by Barry Rubin
We have come full circle. Here is how the last great historical era began, the one we seem to be starting over afresh. It’s January 30, 1933, and here’s what the Cleveland Press reports from Washington under the headline, “U.S. Unruffled by Hitler Rise”:
Perhaps you had to be nice to them to bring about this moderation, as advocates of appeasement proposed. There were good arguments for that case. Germany was strong and it was better not to provoke it; perhaps it was better to have as a friend. Germany could be a profitable trading partner; economic embargos didn’t work any way. Could the democratic countries really preach to Germany given their own sins of imperialism and injustice? Wasn’t confrontation worth avoiding at any price, especially faced with the horrors of war? And what about Germany’s genuine grievances as victim of mistreatment by Britain, France and America?
Was it really proper to interfere in Germany’s internal affairs (this was the U.S. government’s position) or to try to impose the values of other countries on it? Six years later, in 1939, after allying with Nazi Germany, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov explained that “fascism is a matter of taste.” And, of course, there was always the final resort: the Germans weren’t against “us” but merely against the Jews, who were thus the ones pushing conflict with Germany for their own interests.
Sound familiar? Just substitute Iran, Hizballah, Hamas, radical Islamists, Iraqi insurgents or Syria. All of these groups are aligned, while the West flaunts its divisions and doubts.
But, of course, a lot happened back in the 1930s to drive away that kind of thinking for more than a half-century. Democratic countries found it impossible to appease Germany, even by feeding one of them–Czechoslovakia–to it. They had to fight a desperate war, coming closer to defeat than we like to recall.
Then, after a brief period of renewed wishful thinking in dealing with Joseph Stalin’s USSR starting in 1945, these lessons were reinforced. The Cold War was America’s fault, many of the best intellectual minds explained. Stalin had limited defensive and legitimate demands. Yet, again, radical forces would not let the democratic world betray itself. They kept pushing and showing their true nature until it had to respond, like it or not. Finally, it was understood that concessions and apologies only made the aggressors more confident of their own strength and the decadent weakness of democratic foes.
It seems, however, that this whole cycle of experience has been forgotten by all too many people and even whole countries. Thus, Russia and France base their indecently quick and unconditional invitations to Hamas leaders to be official guests on the assertion that they can persuade the organization to moderate. First, they do not consider it to be a terrorist group (apparently terrorism, like fascism, is a matter of taste). Second, it is coming to power due to an election (as did Communists and fascists). And third, only appeasement–excuse me, I meant, “constructive engagement”–will work. Or in Soviet President Vladimir Putin’s words “We are deeply convinced that burning bridges is the easiest, but not a very promising activity.”
The Washington Post explained it all to us. Hamas, it said, “Probably…will seek to implement its moderate campaign platform, which promised an uncorrupted and effective government while working out a modus vivendi with Israel.” Excessive pressure on the new regime, it warned, “would likely only strengthen the Islamists or trigger a resumption of terrorism.” In other words, aspirants to genocide never lie and if you don’t bother them they won’t kill you
The Economist spoke in similar terms in a February 2 editorial: “Having to keep voters sweet may instead force [Hamas] to pay less heed to its ideology of destroying Israel and more to the Palestinians’ real needs and achievable goals.” John Negroponte, director of U.S. intelligence, agreed, telling the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that same day that the Hamas victory did not necessarily mean an end for hopes of a negotiated peace agreement. “Hamas must now contend with Palestinian public opinion that over the years has supported the two-state solution.” If this is the assessment of U.S. intelligence analysts something is seriously wrong.
But this notion does reflect a New York Times editorial saying Hamas will be “compelled” to become moderate by its need to deliver material improvements to the Palestinians, leaving us only to explain how the PLO managed to ignore such alleged pressures for 40 years or why Hamas–which has risen so effectively through terrorism, inciting hatred and demanding total victory–will now reverse itself.
Unfortunately, Hamas does not share this standpoint. It can burn all the bridges it wants and suffer little or no consequences, at least, not from the appeasers. Much of the same pattern applied to the PLO, Usama bin Ladin, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, and Islamist Iran in the recent past. Yet what faith can one put in the courage of a European Union which endlessly preaches unity then totally abandons one of its members, Denmark, when it is subjected to assault on the basis of cartoons published in a newspaper which supposedly enjoys free speech?
After the September 11, 2001, terror attacks on America, many called them a Pearl Harbor-like wake-up call to Western unity and democratic struggle against totalitarian, anti-freedom forces. Yet there are probably more people–at least among respected Western elites–who think the problem is Islamophobia, America, and Israel rather than radical Islamism, terrorism, and Iran.
What year is it any way?
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center university. His latest book, “The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, will be published by Wiley in September.