By Michael Carin
We are watching a ruinous chapter of history replay itself on the international stage. The president of the world’s chief democratic power is openly appeasing democracy’s principal foe.
Since the day he took office, Donald Trump has never said a negative word about Vladimir Putin, while the policies of his administration in regard to Russia’s subversion of Ukraine have been conspicuously indulgent. Most telling was the behaviour of Trump in Helsinki last summer, when he stood before the world and upheld the Russian autocrat over the findings of America’s own intelligence agencies. That event in the Finnish capital can only be described as a shameful echo of the 1938 Munich Conference.
Eighty years ago in the Bavarian cradle of Nazism, Neville Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier, the leaders of Britain and France, met with Adolf Hitler. The issue at hand was the fate of the Sudetenland, a border region of Czechoslovakia populated by three million ethnic Germans.
Employing his usual rhetorical ferocity, Hitler peddled the big lie that the Sudeten Germans were being subjugated by their Czechoslovak masters. He insisted that the region be united with the Fatherland and become part of the Third Reich. He threatened invasion should his demand be denied.
Free and democratic Czechoslovakia boasted a well-trained army of 400,000 men and fortifications of uncommon quality. The hardy little country was prepared to call Hitler’s bluff, provided Britain and France had its back. Chamberlain and Daladier, however, folded. They ceded to Hitler everything he wanted. In return the two poltroons were given a piece of paper that Chamberlain brandished as a herald of ‘peace in our time’. This was the highwater mark of appeasement which the European democracies had practiced since Hitler’s rise to power five years earlier. The Sudetenland became a protectorate of the Third Reich. Six months later, Hitler’s army marched into Prague. Stalin, smelling weakness in Britain and France, signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. Eleven months after Munich, Germany invaded
Poland. Thus did World War II begin. Chamberlain’s capitulation had delivered a giant spark that led to the inferno.
Which brings us back to Helsinki and 2018, a year which may go down in history as an appalling counterpart of 1938.
If the principal lesson of Munich teaches that expansionist dictatorships must not be appeased, then we might be inclined to wonder whether Donald Trump is both
ignorant of history and incapable of
recognizing a predatory tyrant when he sees one. We have no need to wonder however, because Trump’s foreign policy has answered clearly, and never so clearly as during his meeting with Putin in Helsinki, and by his silent, dormant, effectively collaborative posture on Putin’s annexation of Crimea.
Article 5 of the NATO alliance stipulates that an attack on one member state is to be regarded as an attack upon all member states. Yet Donald Trump’s erratic conduct at the last NATO plenum, together with his evident refusal in Helsinki to condemn the Crimean incursion, has sent a frightening signal to Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Should Putin’s tanks one day roll across the borders of those countries, they can no
longer be certain of a helping hand from their putative American ally.
If people fail to see this development as ominous, it is only because Donald Trump has consistently shown himself to be a compulsive three-ring maestro of ominous developments. Has he not proposed that American military forces be withdrawn from Europe, which reflects a long sought goal of Europe’s chief adversary, Russia? Check. Has he not regularly disputed the finding by the entire American intelligence community to the effect that Russia waged cyberwar on the United States before, during and after the 2016 election? Check. Did he not suggest to Emmanuel Macron that France leave the European Union, a development that would fundamentally fracture Europe, again to the benefit of Russia’s ambitions? Check. And the list could go on.
By all appearances a political clone of
Neville Chamberlain now speaks for the United States, although this Chamberlain might be something worse: a conscious, deliberate, purposeful appeaser. Which entitles people to ask if the White House has become a wholly owned subsidiary of the Kremlin, and whether the man in the Oval Office will ultimately join the likes of Benedict Arnold in the gallery of American infamy.
Michael Carin’s new novel Churchill at Munich is available at The Senior Times for $9.95
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