Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Jaw-jaw is better than war-war

President George W. Bush waded into the presidential campaign last week with a speech in Israel that compared Barack Obama’s proposals to negotiate with Iran and Syria and other U.S. enemies to the “appeasement” of Nazi Germany in the run up to World War II.
“Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them that they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before...
“As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared, ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is — the false comfort of appeasement.”
(White House spokesperson Dana Perino blandly denied that the comments were directed at Obama. Right. And there’s no recession and Iraq has weapons of mass destruction).
We’ll leave aside for the moment the complicated history of the policy of appeasement, Britain’s war guarantee to Poland and the blunders (including Hitler’s) that led to a war that nobody wanted in 1939. (Hitler had sought to avoid a repeat of a two front war, then guaranteed it with the attack on Poland).
What is most infuriating about Bush’s comments — calculated as they were to touch the hottest button available — is the false equation of negotiation with appeasement.
One of Bush’s alleged heroes, Winston Churchill, said in 1954 that “to jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war.”
The history of the 20th Century shows that this is true.
Reagan, the icon of the conservative movement, negotiated with the Soviet Union, the “Evil Empire,” even as the U.S. supplied a proxy war in Afghanistan. Those negotiations helped end the Cold War.
In the midst of that existential struggle, when the annihilation of the United States and most of the rest of the world was a real threat, Richard Nixon sat down and negotiated with Mao Tse Tung, the bloodiest mass murderer in history, a psychopath that makes Iran’s mullahs look like Rotarians. The result was the “opening of China” and another step toward ending the Cold War.
The Kennedy brothers negotiated our way out of the most volatile trigger point of the Cold War, ending the Cuban Missile Crisis through quiet back-channel dealmaking.
Jaw-jaw was better than war-war.
Negotiation=Appeasement only for men like Bush, who perceive any kind of dialogue as weakness, who cannot conceive that even the most ardent of our adversaries can act pragmatically, who prefer to rely on the hollow strength of the bully.
They had their chance and it’s proved disastrous. It remains to be seen whether John McCain or Barack Obama will be best equipped to do the hard work of negotiation with enemies. Right now, McCain seems to be parroting the Bush line. Hopefully that’s just politics. He used to be smarter than that.
Obama’s got the right idea, but he may not be tough enough.
We’ll see. But whoever sits in the Oval Office will need to take the real lessons of history to heart: Jaw-jaw is better than war-war.

Jim Cornelius, Editor


  1. I think you're painting President Bush with too broad a brush with this posting. It seems to me that he is right on the money with those comments in the given context.

    Let's look at the countries to which Bush was referring:

    Iran: Islamic theocracy with a Supreme Leader who is patently opposed to the US and a President who is very likely running a secret nuclear weapons program. This is the same country that is supporting Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in killing US troops and their Iraqi allies.

    Syria : Ba'athist state friendly to the former Hussein regime, whose policies and politics are strongly influenced by Islamic extremism. It's suspected by some that Syria helped the former Hussein regime prior to and during the initial stages of OIF and that they currently allow foreign fighters passage to the Iraqi border.

    Now, as any OIF veteran knows, when your enemy is an Islamic extremist, force (or at least the threat of force) is a sign of strength. Those who simply wish to talk and negotiate peacefully are seen as weak and vulnerable and are not a threat.

    You see Bush's comments as evidence that he's a warmonger. It appears to me that our 2-term wartime president simply knows his enemy.

    Yes, forgoing negotiations completely is atrocious foreign policy. I agree. However, in the Middle East, negotiations without the muscle to back them up is pointless and can be deadly.

  2. Nick- Muscle without any notion of how to end the fight is pointless. the evidence that Bush (and the republican party) are war mongers is not his comments , but his actions: ie instigating unnecessary war and pursuing a policy of perpetual war.