The ‘Evils’ Of Appeasement
December 5, 2007
by Martin ‘HStorm’ Odoni
It’s been commented on many times before of course, and in far higher-profile places than this will ever be, but it bears mentioning that historically, Governments have been very good at tweaking definitions. In modern times, none has been more blatant in this pursuit than neoconservative America. To take a few examples; –
Patriotism means a love of one’s country. Therefore, apparently, criticism of the nation’s policy is ‘unpatriotic’. After all, people never criticise the ones they love, do they? So these days, patriotism doesn’t just mean a love of one’s country, it means always agreeing with its policies and actions, no matter what they are, or how horribly they are advanced.
Terrorism means resorting to extreme violence against a society and its citizens, especially by non-Governmental forces, and usually for political ends. And yet in Iraq, the term has stretched to include resorting to extreme violence against a Government that is propped up by an occupying army from the West, even when the violence isn’t aimed at citizens and wider society. So it seems that ‘terrorism’ actually means any politically-motivated act of violence not endorsed by Western Governments.
The word defence has long been freely-interpreted, and in the present climate of paranoid hysteria in the USA and Europe, it’s very easy for politicians to describe an unprovoked invasion of another sovereign nation as an act of defence, using the unlimited scope of the preventative principle to rationalise the paradox. This follows the logic of, “There’s a danger that this group of people might possibly do something terrible in the future, so we have to throttle the potential danger in the womb, and never mind if they haven’t done anything yet, or if the odds are that they never will.” (Much of the so-called ‘War-Against-Terrorism’ is conducted with this principle in mind, hence the creation of The Patriot Act in the USA, and anti-terrorism laws in the UK.)
And then there’s the term appeasement, which is the main point I want to focus on here. This word has been used very loosely on and off, particularly by neocons, since the earliest days after 9/11, and never in a sense that would stand up to analysis, if only people would bother to analyse it more often. It is always employed as a term of denigration, and as part of an argument in favour of military aggression.
The logic the argument follows is a little like the one used for saying that dissent is ‘unpatriotic’, in that it boils down to a childish guilt-trip composed of puerile simplifications. It comprises the equation of aggression with defence, the assumption that not fighting those you disagree with must be a form of cowardice, and dubious parallels with the Second World War. It goes on these lines; “We must fight the evil dictators of the Middle East, for those who appease dictators only encourage them to up their demands; see what happened when Chamberlain appeased Hitler!”
The problems with this logic are varied, and some are more glaring than others. There are three key ones that most need stating though.
The first is that, in the Middle East, the parallels with Hitler don’t really hold good, as even the most corrupt regimes in the region, like Libya and Saudi Arabia, are not particularly aggressive (see below); in fact, by far the most militant nations in the region are Israel and Turkey, two of the USA’s beloved allies. Even with Ba’athist Iraq in 2003, there was no danger of world conquest at all – while I have no doubts whatsoever that Saddam Hussein would have loved to conquer all his neighbours, he was clearly not remotely in a position to do it. When Chamberlain appeased the Nazis in the late-1930’s, it was because he was facing a huge enemy that was aggressive. Further, Chamberlain knew how weak Britain was militarily at that point, and he felt that making concessions was the only way of preventing a full conflict against a more powerful enemy, or at least to buy some time to build up his own armed forces. (It’s not fashionable to point this out, but Germany would almost certainly have won the Battle Of Britain had war been declared in 1938.) The USA, on the other hand, is clearly far more powerful than all the nations of the Middle East combined. The threat it poses to any countries that might choose to endanger its interests is so great that hardly any of them ever do. So the USA can easily afford to take a diplomatic path, and resort to force further down the line.
The second problem follows on directly from the first, and is the dangerous assumption that a Government that is corrupt will be, ipso facto, one that is aggressive as well. There are, as mentioned above, plenty of hideous things about all Middle Eastern dictatorships, but on the whole, very few of them are especially violent outside their own borders. None of them are as aggressive as the USA itself, or its allies.
The third problem is the most important detail though, which is that if you analyse the accusation’s logic, you soon realise that the wrong ‘label’ is being applied. There is a huge distinction between the pro-peace movements opposed to the Iraq War, and the appeasers of the 1930’s, for the simple reason that modern protesters are not appeasers in any recognisable sense of the word. ‘Appeaser’ is constantly, and I suspect cynically, being interchanged with ‘pacifist’, to give anti-war feeling a negative connotation.
The pro-peace movements in the build-up to the Iraq invasion were not in favour of appeasing Saddam, or anyone else for that matter. Appeasement involves making concessions in the face of military threats, and opponents of the war were not demanding that Saddam be given any free gifts. They didn’t want the USA or Britain to throw money at the Ba’athists, they didn’t want control of Kuwait to be handed over to Baghdad, they didn’t want the territories of Saddam’s neighbours to be chipped away at and gradually absorbed into Iraq, all in a craven and hopeful attempt to bribe Saddam into curtailing his ‘expansionist’ policies (policies that had effectively ended not long after the Gulf War in any case). The pro-peace groups were not encouraging any acts of appeasement. They simply didn’t want their nations to invade Iraq in 2003, and they don’t want them to invade Iran now either.
This is not to say that I agreed with them one hundred per cent, at least on the Iraq issue. I’ve said before and I say again that I was ambivalent about that invasion, as there were a number of genuinely good reasons to do it, and in the end I only opposed it as the case for had not been definitively proven, therefore caution should have held sway. (And given how reckless and poorly-planned the occupation was, it looks like the pro-peace campaigners were right.) I do agree with the pro-peace movement entirely on the issue of attacking Iran, which is very obviously a country that the USA and Britain are even more determined to find any excuse to invade, no matter how absurd, than they were with Iraq.
It’s true to say that absolute Pacifism is not something to be proud of. It tends to be an out-and-out objection to ever taking a human life, no matter what the circumstances, and not really carrying the mental processes beyond that meagre limit. While a peaceful, positive solution to a crisis should always be found wherever possible, it needs to be recognised that sometimes, just sometimes, it isn’t possible, and the unyielding kind of pacifist is slow to allow for that.
Such a complaint is perfectly valid, but not really relevant when discussing the Middle East. For all its instability, and the ever-present danger of conflict, there isn’t much expansionism in the region these days, in and of itself. Conflicts tend to be for other, quite different reasons, seldom caused by invasion and counter-invasion.
Saddam did not pose a threat in 2003, and no one was suggesting making concessions to him then; why should they have? So there was no appeasement. There were also many ways to ease the suffering of the inhabitants of Iraq without resorting to war, such as easing many of the harsh, unnecessary sanctions the US and Britain had imposed on the country since the early 90’s. So pacifist ideals were perfectly valid as well.
Same again now with Iran. The NIE (National Intelligence Estimate) report out this week concludes that Iran has not been attempting to develop nuclear weapons for over four years, just as they’ve been assuring us all along. President Ahmedinejad may be something of a loony (although even there, many of the more bombastic statements he has been quoted as saying have been shown to be cynically-mistranslated; it turns out that he definitely did not say that he wanted Israel wiped off the face of the Earth), but he poses no threat as his position is entirely ceremonial. He has no control over the armed forces at all, and little sway over the rest of the Iranian Government either, which is still largely at the beck-and-call of the Ayatollah Khamenei. Iran’s military is minute compared with that of the USA, and it is in no position whatsoever to make aggressive manoeuvres against any of its neighbours, and shows no sign of wishing to. For all the frequent accusations of Iranian interference, and sponsorship of terrorism, in Iraq, practically no evidence for it is ever put forward, and on close analysis, most of the accusations are shown to make no sense at all. For example, the overwhelming bulk of attacks on Allied troops in Iraq over the last two years have been in Sunni Arab areas. Why do the Americans keep accusing the Iranians of training and supplying arms to Sunni rebel groups? The Iranians are Persian Shi’ites, while the Sunni are largely ex-Saddamites. Didn’t Saddam Hussein spend most of the 1980’s trying to wipe out Iran? So why in the world would the Iranians decide to support the Sunnis (especially when the Sunnis are in conflict with Shia groups)?
So there is no case whatsoever for declaring war on Iran. And it is long past time that the Republicans acknowledged, not just this, but also that one does not become an ‘appeaser’ just by saying it. One may be accused of being a pacifist for saying it, but there is nothing to be ashamed of in that, so long as you are opposed to wars that are clearly unnecessary.
In the current climate, what is a war with Iran, if not unnecessary?