Monday, November 25, 2013

Broken chairs and bad analogies

Munich II


No, that’s not a facile, partisan jab. What just went down in Geneva is, in fact, a replay of the greatest diplomatic tragedy of the 20th century.

Um, actually I'd say that (from National Review Online, link on the headline) is a facile partisan jab, if by "jab" you mean the gesture of a drunk attempting with only partial accuracy to poke his finger, rhetorically, in your chest. There ought to be a corollary to Godwin's Law to the effect that when they bring up Munich the conversation is not merely dead but starting to smell.

In this case the only way the Munich analogy is even discussable is to begin by understanding that the conference was called to decide not what to do about Hitler but what to do about Czechoslovakia, accused of mistreating its ethnic-German [jump]

minority population in violation of international law, a charge supported by a tiny grain of truth in a mountain of fake evidence:
Chamberlain believed that Sudeten German grievances were justified and that Hitler's intentions were limited. Both Britain and France, therefore, advised Czechoslovakia to concede to Germany's demands. Beneš resisted and on 20 May a partial mobilization was underway in response to possible German invasion. (Wikipedia)
Germany, backed by Italy, wished to stop the (more or less imaginary) Czech misbehavior by the harshest imaginable means, annexing all the little country's German-majority areas (which coincidentally happened to be all the areas from which the Czechs would have been able to defend themselves against a German invasion if the Germans hadn't taken it away from them). The British and French, unwilling to risk war with Germany over the issue, agreed that Germany should go ahead and take the "Sudetenland" as long as it promised not to take anything else—a promise which, as we all know, was soon mocked in the most terrible possible way.

function Munich 1938 Geneva 2013
defendant Czechoslovakia Iran
plaintiff Germany US
friend of the defendant UK/France Russia
friend of the plaintiff Italy France/UK

In Geneva, the conference was called to discuss what to do about Iran, accused of plotting to build nuclear weapons in violation of its obligations as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, on the basis of a tiny grain of truth in a mountain of ambiguous evidence; but unlike Czechoslovakia, Iran had been punished already, over a period of many years, and the proposal of the chief accuser was to punish it less in return for a verifiable reduction in the activity that might be criminal. It's as if Hitler had offered to occupy only a few special bits (Marienbad for the waters and Pilsen for the beer) while Italian and Soviet observers patrolled the rest, protecting the innocent Germans from those punk Bohemians. And just for six months as a prelude to more serious negotiations. Ridiculously insulting to Czechoslovakia but a pretty good deal, compared to World War II; but of course not what Hitler would under any circumstances have done.

There's a secret subtext to the Munich analogy from which it gets its power: that Prime Minister Chamberlain was really selling out the Jewish populations of Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, and the rest of Central and Eastern Europe (sadly, I'm pretty sure he never gave them a moment's thought at the time, though some feel that the Reichskristallnacht a couple of months after the Munich Conference really did assist him, or England in general, in changing his mind about Herr Hitler); and that by some associative magic the P5 + 1 are selling out Israel in the same way that Chamberlain might have been selling out the European Jews, had he been doing so, because ex-President Ahmadinejad said ignorant and nasty things about Jews and Israel during his time in office, but really because by virtue of making that entirely false analogy between Iran now and Germany then (as I like to point out Iranian Jews live with considerably more confidence in their civil rights than Arabs can have in Israel), we invite ourselves to fill in its terms in a coherent, but crazy, way.
Daniel Berset, Chaise Brisée, Geneva.
Whatever Prime Minister Netanyahu and his American followers may say, Israelis in general have a clearer view (even though they mostly don't agree with my view that Iran has no nuclear weapon ambitions at all). Larrry Derfner at the great +972 tells you what the most hard-ass realists in Israel are thinking:
The news from Israel is that Israel hates the Iranian nuclear deal struck in Geneva – but the news is not entirely accurate. It’s true, of course, that Netanyahu and his government ministers (with the exception of Justice Minister Tzipi Livni) think the agreement is bad, very bad, very very bad, and that Obama and the West sold the Jews out to Hitler again. But there are some other extremely powerful Israelis who don’t think the agreement is so bad, and who certainly prefer it to the no-agreement that Bibi and AIPAC were driving toward – and these Israelis make up the country’s military-intelligence establishment.

It shouldn’t be a big surprise; these are the same people who, with an assist from President Shimon Peres and the Israeli media, stopped Netanyahu and then-defense minister Ehud Barak from bombing Iran like they wanted to last year. Israel’s generals don’t relish going head-to-head with the United States, they don’t live on paranoia, apocalyptic visions and scare-mongering, and right there you have enough to understand why they don’t go along with Netanyahu on Iran.

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