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Geneva Is Not “Worse Than Munich”

Bret Stephens reaches [1] new depths of foolishness:

By contrast, the interim nuclear agreement signed in Geneva on Sunday by Iran and the six big powers has many of the flaws of Munich and Paris. But it has none of their redeeming or exculpating aspects.

It’s tempting to dismiss this as nonsense and leave it at that, but these sorts of arguments have a way of gaining traction if they aren’t answered. If we were to take these comparisons seriously, we would have to conclude that Stephens thinks that the interim nuclear deal will lead to something worse than the annexation of the Sudetenland or the fall of South Vietnam. I doubt that even Stephens believes such absurd things, but that is what he wrote. Not surprisingly, he has no evidence that would begin to back up such extraordinary claims. Is Iran laying claim to the territory of another state? Obviously not. Is it coming out of the negotiations with more than it had at the beginning? On the contrary, it has come out of the negotiations having given up more than it received. The truth is that Iran is being made to account for its behavior inside its own borders in considerable detail for the privilege of being granted access to a fraction of its own money. The U.S. and the other members of the P5+1 got as much in the deal as they could, and Iran received very little, but then that is what one would expect when the world’s most powerful countries are bargaining with one medium-sized regional power.

The notion that the U.S. has “betrayed” a “small country” in this deal is contemptible. Israel wasn’t a party to these negotiations, but if it had been it would have been on the side of several more powerful countries dictating terms to the weaker one. Israel remains far more powerful in military terms than Iran, and would remain so even if Iran had a few nuclear weapons. The idea that Israel’s security has ever been seriously threatened by Iran’s nuclear program is even harder to take seriously today than it was last week now that Iran’s nuclear program is set to be under even stricter international controls than it was before. If strong-arming a country’s regional rival into making concessions on a major issue is “betrayal,” more countries would like to be “betrayed” by the U.S. in such a fashion.

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Geneva Is Not “Worse Than Munich”"

#1 Comment By Scottinnj On November 25, 2013 @ 10:54 pm

One can only hope Israel’s nuclear arsenal is part of the negotiations but I doubt it.

#2 Comment By motion detector On November 25, 2013 @ 11:46 pm

Stephens’ sloppy writing is of a piece with his sloppy thinking. Or rather, as you suggest, it thought so much as an angry reaction to being overtaken by events. One thing is certain: he won’t be the only flunky of Tel Aviv vying not to be outdone in the outrage sweepstakes.

#3 Comment By Jay C On November 25, 2013 @ 11:51 pm

…and Iran received very little, but then that is what one would expect when the world’s most powerful countries are bargaining with one medium-sized regional power.”

Well, considering the problems that countries way smaller than “medium-sized regional power” Iran can cause (Cuba, North Korea and Somalia, anyone?), the power-scale aspects of the recent agreement are less relevant than the very fact of its being negotiated in the first place. Bad/irrelevant “Munich” analogies have been the stock response of the bellicose neocon/Likudnik faction in US FP circles for years: the trite sloganeering hasn’t gained much validity by repetition.

#4 Comment By Noah172 On November 26, 2013 @ 12:24 am

Neocons and Likudniks don’t invoke Versailles as an example of a failed peace agreement. Why not? Because Versailles contributed mightily to the rise of Hitler, and what would the neocons and Likudniks do without their bete noire? Come to think of it, neoconservatism and the Likud party might not exist at all had Hitler never come to power.

#5 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 26, 2013 @ 5:24 am

John Bolton is to Adolf Hitler as Geneva is to Munich?

But, I don’t get this obsession with Munich and 1938. Are the neocons saying they didn’t like Munich because it placed a speed bump on the road to war, which they by disposition always favor, generally pre-emptive? Don’t they recall that the United States only entered World War II by the end of 1941 and the beginning of 1942? Would they have preferred 1938? They do prefer their aggressive “long wars” and are piqued at the interruptions to that constant state whenever peace threatens to break out.

I guess we can be thankful that Bolton isn’t the Secretary of Defense under President Romney, bad as current governance is for most Americans, proving that things could always be worse.

#6 Comment By Mohammad On November 26, 2013 @ 5:36 am


As an Iranian, I am so grateful for what you are doing here for the sake of peace. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” so God’s many blessings on you and your colleagues. May the ever merciful hands of the Virgin Mother of Christ lift you and be your protection always!

What is really sad is that this whole enmity between Iran and the West, esp the USA, is so unnecessary. Both sides have been in different occasions at fault to some degree, but the truth is that Iranian people, esp those in the middle class, are among the most West-friendly people you can find in the middle east. The sanctions and the ever anti-Iranian ranting of hawks only erode this middle class and their influence in the system.

Iranian power system is much more complex than many people, even the so called foreign affair realists, imagine to be. It is far from free and democratic, but also much farther from the caricature of dictatorship the warmongers and others always draw. There are so many fractions with so many different views and ideologies. People’s votes in elections don’t have the power to unseat those with the highest powers, but is able make them rethink their policies. What the hardliners on Iran in West have done so far is to give credence to the most fanatical part of hardliners in Iran.

#7 Comment By Mightypeon On November 26, 2013 @ 5:55 am

Well, there are parellels with Munich.

You have a large, powerfull nation dictating terms backed by economic blackmail to a far less powerfull one, these threats are also backed by force, and by implied nuclear devastation.
The Blackmailed nation did not invade anyone in the last 200 years, and is being blackmailed in yielding its only defence component (nuclear capability) that could be used to forestall the aggression by the threatening great power or by one of its nuclear armed vasall/clients.

It is a bit like Munich, only we happen to be the Nazis.

#8 Comment By Michael N Moore On November 26, 2013 @ 6:08 am

Foreign affairs columnist Alan Berger, writing in the Boston Globe of November 26, calls Secretary Kerry’s deal with Iran:”Capitulation by Iran”.

#9 Comment By Puller58 On November 26, 2013 @ 7:27 am

The various pundits that chime in with Chicken Little commentary are the first that should be ignored.

#10 Comment By collin On November 26, 2013 @ 10:10 am

Isn’t the deal basically agree to talk about a real deal? The Iranian minor changes to nuclear program versus $7B in economic exchange is drops in the bucket of a deal. However, it does raise hopes for better engagements. At this point, I find the WSJ screaming an economic catatrosphe of “WAR!” makes more supportive of the deal.

#11 Comment By Hetzer On November 26, 2013 @ 10:20 am

Scottinnj – the arsenal that our intelligence services do not think exists, and that they believe Iran is not working towards obtaining? That arsenal?

Far be it from me to say the CIA’s word is gospel, but it’s the best we have, especially when it matches the conclusions reached by other western services… Except for Israel’s.

#12 Comment By Tom S. On November 26, 2013 @ 10:31 am

An argument has been made that Munich bought time for the British to upgrade the RAF’s interceptor forces (Hurricanes and Spitfires), and its radar network, which proved vital after France collapsed in 1940.

It seems to be more of an attempt to justify its utility rather than its futility. That said, I fully support the Iran agreement, and the possibilities it offers. Current affairs analysis through analogy is often dangerous.

#13 Comment By simon94022 On November 26, 2013 @ 10:36 am

What’s frustrating is that thanks to his WSJ pulpit, Stephens will be treated as if his imbecilic ravings were the voice of “conservatism.”

#14 Comment By philadelphialawyer On November 26, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

I guess when calling a deal “Munich” is no longer a successful way of killing it, you have to start saying that the deal is “worse than Munich.”

And start bringing up the retreat from Vietnam too.

#15 Comment By icarusr On November 26, 2013 @ 1:53 pm

When it comes to Munich analogies, I think this says it all about Right wing media lines:


Five years on, and still priceless.

#16 Comment By Fulton On November 26, 2013 @ 2:10 pm

I’ve rolled my eyes in the past at some of the lefty nonsense about the US being the real “rogue nation” but honestly when you see this kind of reaction to a reasonable diplomatic deal it really does make me think Noam Chomsky and the usual suspects might have been onto something for once.

#17 Comment By James Canning On November 26, 2013 @ 2:11 pm

I have become convinced that Bret Stephens is incapable of understanding events in Europe in the late 1930s.

Iran is not the strongest military power in Asia, bent on conquest.

#18 Comment By James Canning On November 26, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

Tom S. – – Britain indeed was not prepared for war, in Sept. 1938.

And there were hopes Hitler was not insane.

#19 Comment By Brooklyn Blue Dog On November 26, 2013 @ 4:53 pm

Stephens is the hackiest of hacks. Why dignify the guy at all by stooping down to critique his columns?

#20 Comment By Sincerely On November 26, 2013 @ 7:10 pm

We learned the lessons of Munich. We taught them to the Germans.

What we haven’t learned are the lessons of 9/11, which should have taught us for good and all the consequences of having incompetents, ciphers, fanatics, and people who in any other country in the world would be deported or imprisoned as foreign agents having such a big say in our foreign policy.