It's 1938 All Over Again, and Obama is our Chamberlain, the EU our Daladier

I think the title of this post pretty much sums it all up.

The world is reshaping in unexpected (to me) ways. For awhile I had hoped that America could disengage, retreat and rebuild. Let the world sort out it's own problems. But now? I'm not so sure.

The lesson we thought we learned immediately after WWII was that we could have stopped Hitler early on without too much of a fight. But we talked and talked for years, until it was too late. The war came and pulled us kicking and screaming into it. Tens of millions died who would have otherwise lived had we stopped Hitler early on. (See Shirer's Rise & Fall of the Third Reich for the earliest and best defense of this position)

In the 1990s revisionists like Pat Buchanan began to tell us that the real lesson of WWII was that the US didn't need to get involved at all. That the real mistake was choosing sides. It's the Homer Simpson view of foreign relations: we tried and failed miserably, the lesson here: never try.

For some time given our experience in Afghanistan and Iraq I've been partial to that latter, non-interventionist view. We did good in these countries, for sure, but as soon as we left (or leave) the place falls apart. See the Homer Simpson quote above.

This has led to a general attitude on my part that goes something like: Sure, such and such bad thing in the world is a problem, but it's not our problem.

I still feel this way about the Muslim world. It's time for disengagement, not more engagement. Let them handle their problems, I'm through with trying to help. Call me back in 100 or 500 years when you've caught up with the rest of the world. Until then, good luck with that.

But what's going on in the Ukraine? It's far too similar to the Sudetenland crisis to not draw the analogy. Inaction and milquetoast responses by the EU and US far too similar to "Peace in Our Times" to not go there.

Putin isn't Hitler, and while it's easy to forget the past and therefore doom us to repeat it, it's also just as easy to learn the wrong lessons from the past and therefore doom us to repeat it as well.

So, while when making Hitler comparisons we tend to focus on the horrors of the Holocaust, we need to remember that we didn't fight Hitler to stop the holocaust. We fought Hitler because he invaded sovereign states.

But before we fought him, we let him take over Austria bloodlessly. Before we fought him we let him violate the Versailles treaty dozens of times (rearmament). Before we fought him we let him reoccupy the Rhineland even though Germany had "guaranteed" the borders as they stood. We allowed him to take the Sudetenland without a shot fired.

The next year he carved up the rest of Czechoslovakia -- still the Western European powers did nothing. Give diplomacy a chance, the public was told.

All those bloodless invasions were done in the name of uniting Germans abroad with the Motherland, rectifying the artificial boundaries imposed by old empires and post WWI mandates. Many in the West thought this wasn't such a bad idea.

Hitler acted, no one did a thing about it. The lesson learned was that he could act without impunity and no one would do a thing.

It wasn't until Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 that the UK and France responded. And by this time, it was too late: Germany had rearmed to the point that they had the largest, most modern, and most effective military in Europe.

Again, I don't want to take this analogy too far, but we need to remember that the Ukraine isn't the first sovereign country that Russia has invaded in order to put Russian speaking people's living abroad under the protection of Mother Russia. Just ask the people of Moldova how they feel about the Russian occupied "Transnistria" or the people of Georgia about the Russian occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

As Michael Totten notes:

Thatís not one, not two, but three times Russia has pulled this stunt since the end of the Cold War. Putin is doing it to Ukraine because it worked in Moldova and Georgia.
And it has worked in Crimea. Putin acted, the West did nothing: the lesson here is that he can keep taking territory with impunity.

Again, I don't think Putin has some kind of grand plan for Russian lebensraum. At least, I hope not. But it seems clear now that that he does have plans for a Greater Russia. Something like the return of the Russian Empire. Perhaps his plans aren't maximalist (wanting the entire empire back), but neither is it minimalist (content with borders as they stand).

Historically, then, the question is who is right? Shirer, who says Hitler should have been stopped earlier, or Buchanan who says that Hitler wasn't our problem to begin with?

I'd like Buchanan to be right. I'd like the world to be ok without US involvement. I'd like Putin to be someone else's problem.

But I don't think he his. Sizable Russian speaking populations already live within NATO countries, especially in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Which means that if Putin has plans for the Baltic states, that we are obligated by treaty to come to their defense.

Which makes Putin our problem, whether we want it or not.

So, what's the red line where we say enough is enough? Is it Eastern Ukraine? Belarus (already effectively a Russian puppet state)? Kazakhstan?

I'm not saying we need to go to war with Russia over the Crimea, but if we continue on the path we are on with limp wristed responses that no one in Russia takes seriously then war may in fact come whether we like it or not. That is the irony of WWII: that the very actions meant to avoid war were the actions that led to it and made it much worse than it had to be.

We can put off action to the future, but we do so at the peril of that action being much worse for all parties involved.

Obama as Chamberlain.jpg

Posted by: Rusty at 11:08 AM


You're not being fair, to Neville Chamberlain. At least post-Munich, he woke up and smelled the Darjeeling.

Posted by: ed at March 19, 2014 11:30 AM

2 My best guess is that we are limp wristed for at least three more years. Lots can happen in that time. Bummer.

Posted by: Rockerpeople at March 19, 2014 11:33 AM

3 Greetings:

The most succinct assessment of the EUkrainian situation that I have heard came from Ben Judah, a British historian, who, on France 24's "The Debate" broadcast described the situation as "The banks versus the tanks".

I find your analysis thoughtful, but perhaps dated. After all, isn't the EU, led by Ms. Ashton, its foreign policy Deputy Dawg, doing something similar, albeit under the guise of Truth(?), Justice(?) but mostly the EU Way? Apparently, that much talented lady was unaware of Samuel Huntington's warning about Ukraine in his "The Clash of Civilizations.." I mean, is her portfolio so loosely supervised that, with all the other problems the magnificent EU currently faces in its financial and political spheres, no one advised her to let that sleeping dog lie? Or, did she really think that in the game of global domination, banks trump tanks?

President Putin is easily construed as nothing short of Vlad the Impaler. But I remain unconvinced that there is more than a hair's breadth of difference from what he wants and what the solons of that edifice of Progressive joy and happiness want. They have the banks to takeover countries with, he's stuck with the tanks. But taking over countries by whatever means is what they're both about.

Posted by: 11B40 at March 19, 2014 11:58 AM

4 "I still feel this way about the Muslim world. It's time for disengagement, not more engagement. Let them handle their problems, I'm through with trying to help. Call me back in 100 or 500 years when you've caught up with the rest of the world. Until then, good luck with that."

yeah, well that sorta kinda works right up to the point that israel got nukes, then india/pakistan/north korea, and probably now iran, and then after that probably saudi arabia.

not only that but now thanks to the foreign policy stumblings of bill clinton and barack obama, no country will EVER EVER EVER give up their nukes now because of what happened to ukraine.

i think we're WAY past the non-engagement or disengagement phase now.

funny how when democrats try to do something about something, to keep something else bad from happening, they always seem to bungle the "do something about something" part and inevitably cause the "something else bad" to happen.

the war on poverty caused more poverty and the nuclear disarmament/non-proliferation policy got more nukes in the world

go figure...this should make one think if democrats are right about ANYTHING.

personally, if a democrat told me the sun was going to come up tomorrow, i would say "ill believe you when i see it"

Posted by: sound awake at March 19, 2014 01:06 PM

5 Putin has nukes, Hitler didn't.
Hitler had told his commanders to skedaddle back home if the French put up a fight in the Rhineland in 1936. Yes he could have been humiliated and stopped.
Would Putin skedaddle back into Russia from Crimea if the west responded militarily? Hell no he wouldn't.

There is NO military option for the US and EU short of WW-3.
A military response if kept conventional (an unrealistic if) would amount to the West sending troops to what is effectively ....Stalingrad.

Eastern Europeans better look to Chechnya and Mohammad's followers for example. Any independence they have or will have comes from a protracted ugly bloody war. A war they can win if the Russians just say "To Hell with this G## forsaken place and go home.
I don't think urban and suburban Eastern Europe would do much more than offer to hold the American Coat, much less fight to the death for Independence and Liberty.

We have no more Treasure to expend for others.
Europe is on it's own. Taking Eastern Europe out of the Russian Sphere of Influence would require a Militant Germany willing to "Go East" again.
It ain't going to happen.

Posted by: Guest at March 19, 2014 01:38 PM

6 ukraine wouldnt have happened if

a. ukraine didnt give up their nukes

b. we kept missile defense in eastern europe
(we now know that whatever pisses off russia
is EXACTLY the right thing to do)

c. filled up the east and south china seas with
navy hardware the minute china started spouting

what were now seeing is the wages of being a pussy

its why you act tough BEFORE something happens so you dont have to worry about what to do when the other guy sees your weakness and acts on it

its too late to do anything now - we already look like the douchebags obama wanted us to look like

the only thing we could have done was to start to move military assets in a big way in a big hurry to poland and the aegean sea right at the start, as soon as we saw russians moving on crimea

thats why putin KNEW we wouldnt do anything, because all we did way SAY SOME STUFF

if we would have DONE SOME STUFF right away maybe he would have stopped at crimea

if putin goes into ukraine proper IT WILL ALL BE OBAMAS FAULT and china will see what happened and take the east and south china seas as well as taiwan and then it will be all over...two bit tyrants and numbskulls the world over will do whatever they want and the next republican president will have to deal with it just like w bush had to deal with bin laden because clinton didnt and then it will all be the next guys fault...i see it coming

Posted by: sound awake at March 19, 2014 02:11 PM

7 Exactly Ed, a lot of the things that Chamberlain is lamented for; wrongly, were in fact done in order to stall the outbreak of conflict with Germany and allow us (the UK) to ramp up production of munitions.

The lesson here is that we in the west aren't ruled by leaders. We are ruled by self-styled elitists who decide the direction of our nations based on discussions around expensive dining tables with their liberal friends.

The fact is that they don't live in the real world and the amount of disarmament we have seen since the end of the cold war isn't just wrong. It's stupid and immoral.

The lesson here isn't that Putin is the bad guy, he is just doing what is in his countries best interests (right or wrong).

The lesson is that our rulers don't do what is in our best interests, they do what people in their social circles want them to do.

That's why we get ridiculous laws on introducing gay marriage or banning guns and it's why ordinary have to jump through a million legal hoops just to live life or run a business and why ordinary people are taxed to death (literally) in order that money can be sent abroad or so that the government can build a client state.

Posted by: STV at March 19, 2014 05:31 PM

8 There will be peace in our time!

Posted by: Leonard Jones at March 19, 2014 11:35 PM

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