Monday, March 30, 2015

Diplomacy Failed at Munich and Must Never be Tried Again

And since I can't seem to get off the topic of negotiations with Iran, Republicans and Daniel Larison, let me link to a couple of articles on Americans' reluctance to engage in any sort of diplomacy.  The first, which is not by Larison, comments that this tendency is by no means limited to Republicans and gives many other examples, from Lyndon Johnson's reluctance to negotiate with the North Vietnamese to Obama's refusal to even consider negotiating with the Taliban.  The author attributes American reluctance to negotiate to two things -- our power, which creates the illusion that we can always get our way by force, and our "moralism," with moralism defined as not compromising with "evil."  The second is by Daniel Larison and is a commentary on the first.  Larison adds memory of our total victory in WWII; irrational fear of "appeasement," and particularly being accused of appeasement by political opponents; and "an instinctive dislike of compromise as such."  Of course "instinctive dislike of compromise as such" is the same thing as the "moralism" cited by the other author.

Certainly WWII and the diplomacy that preceded it have a baleful effect on some people.  For a generation after WWII, our leaders were convinced that diplomacy failed at Munich and therefore must never be used again.  Concessions at Munich only led to WWII, and any future concession would only lead to WWIII.  Therefore, we must accept nothing less than everything we want and be prepared to go to war if we don't get our way.  Which is, of course, exactly the sort of attitude we are warned against appeasing if anyone else shows it!

Domestic politics matter, too, of course.  As Larison says, part of what makes our leaders so averse to diplomacy is fear of being called an appeaser by opponents.  And the "instinctive dislike of compromise as such" is increasingly finding its way into our domestic politics.  But, as I have said before, some of our leaders really seem to see refusal to compromise as an end in itself and the outcome as basically irrelevant.

Republicans are dead set against any negotiated deal with Iran.  No doubt their motives vary.  Some actually want war.  (At least, John Bolton does.  But everyone knows John Bolton is crazy, even by neocon standards).  Others believe the Iran is on the verge of collapse from sanctions and that if we just hold out a little longer we will get our way.  (This fits in the category of wishful thinking).  Still others may believe that if only we don't condone Iran having nuclear enrichment capacity, it will somehow be incapable of acquiring it.  (This goes beyond wishful thinking into not thinking at all). But others, I am convinced simply want to avoid any agreement with Iran for the sake of not compromising with "evil" and regard whether Iran gets nuclear weapons as an entirely secondary matter.  It is a mindset quite foreign to my own, one (as Richard Hofstetter once suggested) that has priorities different from a secular liberal because it is not quite of this world.  Any outcome here in this world, after all, is transient.  When we are judged by God, God will care more about the purity of our hearts and the outcome in this fleeting world.

One final comment.  The second article mentions Richard Holbrooke, a career diplomat who played a major part in the Clinton Administration negotiating an end to the war in Bosnia and died of stress trying to negotiate peace in Afghanistan.  (Specifically, it mentioned him favoring negotiations with the Taliban).  I recall in his obituary, he had described negotiating an end to the Bosnian War and commented that when he met with some of the leaders, he felt himself in the presence of absolute evil.  Someone asked if it bothered him to negotiate with such people.  I don't remember his response (except to say that it did not), but, again, as a secular liberal I found the question incomprehensible. What made these men so evil?  Obviously, the horrible war they were fighting and the atrocities they had unleashed.  Holbrooke was negotiating an end to the war and atrocities.  What, then, could be a better way of putting an end to the evil than negotiating an end to the war.  To prefer continuing war to negotiation with evil men seemed to me like sheer madness.  Which means, I suppose, that in the end I am not equipped to understand people who are so opposed to a deal that they prefer war or letting Iran operate with out the constraints a deal would impose.

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