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Obama and that Chamberlain feeling

Thursday, 12 September, 2013

Sir Henry “Chips” Channon was an American-born British Conservative politician, author and chronicler. Here’s his diary entry from 12 September 1938:

Chamberlain “Towards the end of the Banquet came the news, the great world-stirring news, that Neville [Chamberlain], on his own initiative, seeing war coming closer and closer, had telegrapher to Hitler that he wanted to see him, and asked him to name an immediate rendezvous. The German Government, surprised and flattered, had instantly accepted and so Neville, at the age of 69, for the first time in his life, gets into an aeroplane tomorrow morning and flies to Berchtesgaden! It is one of the finest, most inspiring acts of all history. The company rose to their feet electrified, as all the world must be, and drank his health. History must be ransacked to find a parallel.

Of course a way out will now be found. Neville by his imagination and practical good sense, has saved the world. I am staggered.”

A year later, the situation was very different. No way out had been found, the world had not been saved and the name of Neville Chamberlain became eternally synonymous with that dreadful term, appeasement.

“I believe it is peace for our time,” said the hapless Chamberlain upon his return from the despot’s Alpine eyrie, and one could not but feel a shiver of déjà vu while listening to the awful speech delivered by President Obama on Tuesday night. Here was a leader who casually drew a red line in the sand, and then found he had to do something about it. Faced with a humiliating defeat in Congress, he has now decided to let the Russians, steadfast allies of Assad, set the agenda on the international stage. And he admitted all this with an air of boredom. “It is hard to believe such a chill man has such warm feelings about the sad end of strangers far away,” wrote Peggy Noonan. “I think this has been one of his big unspoken problems in the selling of his Syria policy.” With her “sad end of strangers far away,” Noonan was deliberately echoing Chamberlain, who said: “How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing.”

Knowing that the US president will grasp at any straw to avoid taking military action against Damascus, Vladimir Putin, now writing op-eds for the New York Times, is thrashing Obama in this global PR game. Having presented Obama with the meaningless option of weapons inspection, Russia has saved Syria from immediate attack and ensured that Assad can continue merrily upon his murderous way. It’s all very Chamberlain like.


Comments (1)

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  1. Kevin says:

    From Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

    what Roger Ailes proposed to solve the Syria problem over a year ago: from Zev Chafets’ biography of Ailes from last year. Check this money quote out:

    “Putin is angry. He thinks the United States doesn’t take him seriously or treat Russia as a major player. Okay, fine, that’s how he feels. If I were president, I’d get in a room with him and say, ‘Look at the slaughter going on in Syria. You can stop it. Do it, and I’ll see to it that you can get all the credit. I’ll tell the world it was you who saved the innocent children of Syria from slaughter. You’ll be an international hero. You’ll go down in history.’

    Hell, Putin would go to bed thinking, ‘That’s not a bad offer.’ There will still be plenty of other issues I’d have with Russia. But instead of looking for one huge deal that settles everything, you take a piece of the problem and solve it. Give an incentive for good behavior. Show the other guy his self-interest. Everybody has an ego. Everybody needs dignity. And what does it cost? You get what you want; you give up nothing.”

    Of course, Ailes cut his political teeth with Nixon.