The View From 1776
Sunday, March 01, 2009
President Obama’s foreign policy vision is one of faith in “hope” and “change.” We’ve been there before, with disastrous results.
Bret Stephens’s recent column in the Wall Street Journal reminds us that vaporous good will is a poor defense against the historically inevitable intrusions of aggressive foreign powers.
A few quotations:
Locarno, a picturesque Swiss town on the shores of Lake Maggiore, was the site of a series of treaties signed in 1925 between France, Germany, Britain, Italy and Belgium. They ostensibly guaranteed the post-World War I borders on Germany’s western frontier with France and Belgium, but agreed that Germany’s eastern frontiers could be subject to revision. They also paved the way for Germany’s membership in the League of Nations.
Though now mostly forgotten, the Locarno Treaties were, as Henry Kissinger once wrote, “greeted with exuberant relief as the dawning of a new world order.” For the rest of the 1920s, people spoke of “the spirit of Locarno,” which meant, in effect, that personal good will begat good political results, whatever the underlying facts. The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain each won a Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts—proving, if nothing else, that the Nobel committee was in the grip of fools long before the prize went to Jimmy Carter…
Above all, Locarno failed because it combined wishful thinking with political weakness in a way that was bound to be tested and exploited by the fascist powers. If the 1930s were, per W.H. Auden’s line, a “low, dishonest decade,” it was mainly because the 1920s were so high-mindedly self-deceived.
We are in a similar state today…
[The Obama administration’s foreign policy] is founded on conciliatory tendencies, a preference for multilateral solutions, a powerful desire to be on the right side of global public opinion, and an instinct for looking away from that which we’d rather not to see. This has put some political stress on our residual post-9/11 commitments, particularly in the case of Afghanistan, while creating an overwhelming aversion to possible confrontations, particularly against revanchist Russia and millenarian Iran.
The Locarno generation felt similarly about standing in the way of Japan’s invasion of Manchuria, Italy’s of Abyssinia and Germany’s of Czechoslovakia.