Saturday, September 17, 2011

The bitter fruits of appeasement

Appeasing totalitarian tyrants has a long losing track record

Alan Gross: American held hostage in Cuba since 2009
While reading the September 15, 2011 New York Times article on what Governor Richardson and the Obama Administration were willing to offer the dictatorship in Cuba in order to obtain the release of American hostage Alan Gross, I had a sense of deja vu. The Administration dangled several offers to the Castro regime and made a unilateral concession:
  • Take Cuba off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.
  • Waive probation for one of five Cuban agents convicted of espionage in the United States that planned at least one terrorist attack in the United States and provided intelligence that led to the downing of two US civilian planes over international airspace on February 24, 1996 killing four.
  • Cuba democracy programs would no longer be about promoting democracy but "building civil society."
  • The White House and Senator John Kerry pushed to unilaterally cut money for the democracy programs and freeze their funding.

Now that these offers have failed, another is floated:
  • Get the European Union to changes its common policy limiting relations with Cuba because of human rights concerns.
This policy approach has been tried before in Cuba, North Korea, Libya, China, the Soviet Union, and Nazi Germany with disastrous results. Historian Paul Kennedy has described "as the policy of settling international quarrels by admitting and satisfying grievances through rational negotiation and compromise, thereby avoiding the resort to an armed conflict which would be expensive, bloody, and possibly dangerous."

The approach has often failed when dealing with totalitarian regimes of the right and the left because they often refuse to maintain a clear eyed vision of who the adversary is. In the case of Nazi Germany this failure led to WWII, the Holocaust and over 40 million dead.

On the other hand consider for a moment the example of Ronald Reagan who in 1980 brought an end to the policies of appeasement and detente championed by the American political establishment. However, President Reagan did engage in dialogue and negotiation but with a sense of realism of who and what he was dealing with stating in 1983:
During my first press conference as President, in answer to a direct question, I pointed out that, as good Marxist-Leninists, the Soviet leaders have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is that which will further their cause, which is world revolution. I think I should point out I was only quoting Lenin, their guiding spirit, who said in 1920 that they repudiate all morality that proceeds from supernatural ideas -- that's their name for religion -- or ideas that are outside class conceptions. Morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of class war. And everything is moral that is necessary for the annihilation of the old, exploiting social order and for uniting the proletariat.Well, I think the refusal of many influential people to accept this elementary fact of Soviet doctrine illustrates an historical reluctance to see totalitarian powers for what they are. We saw this phenomenon in the 1930's. We see it too often today.This doesn't mean we should isolate ourselves and refuse to seek an understanding with them.
Secondly he identified the adversary's ideological framework as morally repugnant in the same speech but separated their humanity from that framework:
Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness -- pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.
Because Reagan refused to mince words and had a clear eyed sense of the adversary and pursued policies in defense of American interests and values he achieved great successes without any major wars on his watch and millions were freed of decades of oppression. 

Since then, even those like George W. Bush, who claim to be the heirs of Reagan have fallen far short in what amounts to appeasement. The Bush Administration continued the policy of appeasement of the Clinton Administration on North Korea. In October of 2008 they took North Korea off the list of state sponsors of terrorism without any improvement in its behavior in an attempt to obtain a deal to stop the regime's nuclear weapons program. It only encouraged more aggressive behavior by North Korea that perceived the US concession as a sign of weakness. On the other hand, what was described as a great success in the Bush Administration, the normalization of relations with Libya is now a source of shame. Qaddafi's regime murdered hundreds of American citizens and despite that, in exchange for a pay out, were also taken off the list of state sponsors of terror and apparently collaborated with the torture of detainees sent there by the Bush Administration. In the case of China, the communist dictatorship receives US development aid to build "civil society" controlled by the dictatorship while dissidents are left in the cold to fend for themselves.

Now the Obama Administration continues this failed approach with Cuba and because of the perception of weakness projected to the totalitarians in Havana now has an American hostage that has been unjustly imprisoned since December 2009. If instead of making unilateral concessions in the first months of his presidency he had demonstrated an understanding of nature of the regime and its fundamental systemic immorality then Alan Gross would not be an American hostage in Cuba today.

Its not only government policy but also at the level of civil society. For example when the Latino and American Students Organization at American University invite the Cuban ambassador to speak in a propaganda exercise to white wash the crimes of Cuban state security agents that planned terrorist acts on US soil that sends a message of weakness and encourages these types of regimes to continue their activities in the United States.

Historically, the fruits of appeasement when practiced with ideologically committed totalitarian regimes have been extremely bitter. De-linking human rights concerns from overall policy concerns has been a disaster for human rights in China and would also be a disaster for them in Cuba. Altering the designation of a state that sponsors terrorism in an effort to appease there conduct elsewhere is a dangerous policy that undermines a national commitment to hold as pariahs those regimes engaged in such practices. All too often throughout history appeasement has ended in armed conflicts that were more expensive, bloody and dangerous where a more principled and tough foreign policy would have avoided it.

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