The most febrile of Bush haters liked to claim during his tenure that the former president “scared” them. There is far more reason to be frightened by President Obama, because fecklessness and inconstancy trigger wars.
The outstanding example of weakness inviting aggression was the conduct of the democracies toward Hitler in the 1930s. Though it has been retroactively tainted as shameful cowardice, the policy of appeasement grew out of a “war weariness” that was far more understandable than our own. Britain and France suffered millions of dead and wounded in the First World War and were desperate to avoid a repeat. The Munich Agreement, which ceded part of Czechoslovakia to Germany (without its consent), was signed by Britain and France in hopes that Hitler’s ambitions were limited, but in any case because they believed appeasement was the best way to avoid war.
They couldn’t have been more wrong. Hitler didn’t, to put it mildly, share their abhorrence of war. He welcomed it (when he was sufficiently strong), and he interpreted their appeasement policy as weakness. They’d forgotten the Roman axiom “If you want peace, prepare for war.” In the end, they had to fight anyway, but only after permitting their enemy valuable time. Had the United States not been dragged into the war by Japan’s attack and Hitler’s declaration of war on us, the Axis powers would almost certainly have won.
In June of 1961, President Kennedy met with Soviet premier Khrushchev. The Communist sized up the young president as callow and unimpressive. The meeting was “the worst thing in my life,” Kennedy said later. “He savaged me.” Eighteen months later, the world was plunged into a nuclear crisis as Kennedy was forced to respond to the USSR’s placement of intermediate-range missiles in Cuba. Khrushchev had concluded that Kennedy could be rolled. The resulting showdown brought the world close to nuclear war.
In July of 1991, April Glaspie, U.S. ambassador to Iraq, met with Saddam Hussein and asked very politely why he had so many divisions parked on the border of Kuwait. Later in the same meeting, she said: “We have no opinion on your Arab–Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait. Secretary [James] Baker has directed me to emphasize the instruction . . . that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America.” A few weeks later, Iraq invaded and conquered Kuwait, prompting President Bush to launch a war to liberate it. Glaspie said later, “Obviously, I didn’t think, and nobody else did, that the Iraqis were going to take all of Kuwait.”
Obama and members of his administration are fond of lecturing Putin that he is behaving in a “19th century” fashion, as if aggression has gone out of style like knee breeches. Actually, the second half of the 19th century was quite a peaceful period for Europe, particularly compared with the 18th and 17th. That peace was largely maintained by the British Empire — that is, by overwhelming power in the hands of a peaceful country.
Nothing so encourages an aggressor as the perception of weakness in his antagonists. Barack Obama hasn’t even processed that he is an antagonist. Why, he means no one any harm (except perhaps Republicans). Didn’t he reset relations with Moscow? Didn’t he promise in 2012 to show “more flexibility” toward Putin after the election? Didn’t he say, over and over again, that a “decade of war is ending” and that we are going to do some “nation building here at home”? Did he not maneuver the United States into “leading from behind” in Libya? Hasn’t he pressured allies like Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians while permitting Mahmoud Abbas to skate? Hasn’t he let bygones be bygones about the Snowden unpleasantness? Hasn’t he drastically reduced defense spending? Didn’t he give Assad a third chance after drawing red lines? Hasn’t he sought to ingratiate himself with China’s brutal regime (his family is traveling there this week)? Didn’t he permit Putin to oversee Bashar Assad’s supposed surrender of chemical weapons? How could a leader be more unthreatening?
Remember all of those previous appeasers who were surprised that aggressors went further than expected? Consider this report from the BBC: “Russia signaled concern on Wednesday at Estonia’s treatment of its large ethnic Russian minority, comparing language policy in the Baltic state with what it said was a call in Ukraine to prevent the use of Russian. Russia has defended its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula by arguing it has the right to protect Russian-speakers outside its borders.”
Estonia is a member of NATO. There was a time when that would have been dispositive. But Obama has demonstrated that his threats are hollow and his stated boundaries accordion-like. That’s why Obama scares me.
— Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist. © 2014 Creators Syndicate, Inc.