Politics & Policy

Living in Appeasement World

The Obama administration is at home in unreality.

Contrary to the famous advice of Franklin D. Roosevelt in his State of the Union message in 1941 — “We must always be wary of those who with sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal would preach the ‘ism’ of appeasement” — the United States is now effectively an appeasement power. Because it is so helplessly dependent on imported oil from unfriendly places (unlike Canada), and the American public is so cranky and churlish about paying what other countries pay for imported petroleum products, and the political class of both parties for 40 years has been so hopelessly feeble about explaining the problem and trying to persuade the country to face up to it, the U.S. tolerates the subsidization of Islamic extremism by Saudis and seems to be afraid to do anything to prevent the nuclear militarization of Iran.

Because the U.S. is so debt-ridden and the political class of both parties has generally been incapable of speaking straight to the country about public-sector debt and the related burden of the current-account deficit (half composed of oil imports), and because so much U.S. government debt is held by China, the country’s government is afraid to encourage China’s neighbors to coordinate even an unprovoking and entirely civilized response to China’s high-handed condescensions to India on the Himalayan frontier and puerile expansionism in the South China Sea, presumably for fear of China’s response as a large creditor of the U.S.

No sane person wishes abrasions with another country, especially an important country like China. And there is an argument to be made that short of atrocities on a scale between the anticipated Qaddafi bloodbath in Benghazi and the hecatombs of Rwanda and Cambodia, questions of citizens’ rights in one country are not the province of another country. But all of these responses to the Saudis, Iranians, Chinese, and other regimes, whether concealed in mundane metaphors about reset buttons or swaddled in pseudo-worldly solicitude for the sensibilities of other cultures, show what Roosevelt called “the ‘ism’ of appeasement.”

President Obama campaigned on promises to restore fiscal order and reduce imports of oil from hostile countries. He is already trying to raise a billion dollars for his reelection campaign but has delivered nothing on these absolutely vital objectives that he so clearly espoused. We are still wallowing in oil consumption, mouthing fairy tales about renewable energy and climate change, while we seem to have raised our hands like hold-up victims and surrendered on a military option to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear military power, and have scaled back Mrs. Clinton’s promised “crippling sanctions” against the ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad to porous inconveniences.

Instead of addressing the debt problem that has made discussion of default on “the faith and credit of these United States” a routine possible scenario, the U.S. has poured out $3 trillion of debt, which can be financed only by issuance of bonds to the Federal Reserve, paid for by electronic notes from the Federal Reserve. The world’s reserve currency has become virtual money; no serious arm’s-length entity will buy its debt; most of the largest states of the union are bust; there is no visible will to pay down the debt instead of just devaluing the currency in which it is denominated; the Treasury secretary is as silent as a cigar-store Indian; and Mr. Bernanke’s homilies about clearing up the central bank’s balance sheet are moonshine. The emperor not only has no clothes; in his underclad state he can be seen to be missing some important anatomical components as well.

Mao Tse-tung, in frustration, called the U.S. a “paper tiger,” before he conciliated it; Andrei Gromyko impatiently dismissed his Egyptian ally as “a paper camel,” before their relations broke down. If present trends continue, the U.S. will be a paper mouse before the great American people finally demand that America be America. In the meantime, Iran will at least have punctured the bubble of the hypocrisy of the nuclear-arms regime. The non-proliferation agreements require the nuclear powers to negotiate toward disarmament, which is nonsense, and Barack Obama is the first person to take the idea seriously since the senescent Bertrand Russell. If Iran proceeds undisturbed, other than by hackers, to nuclear capability, assisted by the Russians (while Joe Biden resets the button) and by the Chinese (whom we seem not to dare to question), 20 or 30 countries will follow. If Pakistan and Iran, and the gangster state of Russia, can have nuclear weapons, why should not all the responsible countries, less confident than they were in the American alliance, as well as many of the irresponsible countries, do the same?

A piquant irony in the Obama age is the extreme rudeness of this administration to its ostensible friends, and in normal contacts within the official Washington establishment. President Obama responded to British prime minister Gordon Brown’s thoughtful gift of a bureau made from the timbers of a ship that fought the slave trade, with a set of DVDs for Queen Elizabeth and the return of a bust of Sir Winston Churchill (an honorary citizen of the United States, after whom President Clinton named a U.S. Navy frigate). President Obama harangued the Supreme Court in his State of the Union message in January 2010 with a version of the court’s campaign-financing ruling that he knew to be false and that at least one of the justices helpfully and loudly stated to be false, on camera in mid-speech. Supreme Court justices’ attendance at such occasions is now spotty.

The president produced a ludicrous budget that ignored the fiscal crisis, and when House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan produced substantive proposals, Mr. Obama announced that he would reciprocate. He invited Congressman Ryan to attend the unveiling, seated him right in front of him, and pilloried the congressman and his committee. The Congress having invited Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu to address it, President Obama waited until a day before the Israeli leader’s arrival and then gave an address at the State Department that he knew to be completely unacceptable to Israel, had a cordial photo op of reciprocal smiling accusations of bad faith and stupidity with his visitor, and left the country. Even if the 1967 borders were the key to a lasting Israel-Palestine agreement (which they aren’t — Arab acceptance of a Jewish state is), Israel should not be making preemptive concessions to an Arab world almost all of whose neighboring governments are apt to collapse or be overthrown from one week to the next. (Netanyahu’s elegant address to the Congress de-escalated the impasse without turning the other cheek.)

Unless this regime has invented a virtual diplomacy and revisionist history to accompany its virtual currency, none of it makes any sense.

— Conrad Black is the author of Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. He can be reached at cbletters@gmail.com.

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