Politics & Policy

The Shadow of Munich Haunts the Iran Negotiations

Neville Chamberlain (Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty)
Once again our leaders are needlessly appeasing a hostile state that shows them nothing but contempt.

The Western capitulation to Adolf Hitler in the 1938 Munich Agreement is cited as classic appeasement that destroyed Czechoslovakia, backfired on France and Britain, and led to World War II.

All of that is true.

But there was much more that caused the Munich debacle than simple Western naiveté. The full tragedy of that ill-fated agreement should warn us on the eve of the Obama’s administration’s gullible agreement with Iran on nuclear proliferation.

Fable one is the idea that most people saw right through the Munich folly. True, Europeans knew that Hitler had never once told the truth and was already murdering German citizens who were Jews, Communists, or homosexuals. But Europeans did not care all that much.

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Instead, the Western world was ecstatic over the agreement. After the carnage of World War I, Europeans would do anything to avoid even a small confrontation — even if such appeasement all but ensured a far greater bloodbath than the one that began in 1914.

Another myth was that Hitler’s Wehrmacht was strong and the democracies were weak. In fact, the combined French and British militaries were far larger than Hitler’s. French Char tanks and British Spitfire fighters were as good as, or superior to, their German counterparts.

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Czechoslovakia had formidable defenses and an impressive arms industry. Poland and perhaps even the Soviet Union were ready to join a coalition to stop Hitler from dissolving the Czech state.

It is also untrue that the Third Reich was united. Many of Hitler’s top generals did not want war. Yet each time Hitler successfully called the Allies’ bluff — in the Rhineland or with the annexation of Austria — the credibility of his doubters sank while his own reckless risk-taking became even more popular. 

Munich was hardly a compassionate agreement. In callous fashion it immediately doomed millions of Czechs and put Poland on the target list of the Third Reich.

Munich was directly tied to the vanity of Neville Chamberlain. In the first few weeks after Munich, Chamberlain basked in adulation, posing as the humane savior of Western civilization. In contrast, loud skeptic Winston Churchill was dismissed by the media and public as an old warmonger.

Hitler failed to appreciate the magnanimity and concessions of the French and British. He later called his Munich diplomatic partners “worms.” Hitler said of the obsequious Chamberlain, “I’ll kick him downstairs and jump on his stomach in front of the photographers.”

The current negotiations with the Iranians in Lausanne, Switzerland, have all the hallmarks of the Munich negotiations.

#related#Most Westerners accept that the Iranian government funds terrorist groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas. It has all but taken over Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen. Yet the idea of stronger sanctions, blockades, or even force to stop Iranian efforts to get a bomb are considered scarier than Iran getting a bomb that it just possibly might not threaten to use.

The U.S. and its NATO partners are far stronger than Iran in every imaginable measure of military and economic strength. The Iranian economy is struggling, its government is corrupt, and its conventional military is obsolete. Iran’s only chance of gaining strength is to show both its own population and the world at large that stronger Western powers backed down in fear of its threats and recklessness.

Iran is not united. It is a mishmash nation in which over a third of the population is not Persian. Millions of protestors hit the streets in 2009. An Iranian journalist covering the talks defected in Switzerland — and said that U.S. officials at the talks are there mainly to speak on behalf of Iran.

By reaching an agreement with Iran, John Kerry and Barack Obama hope to salvage some sort of legacy — in the vain fashion of Chamberlain — out of a heretofore failed foreign policy.

There are more Munich parallels. The Iranian agreement will force rich Sunni nations to get their own bombs to ensure a nuclear Middle East standoff. A deal with Iran shows callous disagreed for our close ally Israel, which is serially threatened by Iran’s mullahs. The United States is distant from Iran. But our allies in the Middle East and Europe are within its missile range.

Supporters of the Obama administration deride skeptics such as Democratic senator Robert Menendez and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu as if they were doubting old Churchills.

Finally, the Iranians, like Hitler, have only contempt for the administration that has treated them so fawningly. During the negotiations in Switzerland, the Iranians blew up a mock U.S. aircraft carrier. Their supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, did his usual “death to America” shtick before adoring crowds.

Our dishonor in Lausanne, as with Munich, may avoid a confrontation in the present, but our shame will guarantee a war in the near future.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals. You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com. © 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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