President Obama’s Munich Moment

In September 1938 the British prime minister had a problem. The Third Reich’s
psychopath-in-chief was scorching the airwaves in one of his trademark rants,
this time about the supposed oppression of Germans living in Czechoslovakia. He
threatened war unless Western nations caved to his demands, which was the last
thing the British and the French wanted, with torrid memories of the last
European conflagration still burning in their thoughts. Thus, Prime Minister
Neville Chamberlain and French leader Edouard Daladier agreed to meet with
Hitler and his ally, Benito Mussolini, in Munich on September 29, 1938. The
rest, as they say, is history.

But what a notorious hunk of history this was. On an earlier excursion to
Germany, Chamberlain was greeted with flowers and gifts and a band playing "God
Save the King," which seemed to justify his departing comment that his
"objective is peace in Europe. I trust this trip is the way to that peace." The
result was a short-term peace in exchange for a German slice of Czechoslovakia,
now virtually defenseless after being forced to relinquish the Sudetenland to
the Reich at a meeting to which they were not even invited. No matter;
Chamberlain still returned to his homeland waving a piece of paper that
fluttered in the wind while he declared that he had achieved "peace for our
time" to relieved audiences in Britain. This was Chamberlain’s Munich Moment.

What transpired afterwards has entered history books and international relations
seminars on the object lessons of [4]appeasing an aggressor. After promising not
to demand any more territorial concessions, Hitler ordered his armies to absorb
the rest of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, after which the German Fuhrer made
fresh demands for new territorial concessions in Europe, this time against
[5]Poland. And this time German armies invaded their isolated victim,
instigating declarations of war by Great Britain and France, which had learned
their lessons from a year earlier.

Fast forward to the present era, with a different location and a freshly minted
Western leader, President Barack Obama, who declared in Cairo in 2009: "I have
come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around
the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon
the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in
competition." Fair enough, and we may suppose, approximately equivalent to
achieving "peace for our time" between Islam and America. However conceived,
Obama’s Cairo address may now be remembered as his Munich Moment.

Then [6]in September 2012 things began to get sour, though it took a little
longer than the Munich betrayal—but then, Hitler was a gangster in a hurry,
whereas radical Islamists believe they have plenty of time on their hands and
that history is on their side. But even history has to be pushed now and then,
which in this case [7]resulted in the death of four American embassy personnel
in Libya, including the incomparable Ambassador Christopher Stevens in a
premeditated assault, and flag-burning frenzies of anti-Americanism raging
throughout the Muslim world, from Tunisia to Indonesia.

Based on past experience, one could believe that events in the summer and fall
of 2012 constituted teachable moments, just as German perfidy and aggression in
1939 convinced western leaders that Hitler was a fraud. Instead, the American
embassy in Cairo responded with another Munich Moment, by issuing a statement of
such breathtaking pusillanimity that one could wonder which side in the issue
they actually represented. "The embassy of the United States … condemns the
continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of
Muslims," it declared, referring to a video trailer produced in America that
mocked the prophet Muhammad. So, that was it, declared an official organ of the
American government—just like Hitler’s aggression against the Czechs and Poles
was in response to German citizens being treated poorly. Even Chamberlain
eventually saw through that. His Munich Moment had passed; recognition of
reality set in.

Which is not to say that America should declare war against some Middle Eastern
country. But it is to say that the Obama administration must recognize, as the
French and British did in 1939, that hurt Muslim feelings have no more to do
with radical Islamic hatred of the United States than mythical complaints about
Germans under foreign rule had for Hitler; both were merely pretexts, excuses
for aggression that would have taken place anyway. It also means that
anti-Americanism in the Islamic world is going to get worse, not better, and
that the United States had better be prepared for it with firm respect for our
country and American interests abroad. In this case, responding with a cut-off
of foreign aid to countries that murder or abuse Americans is a good start;
perhaps stronger measures should follow. But issuing gag-inducing statements of
apology and adhering to an untenable policy is out of the question.

In short, American foreign policy cannot be based on endless repetitions of a
Munich Moment.

— Dr. Marvin Folkertsma is a professor of political science and fellow for
American studies with [8]The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.
The author of several books, his latest release is a high-energy novel titled
[9]"The Thirteenth Commandment."

© 2012 by The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. The views &
expressed herein may, but do not necessarily, reflect the views of Grove City

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