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When The Hitler Card Won’t Do, Play The Chamberlain Card

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When The Hitler Card Won’t Do, Play The Chamberlain Card


If he accomplished nothing else during his presidency, Barack Obama has surely earned a place in the Bad Political Analogies Hall of Fame. According to savants on Fox News and right-wing editorial pages, Obama is both Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister who capitulated to Nazi territorial demands in 1938.

That is, to the more fervid exponents of the Sore Loser Party, President Obama is both a psychotic dictator and a spineless appeaser of tyrants.

(I am indebted for this insight to Washington, D.C., attorney Mike Godwin, promulgator of “Godwin’s Law,” which holds that the first person to play the Hitler card in a political argument automatically loses.)

I’m thinking the law also needs a Chamberlain corollary, because the Permanent War Caucus on the Republican right accuses every American president who negotiates an arms pact with our putative enemies of weakening national security. Always and with no known exceptions.

President Nixon got compared to Neville Chamberlain for his (strategically brilliant) opening to China, as well as for the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty) with the Soviet Union.

In 1988, something called the Conservative Caucus, Inc. took out full-page newspaper ads arguing that “appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938.” The ad mocked President Reagan with Chamberlain’s iconic umbrella, and compared Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev to Hitler.

In 1989, of course, the Berlin Wall fell and the USSR imploded.

Jonathan Chait sums up the right’s paradoxical case against Obama, weakling dictator: “He is naive in the face of evil, desperate for agreement, more willing to help his enemies than his friends. The problem is that conservatives have made this same diagnosis of every American president for 70 years…Their analysis of the Iran negotiations is not an analysis at all, but an impulse.”

Despite the fact that Tehran made concessions most observers thought were impossible, the right hates this deal because they hate all deals. Today, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his U.S. supporters, such as the forever-wrong William Kristol, describe Iran’s leaders as the new Führer. The apocalyptic enemy before that was the Tehran regime’s bitter enemy, Saddam Hussein.

Anyway, we all know how invading Iraq worked out.

Iran is five times Iraq’s size, has three times its population, and has extremely forbidding terrain.

No matter. To the Permanent War Caucus, it’s always 1938 and blitzkrieg is eternally threatened. Netanyahu has been predicting Iran’s imminent acquisition of nuclear weapons for almost 20 years now — although the Wile E. Coyote bomb cartoon is a relatively recent touch.

Israel, of course, has a nuclear arsenal of its own.

But what really makes the Hitler/Chamberlain comparison so foolish isn’t simply that it’s a cliché. It’s that it completely misrepresents the power balance between the U.S., its allies, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China, and militarily weak, politically and strategically isolated Iran.

In 1938, Nazi Germany had the strongest military in the world. (Indeed, there’s a revisionist school that holds Neville Chamberlain was wise to postpone an inevitable war while Britain re-armed.)

Shiite Iran, by contrast, can scarcely project power much beyond its borders, and is threatened by traditional enemies on all sides. Examine a map of the Middle East. Tehran is almost 1,000 miles from Jerusalem. Ethnically and linguistically distinct, the Persians are surrounded by hostile Sunni Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, which repress their own Shiite minorities, and are fanatically opposed to the Ayatollahs.

Almost unknown in this country, U.S. client Saddam Hussein’s 1980 invasion of Iran — complete with nerve gas attacks on the Persians and Kurds –remains a bitter memory. ISIS terrorists are massacring Shiites by the thousands in Iraq and Syria. For that matter, check out the U.S. military bases ringing the Persian Gulf, along with omnipresent, nuclear-armed aircraft carriers and submarines.

One needn’t have a particle of sympathy for Iran’s odious theocratic government to see that we’ve got them totally outgunned and surrounded. Economic sanctions engineered by the Obama administration have really hurt. So yes, if they thought they could trust us, it would be very much in Tehran’s interest to make a deal and stick to it — putting the nuclear temptation aside in favor of what amounts to anti-invasion insurance.

But can we trust them?

President Obama explained his thinking to the New York Times’s Thomas Friedman: “We are powerful enough to be able to test these propositions without putting ourselves at risk. And that’s the thing…people don’t seem to understand.”

“[W]ith respect to Iran…a dangerous country, one that has engaged in activities that resulted in the death of U.S. citizens, but the truth of the matter is: Iran’s defense budget is $30 billion. Our defense budget is closer to $600 billion. Iran understands that they cannot fight us. You asked about an Obama doctrine. The doctrine is: We will engage, but we preserve all our capabilities.”

If you’re really strong, in other words, act strong.

Photo: British prime minister Neville Chamberlain (left) and German chancellor Adolf Hitler (in light jacket), leave their meeting at Bad Godesberg, September 23, 1938. Via Wikicommons.

Gene Lyons

Gene Lyons is a political columnist and author. Lyons writes a column for the Arkansas Times that is nationally syndicated by United Media. He was previously a general editor at Newsweek as wells an associate editor at Texas Monthly where he won a National Magazine Award in 1980. He contributes to Salon.com and has written for such magazines as Harper's, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Review of Books, Entertainment Weekly, Washington Monthly, The Nation, Esquire, and Slate. A graduate of Rutgers University with a Ph.D. in English from the University of Virginia, Lyons taught at the Universities of Massachusetts, Arkansas and Texas before becoming a full-time writer in 1976. A native of New Jersey, Lyons has lived in Arkansas with his wife Diane since 1972. The Lyons live on a cattle farm near Houston, Ark., with a half-dozen dogs, several cats, three horses, and a growing herd of Fleckvieh Simmental cows. Lyons has written several books including The Higher Illiteracy (University of Arkansas, 1988), Widow's Web (Simon & Schuster, 1993), Fools for Scandal (Franklin Square, 1996) as well as The Hunting Of The President: The 10 Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton, which he co-authored with National Memo Editor-in-Chief Joe Conason.

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  1. FireBaron April 15, 2015

    Thanks, Gene. I needed a good laugh to start the day. Any article that points out the (lack of) accuracy of William Kristol first thing in the morning is a great way to start my day.

    1. ps0rjl April 15, 2015

      William Kristol has never seen a war he didn’t like. Of course as one of the preeminent Chickenhawks, he just never had any thought about signing up to participate in any. Mention Vietnam to guys like Kristol and they will wave their 2S deferment like some get out of jail card. They would have joined but damn they were just too busy hitting the books.

  2. Eleanore Whitaker April 15, 2015

    Fire Baron..Time for you to take off your Pampers…you’re overloaded. A vote for a Republican today is a vote to turn the US presidency into Presidents Charley and Davy Krotch…Not going to happen.

    As a Republican of 33 years, you can’t tell those of us who have lived longer than you what we are seeing of the GOP today…Who in any foreign country knows who the hell Cruz, Issa, Inhofe, Jindal, Christie, Rubio, Walker, Ryan, Huckabee or that Good Ole Good Ole-est of Good Ole boys, McConnell are?

    Put these lunatic fringe money hungry asshats together and not a single one isn’t middle aged, egotistical or a Koch puppet. No thanks…We don’t want a Back Room GOP Koch Presidency disguised as Cruz or Walker. This is the same BS Cheney pulled off with his front man Bush.

    Time for you vicious, militant anti-government jerks to face facts…Big changes are coming and they are changes you little boys with immature balls won’t like. Tough.

    1. Frank KIng April 15, 2015

      Kudos for a brilliant expose of the right wing “theater of the absurd”. It wouldn’t be so comedic realizing the mess the right wing has created for this country at home and abroad and their willingness to continue their mischief that is so apparent to anyone with any sense of recent history and the current economic, political and social upheaval in America today. The right wing has used the current administration as a scapegoat to avoid any responsibility and accountability for their malfeasance/misfeasance that has created the sorry conditions we tolerate today. But as the last two middle elections indicate, the right wing has support which boggles the mind.

      1. hicusdicus April 15, 2015

        Your mind was most undoubtedly boggled when you were born.

        1. Frank KIng April 15, 2015

          Hey, Silly Putty you’re on a “roll’. could it be toilet paper?

          1. hicusdicus April 15, 2015

            I recycle Its used toilet paper, you want some?

          2. Frank KIng April 15, 2015

            Not surprising. An anal retentive person does have a fixation with matters you describe. Seek psychological help and spare others your sordid affliction.

          3. hicusdicus April 15, 2015

            Anal retentive. You must be out of the days of yesteryear. You are a boring and uninteresting person to spar with. No recycled tissue for you, Go away.

          4. Frank KIng April 16, 2015

            I appreciate your concession to higher intelligence. Now go peddle your “wares” to your right wing cronies. They’ll need it for all the “crap” you guys spread.

          5. idamag April 16, 2015

            good one

    2. idamag April 16, 2015

      A vote Republican is to vote to end civil rights.

      1. hicusdicus April 16, 2015

        You could not possibly believe that. You have shown your self to be reasonably astute. I don’t see a democrat or republican buying your vote. How could we get people to start looking outside the party box and find people who don’t try to sell us what their party thinks is best but would actually implement things that will work. All this social justice sounds all noble and good. But first we must be a nation that is feared other wise we will be the ones on our knees whining for social justice from our conquerors. Being feared does mean being evil. We must assure the world that to try and bring down and destroy our way of life would be a fatal mistake. Have a good day this one is almost gone and cannot be done over.

  3. Carolyn1520 April 15, 2015

    The problem is we have an intelligent president . He’s not going to get his message across to people who watch people just like them, on reality shows, for entertainment and get their “news” from Fox.

    1. hicusdicus April 15, 2015

      There is one thing for sure about Obama the snake oil peddler, he is the best gun salesman America has ever had.

      1. Frank KIng April 15, 2015

        Speaking of “snake oil”, You caN “HISS” in any pit, preferably that hole you keep digging for yourself.

        1. idamag April 16, 2015

          Back in them thar hills that hiccup lives in, they keep them N*****rs in thar places.

          1. Frank KIng April 16, 2015

            What is a “Hicusdicus” The best I can make of it is a pseudonym for a brainless twit. .

          2. hicusdicus April 16, 2015

            You really don’t know who hicusdicus is? Look it up it might give you a little insight into yourself. Why are you so caught up in low level name calling? You have no talent for it so try something different. Trying one ups mans ship is usually the game of people who lack self confidence . Calling people names who you have never met is usually the result of the chickens coming home to roost. What derogatory names you call people usually is a pretty good indicator of who you are. Who are you? You are a nothing but a text message that tells me that there are people out there who are more mentally challenged that I am. I don’t even remember how all this started, do you?

    2. mike April 15, 2015

      Another stupid and ignorant remark from you.
      He has lied before and this interim agreement looks like another big doozy of a lie. What the Ayatollah is saying and Obama is saying just don’t match, and now he will have to take whatever is agreed upon to the Congress. Poor Obama having to be transparent for once.
      The agreement he was so giddy about will have to face the light of day and will be exposed for what it will be, the continuation of Iran’s nuclear program that Obama said “he was going to stop.”

      1. Carolyn1520 April 15, 2015

        Yawn. Another one emerges from the ooze for the day.

        1. mike April 15, 2015

          I image you are yawning with that vacuous brain of yours. Can’t refute so I guess it’s time for you to take another nap.

          1. Carolyn1520 April 15, 2015

            Only when bores are present. Go put your head back in that small dark dank place where it generally is.
            You’ve now had your quota of attention for the week.

          2. mike April 15, 2015

            Poor little girl can’t refute so she just starts pouting. LOL!!

          3. Eleanore Whitaker April 16, 2015

            Wow….Mikeeeee is 10 for 10…10 intelligent people to the 10% of brain he might (and I use the term “might” loosely) still possess.

          4. mike April 16, 2015

            Another tantrum I see!!! 🙂
            Ferranti you should practice what you preach.

            “Being youthful in mind has less to do with acting younger than it does with keeping the mature mind abreast of the world around us.”

          5. Eleanore Whitaker April 16, 2015

            Mikeeee needs to stop playing with himself…his brain is going off in too many directions….

            You have NEVER matured sufficiently to equal any adult…stop trying to fool yourself. Your penis is not a toy…and…maybe if you actually got a job and stopped living off my blue state federal taxes, the rest of us wouldn’t have to work longer and harder than you ever have in your childish big baby life…wah wah wah wah …Mikkeeeeeee doesn’t like it.

          6. mike April 16, 2015

            I see you are having another hissy fit!!! 🙂

          7. BillP April 15, 2015

            Carolyn all mike can do is write these vacuous comments, he is so biased against the president that all of his writings reflect that.

          8. idamag April 16, 2015

            And he is too stupid to respond to.

    3. AlfalfaDoLittle April 15, 2015

      “The problem is we have an intelligent president”

      Yes. He is the most intelligent black man the world has ever seen. His IQ bumps the scale at 80 points.

      1. Carolyn1520 April 15, 2015

        You can be friends with Mike aka Dung Beetle. You’re certainly at least as ignorant as he is, judging from first impressions.

        1. AlfalfaDoLittle April 15, 2015

          Is that the best you can muster? First impressions do mean a lot. I won’t remember you.

          1. BillP April 15, 2015

            If 1st impressions mean a lot then your juvenile statement “He is the most intelligent black man the world has ever seen. His IQ bumps the scale at 80 points” shows the level of your intelligence, very low and classless.

          2. AlfalfaDoLittle April 15, 2015

            Hey, I was giving him more than the benefit of the doubt………..

          3. BillP April 17, 2015

            That’s the best reply you can come up with, you are pitiful little troll with nothing of value to offer.

          4. charleo1 April 16, 2015

            What insult about his intelligence ever impresses an idiot?

      2. Allan Richardson April 15, 2015

        So you are simultaneously insulting BOTH President Obama and ALL black people with that ridiculous charge? I would love to see a debate, or even a Jeopardy style quiz game, between you and the president, or better, you against the president AND Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

        To save yourself embarrassment, you can wear your white hood to hide your identity.

        1. AlfalfaDoLittle April 15, 2015

          “So you are simultaneously insulting BOTH President Obama and ALL black people with that ridiculous charge?”

          Yeah, pretty much.
          You are sharp, aren’t you? Can’t slip anything past you…….

          1. Xenophon April 17, 2015

            Huh, I’m guess you went to a school more rigorous and highly regarded than Harvard. Tell me, can you see Mexico off that high horse?

      3. dpaano May 15, 2015

        And what is your IQ, may I ask?

  4. Frank KIng April 15, 2015

    Nuclear arsenals are a matter of fact in a number of nations and trying to inhibit or stall nuclear proliferation in any country is a delicate and somewhat ominous task as in the case of Iran which has the will and resources to do so..A coalition of nations–Russia, China, France, England and the US deemed it worthwhile to engage in the negotiations with Iran to accomplish such an effort. The result has been a “fallout” of retribution and and scurrilous attacks by the right wing to undermine and frustrate any tentative agreement before the Constitutional process has been determined by placing it before the Senate for its deliberation and action. The right wing always complains that government is the problem which is the case when they are in control of it.

    1. idamag April 16, 2015

      There are some, in this country, that want Iran to have a stone to defend itself with while Israel can have a large arsenal of nuclear weapons.

  5. LasloPratt April 15, 2015

    The irony of any parallels the GOP wants to draw with 1938 is this: Chamberlain negotiated an agreement with a country that had no intention of honoring it. Now, in the current negotiations with Iran, which nation has a significant section of its leadership that has announced it will not be bound by any agreements that are negotiated?

    1. Xenophon April 17, 2015

      The cognitive dissonance of that might be a bit beyond the imagining of our congress

  6. Jeff Bottaro April 15, 2015

    RUSSIA has IMPLODED about as much as AL QAEDA has imploded. The smug and pompous declaration of victory by the momentarily ascendent party is, historically, a farce. VICTORY ONLY OCCURS WHEN SOMEONE DECLARES VICTORY AND SOMEONE ELSE ADMITS DEFEAT. Such a thing (victory) is far rarer in its REAL rather than PRETENDED form.

    1. tazkcmo April 17, 2015

      Then you haven’t been paying attention to the Soviet Union. Oh wait, the USSR no longer exists…boom!

      1. Jeff Bottaro April 17, 2015

        NEITHER DOES the KKK; they got SUED OUR OF EXISTENCE. (Now, they are known as the White Aryan Brotherhood, which is the KKK on steroids)

  7. howa4x April 15, 2015

    The reality that no one wants to accept is we always negotiate even with countries we don’t like. This has been true from the revolutionary war on. Even in a hawks orgasm of an outright war there would still be a negotiated peace at the end. The fact is there is no better way to get Iran to stand down it’s nuclear threat than negotiations.
    I would love for the Neocons to go before the American public and ask for more war. It’s DOA

    1. charleo1 April 16, 2015

      The unfortunate reality is, it takes 67 tough to wrangle votes in the Senate nowadays, to ratify a treaty avoiding a war. But, only a simple majority to declare one. It’s very telling what the Senate decides it must weigh in on, and what is okay to leave as is. An agreement that could eliminate the necessity of a war? Oh absolutely! We’re going to go over this with a fine tooth comb! Them Iranians, can’t trust ’em! ) On a resolution to open up a new front in the war on terrorism against ISIS? Not interested. A debate from Congress then? Set the parameters, and scope of such an action? Ground troops? No ground troops? How about the funding for such an action? Instead of the 265 billion dollar cut in the estate tax?Medicaid to the States then, GOP? Or, just borrow the money from China, as usual? Rather not say? “We believe in letting the President decide on foreign policy matters where there’s actual bombing involved.”

    2. idamag April 16, 2015

      George Washington told his first congress that we needed all the friends overseas that we could get and immediately began negotiating with England. Those who want war should be willing to lead the troops to the front lines instead of sending them. They would re-think negotiating.

  8. Allan Richardson April 15, 2015

    The article says at one point:
    “In 1938, Nazi Germany had the strongest military in the world.
    (Indeed, there’s a revisionist school that holds Neville Chamberlain was
    wise to postpone an inevitable war while Britain re-armed.)”

    I am partway through a series of alternate history novels by historian and author Harry Turtledove, titled “The War That Came Early” (waiting for the next installment), based upon this same premise. He starts with two independent changes in events in 1938 and proposes how the war would have proceeded. First, Marshal Sanjurjo, the Fascist leader who (in real life) died in a plane crash returning from exile in Portugal to Madrid, because he insisted on carrying his dress uniform and other heavy luggage in a small plane over mountains against the pilot’s advice, instead listens to the pilot and lives to take leadership of the Fascist party away from Franco. Instead of going neutral after defeating the Republican armies as Franco did, he tries to fight the allies as part of the Axis simultaneously with fighting the Republicans (who therefore last well into 1939 and 1940), even to the point of taking Gibraltar and denying the Royal Navy access to the Mediterranean.

    The other change is that Chamberlain calls Hitler’s bluff, so Hitler invades Czechoslovakia AND Poland in 1938, a year earlier, and although the French hold out for a while, things do not look good for the Western allies by the fifth book. In fact, Churchill has been assassinated, the British government has switched sides and gone with Hitler, while a resistance movement in Britain tries to overthrow the coup with a counter-coup, and America, tied up in the Pacific, is still trying to stay out of the war.

    If the author has read this series of books, that may account for his contention that Chamberlain was wise to wait another year so that Britain could rearm. And that is the point that is so often lost on today’s neocons: sometimes avoiding a war, even temporarily, can help make the outcome of that war less horrible when it does come. And sometimes the leader who SEEMS to be “appeasing” is really buying precious time.

  9. dpaano May 15, 2015

    Unfortunately, that defies logic on the Right……if they didn’t have Iran to complain about, what else would they have…..oh, I forgot, Obamacare!!!


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