A Time To Appease
It's a seductive argument -- especially when important facts are omitted.
10:48 AM, Jul 16, 2010 • By GABRIEL SCHOENFELD
“Appeasement” became a dirty word only after the 1930s. Paul Kennedy, a professor of history at Yale University, has long been interested in resurrecting its honorable side, and he takes another crack at the task in the latest issue of the National Interest.
Is he right that there is a time and place for “recognizing evil but then trying to buy it off”? Countries, he argues, might have good reason to do so “out of a sense of vulnerability, or for the purposes of prudence.” For Kennedy, the perplexing question posed by history is: “can one distinguish between a ‘good’ appeasement policy and a ‘bad’ one?”
Neville Chamberlain’s conduct of British diplomacy has defined the bad side for all time. Kennedy offers a fascinating catalog of counterexamples, as when England made concessions regarding the contested Venezuela-British border in 1895, putting an end to a persistent and dangerous collision with the United States.
America’s current dilemma in Afghanistan is now a test case and the occasion for Kennedy’s essay, bluntly titled “A Time to Appease.”
He asks, “What if one did pull out, scuttle, appease” in Afghanistan?
As American and NATO casualties rise and as public support for the war declines—and victory in the conflict becomes difficult to define—Kennedy’s case is seductive. But what’s notably missing—shockingly missing—from his article is any appraisal of causes and consequences. The attacks of September 11, 2001, organized from al Qaeda safe havens in Afghanistan, are not once mentioned by Kennedy. Neither are the ramifications of withdrawal for the future of neighboring Pakistan and its arsenal of nuclear weapons. Shouldn’t such things be weighed in the balance?
Kennedy is certainly right that there can be a time and place for appeasement. But as we learned in the 1930s, when it is carried out not with cold-blooded realism, but by averting our eyes from obvious dangers in the unshakable conviction that one can purchase a durable peace, is when it becomes shameful.