Appeasing a genocidal madman, allowing him access to terrifically destructive war machines, has never gone well for the world.
It’s just that the peace-desiring countries of the world never learn this difficult truth, too often cuddling up with the seductive mistress of appeasement. This is the precise dynamic we see after multiple U.S. presidents tried to stop North Korean dictator Kim Il Jung by giving him everything he wanted in return for empty promises. Now he has numerous nuclear weapons and increasingly sophisticated missiles. And appeasement may no longer be possible. The bill is coming due, as it always does.
This also happened a few generations ago when the progressive Prime Minister of Great Britain, Stanley Baldwin, spent more than a decade ignoring the rise of an obscure German corporal and his National Socialist Party and pretended everything was going great with the defeated German nation. Baldwin thought highly of himself and what he was accomplishing even while Germany spiraled into the economic abyss due to the unwise Treaty of Versailles after WWI.
The corporal gained control of not only his party, but slowly the government of Germany until, through a series of machinations, he named himself the Fuehrer, the almighty leader of a rapidly strengthening Germany — equivalent to Kim Il Jung
Baldwin deposited this growing menace in the lap of his successor, the better known for the wrong reason Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who was also arrogant, progressive in his ideals and sold out on the concept that talk and international paperwork could appease a monster.
Chamberlain met with Herr Adolph Hitler repeatedly, each time he gave Hitler more of what the Nazi leader demanded by agreement or by inaction: remilitarizing the Rhineland with what was essentially a police force; the Austrian putsch; taking the Sudetenland; overrunning the Czech Republic; and vastly rebuilding the Wehrmacht in violation of the treaty. There was not even a military response as Germany and the Soviet Union carved up Poland, even though the allies were bound by treaty.
After one meeting with Herr Hitler in Munich, Chamberlain returned to London waving a paper and declaring proudly, and now infamously, “We have peace in our time.” Keep this picture in your mind.
France also just watched, but she was shell, worn out by WWI and wracked by Communists. Britain had the power to stop Hitler again and again and again — early on at virtually no cost, and then with increasing costs but still short of world war.
Instead, they appeased over multiple prime ministers. Only Winston Churchill clearly saw the threat and faced it head on. By the time he became Prime Minister, the cost of stopping Hitler had risen to horrific.
Baldwin and Chamberlain, meet Clinton, Bush and Obama
It’s important to remember that what the Trump administration faces in North Korea today did not just appear overnight. It has been many presidents in the making. (Heaven knows the rest of the world won’t do anything. They are collectively France before WWI.)
North Korea was born of the ashes of the back-and-forth Korean War in the early 1950s. It has been under family dictatorial rule since the end of that war, backed by the Communist China regime that came to its rescue during the war. China remains the only country with any influence over the North, which is a third-world country. But it’s never clear just how much. China games it time and again for their own pursuits.
The family leadership always had eyes on South Korea, which has developed into a prosperous, thriving, free, capitalist country while its northern neighbor languishes under tyranny and some form of Communism. In the late 1980s, North Korea began trying to develop nuclear weapons. We were sure we could appease them out of it with shiny objects and pieces of paper.
We were wrong.
Bill Clinton’s appeasement
Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush created agreements with North Korea early in the process, which turned out to be empty and ignored. But North Korea’s intents were not well-established at that point. By the time Bill Clinton came into office, it was clear that North Korea was determined to get nuclear weapons and thought nothing of agreements.
In 1994, Clinton sent former President Jimmy Carter to North Korea to negotiate an Agreed Framework to keep a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. This was a little like Neville Chamberlain sending Stanley Baldwin to negotiate with Hitler. Appeasement squared.
The deal Carter negotiated gave North Korea everything it wanted in return for what would turn out to be more empty promises. The North got two brand new reactors and $5 billion in “aid” in return for their promise to quit seeking nuclear weapons.
Clinton jumped on this appeasement train and with a strong whiff of Chamberlain’s infamous “peace in our time” speech, saying the agreement brought “an end to the threat of nuclear proliferation on the Korean Peninsula.” For this profound failure, in which the North admitted in 2002 they had violated from the first day, Carter was thusly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize — a once relished prize that is now a progressive political farce.
George W. Bush’s appeasement
President Bush rightly identified North Korea as part of the “Axis of Evil” in 2002, which included Iran, Iraq and Libya — all of whom were tyrannies pursuing nuclear weapons. Bush recognized the growing threat, but in the end 9/11 forced his eyes off North Korea and on the Jihadist threat to the United States. Not altogether wrong, perhaps, but the result was kicking the nuclear can down the road.
Bush’s policies began to look like Clinton’s previous appeasements. His administration negotiated another Agreed Framework, in hopes of stopping North Korea’s nuclear weapons pursuit by lifting some sanctions, releasing some North Korean money in return for the North stopping its uranium enrichment and allowing inspections.
In essence, real stuff in return for a piece of paper.
Just like the Munich agreement with Hitler and the future Iranian agreement on nuclear weapons, this would turn out be be a piece of paper better used as a coloring pad for the children.
Part of the reason it was worthless was because the tyranny never intended to abide by it, while the other part is that the major powers who could enforce it had no will to do so.
So the North reneged, but Bush focused on Afghanistan and Iraq and ended up releasing money to them while not requiring inspections. Total appeasement.
Barack Obama’s appeasement
The Obama administration was content to appease and look the other way on North Korea as they were focused on committing the unforced error of repeating Munich and Pyongyang with Tehran — negotiate with killer tyrants and rely on their goodwill and a piece of paper.
In an interesting denial of reality, the Obama administration said it will “never accept” a nuclear North Korea — even though the North detonated a nuclear weapon in 2006, during the last year of Bush’s presidency.
Of course, Obama said precisely the same thing about Iran, then sent John Kerry to negotiate a deal with ayatollahs guaranteeing they will become nuclear.
Obama is, if possible, a more feckless version of the Baldwin, Chamberlain, Clinton line of appeasers as he sought out an opportunity to do it with Iran right when that nation was buckling under international sanctions. They were losing, sanctions were working, and Obama plucked them out and turned them into what will inevitably be much wealthier members of the nuclear club of tyrants.
The world has had sanctions of varying degrees on North Korea for years. They have given a lifeline by China. Relieving sanctions and providing aid is always the carrot to get good behavior on nukes. There is never a stick.
As the North was starving its people, the Obama administration agreed in 2012 to bail them out with 240,000 tons of food in exchange for nuclear concessions. Well, you know by now what happened. They got enough relief to placate their people and maintain their grip, and conceded nothing — this also being a cautionary tale of how sometimes humanitarian efforts for tyrannical regimes can cause more suffering in the long run, including for the people the efforts are aimed at.
Completely predictable and the third president failing at appeasement.
The bill for appeasement is coming due
This is the context in which President Trump enters office, with all the theoretically responsible countries of the West and elsewhere hopelessly trying to ignore the growing threat of North Korea. Maybe it’ll go away. Maybe it will magically solve itself. Maybe…and here’s the reality…the United States will do something.
The North probably has dozens of nuclear weapons and increasingly sophisticated delivery systems in the form of missiles. They are making more all the time. Truly reaching the United States with missiles seems unlikely. But the North can obviously reach South Korea, and Japan is just a few miles away.
No one was willing to stop Hitler when it would have been relatively easy to do so. No one was willing to stop North Korea when it would have been relatively cheaper in cost — even with the proximity of China.
Now, maybe, someone is willing. But at what cost? And who will be willing to look back at the Clintons, Bushes and Obamas and lay the blame where it belongs, like we rightly do Baldwin and Chamberlain?
And will we ever, ever learn?
EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared in The Revolutionary Act.