Dallas Darling | Appeasement and the Politics of Flexibility

At the Senate Armed Services Committee, when General David Petraeus said keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan to fight was an “enduring” mission and that the July 2011 deadline for a troop withdrawal was flexible, it reminded me of what then-U.S. President George W. Bush claimed when he first announced the preemptive wars in Afghanistan and later Iraq. Some within the Bush Administration claimed the defeat of Kabul and Jalalabad and Baghdad would take only three to six weeks, perhaps at the most six months. More than ten years later, though, benchmarks and milestones for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have repeatedly changed, including the initial reasons and causes for their invasions.

Understandably, nations have to be flexible on the international front. But on the domestic front, is it possible to reach a point of being too flexible, especially with regards to elected leaders and military officials who are supposed to be held accountable for their foreign policy decisions and actions? In thinking about flexibility, the word appeasement – or the policy of giving concessions in exchange for peace – comes to mind, as does British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. In order to prevent war with Germany, he agreed to Adolf Hitler’s demands. Chamberlain gambled that by sacrificing part of Czechoslovakia, Hitler and the Nazis would be satisfied.

Instead, Hitler and the Nazis had many demands, which were backed by acts of aggression and an appetite for global domination. Can this lesson of appeasement and flexibility, then, be applied to a nation’s citizens and their official representatives, along with the democratic principles of checks and balances and the rights of assembling and petitioning? Can citizens, to their own peril, become overly flexible and appeasing towards ongoing wars and military occupations?

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In fact, Senator Dianne Feinstein agreed that the July 2011 deadline to start withdrawing troops from Afghanistan should be dependent on requests by the military. Still, civilian President Barack Obama has hinted at revising the end of the U.S.-Afghanistan War (as he did the U.S.-Iraqi War), if Petraeus asks him to do so. Israel, too, has just announced there was no chance a Palestinian state would be established in the next two years, or by 2012. How much longer will people in Israeli- and U.S.-occupied territories like Gaza, the West Bank, Iraq, and Afghanistan have to wait to be free from large standing armies and enduring military missions?

When he spoke about the possibility of a free Palestinian state, Israel’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said, “One can dream and imagine, but we are far from reaching understandings and an agreement.” From the United States to Afghanistan and Iraq, from Israel to Palestine, how much longer should conscientious citizens practice appeasement and the politics of flexibility? How many times should leaders be permitted to change their goals, or generals given their demands? When does a citizen’s flexibility and appeasement scorn and mock a real “peace with honor” and “peace in our time”? At what point do such policies threaten liberties, or pose a greater risk to democratic ideals?

At some point, doesn’t a peoples’ dream to end war (and future conflicts already planned) or to finally establish an independent state need to become a reality?