For decades now, two analogies have battled for supremacy in American foreign policy circles: those of Munich and Vietnam. At the moment, Vietnam has the upper-hand. But don’t count Munich out.
|British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain
takes a stroll with Adolf Hitler in 1938
The appeasement of Nazi Germany at the Munich Conference in 1938—when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, after a meeting with Adolf Hitler, declared, he had brought “peace for our time”—has haunted western policymakers and intellectuals ever since. The fear of not stopping a tyrant in his tracks—before it is too late—has been particularly acute in America, weighed down as it is by the responsibilities of a great power. Because such a fear may demand preemptive military action, the Munich analogy flourishes after a lengthy and prosperous peace, when the burdens of war are far enough removed to appear abstract.
The fear of another Munich was an underlying element in the decision to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi aggression in 1991. If we didn’t stop Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, he’d next invade Saudi Arabia, thereby controlling the world’s oil supply and taking human rights in the Middle East to an unutterable level of darkness. “Munich” was heard often in reaction to the failure to stop genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Munich was the driving force behind military operations in Bosnia in 1995 and in Kosovo in 1999, which were clearly wars of choice: as the threat to our national interest in both cases was indirect.