No, The Iranian Nuclear Program Deal Isn’t Like Munich

The opponents of the temporary deal reached in Geneva have been making some ridiculous historical analogies.

Iran Nukes

In the three days or so since the world was informed of the temporary deal reached in Geneva regarding Iran’s nuclear program, the reactions here in the United States from various political commentators has been about what you’d expect. Conservatives seem to have rejected the deal out of hand, of course, but as I noted on Monday, many Congressional Democrats are also expressing skepticism about the deal and openly talking about using Congressional action to force new sanctions on Iran either at the end of the six month period covered by the deal, or possibly even before it ends. Of all the reactions, though, there have been few more absurd than those that have repeated, seemingly mindlessly, that this temporary deal is an historical twin of the 1938 deal that British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain reached with Adolf Hitler in Munich that resulted eventually in the Nazi subjugation of Czechoslovakia and, in the end, did little to delay the onset of the Second World War by six months to a year.

Among the first to raise the analogy was The Heritage Foundation’s James Jay Carafano in a piece at National Review:

What just went down in Geneva is, in fact, a replay of the greatest diplomatic tragedy of the 20th century.

The Munich deal rested on the ridiculous notion that Hitler could be satiated. The new pact builds on the equally ludicrous idea that Iran would give up the means to build a nuclear weapon that will serve as the tip of its foreign-policy spear.

The saddest part of this negotiated fiasco is that everyone agrees why Iran came to the bargaining table. The sanctions worked; the mullahs had run out of cash, and Tehran determined that the easiest way to get the funds flowing was to get the West to back off.

This is where the realists and the idealists part company. Realists knew that the sanctions were good for only one purpose: to weaken the regime to the point where it would collapse or be overthrown.  They crossed their fingers, hoping that would happen before Tehran got a nuke it could turn on the West. Regime change remains the only realistic option to bombing or bearing the danger of living with a nuclear-armed Iran.


The cold fact about the Iranian nuclear freeze is this: Any diplomatic deal that is not grounded in shared interests or a common sense of justice will surely fail. There is no evidence Iran shares either with the West. The negotiations with Iran bear too many similarities with the most spectacular failures in diplomatic history to leave any hope for optimism.

Over at The Wall Street Journal, Bret Stephens takes things one step further by arguing that the Geneva deal is actually worse than both Munich and the Paris Peace Accords that ended the Vietnam War:

Britain and France’s capitulation to Nazi Germany at Munich has long been a byword for ignominy, moral and diplomatic. Yet neither Neville Chamberlain nor Édouard Daladier had the public support or military wherewithal to stand up to Hitler in September 1938. Britain had just 384,000 men in its regular army; the first Spitfire aircraft only entered RAF service that summer. “Peace for our time” it was not, but at least appeasement bought the West a year to rearm.

The signing of the Paris Peace Accords in January 1973 was a betrayal of an embattled U.S. ally and the abandonment of an effort for which 58,000 American troops gave their lives. Yet it did end America’s participation in a peripheral war, which neither Congress nor the public could indefinitely support. “Peace with honor” it was not, as the victims of Cambodia’s Killing Fields or Vietnam’s re-education camps can attest. But, for American purposes at least, it was peace.

By contrast, the interim nuclear agreement signed in Geneva on Sunday by Iran and the six big powers has many of the flaws of Munich and Paris. But it has none of their redeeming or exculpating aspects.


What they have in common is that each deal was a betrayal of small countries—Czechoslovakia, South Vietnam, Israel—that had relied on Western security guarantees. Each was a victory for the dictatorships: “No matter the world wants it or not,” Iranian President Hasan Rouhani said Sunday, “this path will, God willingly, continue to the peak that has been considered by the martyred nuclear scientists.” Each deal increased the contempt of the dictatorships for the democracies: “If ever that silly old man comes interfering here again with his umbrella,” Hitler is reported to have said of Chamberlain after Munich, “I’ll kick him downstairs and jump on his stomach.”

And each deal was a prelude to worse. After Munich came the conquest of Czechoslovakia, the Nazi-Soviet pact and World War II. After Paris came the fall of Saigon and Phnom Penh and the humiliating exit from the embassy rooftop. After Geneva there will come a new, chaotic Mideast reality in which the United States will lose leverage over enemies and friends alike.

Charles Krauthammer has also claimed that the Geneva deal is “worse than Munich” in an appearance yesterday on Fox News Channel, as has Ben Shapiro. at the increasingly shrill and nonsensical Breitbart family of websites.

Much like the arguments that equated the latest hated dictator (or even President of the United States) of the moment to Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, or Mao, the analogies to Munich are useful to the partisan bombthrowers because they bring up an historical example that pretty much everyone is familiar with. For good or ill, the agreement that Chamberlain reached with Hitler in Munich in 1938, which was originally intended only to address German claims to the Sudetenland, a predominantly ethnic German territory that had been stripped from Germany as part of the Treaty of Versailles, is seen through the lens of history as having been a massive capitulation. Rather than limit himself to recapturing land that Germany arguably had legitimate claims again, Hitler used the agreement to conquer all of the young nation of Czechoslovakia in short order. It was only a relatively short time later, of course, that the Nazi dictator set his sights toward Poland and set in motion events that eventually led to World War II. While some have argued that Chamberlain was acting prudently at the time given that the United Kingdom was hardly in a proper military posture to fight a war against a rearmed Germany, the course of events has led “Munich” to become a synonym for appeasement. Even assuming for the sake of argument that this is a correct historical assessment, though, the idea that what happened this past weekend in Geneva comes even close to being Munich-style appeasement is simply absurd.

As both Daniel Larison and Matt Welch point out, neither Carafno nor Stephens offer up any actual evidence to support their arguments. Instead, what we are faced with is pure rhetoric from two people who, quite clearly, would have opposed any deal on the issue of the Iranian nuclear weapons program that didn’t involve complete and immediate capitulation by Tehran while the United States and the West gave up absolutely nothing.  As I explained in my initial reaction to this deal on Sunday morning,though, that simply isn’t the way that diplomacy works. Much like any negotiation, whether its the settlement of a lawsuit, complex corporate negotiations, or negotiations on domestic legislation on Capitol Hill, one of the key ideas about any kind of diplomatic negotiation outside of total and abject surrender is that both parties end up getting less than they might have wanted, but more than they would have gotten had they not negotiated in the first place. If you’re not willing to accept that simple fact, then you’re basically rejecting the entire idea of diplomacy to resolve international disputes.

Of course, the rejection of diplomacy is seemingly exactly the game that many of the conservative critics of the Geneva deal are playing. Many of them, such as formerBush era U.N. Ambassador John Bolton and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu have been pushing for military action over diplomacy for years now, so it’s unlikely that there is any deal, temporary or long term that they could possibly bring themselves to support. To this crowd, there’s really only one solution to the “Iran problem,” and that would be not just military action against Iran’s nuclear program, which according to most estimates would likely only setback the program by two to three years, but wholesale regime change in the Islamic Republic, by military force if necessary. To some extent, then, their opinions about any diplomatic developments regarding Iran probably ought to be rejected entirely out of hand. Unfortunately, though, they and others who have expressed similar sentiments have a tremendous amount of influence not just among conservatives but among many opinion leaders and politicians.

In the end, equating diplomacy to appeasement is an argument that any rational person ought to reject. Furthermore, equating that diplomacy to the appeasement with which Munch has come to be, rightly or wrongly, associated with in historical memory is as much of a phony argument as bringing up Hitler or Nazism in the context of a domestic political argument. Each act of diplomacy, and each agreement that results from diplomatic discussions, ought to be judged on its own merits, and if you do that with respect to the temporary deal reached in Geneva, the idea that it is equal to the act of “appeasement” that Munich has come to be associated with is clearly quite absurd.

Even if you accept the argument that the Munich of reality was as bad as the legend of “Munich” has made it out to be, there’s simply no way that the agreement reached in Geneva even comes close to being equal to it. Anyone making such an argument either doesn’t know what they’re talking about, or is arguing based on a bias that would cause them to reject anything other than abject surrender. In either case, there’s no reason to take them seriously.

FILED UNDER: Middle East, National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. beth says:

    I have to go to the grocery store today – I expect it will be worse than Munich, Watergate, Iraq and Katrina all rolled into one!

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I agree that opponents of the administration and of the agreement with Iran have launched immediately into a reductio ad Hitlerum without an intervening stop at analysis. For example, does Iran really pose as much of a threat to us as Germany did to France and the United Kingdom in 1938? Sounds like a bit of exaggeration to me.

    However, there also seems to be a certain amount of question about what the agreement actually is. The Iranians have categorically rejected its outline put out by the White House. So we don’t really know what the agreement is or, indeed, if there is one.

  3. Caj says:

    This deal is a good one. Diplomacy is much better than banging the drum of war! Republicans are just annoyed that President Obama’s administration is the one to have got this close to talking with Iran after all these years. Just as they are angry that the administration were the ones to finally get Osama Bin Laden. The party of war can’t abide the thought of peace breaking out anywhere in the world. Thank God President Obama is our Commander-in -Chief.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    “…a bias that would cause them to reject anything other than abject surrender…”

    Well of course. You could have skipped the entire post and written just that line.
    The very idea that chest thumping and saber rattling and not talking to Iran was going to accomplish anything is just ludicrous. But those are the only ideas those opposed to this deal have. They really have no answer to the question:

    “If not this, what?”

    But this symptom of their disease is not limited to this deal, or even foreign policy, by any stretch.
    It’s the reason nothing gets done in Congress. Republicans will settle for nothing but abject surrender. It’s why we have the sequester…which is only going to become a bigger problem as stop gap measures expire and more significant steps need to be taken. It prevented them for contributing Conservative ideals that may have improved Obamacare. It has sabotaged the economic recovery.
    In short they have no ideas…and couldn’t institute them if they did…because for them negotiation comes down to the opposition surrendering to all of their demands.

  5. Scott says:

    Our national response to Iran is both irrational and emotional. People just don’t think clearly. Just like our 50 year response to Cuba. I’ll repeat what I just wrote on the other Iran thread:

    “I don’t have any data to back up what I am about to say but I get that sense that WRT to the two Islamic powers in the Mid East, Saudi Arabia and Iran, the US has an inverse relationship. In Iran, the government is negative to the US while the people are generally friendly. The opposite seems to be true in Saudi Arabia, the Government is friendly while the people are not.

    I’ve written so before but I feel that we would be better allies with Iran than with the Saudis and the Gulf Sheiks. ”

    I also wonder if the warmongers on the right will support increased taxes to pay for their foreign adventures.

  6. anjin-san says:

    I also wonder if the warmongers on the right will support increased taxes to pay for their foreign adventures.

    The war elves are supposed to pay for everything…

  7. Ken says:

    @beth: I have to go to the grocery store today – I expect it will be worse than Munich, Watergate, Iraq and Katrina all rolled into one!

    So it will be just like Benghazi, then?

  8. C. Clavin says:

    The American People are in favor of this 2-1.
    So maybe it’s not a good idea, afterall.

  9. Tony W says:

    The general sentiment seems to be that the biggest flaw of this agreement is that it was negotiated by President Obama.

    A few months ago on these pages I suggested that Mr. Obama could use double-secret-reverse-psychology on the Republicans, by taking a public stand against whatever he was ‘for’ – but only sometimes. The poor lemmings would be left with no idea what to do or how to respond.

    The idea has aged well.

  10. al-Ameda says:

    Charles Krauthammer has also claimed that the Geneva deal is “worse than Munich” in an appearance yesterday on Fox News Channel, as has Ben Shapiro. at the increasingly shrill and nonsensical Breitbart family of websites.

    At least Krauthammer has an excuse, he is suffering from a severe case of Obama Twice Elected Oppositional Disorder Syndrome.

  11. JKB says:

    Well, Obama has handed over his legacy to the mad mullahs. When they continue on in the face of Obama and Kerry’s assertion they cannot, it stick to Obama with a Munich like stink. Even more if like with Reagan, the Iranians realize when the adults are coming back in charge and sort things out for the inauguration of a Republican president. We’ll see what happens but the next 3 years are going to be rough.

    On the upside, the abdication of leadership in the ME has prompted Israel and Saudi Arabia to start cooperating. Reports are that Israeli officers are inspecting Saudi bases for use in an attack to halt Iran’s bomb acquisition. Also, speculation is the Saudis will themselves exercise their nuclear option acquired by their support of Pakistan’s nuclear program.

    It’s going to be an interesting 3 years with a weakened US president whom no other country respects.

  12. Rob Prather says:


    I have to go to the grocery store today – I expect it will be worse than Munich, Watergate, Iraq and Katrina all rolled into one!

    Don’t forget the Trail of Tears!!

  13. al-Ameda says:


    Even more if like with Reagan, the Iranians realize when the adults are coming back in charge and sort things out for the inauguration of a Republican president. We’ll see what happens but the next 3 years are going to be rough.

    Wasn’t Iran-Contra a wonderful thing?

  14. michael reynolds says:


    So just to be clear you are one of the people making this asinine argument. Right? You do think this is Munich. So why don’t you explain that, if you can, with reference to ideology, aggression, power, etc… Not just your usual regurgitation of vague right-wing talking points, why don’t you actually try making the case.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @Rob Prather:

    I like Bataan Death March.

  16. Scott says:

    On the upside, the abdication of leadership in the ME has prompted Israel and Saudi Arabia to start cooperating.

    The need to take a shot results in this nonsensical statement. This implies that active US leadership in the ME prevented the Saudis and Israelis from cooperating. Glad to know that was our goal in the past.

  17. Woody says:

    This illustrates yet again the fact that unless a self-described conservative is willing to be branded an apostate Quisling (hey! WWII analogy! This makes it relevant!), they must go “110%” opposed to any action – even military action – the Democratic President takes.

    Gonna make it tough for the Scarboroughs and the Halperins to continue to profess “rebranding”, but I have complete confidence they will keep up the sales pitch. The McLean set appreciates it, I’m sure.

  18. Woody says:


    If you purchase hummus, it means the terrorists have already won.

  19. wr says:

    @JKB: “Even more if like with Reagan, the Iranians realize when the adults are coming back in charge and sort things out for the inauguration of a Republican president.”

    According to JKB, the definition of “adult” behavior towards Iran is to secretly sell them missiles. No wonder the Mullahs pine for a Republican president again.

  20. wr says:

    I do wonder, though, why any sane writer would quote at such length an editorial claiming that we should never have left Vietnam…

  21. grumpy realist says:

    @JKB: If someone were to walk up to you and say: “I’m going to beat you into a pulp unless you do X” you’d consider it thug brutality, wouldn’t you? Or would you?

    Why should our interaction with another state be considered differently? We don’t get to run rampant over another state demanding that they give us X, Y, and Z. Or are we allowed to do it as long as we have superior firepower?

    I can’t think of a stance that would be MORE likely to propel the other side to get a bunch of nukes ASAP.

    (I still think we should give Iran a bunch of nukes for their own protection and tell Israel to piss off. I’m sick and tired of being jerked around by them. Let them deal with the world on their own.)

  22. An Interested Party says:

    Even more if like with Reagan, the Iranians realize when the adults are coming back in charge


    Why don’t you tell us which adult was responsible for Iran-Contra…

  23. Peterh says:


    I have to go to the grocery store today

    don’t forget the duct tape…..this has to be an orange level threat if ever there was one…..

  24. Gromitt Gunn says:

    @michael reynolds: The Spanish Inquisition.

  25. michael reynolds says:

    @Gromitt Gunn:

    I expected that.

  26. Moosebreath says:

    @grumpy realist:

    “Or are we allowed to do it as long as we have superior firepower?”

    For most of the people quoted in the post, the answer is that we are allowed to do so, because of American Exceptionalism. If anyone else does it, it’s thug brutality, which must be opposed.

  27. Moosebreath says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Fetch the comfy chair!

  28. rudderpedals says:

    @Peterh: I forgot about that.

  29. Franklin says:

    @Moosebreath: Dude, thanks for that, this is coming full circle …

    My Comfy Chair

  30. Rob in CT says:

    Iran-Contra: sell missles to the Iranians secretly, while declaring you don’t negotiate with terrorists and chest-thumping about how tough you are (nevermind the admittedly correct decision to run away in Lebanon).

    Iraq, The Sequel: invade Iraq and destroy Baathist power, allow the country to descend into chaos. Result: Iranian influence now extends into Iraq in a big way.

    Yeah, I’m sure the leaders of Iran are just plain terrified of big strong manly men Republican Presidents. Quaking in their boots, they are.

    Re: the deal, it’s tentative. The best response is caution, whether it be cautious optimism or cautious pessimism. The OMG!, Munich! stuff is absurd.

    Hell, Munich wasn’t even Munich. 😉

  31. Hal_10000 says:

    It bears pointing out that if Bush had gotten this deal with the Iranians, many of the same people slamming it would be praising it as proof of his brilliance. When we negotiated Libya out of their WMD’s, it was hailed by the neocons as a huge breakthrough.

    I’m mixed about the deal: I think it’s OK, but it depends on heavily on the long-term deal and compliance. But then again, I’m an Obama opponent who’s willing to give him the benefit of a doubt.

  32. Caj says:

    No doubt Darrell Issa the king of investigations will demand an investigation as to why Iran has chosen to deal with President Obama! Can’t have people talking to ‘that man’! The man who thinks he’s president. No, no that just will not do. Only ‘we’ Republicans know about foreign policy. Drives them insane that President Obama has achieved more than George Bush ever did.

  33. stonetools says:

    There the neocons go again. Obama is just following in the tradition of Saint Ronaldus, who was so happy to do business with the Iranians that he even ignored US law to do it.

    I wonder what they call Nixon negotiating with those crazy Russians and Chinese, indoctrinated with that cockeyed secular philosophy of Marxist-Leninism and armed with thousands of nuclear weapons?

  34. C. Clavin says:

    Jesus-Gawd, Hal…
    If Obama was a Republican they would have carved his face on Mt. Rushmore long before this.
    Fer chrisakes he’s more Conservative than Reagan ever was.

  35. Tony W says:

    @C. Clavin: Slight correction:

    If Obama was a white Republican they would have carved his face on Mt. Rushmore long before this.

  36. Grewgills says:

    Damn it man, you beat me to it.

  37. anjin-san says:

    @ Rob in CT

    Clearly, you missed all the photos of Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld at the Crawford ranch, looking steely-eyed and determined. Why GW looked like he was ready to reach for his shooting iron right there and then! Evil does knew fear in those days.

    Draw, he said…

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  39. steve s says:

    I think JKB might be a Poe. Bringing up Reagan as an example of how to deal with Iran? I think he might have given himself away.

  40. steve s says:

    Obama’s a quantum particle–simultaneously a lawless power-grabbing black panther dictator, and a weak-kneed effeminate limp-wristed appeaser.

  41. steve s says:

    At least I don’t hear the “He can’t talk no good when he ain’t readin from no teleprompter.” nonsense much anymore.