Some of the initial pushback to the Iranian nuclear deal has faded, but for much of the right, the outrage lingers. A few too many conservatives – in Congress, in the media – seriously want Americans to see a good deal as tantamount to Nazi appeasement.
Indeed, for much of the right, the players have been cast in their proper historical roles: Obama is Chamberlain; Iranians are Nazis; and Netanyahu is both Churchill and Abraham Lincoln. (Don’t think about this too much; conservative historical analogies are deeply odd.)
But Peter Beinart raises a good point this morning: the tirades sound rather familiar.
Over the past quarter-century, there’s hardly an American or Israeli leader the Kristol-Netanyahu crowd hasn’t compared to Chamberlain. In 1985, Newt Gingrich called Reagan’s first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.” When Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, hawks took out newspaper ads declaring that “Appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938.”Then, when Israel moved to thaw its own cold war with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yitzhak Rabin assumed the Chamberlain role…. Then it was Bill Clinton. “The word that best describes Clinton administration [foreign] policy is appeasement,” explained Robert Kagan and Kristol in 1999. Then, of course, it was the opponents of war with Iraq. “The establishment fights most bitterly and dishonestly when it feels cornered and thinks it’s about to lose. Churchill was attacked more viciously in 1938 and 1939 than earlier in the decade,” wrote Kristol in a 2002 editorial, “The Axis of Appeasement.”
The Munich comparison is offensive on a variety of levels, but Beinart raises an important criticism: those pushing the analogy are also lazy.
For much of the right, there are simple, shorthand responses to almost every question that are intended to end debates in their favor. Can we bring health care security to millions of American families? “No, because it’s socialism.” Can we talk about income inequality and the concentration of wealth at the very top? “No, because it’s class warfare.” Can we talk about expanding investments in education and infrastructure? “No, because it’s big government.”
Can we reduce the nuclear threat – for us and the world – by engaging Iran in constructive diplomacy? “No, because it’s Munich.”
These are knee-jerk responses intended to circumvent thought. But they’ve also become tired and predictable, so much so that when it comes to diplomacy and national security, conservatives keep reading from the same script, making up new Hitlers, new Chamberlains, and new Munichs. The only thing that stays the same is the role of Churchill – a role they hold for themselves.
No one, least of all President Obama, should take the rhetoric seriously, though he can at least take comfort in knowing he’s in good company.