Appeasement: Our Western Illness

I suspect when asked if they know what the word appeasement means most educated people will say, “Yes. It has to do with British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain giving part of Czechoslovakia to Adolph Hitler in 1938, claiming he had achieved “peace in our time.”

In fact, however, the lesson of appeasement was not learned. It is alive and well, causing myriad problems in our Western political universe. I’ll relate examples offered by Natan Sharansky in his extended essay “Defending Identity” and then point out how the appeasement disease still survives in the West in the 21st century.

Natan Sharansky is one of the most well-known of a group that came to be known as the “refuseniks.” He was exiled to Siberia by the Soviet Union because of his refusal to confess his crimes and name his co-conspirators. His crimes were these: He was active in publicizing human rights violations by the Soviet Union and he sought to move to Israel.

Eventually, Sharansky and the other refuseniks won. They delivered a deathblow to the Soviet Union as a result of their courageous refusal to cooperate even when faced with death. His case gained widespread support from ordinary citizens throughout the West. Ronald Reagan helped push the Soviet regime into the dust bin of history, but his voice alone without Sharansky’s moral stand, would have run up against a brick wall.

After moving to Israel, Sharansky was invited to serve as a minister in two administrations. He very publicly resigned from both because the prime ministers were engaged in appeasing Israel’s enemies in ways Sharansky believed would be devastating for the young nation.

In 2000, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak entered into negotiations at Camp David with Yasser Arafat. Sharansky objected when Barak offered Arafat more than any other Israeli leader had offered the Palestinians, including a pledge to divide Jerusalem. Why? He believed Barak was foolishly appeasing Arafat who was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Israelis. In return for peace, Barak was willing to give up important locations essential to the Jewish people’s historical identity­­.

The second time Sharansky resigned from an Israeli government was in 2005 when Ariel Sharon decided to evacuate Gaza––a strip of land along the Mediterranean that was home to twenty-one Jewish communities. He argued that doing so unilaterally would not bring peace to Israel, nor would it improve life for the Palestinians. Unfortunately, his prediction came true. Gaza has turned out to be an open sore on Israel’s southern flank with no clear resolution in sight.

The common thread of the two situations was the leaders were willing to appease their enemies––giving up a lot in return for little or nothing. Despite the common narrative that Israel is responsible for the lack of peace in the Middle East, the truth, the reality of the situation is that Israel has consistently offered concessions while consistently losing opportunities to stand firm on principle.

Another example cited by Sharansky is Oslo––the 1993 Agreement that was supposed to bring about a resolution of the conflict that began with the formation of a Jewish state in 1948. Sharansky argues Oslo was flawed for two reasons. First, it failed to deal with the fact that Yasser Arafat was a dictator. Strengthening him was the worst thing that could have happened to the Palestinian people as can be seen today given that nothing close to democratic rights exists in the PLO-dominated territory. If we in the West believe our rhetoric––that all human beings are entitled to certain basic rights, why do we keep ignoring the fact that the Palestinians lack the right of free speech, free assembly, freedom of religion and the right to choose their own leaders?

The second evil perpetuated by Oslo was Israel’s failure to insist that the PLO recognize the Jewish people’s right to a Jewish state in its current location. Failing to demand that concession has meant the PLO could continue to foster hatred of Jews, pay the families of deceased or imprisoned terrorists, and claim their right to the entire region. The consequence was that Israel has had to devote a major portion of its population and resources on security.

Western International Appeasement

America and Europe have consistently tried appeasement in dealing with China and Iran resulting in greater problems amplified today by the economic and military agreement between the two nations. The entire world is endangered by the aggressive policies these nations display today in large part because they do not believe the West will go beyond rhetoric to stop them.

The case of Iran is the clearer of the two. Iran’s aggression in its region has led to wars in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen, with resulting tens of thousands killed and hundreds of thousands of refugees. How has the West responded? President Obama tried to buy off Iran with a foolish deal that asked them to postpone becoming a nuclear power in return for a huge financial payment. Fortunately, President Trump revoked America’s part of the agreement, but Europe has demurred, emboldening Iran to continue to be aggressive on several fronts.

Many advanced the theory that by playing nice with China they would reform their totalitarian practices. Instead China today is an aggressive dictatorship, repressing ethnic minorities, attempting to take over Taiwan and Hong Kong and dominate the South China Sea region, while pushing on its border with India. China’s economy has grown thanks to the West’s willingness to ignore China’s predatory policies in return for access to its market. In response, China engaged in the theft of Western technology and limited its market in multiple ways while undercutting Western economies with its state-owned enterprises.

The West’s failure to demand Iran and China conform to Western human rights practices in order to receive the benefits of our technology was and remains a huge mistake. President Trump is correct in placing demands on both countries, although I worry that U.S. pressure can only achieve limited results without Europe’s support.

Domestic Appeasement

Appeasement is a popular ploy in the U.S. to tamper down demands by domestic populations. I’m not arguing that minority communities don’t deserve a share of our nation’s riches, but instead of policies that expand equal opportunity, our political class has favored hand-outs to selected representatives, enriching a few at the expense of the many.

The failures of hand-out programs such as welfare, public housing and affirmative action is evidenced by the fact that 60 years after this policy was started as Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the same groups are legitimately pointing out that they have greater poverty, greater unemployment and greater numbers in prison that the majority population.

The Great Society created a political class that each year comes to Washington claiming to represent their people while asking for more money and more programs. Sadly, the poverty program cheerleaders refuse to recognize that enormous progress has been made outside these poverty programs simply by people taking advantage of opportunities to get an education and obtain skills that could be translated into economic advanced.

The Trump presidency demonstrated that more could be accomplished for minorities by means of an expanding economy than all the handout programs combined.

The Alternative to Appeasement

Appeasement is the tendency to believe giving in to the demands of others can put an end to the problem. Even when the demands are legitimate, there has to be a price paid before an exchange can be effective. As Natan Sharansky demonstrated giving in to Israel’s enemies without getting sufficient concessions in return was disastrous.

We have learned that in the case of demands made in foreign relations, the dominant side has to view those making the demand as enemies with regard to that specific negotiation. Mexico and Canada were America’s enemies when trying to replace NAFTA. Thinking in that mode resulted in an one hundred percent better agreement. Iran and China are our enemies, not our friends. As a result, a quid pro quo should be required of any agreement.

In domestic conflicts, financial aid should only be given when the receiving community has agreed to honest and thorough record-keeping demonstrating that the aid went to the intended audience. If that had been done in the past, the record of fraud and abuse in these programs would have been cut in half and needy people would have gotten help. But even beyond accounting, receiving communities must agree to engage in additional steps on their own behalf, such as requiring recipients to participate in programs designed to elevate them out of poverty. An example would be schooling for those who are not proficient in English; another would be schooling for adults who dropped out of school without completing high school.

Appeasement is giving in to demands without asking anything in return. It is often agreed to out of guilt. Its time to recognize appeasement didn’t end with Nevile Chamberlain. Its continuing record of failure in international and domestic relations should teach us a lesson. Leaders must display backbone. Giving in may gain short-term peace, but rarely solves the problem and typically results in worse problems down the road.