Purim or Munich?
Purim is this coming week. It’s a story that can be read as being about an ineffectual, drunken leader – a disaster just waiting to happen. Here is a king manipulated by his advisors into making disastrous decisions. Weakness always allows either dangerous, proactive demagogues to emerge or self-interested vipers to step into the vacuum. This is a lesson the USA is having to learn all over again.
“Munich” has many associations. The Munich Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 was when Hitler failed in his first attempt to gain power. The PLO massacred Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. But in between was the infamous 1938 conference at which Britain sacrificed Czechoslovakia in the hope that it would bring peace. Hitler saw this as weakness and went on to invade Poland and Russia. Britain, instead of avoiding a small war, got dragged into a far wider and nastier one.
Neville Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister at the time, will forever be remembered for his smug grin as he waved a piece of paper on his return from Munich declaring “peace for our time.” This was the prime example of appeasement. Appeasement is the Achilles heel of naïve, fainthearted liberals and social democrats. Much of the British aristocracy (as the American plutocracy) did not want to go to war. They thought Hitler was a good “chappie.” Even King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson were enamored. The students of Oxford University voted not to fight for King and Country. Cambridge University provided a whole network of lethal Soviet spies because they believed Russia’s Marxist claptrap would make the world a better place.
America saved Europe. Instead of gratitude, it was resented and excoriated as an aggressive bully. At least its nuclear threat gave Europe the longest stretch of peace it had in centuries. But now the USA is going through precisely the same appeasement mindset that Britain did 80 years ago.
I was brought up and educated in that post-war liberal mindset, in the warm, fuzzy belief that humans were basically reasonable and utilitarian. Socialism would help resolve all social difficulties. Normal men and women would always choose the moderate course over the extreme. Negotiations would always produce results, whereas violence and aggression never could. Universal values would always trump vested nationalist interests, and if we made love enough we could always avoid war. Mine was the generation of Sartre, Joan Baez, John Lennon and all the other talented ingénues. My default position was left wing.
But reality – the need to make a living, the realization that people did not behave rationally and would not necessarily love you if you tried to be nice – soon set in. The world was a more complicated, nuanced place than the hippies believed. Nasty President Johnson achieved a lot more by being tough than others did by being nice.
History might never exactly repeat itself, but certain cycles do indeed keep on recurring. After eras of American imperialism, fighting dirty wars all round the world in its struggle against communism, the USA has had a very mixed record of both positive intervention and incompetence. Bush senior intervened to save Kuwait. Clinton intervened to stop Serbia (but not Rwanda). Meanwhile both Iraq and Afghanistan, after initial military victories, have remained failed, corrupt terror-ridden states, for all the billions wasted on them.
The record of current liberal America is pathetic. The administration seems to think, in abstract liberal fashion, that if you talk sweetly, are conciliatory, and spend money, this will win friends, and people will start loving you. The Obama administration has now given us a sequence of disastrous policies (or lack of them) from Libya to Syria, from ISIL to Pakistan, from Cairo to Riyadh via Teheran. And it’s not just with failed Muslim states.
Russia grabs Crimea. No, says the USA you can’t. Russia arms rebels in Western Ukraine; they down a passenger jet using Russian missiles; they break every truce and are pushing on because we know they want a land passage into Crimea from Russia proper. NATO and America’s reaction? No weapons to help Ukraine protect itself. Only hot air and ineffectual sanctions that the Russians have already found ways around.
And why is Putin feeling so confident? Because Obama couldn’t stand up to him in Syria. Would not arm moderate rebels while there were a few still left. Still won’t arm the Kurds for fear of offending Turkey (who think nothing of insulting him) or being accused of colluding in the breakup of the artificial cobbled state called Iraq. All of which allowed ISIL to thrive and take Mosul. Now that he realizes they are not Little Leaguers, he thinks he can defeat then without boots on the ground, relying on an already discredited Iraqi army or Sunni tribes who are closer to ISIL than they are to the Iraqi Shia.
I would not intervene whatsoever in the Middle East. Let them sort their own differences out. It’s as much a fundamentalist, messianic, religious sectarian battle as a political one. The Imperialist powers made a hash of it. Now let the cards fall where they may. America doesn’t need Saudi oil any longer, and its bigger challenges lie much further to the east.
Terror from Islamic fanatics is a threat, but America and the rest of the free world should focus resources on protecting themselves within their own borders, not venturing into alien territory and cultures it does not understand in the vain and arrogant hope of changing them. Let the dysfunctional Middle East destroy itself or else wake up to the fact that blaming Israel is no way to build a just society. Using scapegoats is always a recipe for failure.
The Liberal agenda refuses to see things as they are, choosing instead to see things as they would like them to be. They still believe Achashverosh’s descendants in Teheran are negotiating in good faith. It might not be a drunken fog, but it’s a fog nevertheless. We all have our dreams and ideals. But we also need to be realistic and practical. In the end self-defense is always best. Nowadays no ally can trust America to come its aid.
Neville Obama may not be drunk with wine, but he is certainly intoxicated with his own dogmas.