GOP Senator Mark Kirk has no idea what appeasement means




Yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that Iran had reached an agreement with the United States and five other nations on a basic framework for curbing the nation’s nuclear program over the next fifteen years. Specifics of the agreement are set to be finalized in June.

The fact that any sort of agreement had been reached led to a predictable volley of accusations from Republicans that the Obama administration had engaged in an historically irresponsible act of “appeasement.”

As Illinois Senator Mark Kirk said: “Neville Chamberlain got a lot of more out of Hitler than (State Department negotiator) Wendy Sherman got out of Iran.”

In referencing Chamberlain and his policy of appeasement during the run-up to World War II, he has no idea what he’s talking about.

“Appeasement” refers to a specific point in history, in which British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, desperate to avoid a repeat of World War I, continuously ceded ground to Hitler in the hopes that the German dictator would eventually be satisfied. He wasn’t, and he kept taking land, and Chamberlain was eventually dragged into that massive war he had so desperately wanted to avoid.

But by ceded ground, I mean literally ceded ground. The Munich Agreement of 1938 allowed Germany to annex the Sudetenland in western Czechoslovakia, giving Germany more land in exchange for, well, nothing.

Ever since then, the term “appeasement” has been used to refer to any time a world leader attempts to use diplomacy to stave off a war. As one could imagine, it’s been thrown around a lot during the latest round of Iran’s nuclear talks:

obama appeasement

Of course, this Iran deal doesn’t resemble the Munich Agreement in any way, shape or form. Iran is not an expansionary power, and they stand to gain nothing from this agreement aside from the lifting of sanctions on oil and financial transactions. In exchange, they have agreed to freeze their nuclear program, and allow an inspection regime to monitor its activity so that it cannot “cheat” and restart its program quickly enough to have a nuclear weapon within a year.

That’s an actual tradeoff. Iran has given something up in exchange for something it wanted, and in so doing has inched closer to rejoining the community of nations. It shouldn’t even be worth pointing out that the Munich Agreement allowed Germany go give up nothing in exchange for something it wanted, and in so doing allowed Germany a swifter exit from the community of nations.

Not that that matters. As Slate‘s Ben Mathis-Lilley reminded us yesterday, Republicans who make appeasement references are often just throwing the word out for effect, calling to mind this 2008 Hardball segment where Chris Matthews called out a Republican talking head who had no idea what it actually meant:

On the Internet, Godwin’s Law refers to the idea that the longer a debate goes on, “the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.” Traditionally, the invocation of Godwin’s Law marks the end of the debate, and whoever brought up the Third Reich has automatically lost.

If Mark Kirk can’t come up with a better criticism of the emerging deal with Iran, and has to resort to referencing appeasement in order to make his point, then he has automatically disqualified himself from this debate, as Hitler references both distort the current situation and trivialize Hitler.

As Mathis-Lilley put it, “the Chamberlain-Hitler analogy needs to be taken into a bunker with Eva Braun and shot.”


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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