Diagnosis for Democracy
Insights into the State of Our Union
A Blog by Rob Tenery, MD


March 10, 2015: What Can President Obama Learn from Neville Chamberlin?

By Rob Tenery, MD on March 10, 2015

History has a way of repeating itself. Smart people take advantage of that by learning from the mistakes of others or building on their accomplishments. Only a fool disregards the past.

Many judge Bush 43 as too hawkish, involving the United States in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although Russia ended their involvement after 9 years because of the interminable nature of the conflict in Afghanistan, Bush still felt compelled to act in response to the 9/11 attack on this country. Like Russia, the United States has learned that wars between religious factions are virtually unwinable. But then again, Bush, along with Congressional approval, plunged headlong into attacking Iraq after Saddam Hussein’s regime failed to comply with the United Nations resolutions to allow their inspectors to check that they had eliminated their cache of ‘weapons of mass destruction.’ Some have also claimed that Bush’s aggression into Iraq was also possibly a reprisal to Hussein’s attack on Kuwait when his father was President.  Right or wrong, history will place the yoke of these wars on his back.

Most rate Ronald Reagan very high in his ability to handle foreign affairs. During his tenure as President, he sought a massive buildup in United States military capabilities, which led to the victory in Granada, and ultimately, an end to the Cold War with Russia. He promoted new and more advanced military technologies and granted aid to paramilitary forces that were committed to overthrowing their communist and leftist governments. In 1986, in response to learning that Libyan President Muammar Kaddafi was behind the terrorist bombing of La Belle Discotheque in Berlin, Germany, that killed two American soldiers and injured 150 more, Reagan authorized what became known as Operation El Dorado Canyon. United States air and naval forces launched a series of strikes against the headquarters, terrorist facilities and military assets that supported Kaddafi. Dozens were reported killed, including Kaddafi’s daughter.

Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from May 1937 to May 1940, will be remembered most for his appeasement foreign policy, because of his endorsement and signing of the Munich Agreement in 1938, which conceded to Germany the German speaking Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia. Hitler then invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Chamberlain, having pledged Britain to defend Poland’s independence, declared war on Germany on September 3. When the Labour and the Liberal parties would not join a government headed by him, Chamberlain resigned, but stayed on until his death, as a member of the War Cabinet of his successor, Sir Winston Churchill.

Churchill is regarded as one of the greatest wartime leaders of the 20th century, because he refused to consider surrendering during the early days of World War II when his country and the countries of the British Empire were alone in their opposition to Hitler’s Germany.

What can be learned from these leaders? First, if a war is inevitable, it is better to be fought on foreign soil. Second, negotiating is more effective if it comes from a position of strength. Isolationism is an idealistic theory. If we have something someone else wants, they will eventually come and take it from us, unless we are the stronger of the two parties. Terrorism, in some ways, defies that logic. The proponents of terrorism are more concerned with inflicting damage and imposing their form of dominance on others, as opposed to just taking our property. The latest terrorist threat is that ISIS appears to have added another element and that is eradication of those who oppose their radical way of thinking.

Our leader, President Barack Obama, should learn from George W. Bush that we need to fight our enemies on their soil.  From Ronald Reagan that we cannot negotiate from the position of a weakened military. From Neville Chamberlin that yielding to those elements that advocate dominance over others, only encourages them to take more. Finally, from Sir Winston Churchill, who incentivized his country and the free world to never give up.

On the other hand, maybe the world can learn from President Obama that the role of the United States should change from a world power to an entitlement state.  That the United States should pull out of wars on foreign lands and instead treat them as police actions when others bring their violence to this country. Lend token support, while terrorist dictatorships wipeout populations that don’t adhere to their religious beliefs. Finally, let Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Tammam Salam of Lebanon, Egypt’s President Sisi and almost everyone’s favorite, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, take over as the world leaders. I suppose that is why our President sent the bust of Sir Winston Churchill, that resided in the White House, back to England when he moved into the Oval Office.
 





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