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Comparing our foreign policy to the feckless behavior of England and France in the Thirties is often dismissed as an overused and simplistic historical analogy. But when one watches our government pursue appeasing policies toward North Korea and Iran that over and over repeat the very same errors and delusions of that awful decade, then as Juvenal said about writing satire, it’s hard not to make those comparisons.
One lesson from the Thirties is that appeasing an aggressor encourages not just that one, but also another. The key act of appeasement of that decade’s many took place in March 1936, when Hitler remilitarized the Rhineland with 22,000 unseasoned troops and 14,000 policemen, violating both the Versailles and Locarno treaties. Facing them were nearly 100 French and Belgian divisions. Of course they did nothing, even though, as Hitler later confessed, “If the French had then marched into the Rhineland we would have had to withdraw with our tails between our legs.” With that daring move, Hitler had taken a huge step toward protecting Germany from Allied counterattacks when he invaded Czechoslovakia and then Poland, and acquiring Germany’s traditional launching pad for his invasion of France and air attacks on England.
But what emboldened Hitler to gamble on French passivity? A few months earlier, in October 1935 Mussolini had invaded Ethiopia in violation of the League of Nations. Like today’s U.N., the League blustered, threatened, and imposed useless sanctions, but in the end did nothing, even though the British Mediterranean fleet could have closed down the Suez Canal and stopped Italy cold. Historian T.P. Cornwall-Evans drew the obvious conclusion of this failure: Hitler “scorns the attitude of England, whose fine phrases contributed nothing to [Ethiopia]. If England hesitated to tackle the Italians . . . how much more would the English hesitate to grapple with the Germans.” Winston Churchill agreed: “Mussolini, like Hitler, regarded Britannia as a frightened, flabby old woman, who at the worst would only bluster, and was anyhow incapable of making war.” Thus appeasement begat appeasement until the horrific denouement came in 1939.
Now consider our decades-long appeasement of North Korea and the way it has emboldened the Iranians to follow the Kim family playbook for acquiring nuclear weapons. Just last week, newly minted North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un defied U.N. resolutions and American threats by launching a missile that could deliver a nuclear payload to the West Coast. Satellite intelligence shows that the North is also preparing for more nuclear tests, indicating they have no intention of stopping their development of more nuclear weapons. This provocation came a few weeks after Obama struck a deal offering 240,000 metric tons of food in exchange for promises to freeze the weapons program. This pattern of offering carrots to North Korea, only to get smacked with sticks in return, has been going on for decades now, under both Republican and Democratic administrations. That is how the North got the bomb in the first place, engaging in “negotiations” and dangling promises of cooperation in exchange for aid and time.
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