Home/Daniel Larison/Appeasement and “Munich” Are Entirely Irrelevant to the Syria Debate

Appeasement and “Munich” Are Entirely Irrelevant to the Syria Debate

Michael Hirsh resorts to some very tired name-calling:

World War II began 74 years ago Sunday when German troops invaded Poland. The invasion conclusively discredited the concept of “appeasement” as a foreign policy for, well, the next 74 years. But if the U.S. Congress opposes authorization of the military mission to Syria that President Obama has now handed off to it, and if Obama uses that as an excuse to back further away from enforcement of his “red line,” the “A” word will likely come to dominate the international debate once again.

Many people are going to start continue flinging charges of appeasement at Obama if he doesn’t order the attack, but that won’t tell us anything about Obama’s Syria policy. It will just us that there is a large number of people writing about foreign policy that need to stop relying on this word. Obama’s Syria policy is a mess, and it has the distinction of inspiring distrust and anger from all sides of the debate, but it helps no one and muddles things even more to talk about appeasement. For his part, Kerry lectured House Democrats yesterday that this was a “Munich moment” as part of his attempt to intimidate them into voting for the resolution, but if they have any sense they will understand how irrelevant Munich and appeasement references are to this decision.

The charge of appeasement implies that one or more governments are agreeing to make major concessions to another government, and that they or their allies will face military attack if the concession isn’t made. The original assumption behind appeasement was that by directly satisfying an aggressive government’s demands, this would prevent conflict and avoid the costs of another major international war. Obviously, it failed badly. Ever since then, fear of appeasement has poisoned many foreign policy decisions since WWII. It is now so deeply ingrained among Westerners that it is the wrong thing to do that no one in any position of authority ever entertains the idea. Appeasement is irrelevant to the debate over Syria, since no one is suggesting that the U.S. or its allies give anything up to Assad. The debate has focused entirely on whether and how much to use force in Syria’s civil war.

Note that Hirsh links Obama’s would-be appeasement to respecting the outcome of the resolution’s defeat in Congress. If Obama doesn’t completely ignore Congress’ views and order an attack on Syria anyway, he is somehow guilty of “appeasing” Assad, when a more accurate description would be that he is following the law. Hirsh is badly misusing the word, and he should stop falling back on outdated and irrelevant terms.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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