so bent-out-of-shape at the prospect of a non-military “solution” to the Iranian nuclear issue. The details of the settlement and its diplomatic processes have become way less important than what I think is the REAL point (a meta-point if you will) of the manufactured “outrage”: i.e. that the US has seen fit to negotiate an Iran deal without the pre-clearance of the Israelis, and counter to their ‘official’ position – hence the meta-issue becomes the relationship – and the balance of power in that relationship – between the US and Israel. THAT, I think, is the major crisis the hawks seem willing to provoke. And cheap “sellout” metaphors (inapt and inappropriate though they are) are a convenient way to get media attention for their views.

#25 Comment By Pollster On December 1, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

“As a nuclear-armed state that doesn’t belong to the NPT, Israel has about as much business criticizing Iran’s compliance with the treaty as North Korea.”

Funny that you should group these three together, because year in and year out they are regularly voted as among the Five Most Hated countries in the world.

#26 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On December 2, 2013 @ 1:01 pm

It occurred to me in the shower this morning that the real Munich analogy is to the Balfour Declaration and the subsequent League of Nations action creating the Palestine Mandate and vesting it in Great Britain.

In both cases, great powers dictated the fate of a territory, in favor of a minority (the Jews of Palestine, the Sudeten Germans), without so much as consulting the people who lived there (Palestinian Arabs, Czechs).

Thus when Zionists claim that Balfour and the Mandate give them a claim to the Occupied Territories, they are resting their claim on a Munich-like edict of foreign powers.

So it’s not 1938. It’s 1917.

#27 Comment By James Canning On December 2, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

Melvin Backstrom – – Chamberlain did not regard Britain as prepared for war, as of Sept 1938.

Hugely painful loss, as you say, of Czech defensive perimeter in the Sudetenland.

Hitler essentially was insane, in my view.