When Ronald Reagan Was Neville Chamberlain

One thing you can be sure of whenever a Democrat doesn’t go immediately to war or dares to negotiate a solution to a problem rather than start dropping bombs is that Republicans will compare them to Neville Chamberlain. But Amanda Taub reminds us of the time conservatives accused Republican saint Ronald Reagan of the very same thing.

Reagan is now the patron saint of the American right. But during his presidency he was accused of Chamberlain-style appeasement because of his negotiations with the Soviet Union. In 1985 Reagan met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the Geneva Summit, where the two leaders discussed the arms race, the Strategic Defense Initiative (the anti-ballistic missile system also known as “Star Wars”), and human rights. Newt Gingrich called the meeting ”the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Chamberlain in 1938 at Munich.”

And in 1988, Conservative Caucus Chair Howard Phillips ran an ad that compared Reagan signing the INF arms-control treaty with the Soviet Union to Chamberlain signing the Munich Agreement with Hitler in 1938. “Appeasement Is As Unwise In 1988 As In 1938,” said the ad, which showed pictures of Chamberlain, Hitler, Reagan and Gorbachev.

The accusations against Reagan are a clear reminder that the frequent cries of “Munich! Munich! Muuuniccccchhhh!” in American politics aren’t really about appeasement: they’re just code for “negotiation with dictators we don’t like.”

It’s true that Reagan, like Chamberlain, was negotiating with a hostile power. But Reagan wasn’t blind to the threat of the Soviet Union, or responding weakly in the face of aggression — the US was, if anything, the more aggressive party in the arms race at the time.

And, of course, we now know that the Soviet Union crumbled within a few years of Reagan’s supposed “appeasement.” Reagan’s negotiations didn’t embolden Soviet aggression; they smoothed the path of Soviet decline.

Now, of course, Ronald Reagan has magically transformed into St. Ronald the Magnificent (Peace Be Upon Him) and he is invoked by the very same people who once called him a weak-kneed appeaser as an example of a Real Leader who would never do what Obama is doing. And in the case of Iran, of course, they’d be right. Reagan wouldn’t have negotiated an effective agreement with them, he would have sold them a few thousand missiles, then used the money to violate the law by funneling it to the Contras.

"I dunno. The latest Star Wars hits a bit too close to home."

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  • John Pieret

    Facts have never been able to disturb the “thinking” of wingnuts.

  • StevoR

    When Ronald Reagan Was Neville Chamberlain

    It was his Alzheimers kicking in and he didn’t know who he was?

    I.e. Probably in one of the years of his presidency scarily enough.

  • Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    One thing you can be sure of whenever a Democrat doesn’t go immediately to war or dares to negotiate a solution to a problem rather than start dropping bombs is that Republicans will compare them to Neville Chamberlain.

    It’s not only Republicans that are afflicted with this Godwin-related syndrome. This rhetorical tactic is used by those want war, are historically ignorant, yet attempt to pose as if they are historically literate.

    The relatedness to Godwin comes into play given that their analogy isn’t logical regarding the current dynamics compared to the actual dynamics surrounding Chamberlain while exposing their own motivations that are similar to Naziism. That reveals a particular type of psychological projection.

    So not only will reasonable people that are historically illiterate ignore such arguments, they’ll also realize that the advocate is a war-mongering ignoramus incapable of making an argument that’s not dependent on a fatally flawed analogy.

  • colnago80

    The difference is that Gorbachev is sane while the ayatollahs are not.

  • dingojack

    Ed — You think that’s bad, consider when Ray-gun thought he was Wilt Chamberlain!

    😉 Dingo

    ———–

    Or worse – Lindy Chamberlain [shudder] 😀

  • dingojack

    SLC – Was your source for that ‘truth’ The Daily Tele, WND, or some bodily orifice?

    Dingo

  • StevoR

    @4. colnago80 : How do you tell the difference here twixt sanity and its obverse?

  • zenlike

    I would ask colnago/SLC for a citation, but what’s the point? When it comes to Iran, he shares the exact same thought process as the most extreme right-wing wingnuts the US of A has to offer. Normal people would question themselves if that were the case, but not our resident idiot.

  • Artor

    Colnago, the difference is that Obama is sane, while Reagan was literally demented.

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    Look, those Reagan-USSR and Obama-Iran are completely different. Reagan was negiotiating to reduce nuclear stockpiles, while the other one has Obama.

  • abb3w

    Reagan’s negotiations didn’t embolden Soviet aggression; they smoothed the path of Soviet decline.

    Hm. Include in the fine print requirements that the inspection teams in Iran must have open access to the internet?

  • busterggi

    Reagan couldn’t help himself – his actions were dictacted by the stars.

  • mkoormtbaalt

    And look at what those Reagan negotiations got us! A big, steaming pile of PUtin. Imagine if we had just kicked in the door and bombed them back to the stone age?

    /sarcasm

  • Kevin Kehres

    @4 colnago80

    The difference is that Gorbachev is sane while the ayatollahs are not.

    Citation required. Actually, certification from a credible expert in the field of psychiatry who has conducted a thorough clinical assessment of the alleged “insane” person.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Michael Heath @ # 3: It’s not only Republicans that are afflicted with this Godwin-related syndrome.

    Richard Dawkins comes to mind, though apparently he did somehow learn better in that case.

  • daved

    @4 colnago80

    The difference is that Gorbachev is sane while the ayatollahs are not.

    It’s nice to see colnago80/SLC back in mid-season form, referring to the “mad mullahs” again. It’s the usual sleazy rhetorical trick: “My opponents are insane! They cannot be reasoned with! Force is the only thing they understand!”

    They aren’t nice guys, but they aren’t insane. SLC, I’m less sure about.

  • colnago80

    Re daved @ #16, dingojack @ #6 Kehres @ #14, Artor @ #9 and Zenlike @ #8

    The ayatollahs are waiting for the appearance of the 12th Imam, just as the born agains are waiting for the reappearance of Yeshua ben Yusef of Nazareth. Neither belief is evidence of sanity.

  • dingojack

    SLC – So religious belief is now prima facie evidence of clinical insanity?

    Citations please. (Creditable sources only).

    Dingo

  • colnago80

    Re schweinhund @ #18

    Belief that both events are going to happen in the near future and willingness to take actions based of these beliefs is certainly evidence of some derangement.

  • dingojack

    And where exactly did you get your degree in telepathic psychology from?

    (Still waiting for those handy citations, BTW)

    Dingo

  • colnago80

    Re schweinhund @ #20

    I dunno, the folks here, including our distinguished host, refer to these clowns as whackjobs, deranged, nutjobs, etc.

  • jws1

    If the mullahs are so crazy how come they respond to pressure and are never going to strap bombs to themselves, choosing instead to get others to do it for them?

  • dingojack

    SLC – Oh I see. Other people do it* so it’s perfectly OK if I do it too**.

    What’s your next great geo-political policy position? They started it or maybe: Johnny’s mom lets him, so why can’t I? Or perhaps the old favourite: I’ll hold my breath until I get what I want!!

    @@

    Dingo

    ———

    * in a colloquial sense, in trivial situations

    ** as a serious, real-world, geo-political position (with serious real-world consequences), as part of an ‘adult’ conversation

  • colnago80

    Re jws1 @ #22

    The homicide bombers are even crazier.

    Re dingojack @@ #23

    I haven’t seen you complain when Brayton refers to some of his favorite targets as deranged.

  • colnago80

    Re jws1 @ #22

    Why should the Ayatollah Khamenei strap on a homicide bomb when he can get underlings to do his dirty work for him?

  • jws1

    @25: exactly my point. That demonstrates sanity. A crazy person wouldn’t bother with a sales pitch to convince some young frothy ideologue to do it.

    You’re the frothy one here, sir.

  • colnago80

    Re jws1 @ #26

    It demonstrates nothing of the sort. Even crazies can be concerned about self preservation.

  • jws1

    Nice try, frothy. Not buying.