Never again – that’s the word. Six million died, simply because they were Jewish, and because no one stopped Hitler when they had the chance, before the whole thing started. Neville Chamberlain negotiated a treaty with Hitler in 1938, when he should have known better. Negotiations are foolish. Hitler was who he was, and such people have to be stopped by force. Force is the only thing that will stop them. Talk won’t stop them. Bombs will. That’s the lesson of history.
Everyone in Israel knows this – at least those in the Likud Party and those who vote for them know this – and they also know that Hitler is long gone. They also know the next Hitler is waiting in the wings, as is the next Neville Chamberlain, and that explains this:
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming address to a joint meeting of Congress will probably be the most important speech of his career – and one that has already jeopardized relations between Israel and the United States.
On Tuesday morning, Netanyahu will confront an American president and insist that the future of the State of Israel, and the world, is imperiled by a pending “bad deal” with Iran on its nuclear program.
On Tuesday morning, as Secretary of State John F. Kerry meets with his counterparts in Switzerland to try to complete a framework accord with Iran by the end of March, Netanyahu will stand at the lectern in Congress to tell Americans, essentially, that President Obama is either foolhardy or weak and about to sign a deal with the devil.
Netanyahu will warn, as he has in the past, that the Americans are gambling on a radical Iranian regime run by Muslim clerics who deny the Holocaust, sponsor terrorist groups, support a murderous regime in Syria and pledge to destroy Israel…
The prime minister’s press office released photographs of Netanyahu penning his speech in longhand.
That was a nice touch. This was personal, and heartfelt, but not without controversy:
Nearly half of American voters think that Republican lawmakers should not have invited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak to a joint session of Congress without first notifying President Barack Obama, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey finds.
Some 48% of registered voters said they disapproved of inviting another leader to speak without first checking with the president, while 30% said congressional Republicans should have done so. Just over a fifth said they didn’t know enough to say.
Mr. Netanyahu’s planned speech, set for Tuesday, has become a symbol of a broader rift between the Israeli leader and Mr. Obama, who has said he won’t meet with the prime minister during his trip.
Of course there’s a rift, but now it comes down to the 1938 thing. Democrats don’t realize it, but Republicans and Benjamin Netanyahu realize that Obama is a dangerous fool who will usher in the next Holocaust – unless he is stopped. Negotiations are more than foolish, and the combined forces of the Republicans and Benjamin Netanyahu will show the world that Obama is this generation’s Neville Chamberlain. There’s always a Neville Chamberlain.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. wasn’t pleased with that – “I trust that a graduate student someday will write a doctoral essay on the influence of the Munich analogy on the subsequent history of the twentieth century. Perhaps in the end he will conclude that the multitude of errors committed in the name of ‘Munich’ may exceed the original error of 1938.”
Schlesinger may be right – such talk can lead to trouble – but Neville Chamberlain did blow it, and that was caught on camera. History is what it is. There’s that iconic picture from September 30, 1938 – Chamberlain at Heston Aerodrome near London, having just arrived from Munich, waving a piece of paper that was the Munich Agreement – a diplomatic solution to a geopolitical problem. Hitler had demanded the annexation of the Sudetenland, and Chamberlain was able to obtain assurances, put down on paper and signed by the Germans, that Hitler had no designs on the rest of Czechoslovakia at all, just that German-speaking corner of it, and no designs at all on other areas in Eastern Europe that had German minorities, like the part of Prussia which was then part of Poland. There would be no war. Later that day Chamberlain stood outside Number 10 Downing Street and said this – “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.”
Neville Chamberlain was wrong, and soon enough he wasn’t the British Prime Minister. Hitler considered that piece of paper a joke, and considered Neville Chamberlain a fool. Hitler had simply bought himself some additional time, for arming-up even further. The Czechs weren’t happy, and in March of 1939 weren’t Czechs anymore, and on the first day of that September, Hitler’s surprisingly short blitzkrieg made all of Poland part of Germany, and the war that Chamberlain had negotiated away had begun. The Brits turned to Winston Churchill, having come to the same conclusion about Chamberlain that Hitler had – the man was a fool, and maybe he was. It’s just that the secondary effect of all this sorry business, as a corollary of sorts, was that diplomacy itself was now forever discredited. There’s no point negotiating about much of anything, and making concessions is stupid – and cowardly and immoral and useless. Few consider that this might be a special case – Chamberlain the naïf working from faulty intelligence, and Hitler the ultimate “bad actor” of all time. One can imagine a hard-nosed negotiator who knows what’s really going on, who won’t give away something for nothing, and on the other side, a foe who actually has much to lose, and knows it – but few are willing to imagine that. It’s easier to mutter “Munich” and be done with it, and be off to war.
Chamberlain ruined everything. That’s what we learned. Yes, Ronald Reagan negotiated major nuclear-arms reductions with the Soviets, with his famous caveat – “Trust but Verify” (it doesn’t have to be all Neville Chamberlain all the time) – but many on the right were still hopping mad at him, calling for even more American nuclear weapons, because no one can trust those commies. We had come to assume that everyone else is always as bad an actor as Hitler. Even a conservative icon can be a Neville Chamberlain if he isn’t careful. Ronald Reagan just smiled, and his three-word caveat calmed everyone down, and the world became a bit safer. Animosity really isn’t policy.
Animosity became policy in the Bush-Cheney years, and Schlesinger, had he lived, would have been saddened by how the Munich analogy was used to justify the Iraq War. Colin Powell faced the cowardly and immoral and useless French at the United Nations, who were saying that it might be wise to wait for Hans Blix and his inspectors to finish their hunt for those weapons of mass destruction, and who were also saying that if Blix found any nasty weapons of mass destruction, which seemed unlikely, all-out war wasn’t the only way to deal with that problem, if it turned out there was actually was a problem – and there might not be one.
We would have none of that. Reagan’s dictum was forgotten. The inspectors had to leave – now. We’d soon have our war, and the Bush surrogates hit the talk shows and gave their speeches all over the country, subtly invoking Neville Chamberlain, or naming him explicitly, as an example of the pointlessness of diplomacy in what they called the real world. The Bush crew pummeled the skeptics with that name, Neville Chamberlain, until almost every Democrat, and Hillary Clinton most famously, gave in. We had our war.
Something else changed too. Bush shifted most of the responsibilities of the Department of State – figuring out how to deal with the complex regional political demands of this group or that – to the Department of Defense. Generals were expected to be diplomats. Diplomats were given the afternoon off, every afternoon. Donald Rumsfeld called the shots, not Colin Powell, or later, Condoleezza Rice. Powell and Rice were there as support staff – they were sort of window dressing – and Dick Cheney wandered about growling that we don’t negotiate with rogue regimes, we remove them, and Syria and North Korea were next. He and Rumsfeld were always invoking Neville Chamberlain. That shut people up, but the multitude of errors committed in the name of Munich multiplied. After eight long years we left Iraq with nothing much to show for it, other than the scorn of the rest of the world, and ISIS, and an Iraqi government aligned with Iran.
That should have ended the argument about whether Neville Chamberlain had been a special case, and Hitler too – they both must have been – but it didn’t. Diplomacy is still considered stupid and cowardly, at least by many, and that’s why Netanyahu is coming here, at the invitation of the Republicans, to tell us that our Democratic president is a dangerous fool. Netanyahu had been a close friend of Mitt Romney since 1976 – they always saw the world the same way – so the politics of this isn’t surprising.
The implicit message is a bit surprising. These things wouldn’t happen if Americans elected Republicans. Israel knows this. Every single Jew in in the world knows this. Not one Jew in America has ever voted for a Democrat, after all. No, wait – the Jewish votes has always been overwhelmingly Democratic. Perhaps they’re those self-hating Jews or something. But of course Netanyahu won’t say that, directly – but that hardly matters. Everyone gets it.
Slate’s William Saletan doesn’t get it:
Nothing like this has ever happened before. The opposition party is convening a special session of Congress so that a foreign leader, on the floor of our national legislature, can rebuke the foreign policy of our president.
The breach is bad enough. But the story of how it happened, and the hostility and disrespect behind it, are worse. Israel negotiated the speaking engagement with aides to House Speaker John Boehner for at least 13 days without telling the White House. Not until the morning of Jan. 21 – a day after the plan was sealed, and two hours before it was announced publicly – did Boehner inform the administration.
Boehner made clear that the invitation’s purpose was to counter Obama’s message and challenge his policies. He cited the president’s State of the Union address, delivered the previous evening. “I did not consult with the White House. The Congress can make this decision on its own,” the speaker declared. “There’s a serious threat that exists in the world. And the president last night kind of papered over it.”
The White House, blindsided, expressed its dismay. “The typical protocol would suggest that the leader of a country would contact the leader of another country when he’s traveling there,” said Obama’s press secretary, Josh Earnest. “So this particular event seems to be a departure from that protocol.”
Netanyahu was undeterred. On Jan. 22, he announced that he was accepting the invitation. He claimed it had been extended “on behalf of the bipartisan leadership” in Congress.
That was bullshit:
Democrats corrected him. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said they hadn’t been consulted. “It’s out of the ordinary that the speaker would decide that he would be inviting people to a joint session without any bipartisan consultation,” said Pelosi. She added: “I don’t think that’s appropriate – for any country – that the head of state would come here within two weeks of his own election.”
The White House announced that if Netanyahu came, Obama wouldn’t meet with him. “The President will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress,” said a statement from the National Security Council. The State Department added that Secretary of State John Kerry wouldn’t meet with Netanyahu either. The White House noted that Obama opposed legislation – which Boehner and Netanyahu supported – to impose further sanctions on Iran. The statement explained: “The President has been clear about his opposition to Congress passing new legislation on Iran that could undermine our negotiations and divide the international community.”
Netanyahu pushed right back. On Jan. 25, Israel’s Army Radio disclosed new talking points issued by Netanyahu’s party, Likud. The talking points instructed party members to emphasize that Congress could override Obama’s veto of a sanctions bill. This was the prime minister’s objective: to marshal Congress against the president.
Then things escalated:
Netanyahu could have backed out. But the prospect of standing up to Obama didn’t discourage the prime minister. It exhilarated him. “We are not afraid to determinedly object to the risky agreement that is being formulated between the world powers and Iran,” Netanyahu proclaimed on Jan. 29. “We do not hesitate to speak up clearly, even if there are those who refuse to hear.”
A week later, Netanyahu criticized the United States directly. “The American secretary of state and the Iranian foreign minister held talks over the weekend,” Netanyahu warned Israelis on Feb. 8. “They announced that they intend to complete a framework agreement by the end of March. From this stems the urgency of our efforts to try and block this bad and dangerous agreement.” At a campaign rally the next day, Netanyahu criticized those who quibbled about “protocol.”
The next week there was no backing down:
On Sunday, Netanyahu called the continuation of talks with Iran “astonishing.” On Tuesday, he rejected an invitation to speak privately with Democratic senators during his visit. On Wednesday, Obama’s national security adviser, Susan Rice, warned Boehner and Netanyahu that “by virtue of the invitation … and the acceptance of it … on both sides there has now been injected a degree of partisanship” that is “destructive of the fabric of the relationship” between Israel and the United States.
That stopped nothing:
Netanyahu is plowing right through the stop sign. On Friday, he told an Israeli interviewer that he’s coming to Washington to enlist the American public against Obama’s Iran policy. “I am going there to try to stop the deal from happening,” said the prime minister. “In most of the U.S., there is support for Israel. So I can have differences with the U.S. president. … What is not legitimate about us speaking our minds, especially when the majority supports us?”
Saletan sums things up this way:
That’s Netanyahu’s wager. He believes Obama’s policy is catastrophically wrong. To defeat it, he’s willing to ally the government of Israel with congressional leaders who are openly trying to humiliate the president and seize control of U.S. foreign policy. Netanyahu thinks he can get away with this because you love Israel, no matter how its prime minister behaves, more than you love the president of the United States.
Hey, it’s always 1938 somewhere. Never again, right?
Maybe so, but Josh Marshall points out something interesting:
One of the most significant developments has gone all but unmentioned. We now have dramatic new evidence of Netanyahu’s willingness to distort or simply falsify what his own intelligence agencies are telling him about the state of Iran’s nuclear program when he speaks to the US and the world.
Marshall cites J. J. Goldberg’s deeply-sourced article on this and offers the gist of it:
You probably remember that Netanyahu speech a couple years ago before the United Nations – the one where he used the bomb cartoon to illustrate his points about the Iranian nuclear program. In that speech Netanyahu made a series of specific claims about the status of the Iranian nuclear program. It turns out several of those claims were specifically contradicted by the current intelligence from the Mossad – Israel’s foreign intelligence agency. We know this because of a major leak of hundreds of documents from South African intelligence. One of those is a report from the South Africans’ Israeli counterparts – detailing their current evaluation of the status of the program. It’s dated only a few weeks after Netanyahu’s speech.
This blows things up:
It has been an open secret for years that very, very few of Israel’s top military and intelligence leaders see eye to eye with Netanyahu on the Iran question. This isn’t to say that they don’t view it as a major threat; they do. The questions are whether it is an existential threat and the wisdom of an Israeli military strike to thwart or retard the program.
Marshall also cites this article on the head of Mossad from 2002 to 2010, Meir Dagan, saying Netanyahu is “destroying the Zionist dream” with his leadership, but it comes down to this:
These are questions of judgment and strategy – which are ultimately the province of elected leaders. The points in the UN speech are narrow questions of fact – which Netanyahu appears to have deliberately misstated.
Unfortunately for Israel, unfortunately for America, unfortunately for everyone, Netanyahu can’t be trusted – not his judgment or his honesty. And no amount of deterrence will stop the onslaught of weaponized grandiosity he plans to unleash on America this coming week.
Also, did I mention, you can’t trust him to tell the truth?
Hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu set off on Sunday for Washington, a group of 180 retired Israeli generals and former top security officials warned that his upcoming address to a joint meeting of Congress on Iran’s nuclear program will cause more harm than good.
It will not only damage Israel’s special relationship with the United States, but also undermine military and intelligence ties, they said.
Rather than slowing down Iran’s nuclear project, the former security officials said, Mr Netanyahu’s speech on Tuesday will bring the Islamic republic closer to developing a nuclear bomb.
“When the Israeli prime minister argues that his speech will stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, he is not only misleading Israel – he is strengthening Iran,” Amnon Reshef, former head of the army’s armored corps, said at a news conference on Sunday.
Mr Reshef is a founder of Commanders for Israel’s Security, an organisation of 200 retired and reserve senior officers from the Israel Defense Forces, the Mossad secret service, the Shin Bet domestic security agency and the national police force.
Yeah, but each one of them is a damned Neville Chamberlain:
Mr Netanyahu’s party, Likud, responded to the criticism in a statement: “This is a recycled version of the same generals – leftists who promised peace in Oslo, supported the disengagement (from Gaza), supported the Arab Peace Initiative based on dividing Jerusalem, and promoted withdrawal from Judea and Samaria and the Golan Heights.”
So there! But there was also this:
US Senator Dianne Feinstein knocked Mr Netanyahu for suggesting that he represents all Jewish people on the topic of Iran.
“He doesn’t speak for me on this,” Senator Feinstein said on Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “I think it’s a rather arrogant statement. I think the Jewish community is like any other community. There are different points of view. I think that arrogance does not befit Israel, candidly.”
She’s not much of a Jew, is she? Or is Netanyahu? Orly Azoulay sees a problem for Israel now:
Israel has a clear interest to be portrayed in the world, particularly in the eyes of the Arab states, as a country which enjoys the unconditional support of the American administration, which has many advantages, including first-rate intelligence and security cooperation – and everything the strongest world power can offer its small ally surrounded by enemies: From the Iron Dome system to the Stuxnet computer worm, which – according to the New York Times – was developed in cooperation with the Mossad and IDF Unit 8200 in order to damage the Iranian centrifuges’ control systems.
Netanyahu’s decision to address the Congress this week, behind Obama’s back and in order to warn the lawmakers and American public against the agreement that the president wishes to sign with Iran, has made senior administration officials take their gloves off. The way they see it, Netanyahu is breaking the rules of the game by supplying the Republican Party with ammunition against the president. That’s the reason why they are no longer obligated to save his face.
There are consequences:
When Netanyahu leaves Washington, Israel, which according to the Bloomberg network, has asked the United States for another $317 million for the development of the David’s Sling and Arrow 3 defense systems, may find out that America is much less generous than it was before.
Administration officials are already working on a plan for the day after Netanyahu’s speech: Which sections will be cut from the aid to Israel and which requests arriving from Israel will be met with foot-dragging.
Netanyahu is therefore making Israel lose twice: He won’t be able to stop the agreement with Iran, if it reaches the signature stage, and he will no longer succeed in getting the generous and protecting American hand back.
The damage is done:
When he leaves the US, Netanyahu will leave behind scorched earth. The White House hopes the Israelis will realize the extent of the crisis and bring about a political upheaval on March 17 which will lead to the rise of a prime minister who will restore the relations with the administration.
Obama has two years left in the White House, and as far as he is concerned, his relationship with Netanyahu is over. Now it’s not just a credibility crisis, it’s the end of the road.
So be it, and a graduate student someday will write that doctoral dissertation on the influence of the Munich analogy on subsequent history since 1938, and probably will conclude that the multitude of errors committed in the name of “Munich” really does exceed the original error of 1938 – because it’s not 1938 anywhere now. That year, on July 18, Wrong Way Corrigan took off from New York, heading for California, and somehow landed in Ireland. It was just that kind of year.