By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog
In the heady, hopeful years following the end of “The Great War,” the leaders of the industrialized and democratic nations believed they could end war. Throughout the 1920s they produced a series of disarmament treaties, arms limitation treaties, even an agreement--the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact--to outlaw war as an instrument of state policy.
The responsible leaders of the time, still in shock over the carnage that the last European continental war had produced, pinned their hopes for the future on a fantasy transcribed onto paper.
It was a dangerous idea and, ultimately, a foolish one. Three years after the pact was signed the Japanese invaded Manchuria. In 1935 Mussolini’s Italy invaded Abyssinia. In 1936 Hitler ordered German troops into the Rhineland. In 1938 Austria was annexed and Czechoslovakia dismembered. The democratic powers, seeking to preserve the peace at all costs, responded impotently. By 1939, just a decade later, the world was again at war.
The world may again be headed down this path. Not toward war, but toward what former House Speaker Newt Gingrich calls “a fantasy foreign policy” that will leave democratic nations at the mercy of madmen.
Indeed the current threats, from terrorists, from North Korea, from Iran and elsewhere come largely from outside any of the global regimes set up to deal with critical nuclear issues, which Gingrich alluded to by pointing out the paradox of Obama’s having given a major speech on disarmament “while the North Koreans are proving on the same day--deliberately” that they had no interest in the new policy.
Gingrich also said the administration’s new global initiatives displayed a lack of seriousness. “When you can have a big, giant summit in Washington while the Iranians hold a press conference laughing about the concept of sanctions,” Gingrich said, “you cannot be serious.”
Comparing Obama’s view of the world to Ronald Reagan’s, Gingrich pointed out that “Reagan understood that when democracies lie to themselves dictators take advantage of them.” Obama, he said, leads an administration “that believes you can replace reality with words.”
Gingrich is not the only one to invoke the comparison, but some make it favorably. Democrats have been especially quick to point out that, like Reagan, Obama has signed a nuclear arms reduction treaty with the Russians.
It’s an interesting comparison but not a necessarily apt one. Reagan may have wanted to rid the world of nuclear weapons but he was committed to developing and deploying a system to defend against their use. He had no illusions about the nature of the threat that dictatorial regimes--including the Soviet Union--posed to the world’s democracies. There is no guarantee that the current president has the same understanding.