– Nobel peace laureate Sir Austen Chamberlain (half-brother of Neville), on the Polish Corridor, February 16 and March 31, 1925.
How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a faraway country between people of whom we know nothing.
– Neville Chamberlain on the Czechoslovakia crisis, September 27, 1937
The enemy did not reckon with my great strength of purpose. Our enemies are worms. I saw them in Munich.
– Adolf Hitler, address to generals, August 22, 1939
The [German] decision to fight is implacable… I am certain that even if the Germans were given more than they ask for they will attack just the same…
– Count Gian Galeazzo Ciano, Italian foreign minister (1936-1943), The Ciano Diaries 1939-1943.
The die has been cast and, barring last minute surprises, the Iran deal spawned in Vienna this July will be upheld – against the wishes of the majority of the American people and the fierce resistance of almost two-thirds of the US legislature.
Etched in infamy
As such it is – and always will be – bereft of any moral authority.
Those who supported the deal – and those who failed to prevent its passage – will have their names etched in infamy in days to come. Of that there can be little doubt.
It is an indefensible deal, devoid of redeeming features – whether the Iranians honor it or whether they do not, which is more than likely since its verification measures are so cumbersome they may have well been designed to conceal Iranian violations.
I confess to feeling a little uneasy when I first heard several critics of the Iran nuclear agreement condemning it as worse than the deal signed in Munich between Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain on September 30, 1938. As the infamous Munich Pact is widely recognized as epitomizing the policy of appeasement of tyranny that precipitated the most horrendous carnage humanity ever experienced, I thought this was perhaps going a little overboard.
But no longer.
As more details emerge as to the Iran deal, as the enormity of its fraudulence and its folly are uncovered, as the ignominy of its craven capitulation is exposed, as the true proportions of the peril it portends are revealed, the comparison with Munich is beginning to look almost charitable.
Prescient letter to editor – October 4, 1938
It would difficult to conceive of a more instructive yardstick by which to measure the chilling parallel between the two agreements than a remarkably prescient Letter to the Editor in the Manchester Guardian (precursor of today’s Guardian) published on October 4, 1938, mere days after the Munich Pact had been concluded.
Titled “The Funeral of British Honour,” it was written by F.L. Lucas, an acclaimed Cambridge literary don, a decorated – and severely wounded – veteran of WWI and recipient of an OBE for his intelligence work at Bletchley Park in WWII.
Lamenting the “sheer degradation of the frenzies” that greeted Chamberlain’s announcement of the pact with Hitler, Lucas wrote:
Sir, The flowers piled before 10, Downing Street are very fitting for the funeral of British honor and, it may be, of the British Empire… I appreciate the Prime Minister’s love of peace. I know the horrors of war – a great deal better than he can. But when he returns from saving our skins from a blackmailer at the price of other people’s flesh, and waves…
a piece of paper with Herr Hitler’s name on it, if it were not ghastly, it would be grotesque. No doubt he has never read Mein Kampf in German. But to forget, so utterly, the Reichstag fire, and the occupation of the Rhineland, and 30 June 1934 [the Night of the Long Knives], and the fall of Austria! We have lost the courage to see things as they are. And yet Herr Hitler has kindly put down for us in black and white that programme he is so faithfully carrying out…
Debasing of ‘moral currency’
Mr. Chamberlain, though he had good intentions… lent himself with complacency to the shrieking adulation of a London that had lost all dignity, without one thought for the agony of Prague… Mr. Chamberlain, canting of ‘peace with honour,’ has debased the moral currency of England… He concluded with a dire warning which was soon to come true: …unless we propose to barricade ourselves behind pieces of paper kindly autographed by Herr Hitler, we shall look a little better to our defences, even if it means conscription in the near future.
Developments proved it a remarkably accurate prognosis.
As he warned, promises of “peace for our time” and incantations of “peace with honor” were no more than dangerously deceptive delusions, born of unfounded hope and disregard for facts.
As he anticipated, agreements with tyrannical regimes have little worth beyond that of the paper they are signed on.
As he foresaw, the violence to eradicate domestic opposition would soon be reflected in aggression beyond domestic frontiers.
As he cautioned, aspirations of domination, however unrealistically grandiose they may initially appear, should not be discounted, but taken as genuine political ambitions, to be pursued by actionable policies.
‘If you will not fight for right…’
But perhaps his most telling insight was that the abandonment of allies under duress from despots would have dire consequences not only for those shamefully abandoned but for those cynically abandoning them as well. For soon “a London that had lost all dignity, without one thought for the agony of Prague” found itself locked in mortal battle, with a far more formidable Germany, greatly empowered by the very agreement that London had previously applauded.
For the Munich Pact and Iran “deal” are afflicted by similar flaws: The unwillingness to recognize that making concessions to tyranny never satiates the appetite of the tyrant. Indeed, it only whets it – with each concession not being perceived as a gesture of goodwill but as a sign of weakness, inviting further demands for further concessions, until these can no longer be met – and violence becomes inevitable, albeit in far more disadvantageous circumstances.
There is, thus, little moral merit or political pragmatism in delaying confrontation.
As Winston Churchill eloquently pointed out:
“If you will not fight for right… when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you…”
Good intentions no guarantee of good policy
Lucas did not doubt Neville Chamberlain’s good intentions and commitment to peace. However, he saw these as neither justifying nor excusing the abysmal policies the prime minister embarked upon.
Armed with the benefit of hindsight, Hans Morgenthau, in his seminal volume on international relations Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace (1948) validates Lucas’s critical foresight:
“We cannot conclude from the good intentions of a statesman that his foreign policies will be either morally praiseworthy or politically successful….”
Pointedly, he asks: How often have statesmen been motivated by the desire to improve the world, and ended by making it worse…? With regard to Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement, Morgenthau also attributes him noble intentions:
“Neville Chamberlain’s politics of appeasement were, as far as we can judge, inspired by good motives… he sought to preserve peace and to assure the happiness of all concerned.”
However, these did nothing to mitigate the calamity his decision brought about: “Yet his policies helped to make the Second World War inevitable, and… bring untold miseries to millions of men.”
Although many of the details may differ, there is a chilling parallel in the political and psychological foundations of the Munich Pact and the Iran nuclear deal.” Indeed, as we shall see, there is, if anything, far less justification for the latter – and hence the tragic repercussions it is almost certain to precipitate will be judged far more harshly.
Munich 1938-Vienna 2015: Chilling parallels
Both were the product of negotiations with aggressive tyrannical regimes, founded on a fanatical totalitarian ideology diametrically opposed to the norms and values of their democratic interlocutors claim to subscribe to.
On the one hand, both involved brutally intolerant regimes, which:
• Brooked no dissent and ruthlessly suppressed any sign of domestic opposition to their oppressive rule;
• Harbored undisguised ambitions for domination far beyond their national borders; and
• Were driven by Judaeophobic fervor and bent on Judaeocidal purpose – the one against Jews as an ethno-religious entity, the other against Jews as a sovereign national entity.
On the other hand, both involved reticent democratic regimes, which:
• Shied away from robustly rebutting the demands of dictatorships, hoping that by accommodating them, they would moderate their conduct;
• Believed they could disregard the ruthless nature of the regime at home as a crucial determinant of its external policies;
• Opted to ignore the declared aims by their dictatorial interlocutors for foreign dominion and subjugation of other countries/ peoples; and
• Chose to discount vital interests of allies – democratic or otherwise – in the (forlorn) hope of avoiding conflict in the short term, but making it inevitable in the longer term.
For as Churchill pointed out in the case of Munich, after abandoning Czechoslovakia,
“How could we protect Poland and make good our guarantee? Only by declaring war upon Germany and… [a] more powerful German army than that from which we recoiled in September 1938”
This leaves us to ponder how the US could make good on its guarantees to its allies, except by coercively engaging a more powerful Iran than that it recoiled from in July 2015.
Munich 1938 – Vienna 2015: Chilling differences
But if the parallels between the Munich Pact and the Iran deal are disturbing, the differences between them are even more alarming.
For the preponderance of power the US-led P5+1 over an economically emaciated and drought-ravaged Iran far outstrips that between Great Britain and France over a resurgent Nazi Germany – making the far-reaching concessions to Tehran even more incongruous.
Indeed, as pointed out in last week’s column, President Obama himself emphasized the massive power disparity, declaring “Iran understands that they cannot fight us…”
Moreover, Iran’s “delinquent” behavior and nefarious intent were far more evident at the time the agreements were concluded.
After all, when the Munich Pact was signed, Nazi Germany was not involved in promoting worldwide terror, nor in actively funding insurrection against other sovereign governments – as is Iran today.
In September 1938, Nazi Germany had not yet publicly declared its goal to exterminate the Jewish people, while Iran has frequently proclaimed its determination to annihilate the Jewish state.
The Munich Pact was signed in the shadow of WWI in which Britain suffered about a million deaths (2 percent of its population). Without wishing to belittle the cost, pain or sacrifice, the Iran deal was concluded under the specter of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, in which about 7,000 US soldiers lost their lives (0.002 percent of US population).
Accordingly, it would be far more plausible to invoke fatigue of war as justification for the former than for the latter.
But perhaps the most startling difference of all is that while the Munich Pact did indeed not only strengthen, but embolden Nazi Germany, it did not concede to it developing the most destructive weapon on earth and the means to deliver it. The Iran deal does precisely that – even if Tehran adheres to its conditions.
Gross incompetence or grave insincerity?
Like the Munich Pact, the Iran deal will achieve nothing its advocates profess to hope for, nor prevent anything they profess to fear.
Unlike with the Munich Pact, supporters of the Iran deal have a sobering historical precedent to learn from, the Munich Pact, which they have chosen to ignore.
Whether this is due to gross incompetence, or grave insincerity (there can be no other explanation) makes little difference to the devastating consequences it will precipitate.
By enhancing the current tyranny politically, by enriching it economically, and empowering it militarily, the Iran deal virtually snuffs out any hope of a more moderate and democratic regime in the country.
Accordingly, its passage will not only be a betrayal of US allies and the Iranian people but of the American ethos itself…or at least of what it once was.
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (www.strategic-israel.org).