Friday, July 18, 2008

Appeasement Politics - Again

Negotiating with terrorists and with authoritarian regimes is often in the news these days. Opinions fly fast and wide about the relative merits of sitting down with this or that unsavory character.

Yet we have only to glance at the latest news to receive a litany of reality checks.

Robert Mugabe came to power using the gun some 28 years ago. After a brief period of stability and growth, he has set about destroying Zimbabwe, a country that used to be called the "bread basket" of Africa. He has devastated the economy by recklessly expropriating land and has emasculated the opposition by beating, killing or jailing many of his opponents. With increasing violence, Mugabe has stamped his authoritarian rule throughout the country. The West has recently opened its blind eye whilst the U.N., his trading partners (i.e. China), and Africa tread cautiously. For the latter, it appears as though Mugabe's credentials as a freedom fighter warrant unlimited loyalty, as though his decade's long violence and mayhem will one day transition to tolerance and peace. What is that memorable saying about a leopard and its spots?

As the one-man run-off presidential election held June 27 makes perfectly clear, Mugabe has reconfirmed his disinterest in democracy, freedom and the will of the people. Never mind that Mugabe's opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, won the first round ballot. According to Mugabe, "We fought for this country, and a lot of blood was shed. We are not going to give up our country because of a mere X. How can a ballpoint [pen] fight with a gun?" [1]

It seems years of accommodation, understanding and negotiation by the West have only hardened the geriatric Mugabe's determination to forcefully hold onto power, to break the back of any and all opposition. Could not the West have foreseen this outcome; were there not enough signs along the way?

In Lebanon, Hizballah has only tightened its stranglehold on the Lebanese government. Its unqualified veto power gives it total control over policy and change whilst shrewdly sidestepping responsibility, as the minority party, for the government's future mistakes. We have known and still know that Hizballah is an unabashed terrorist group with political, educational, and financial wings.

Just a few weeks ago, in a bloody confrontation with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, Hizballah took control of the capital, Beirut. In 2006, they provoked a war with Israel through kidnappings and assorted border provocations. They have a more effective fighting force than the Lebanese army and are reported to have 40,000 rockets aimed at Israel. Furthermore, they are responsible for the deaths of more Americans than any other terrorist group apart from Al Qaeda. And yet Condoleezza Rice has stated that she welcomes the new power-sharing arrangement in Lebanon [2] as if it was reached democratically and peacefully. Apparently, we in the West now (tacitly) allow violent blackmail on a countrywide basis and support terrorist groups in power. Is there no end to our "pragmatism," is there always a deal with the devil worthy of our imprimatur? Even though we surely know that the "pragmatism" of these militants has been and will remain worthless? Is our fear of confrontation, our dislike of going it alone and our need for peace at any cost so deep that we hope where there is no justification for hope? Do we endlessly put off the day of reckoning (ignoring the cost of our freedom, the ultimate price of our peace) at the expense of oppressed peoples everywhere, at the expense of honesty and truth?

In the Middle Ages the church sold "indulgences" to their wealthier sinners who would thereby ensure their key to heaven by greasing the proverbial palm of the local parish. Do we open our myopic eyes a little more and confront the real enemies of our civilization rather than devoting ourselves exclusively, as many in the left are wont to do, to Kyoto and global warming, to whales and moose, to distractions from ensuring our survival?

So now we must negotiate with Iran's President Ahmadinejad, a man who has often stated that he has no interest in Israel's survival, peace with America, or in reaching any accommodation with his internal opposition? Are there no limits to our appeasements, to our self-flagellation, to our ability to fool ourselves?

Many in the world support these anti-Western rogue regimes, terrorist groups, fundamentalists and tin pot dictators. They do so not necessarily because they objectively find an accurate melding of their own views and wishes with those of these bombastic extremists. Rather, they are motivated by a desire to see America cut down to size, its power and dominance reduced, its government (mostly Republican) and its companies (mostly multi-national) humiliated. It's mostly a case of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." So—as revealed by the (often ornate) signs of protestors from San Francisco to Stuttgart to Seoul--Bush and Hitler are two sides of the same coin. Chavez, to whom most would not trust a second hand Prius at the valet, is now a poster boy for a myriad of causes and receives a standing ovation from the UN General Assembly after an anti-American speech so vitriolic it put Geobbels to shame. And Ahmadinejad, whose rants and insipid insights we would normally attribute to the world of insane asylums, becomes worthy of our understanding, our liberal largess and our Third World sympathies. In the interest of "dialogue," the venerable Council of Foreign Relations has Ahmadinejad over to the Upper East Side for a chat; not to be outdone, Columbia University soon invites him across town.

Being anti-American gets one a free pass, it seems, whether in the lofty towers of the United Nations or from the erudite professorships of our most acclaimed universities.

Without America as whipping boy, the elite's most politically correct scapegoat—without Shakespeare's modern day Shylock—most of these terrorist groups and dictatorships would likely dissipate and implode from a paucity of outside support and attention, their raison d'ĂȘtre dissolved, the transparency of their own viciousness and incompetence exposed. [3]

We seem to have a bizarre predilection for tolerating tyrants at home as well, passionately banning mangers in the park at Christmas time, cartoons of Mohammed, and cost effective and practical yet politically incorrect profiling at airports.

We seem to insist on repeating the mistakes of the past as though history can be rewritten by our fanciful optimism and our dangerous penchant for negotiating even when there is nothing left to negotiate.

The West is war weary and confrontation averse. Most of us prefer to sweeten with gifts those who wish us ill, to mollify tyrants with our endless words of conciliation. Is there ultimately no politically viable path between endless war and interminable accommodation?

[1] (Wall Street Journal 6/17/08 World Watch p. 13)
[2] (Wall Street Journal 6/17/08 World Watch p. 13)
[3] See Jean Francois Ravel's book on the subject entitled "Anti-Americanism" Encounter Books Sept. 25, 2004

"Mugabe Vows to Hold Power" by Roger Bate (Wall Street Journal 6/19/08 Opinion p. 15):

Military occupation mars Hezbollah reputation:

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