Pay not the slightest attention to the people yelling “Munich” about the Iran nuclear deal. The name of the charming, beer-loving Bavarian city has become a lazy, all-purpose argument against any international agreement, regardless of content or merit.
It’s no surprise to see a headline like “Worse than Munich” from Breitbart, the right-wing news site whose writers, suffering from Stage 5 Obama Derangement Syndrome, would object if the president came out in support of pumpkin pie. But even commentators who should know better are resorting to the empty Munich analogy.
Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, appearing on Fox News, said of the agreement, “This is a sham from beginning to end. It’s the worst deal since Munich.” Republican political strategist Alex Castellanos went straight to the historical source, tweeting a link to the speech Winston Churchill made in the House of Commons after Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich.
To Krauthammer, Castellanos and others in the Munich crowd who are not totally ignorant of history, I say this: Take a deep breath, have a sip of decaf and examine your words for meaning. You won’t find any.
“Munich” is being used to mean craven appeasement. Historians argue about how Chamberlain’s agreement with Adolf Hitler should ultimately be judged, but let’s stipulate that the conventional view is correct: The British prime minister threw Czechoslovakia under the bus of Hitler’s territorial ambitions in the foolish hope that this gutless surrender would make Britain safe.
In Geneva, a coalition of great powers, led by the United States, signed a pact with Iran that surrenders nothing except a small fraction of the money that has been withheld or confiscated through sanctions. Iran, by contrast, surrenders the right to enrich uranium to threatening levels, has to dilute half its stock of dangerously enriched uranium and turn the rest into reactor fuel, refrain from making any new nuclear facilities operational and submit to daily inspections. That’s not a good deal; it’s a great deal.
The Munich crowd says the “surrender” is the agreement’s recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium. The document is deliberately ambiguous on this point, but to the extent any right is acknowledged, it is the right to produce low-grade fuel for reactors – fuel that simply cannot be used for a bomb. But the Iranians might cheat, says the Munich crowd. That’s true, but we’ll know about it – because of inspections Iran acquiesced to in the deal – and the agreement will be void. And we’ll be better off because Iran will be further away from being able to make a bomb than it is today.
The Munich crowd seems to believe that some combination of bombing runs and cruise missiles – short of a full-scale invasion, of course – can wipe out not just Iran’s nuclear facilities (a questionable assumption) but all trace of nuclear knowledge and expertise. This is preposterous. What do they propose, lining up all Iranian physicists and shooting them? It’s not possible to control what Iran’s scientists know – or, for that matter, what its leaders say in their grotesque speeches. But what’s important is what those leaders actually do. Right now, they’re taking a big step back from the brink.
So screaming “Munich” in this instance is absurd. When you think about it, though, it’s always absurd. The word has become a substitute for thought, a replacement for argument; it relieves those who use it from the obligation of actual ideas.
If you think there’s something wrong with the Geneva agreement, explain what that shortcoming might be. The Munich crowd substitutes historical resonance for actual history – and, to paraphrase Shakespeare, gives us sound and fury that signifies nothing.