The Bizarre Meme That 'Appeasement' Caused the Libya Attack

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There is no better example of the obliviousness to reality that characterizes current conservative attacks on Obama's foreign policy.

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A U.S. led campaign of 'appeasement' created lots of rubble like this during the Libyan civil war. / Reuters


Professor Paul Rahe is a nice man who teaches history at Hillsdale College. Here's what he wrote about the attack on our embassy in Libya and the murder of four people, including the American ambassador:

The American people cannot be allowed to discover that Barack Obama's policy of appeasement has persuaded our enemies that we are weak and feckless and has elicited aggression on their part. Nor can they be allowed to learn that Hillary Clinton and our minions have been grossly negligent with regard to the security of our embassies, consulates, and other installations in the larger Muslim world. Instead, we must ignore the spirit of the First Amendment and vent our wrath on an inept Coptic Christian immigrant from Egypt. 

So let me get this straight. President Bush cuts a deal with Moammar Gadhafi, in which the dictator forswears weapons of mass destruction, and is thereafter treated as a friend of the United States. President Obama takes office. The Libyan dictator threatens to massacre his own people. In response, Obama orders the U.S. military to play the lead roll in bombing Libya, helping rebel forces to oust and kill Gadhafi. Every last person in Libya knows that this happened.

And you assert, as if it's self-evident, that Libyans attacked our embassy because of Obama's "policy of appeasement." What possible sense does that make? In Libya, none, and it doesn't make sense elsewhere either. Obama surged troops into Afghanistan before beginning the present withdrawal with bipartisan support in Congress and from American voters.

Obama escalated a drone campaign that has spread to half a dozen countries, ordered a raid into Pakistan that killed Osama bin Laden, and helped to engage in a cyber-attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. He ordered a special forces raid on pirates that rescued hostages. All told, the various drone strikes that Obama has ordered have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people.

Perhaps you have critiques of this record.

I certainly do!

To call it appeasement is to traffic in fantasies. But Rahe is hardly alone in doing it. It's a widespread meme on the right. And for a slightly different species of unreality, here's Victor Davis Hanson:

At the very least, the Obama administration needs to drop the politically-correct euphemisms, stop the Cairo-speech banalities, and remind its diplomatic team that radical Islam's hatred of the West is not placated by loud American outreach, soaring mytho-history about Islam, or the particular politics, race, pedigree, or charisma of the occupant of the White House, but that Islamic expressions of that hatred most surely are predicated on the degree to which America appears diffident, apologetic, and unsure--or confident, occasionally dangerous, and unpredictable.

I don't know how the people of Libya judge America's confidence. But again, given our recent intervention in their civil war, after previously cutting a deal with their dictator, it's a fair bet that Libyans of all people regard as as "occasionally dangerous" and "unpredictable." When it comes to foreign policy, the conservative movement is running against a president of their own creation.


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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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