Three years into his Presidency, Donald Trump has embarked on the nearly impossible task of taming the remaining two-thirds of the original Axis of Evil. With a lot of help, Iraq graduated from the Axis a few years ago, and is now working on a fragile republic. As for North Korea and Iran, they are both still very, very evil. At Axis of Evil High School, they’re the 22-year-old sophomore baby-daddies still driving their uncle’s ‘78 Trans Am, smoking pot, and selling tons of crack to third graders.
After years — decades even — of the United States’ problem-postponing doctrine of appeasement these rogue players have morphed into monstrous regimes that lack all respect for life and freedom within their own countries, and have developed an ambition for mass death without. Why? Because that is precisely what appeasement-centered foreign policy breeds.
Perhaps the most insidious feature of appeasement is the initial appearance of diplomatic success. The missiles, bombs, and nuclear tests may stop, for a time. A few hostages perhaps are freed, and a labor camp or two is closed down. A cautious sense of calm usually settles in. Add to that the celebratory signings of “historic” agreements and everyone seems to participate in the self-deceit that an ongoing problem has been solved. Yet the honest will admit something is still amiss, like giving a wild hyena a tranquilizer and pretending it’s a tired 14-year-old cocker spaniel.
Appeasement simply temporarily distracts one appetite by feeding another, ultimately enlarging both. In time, rogue dictatorships catch on and begin their geopolitical racket: deliberately exhibit bad behavior, and agree to shape up but only in exchange for large amounts of American cash and diplomatic favor. And their horrible behavioral cycle has been feeding one of ours: American Presidents taking this lousy shortcut to foreign policy achievement for legacy and political gain. It does wonders for the continuation of evil regimes — and presidential ego — but very little for sustained global security and peace.
Part of the appeasement self-delusion is a lofty sense of sophistication in its defense. Appeasement policy generates the nuance intellectuals and academics crave in order to manufacture feelings of superiority over the simple or less educated. They have conflated being able to understand complicated scenarios, with actively supporting policies that actually (and unnecessarily) increase complexity. Almost solving problems with sophistication, is much more stimulating for some than a complete but unsexy solution. Nobody disputes that many geopolitical challenges are innately complicated, but making them more so in order to become one of their elite navigators is sheer stupidity.
Donald Trump and Barack Obama are, respectively, the Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain of our time. When stakes are not so high, and only a little time is needed for a true solution, perhaps a micro-dose of appeasement or soft diplomacy have their place. But when we are confronting regimes mentally and emotionally capable of mass murder and tyranny, we simply cannot allow them to become physically capable of the atrocity. Red lines cannot be drawn with dry erase markers, or laid down with velcro backing. We cannot expect to trust assurances of good behavior in exchange for overnighted pallets of unmarked payoff cash and an undeserved operational latitude allowing nefarious activity.
In contrast, we must make visible examples of their butcherous architects of terror who have killed scores of innocent people, impose sanctions that will cripple their horrible ambitions, and establish for them a clear understanding of the painful consequences of their intolerable behavior in a way that pierces through the hatred bred by their malignant ideology.
Establishing these clear and bright boundaries of deterrence creates an environment where artful diplomacy will be more substantial and lasting than a styrofoam achievement, because choosing any other route will be intolerably painful for them. Perhaps it is not absolute, but appeasement tends to buy a few months or short years of peace. Prudent deterrence followed by competent, clear, and firm diplomacy can buy generations.
Associated Press award-winning columnist Neal Larson of Idaho Falls is the author of “Living in Spin.” He is a conservative talk show host on KID Newsradio 106.3 and 92.1, and also at www.kidnewsradio.com. “The Neal Larson Show” can be heard weekday mornings from 6:00 to 10:00. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org