Poor ISG! While its members completed their parade across assorted political platforms during the last month of 2006, their pontifications died faster than a flock of houseflies on a sun-baked window ledge, and with about as much dignity. It’s not hard to see why. The ISG (which stands for Inane Shibboleths from Geezers) might have learned from history that recommendation inflation is never a good thing. Indeed, when the French leader Georges Clemenceau was informed of Woodrow Wilson’s proposed Fourteen Points to guide the 1919 negotiations at Versailles, he snorted: “Fourteen? God only had ten!” And so it goes. Flooding agitated minds with seventy-nine recommendations is not the way to generate positive vibes about your attempted contributions to world peace. Recommendation to ISGers: Don’t give up your day jobs. Wait a minute: they don’t have day jobs. ‘Nuff said.
Well, almost, that is. Buried in that laundry list of peace proposals was a suggestion that the United States negotiate directly with Syria and Iran, the principal supporters of sectarian warfare in Iraq. Now talking to your enemies is sometimes a good thing, or at least an unavoidable alternative; consider the Cold War, for instance: Americans and Russians constantly talked to each other about nuclear arms control, which was supposed to limit each side only to enough weapons that would annihilate the other side a gazillion times over. But such talks presupposed a commonality of interests in one area of interaction: limiting—actually managing—the production and deployment of nuclear weapons. (Footnote: numbers of nukes didn’t really decline until after the Cold War was over.) By contrast, it is difficult to see any aspect of American relations with Syria and Iran that rest on common interests, especially those pertaining to a “comprehensive solution” to area conflicts.
Let’s toy with another analogy, one that speculates about how a European Study Group headed by, say, Neville Chamberlain and Senator Gerald Nye, might have performed around 1939:
First, suppose that a “comprehensive solution” to all the tensions in the region needs to be sought, meaning that Hitler’s determination to murder all Jews, carve up Poland, and wage a war of annihilation against the USSR that would result in half the population being murdered and the other half reduced to slavery, must be taken into account. Of course, prior to September 1939, all of that was in the future, but Der Führer had already made his intentions clear about such plans a decade and a half earlier in Mein Kampf. Further, by spring 1939, the Nazis had already retaken the Rhineland, absorbed Austria, swallowed up Czechoslovakia, perpetrated Kristallnacht—an event so named by all the glass shattered by the massive destruction of synagogues and Jewish-owned shops throughout Germany—and were well on the way to creating a huge complex of death camps. Still, Senator Nye states, “a reasonable approach to Germany by our government now would invite better understanding.” Sorry, Senator, but even without the gift of hindsight, that view represents willful blindness to facts.
What about the Russians? Stalin’s methods and plans were hardly a secret by this point, though it wasn’t until after the war that his mass murders were exposed by a boorish General Secretary named Nikita Khrushchev. By 1939, Russia’s pathological leader had killed perhaps half of the 66 million murdered by the Soviet regime by 1959 (Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s estimate) and seemed interested only in preparing the Soviet Union for another war with Germany, which he was convinced would take place. Forced industrialization, mass collectivization of agriculture, planned starvation in Ukraine, construction of the vast system of death camps—the Gulag Archipelago—elimination of the country’s top military leaders, and construction of the world’s largest army and air force constitute a short list on his resume by the time of the infamous Nazi-Soviet Pact. Still, if we’re in the comprehensive-solution-to-regional-problems business, certainly Comrade Stalin’s views should be sought by the ESG.
Hitler and Stalin go together like, well, Assad (Syria) and Ahmadinejad (Iran). If we want to push the Hitler-Stalin analogy to its limits, let us not leave out any gory details—they’re all relevant. In short, it is criminally fatuous to suppose those two dictators can be part of a solution; on the contrary, they are the problem. And both regard the United States with well-deserved contempt.
A final analogy on expecting good faith from criminal regimes should be considered: In April 1939, President Roosevelt gave Adolf Hitler a list of 31 countries he wanted the German leader to promise not to invade. Hitler presented the list to the Reichstag with brilliant panache, generating roars of laughter from the floor. He ended up invading most of the countries on the list in a world war that claimed 50-60 million lives. Hitler lost, but his diplomacy during the ’30s proved him to be no fool. And when it comes to dealing with ludicrous proposals from democracies, we can still hear his laughter echo across the ages—laughter no funnier today than it was then.