“You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and will have war,” Winston Churchill said on hearing of the Munich agreement that sold out Czechoslovakia in 1938 and was indeed the prelude to war. How that judgment resonates! Neville Chamberlain was the man in Churchill’s sights, and one can have some sympathy for him. He wanted to avoid bloodshed and that is not dishonorable. One can have some of the same sympathy for President Obama. He has avoided taking part in military action in Libya, in Mali and most glaringly in Syria. The decision to withdraw from Iraq and in the future Afghanistan reveal Obama to be essentially a pacifist. Which is all very well except for the famous shaft of light Hilaire Belloc throws on the stance:
“Pale Ebenezer thought it wrong to fight But Roaring Bill (who killed him) thought it right.”
Obama could just get away with a Chamberlainite policy towards Libya and Mali because he was able to leave the British and French to take action. Kim Jong Un, Ayatollah Khamenei and Bashar Assad may not be exactly Roaring Bills but all have been skillfully profiteering from Obama’s mind-set, manipulating him into the Pale Ebenezer position. A day looks like dawning when Iran will reveal its nuclear weapon, quite probably made and tested in North Korea out of sight of Western intelligence. Tacit permission to Bashar Assad to do his worst is likely to be a mistake Iraqis, Lebanese, many thousand more Syrians, and possibly Israelis and Palestinians will have to pay for with their lives. Refusal to lead first of all allows Assad’s regime and the rebels to fight to the death and the watching world puts the blame on Obama and the United States. Then this pacifist stance hands initiative to the killers. Of course it is displeasing and dangerous to confront killers but more displeasing and dangerous not to confront them. Real enemies of the United States are taking advantage of Obama. He seems to have been formed intellectually by the 1960s conviction that keeping the peace is imperialism, colonialism, and what not. Not so. Failure to intervene in Syria now clearly prolongs Assad’s stop-at-nothing tyranny, alienates potential allies among the rebels and must soon set off widespread sectarian fighting — a guarantee of war and dishonor.