Neoconservatives Dust Off “Appeasement” Argument

A familiar neoconservative talking point reared its head again yesterday. Jonathan Tobin, the executive editor of Commentary magazine, attacked the P5+1’s outreach to Tehran and their renewed interest in reviving the Geneva nuclear fuel swap proposal as “appeasement.”

He wrote:

Thus, just when it seemed as if he were making some real progress on isolating Iran, Obama sends Ahmadinejad a signal that he is in no real trouble after all. Dating back to the Bush administration’s own feckless diplomacy on Iran’s nukes, Tehran has happily exploited the West’s efforts to appease it.


…[S]o long as Obama is still wedded to the absurd idea that he can talk them out of their nuclear plans, the Iranians have to be thinking that it will soon be too late for anyone to stop them from gaining a nuclear weapon.

Tobin wasn’t the only voice this week to riff upon the tune that diplomatic outreach to Tehran is appeasement and, in some cases, comparable to Neville Chamberlain’s attempts to negotiate with Adolf Hitler.

Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ fellow Benjamin Weinthal wrote:

Soggy Western appeasement toward Iran’s regime is a natural precondition for Israeli military action, a country whose existence is immediately threatened by Iranian acquisition of atomic weaponry. The West has a chance to avoid a repeat performance of its wretched appeasement politics of the 1930s. If robust economic sanctions do not force Iran to walk away from its nuclear-weapons program, the West has to lay the foundation for military strikes. Time is the West’s enemy.

Whether or not the current outreach to Tehran is a form of appeasement—and it’s worth noting that the P5+1 did not endorse the Brazil-Turkey nuclear fuel swap agreement which appeared to have a greater chance of succeeding at the time —the strategy of calling those who pursue options other than military conflict “appeasers” is a time-honored tradition among neoconservatives who’d rather push the U.S. into wars of choice.  Even “neocon dashboard saint” Winston Churchill, as pointed out by The Wonk Room’s Matt Duss, may have had a slightly more nuanced understanding of the concept.

The history of labeling the opponents of preemptive war “appeasers” or “Neville Chamberlains” is a rich one. Countless opeds from 2002 and 2003 offer a reminder of the similar arguments which were employed to push the U.S. into invading Iraq.

The Weekly Standard’s cofounder, Fred Barnes, wrote in the May 29, 2002 issue:

Now, consider the world’s response if he lets Saddam survive and prosper. Would anyone, anywhere in the world, feel safer? Would Europeans who balk at tough measures like an invasion of Iraq feel more protected? Would American businesses awaiting a signal to open the capital investment spigot feel the time had come? The answer is no, no, and no. Bush would become a well-liked statesman, just as Neville Chamberlain was for months after Munich.

Calling out an “Axis of Appeasement” during the first Bush presidency, The Weekly Standard‘s Bill Kristol wrote in the August 26, 2002 issue:

Let’s be clear. President Bush’s policy is regime change in Iraq. President Bush believes that regime change is most unlikely without military action. He considers the risks of inaction greater than the risks of preemption. No doubt he and his administration could have been doing a better job of making that case in a sustained and detailed way. But that is not why an axis of appeasement–stretching from Riyadh to Brussels to Foggy Bottom, from Howell Raines to Chuck Hagel to Brent Scowcroft–has now mobilized in a desperate effort to deflect the president from implementing his policy.

On October 24, 2002,  Senator John McCain, then honorary co-chair of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, opened an oped in the Washington Post with a quote from Neville Chamberlain and  continued:

A decade of appeasement and assistance to one of the world’s worst regimes [North Korea] provided it the time and the means to develop weapons that now threaten America and our friends.


Iraq demonstrates that American resolve elicits a different response. Although no more than a ploy, Baghdad’s professed openness today to renewed weapons inspections after years of defiance is made possible only by the compelling threat of military force. Our determination to confront Saddam Hussein openly and with all necessary means demonstrates a freedom to act against an enemy that does not — yet — possess nuclear weapons.

Unlike the constantly rehashed history of Neville Chamberlain’s signing of the Munich Agreement in September 1938, neoconservative pundits seem to want Americans to forget about the history of the campaign leading up to the invasion of Iraq.

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.


One Comment

  1. This is a lot of breast-beating and nothing more. Failure to turn policy their way causes the neocons to sneer, snarl, and bleat all at the same time. They’re marking time in hopes of a Republican victory in 2012.

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