Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Peace In Our Time

Secretary of State John Kerry told House Democrats that the United States faced a “Munich moment” in deciding whether to respond to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government.
Kerry’s derisive comments on Assad and his reference to the 1938 Munich agreement between Adolf Hitler and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain — after which Chamberlain infamously declared it would lead to “peace for our time” — showed the hard line the White House is taking in its drive for congressional approval of the Syrian resolution.
John Kerry to Democrats: ‘Munich moment’
It seems to me that the single best argument against the constant comparisons of today to 1938 can be summed up in a simple question:

Do people still judge the United Kingdom on Prime Minister Chamberlain’s actions? Is the international community still convinced that London will sit on its hands because of Munich?

It seems to me that regardless of how apt or inapt comparing President Obama to Prime Minister Chamberlain is, the fact remains that Chamberlain’s actions and stance on war stopped being relevant more or less as soon as he was no longer in office, and people don't treat them as relevant today, and likely haven't for decades now. When Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, they did so because they sincerely believed that the islands rightfully belonged to them, not they looked back on the Munich agreement and determined that Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher would necessarily be just as invested in a peaceable solution.

Why should President Obama’s actions today have any more bearing on what people think the United States will do 50, 20 or even 5 years from now? Why should anyone believe that a nation that can turn over nearly the whole of its elected government in the span of a decade will behave the same way over the years? Arguments about the credibility of the United States and how history will look at these events are misguided (when they aren't simply disingenuous) for these reasons. Leaving aside the fact that, like any other nation, the United States tends to place its perceived security and economic interests ahead of moral consensus, a nation is not a person. And to the degree that nations are consistent in their behavior, it’s not because their leadership is locked into the paths that their predecessors have taken.

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