The GOP’s Ridiculous Appeasement Argument

To Republicans, even thinking about engaging in diplomacy is enough to accuse the President of appeasement.

December saw two Republican candidates for President accuse the President of appeasement in his foreign policy. First, in early December at a forum sponsored by the Republican Jewish Federation, Mitt Romney made these comments:

“I am convinced that this is where President Obama’s “fundamental change” is leading America. And it informs aspects of his foreign policy. Internationally, President Obama has adopted an appeasement strategy. Appeasement betrays a lack of faith in America, in American strength, and in America’s future.

“Like others among the Washington elite, he believes that America’s role as the leader of the world is a thing of the past; that this will be a post-American century, perhaps an Asian century. American strength, he imagines, will eventually or possibly be eclipsed. And so, President Obama seeks to appease those he believes will balance us or challenge our leadership.

“This appeasement by this Administration has taken many forms. It includes offers to engage with the world’s most despicable dictators. It consists of concessions to Russia to remove our missile defense sites from Poland and to exclude tactical nuclear weapons from the new, remarkably one-sided, New START treaty. President Obama even looks the other way as China employs unfair trade tactics that endanger our economy and kill jobs.

“This President appears more generous to our enemies than he is to our friends. Such is the natural tendency of someone who is unsure of America’s strength – or of America’s rightful place in the world. The course of appeasement and accommodation has long been the path chosen by the weak and the timid. And history shows it is a path that nation’s choose at their own peril.”

Then, just before Christmas, Newt Gingrich jumped on the meme:

Newt Gingrich said Friday that a former CIA official has told him that President Obama’s administration has leaked more secrets than any other White House that official had seen.

“You have an Obama administration who’s dedicated to appeasing our enemies and dedicated to giving away our secrets,” Gingrich said in an interview with WHO radio in Des Moines, Iowa. “I’ve had a former very senior CIA person tell me this White House has leaked more secrets than any White House in his lifetime.”

A senior Obama campaign official said in response: “His definition of appeasement must be decimating al-Qaida’s leadership.”

This isn’t really entirely new, of course. For three years now, Republicans have been accusing the President of “apologizing for America,”  even though it’s a manifestly untrue assertion. More recently, many on the right have engaged in the ridiculous task of accusing the President of abandoning Hosni Mubarak last February during the height of the protests in Tahrir Square, thus “losing” Egypt. Much of it is partisan nonsense, of course, but the idea has become such an article of faith among conservatives that it’s pretty clear that people have a hard time differentiating between facts and partisan rhetoric.

As Ted Galen Carpenter notes in a piece that appeared last week, though, the facts simply don’t support the argument that Republicans are making:

The appeasement allegations directed against Obama, though, border on bizarre. And the president fired back at his opponents, suggesting that they ask Osama Bin Laden and the twenty-two other high-level al-Qaeda operatives who have been killed since Obama took office whether he is an appeaser. Fox News host Sean Hannity immediately sneered that Obama merely cited “his one foreign policy success.” By success, Hannity implicitly meant an uncompromising, hard-line policy.

But even by that dubious standard, the Republican appeasement charge is misguided. The current bastardized definition of appeasement implies a weak-kneed willingness to make far-reaching, unwise concessions to aggressors. That certainly does not describe the current occupant of the Oval Office. After all, Obama sharply escalated the war in Afghanistan, has led efforts to impose harsher economic sanctions on Iran, adopted a hostile stance regarding China’s ambitious territorial claims in the South China Sea and served as the godfather of NATO’s military campaign to overthrow Muammar Gaddafi. That’s not exactly a record reminiscent of Neville Chamberlain.

So what is the president’s conduct that warrants allegations of appeasement? For the current crop of GOP presidential wannabes, merely exhibiting a willingness to conduct negotiations with adversaries is considered evidence of craven appeasement on the part of an American policy maker. And because Obama has attempted to open or advance dialogues with such adversaries, Republican activists excoriate him.

This harkens back, of course, to the argument that many on the right made during the 2008 campaign that then-candidate Obama would, if elected, immediately begin to negotiate personally, as opposed to formal and informal discussions via diplomats, with adversaries like the Iranians and North Koreans “without preconditions.” Throughout the 2008 campaign, both John McCain and Sarah Palin said repeatedly that Senator Obama would meet personally with the President of Iran without any preconditions. In fact what the Obama had said is that he favored direct talks between representatives of the U.S. and Iran regarding the nuclear program, a position that was supported at the time by several former Secretaries of State who had severed in Republican Administrations.

That was just one example, though, of this odd idea that Republicans seem to have developed that there’s something wrong with diplomacy, at least when the other guy does it. If anything, it’s more important that we have open lines of communication with our adversaries than our friends, if only to prevent misunderstandings and mistakes that could lead to a crisis that doesn’t need to happen. More broadly, though, the suggestion that being willing to talk to ones adversaries under the right conditions is in and of itself appeasement is simply absurd. History is full of examples where that precise thing occurred, to the benefit of all parties involved.

Kennedy met with Kruschev. Nixon met with Mao. Reagan met with Gorbachev (and said he would have met with Brezhnev, Andropov, or Chernenko if Russian leaders in the early 1980s hadn’t developed the inconvenient habit of dying every 18 months). Heck, we’ve sent Secretaries of State to North Korea and have diplomatic relations with the Vietnamese now. For years, we didn’t have diplomatic relations with the Libyans and yet the Bush Administration made contact with them and successfully negotiated the dismantling of the Libyan chemical weapons program. And before all that happened there were lower-level meetings going on for years between the United States and regimes that posed a far greater threat to our security, and their own citizens, than a mad-man like Ahmenijad does today.

And that’s the part of this that Republicans can’t explain — if it’s okay to talk to the Soviets, the Red Chinese, the North Koreans, the Vietnamese, the Cubans, and the Libyans then what’s so bad about suggesting the possibility of diplomatic contact with Iran ?

Diplomacy is a good thing, as Winston Churchill himself recognized. Since Sir Winston seems to be the only European that conservatives like, perhaps they’d listen to what he has to say about the matter.

H/T: Andrew Sullivan

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, 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. Hey Norm says:

    One – the appeasement meme is based on lies. Period.
    Two – the position the Republicans are taking with this makes for pretty pi$$ poor foreign policy. (but in no way out of line with their “our way or no way” domestic policies) They leave themselves in a corner where the only option open to them is to make ultimatums (a non-nuclear Iran) that can only be backed up by ill-advised threats (bomb Iran).
    Of course their hero…Reagan…is the guy that promised not to negotiate with terrorists (Iran) while he was selling them weapons.
    Bottom line – no matter how stupid what they say is…you really can’t believe a word of it anyway.

  2. anjin-san says:

    So what is the president’s conduct that warrants allegations of appeasement?

    There is none. But the Fox gang keeps telling us he is the second coming of Neville Chamberlain, and that parses into an accepted fact on the right. People like bithead spout this nonsense as if they had discovered the secrets of the universe.

  3. Hey Norm says:

    In addition Romney told a European newspaper today that:

    “…The U.S. must take care of its own crisis, and won’t give a dollar to save Europe…”

    Now whether or not we will need to give them any sort of finacial aid is something reasonable people can discuss…but to see the European crisis as somehow seperate from the US situation makes me wonder about the man’s actual business accumen.

  4. Hey Norm says:

    where is bithead?

  5. mantis says:

    The GOP’s Ridiculous ____________ Argument.

    Fill in the blank. Most every argument they make is ridiculous.

  6. MBunge says:

    They’re all somewhat guilty of it but Romney is the one really pushing the appeasement meme because he’s got to do something to distract GOP voters from the fact that he’s not really a conservative. It’s the same reason Newt is at least able to make some gesture toward Latino voters while Romney has to declare he’d veto the DREAM act.


  7. mattb says:

    @Hey Norm:

    One – the appeasement meme is based on lies. Period.

    The meme has been created through Conservative news outlets finding the “experts” to verify the facts as they see them. This then gets backs up by anecdotal evidence.

    So for example, @Manning has in the past, on this subject, called attention to how Obama’s words could only be interpreted as appeasement by people in the Muslim community. His rational for this — beyond his discussion of his own experience in overseas dealings — was a selection of Muslim Foxperts. When I pointed out that a large number of Muslim and Islamic specialists I know of would directly contradict this sort of interpretation, his response was essentially “you trust your experts, I’ll trust mine.”

    This is similar to the problem with having a thoughtful conversation on climate change or any critical topic. Each side trots out their experts and treats their experts as being superior to the other side (see @Jan’s constant bringing up of generic scientists who are climate change deniers).

    Thus, through the magic of experts, denial is dress in the garb of “informed” skepticism, and people who claim to care about objectivity are actually defending the most radical forms of subjectivity.

  8. DRS says:

    Romney should be criticized hard for this because he is supposed to be the adult Republican candidate, unlike Gingrich and the others.

    I think part of the problem is that although we see ourselves as a Superpower (and the only Superpower since the fall of the Soviet Union), we don’t really know what that means. If we’re a Superpower, it must mean that we are Super Powerful. Kind of like a really really BIG Spiderman or something. So when we say something the rest of the world should respectfully fall in line.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Hey Norm:

    where is bithead?

    Iowa…. or dead. Not much difference.

  10. Hey Norm says:

    @ Ozark…
    Nothing he says makes sense…but I hope he’s not dead…or in Iowa…wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

  11. I think the words “lack of faith in America” are the key. It is an appeal to fundamentalist, Christian, exceptionalism.

    Thus it shouldn’t be surprising that the religious right accepts every one of Ron Paul’s fringe beliefs, except his idea that we should leave the world alone.

    To quote the Blues Brothers, we are on a mission from God.

  12. A voice from another precinct says:

    @Hey Norm: How much business acumen does it take to be a corporate raider, anyway?