Learning to Like America Even If You Can’t Love It

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Appeasement defined the global conflicts of the 20th century. Time after time, America and other forces for freedom and democracy withheld their power in efforts to appease the most evil regimes in recent history. Over and over again, the policy of appeasement has ended in disaster. Now, conservative giant Victor Davis Hanson asks: why is appeasement so seductive and where will it take us in the 21st century?

In this collection of Hanson’s best columns from the last four years on the policy of appeasement today and in history, the path becomes clear. If America continues down the road of appeasement with radical Islamic groups and aggressive regimes in Russia and North Korea, the world will see a conflagration rivalling World War II.

A copy of the book can be purchased here.

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I would begin this particular tidbit of self-exploration with a confession; as an observer of both Democrat and Republican antics in Washington -- particularly through the period beginning in 2001 -- and the madness which seems to have gripped the rest of the world through that time, I’ve grown tired. Reflecting on only that first sentence, perhaps tired isn’t a suitable description; I’ve grown despondent. The struggle to understand the events of the world and, at least in some small way, to influence them is enough to send the most self-righteous off to their rooms for a nap some days. But through it all I have been generally confident that America would survive and even thrive. It’s the voice of my father, himself a member of the greatest generation and a warrior in George S. Patton’s Third Army, whispering in my ear.

But watching events unfold today, it’s not always easy to maintain any sort of sunny disposition. The shift from a Republican-held White House to a Democrat one over the last fifteen years hasn’t offered much in the way of fuel for optimism. I wasn’t a fan of George W. Bush, being more than a little uncomfortable with his big spending policies and opposing the invasion of Iraq. Of course, when the time came to replace him things didn’t seem much better. I didn’t vote for Barack Obama, who seemed little more than an empty suit, but his opponent didn’t inspire a great deal more confidence. One thing I knew, however, was that I was tired of war. If nothing else, Obama would probably deliver on that.

How wrong can one person be? If anything, the world has devolved further and faster under the current president than it did under his predecessor. I had occasion to reflect on this -- and perhaps gain a bit more traction in my understanding of this particular arc of global history -- when I recently had the chance to read Victor Davis Hanson’s new book, Seductions of Appeasement. In it, he provides a collection of his essays from the past few years which catalog the failures of recent American leadership and how a vacuum in the halls of the leader of the free world seems to continually thwart us in our efforts. We have been unable to leverage our position as a global leader and make any sustainable gains in the stabilization of an increasingly fractured world.

The introduction to the book contains some hints of the detailed analysis to follow, and this one in particular resonated with me.

Because Obama did not accept that the failure of the Middle East was largely self-induced and a result of ubiquitous tribalism, statism, autocracy, misogyny, and religious intolerance inspired by radical Islam, he could hardly see the solution to these problems in introspection and self-induced reformation by the nations and peoples of the Middle East. Of the old question, “Do they hate us for who we are or because of what we do?”, Obama clearly would answer in the affirmative to the latter question: change our behavior and America would once again be respected and liked—the problem is us, not them. What followed was the al Arabiya interview, the Cairo Speech, the so-called apology tour, the ostracism of Prime Minister Netanyahu, a series of administration assurances that jihad was a legitimate tenet of Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood largely secular, NASA’s new prime mission as outreach to the Muslim World, and a string of euphemisms for the excesses of radical Islam. The result: increased chaos and violence in the Middle East along with rampant anti-Americanism.

Hanson and I don’t agree on everything. In fact, when it comes to foreign policy, that’s likely a gross understatement. And yet the experience of watching our global leadership decay since 2008 and our national security suffer as a result has led me to rethink at least some of my previous, more isolationist views. Hanson’s book offers a crash course in such objective, if depressing analysis. If there is a single factor which demonstrates precisely how far out of tune some of my own calculations had been, it’s ISIS. In the past year I have been forced to confront the failures in my own vision when I found myself publishing calls for the United States to return to Iraq in force and confront this menace.