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The “Appeaser” Teaser

Will U.S. accusations of Europe as an appeaser bring about a common strategy against terrorism?

May 31, 2002

Will U.S. accusations of Europe as an appeaser bring about a common strategy against terrorism?

For a long, long time, the word “appeasement” has been a highly charged term. Back in 1938, the Conservative British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain believed he had avoided a European war by agreeing to a German occupation of the Sudetenland, a part of then-Czechoslovakia.

The images of Mr. Chamberlain holding up the signed treaty — and declaring “peace for our time” — have become (in)famous. His policy of appeasing Germany failed disastrously. Six months later Hitler annexed all of Czechoslovakia. And a year later, WWII broke out.

Looked upon as an uninspiring war leader, Neville Chamberlain resigned in May 1940 when both Labour and Liberal Party members refused to serve in a national government which he proposed.

The “appeasers” had become despised figures in their own country. They were accused of cowardice and of having missed the only real opportunity to rein in Hitler — by not standing up to him over his appetite for ever more concessions.

Some 60 years later, the world faces another serious threat — terrorism. And again, the world is not united over how to deal with it. The question of whether or not to attack Iraq is a bone of contention between the United States and Europe.

The U.S.-European rift has caused anxiety in the United States, where many fear that Europe’s approach is too lax. In Europe, meanwhile, many believe that the U.S. administration is planning to go too far.

With global terrorism the biggest threat of our times, it is little wonder that some try to resort to historic parallels. Against this backdrop, it is significant that U.S. President George W. Bush addressed the German Parliament in May 2002 saying: “Like the threats of another era, this threat cannot be appeased.”

To implicitly call those that express doubts about the U.S.-led campaign to finish off Saddam “appeasers” is quite remarkable. Yet, George W. Bush is actually returning a favor — or rather, he is forwarding it.

Just remember that in October 2001, Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon hurled similar, though more strongly worded, accusations against the United States. At the time, Israel was under tremendous international pressure because of its policy towards the Palestinians.

Add to that U.S. signals of support for a Palestinian state — with Jerusalem as its capital — and one can imagine Israel’s despair. After all, the United States has been Israel’s most loyal ally. Given this strong U.S. pressure, Mr. Sharon apparently felt as if he was stabbed in the back.

His reply was: “I call on the Western democracies, and primarily the leader of the Free World, the United States, do not repeat the dreadful mistake of 1938 when Europe sacrificed Czechoslovakia. Do not try to appease the Arabs at our expense.”

Ouch! That hurt. But it appeared to do the trick. Despite the harsh criticism Mr. Sharon received for his remarks, he improved Israel’s position significantly. How so? Until that time, Israel’s fight against Palestinian militants had not been seen as part of the global coalition against terrorism. The stinging “appeasement” remarks apparently made the Bush Administration reconsider its stance.

Less than two weeks after Mr. Sharon’s speech, Israel’s Tourism Minister Rehavam Zeevi was murdered by Palestinian militants. Washington quickly took this opportunity to link Israel’s fight against terrorism with that of the United States.

Evidently, George W. Bush thinks that a similar trick will work with Europe, too. In his warnings against appeasement, it seems the U.S. President hoped to apply that same moral pressure to Europe. After all, nobody wants to be seen in the historical company of Mr. Chamberlain. So, crying “appeasement” is a sure way to shut down debate.