John Kerry – latter day Neville Chamberlain?

Is John Kerry positioning himself to be remembered as the latest re-incarnation of Neville Chamberlain?  Whether intentional or not, his appeasement of Iran on its nuclear program qualifies him for consideration.

Since 1979, Iran has been at war with the United States. It hasn’t been a “hot” war, but it hasn’t exactly been cold either.  As a state sponsor of terrorism, Iran has been linked to countless murders of U.S. military personnel, diplomats, foreign aid workers and other American civilians for more than 30 years.

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Iran’s threats of “Death to America” and to “wipe Israel off the map” must be taken seriously, especially if it is allowed to acquire the capability to build nuclear weapons.

There are two ways to deal with an aggressor like this. One is to stand firm and resolute against its aggression and keep it isolated on a global scale, making it pay economically for its real and intended transgressions of international laws and norms of decency. The other is to welcome it back into the family of nations without consequence, preserving the peace and claiming political victory for achieving or preserving that peace while allowing the aggressor to continue to build weapons of war.

The latter approach is what British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain tried with Adolf Hitler in 1938 at Munich, when the German chancellor promised that the annexation of the Sudetenland portion of Czechoslovakia would be his last territorial demand.

Leading an international negotiation team, Chamberlain said he had delivered “peace in our time.”  Meanwhile, Hitler continued to strengthen the Third Reich and won time to prepare for his invasion of Poland a year later. 

By failing to insist at Geneva that Iran halt uranium enrichment and grant international inspectors access to all Iranian nuclear-related facilities, including Parchin, Kerry has arguably repeated Chamberlain’s mistake. So intent on getting a deal that will be called “historic,” he failed to negotiate with his eyes open.  Kerry should have realized a bad deal is worse than no deal, a simple point that Israeli premier Binyamin Netanyahu made repeatedly in the weeks leading up to Geneva.

Kerry’s negotiation strategy in Geneva in 2013 is in many ways reminiscent of the 1938 Munich negotiations: offering immediate relief in return for illusory cessation of weapons buildups and future belligerence.  Kerry offered Iran immediate relief from international economic sanctions, repatriation of seven billions of dollars’ worth of hard assets, and the beginning of normalized relations between our two countries. In exchange, the United States and the international community would receive – not so much: just empty promises from yet another aggressive regime that has repeatedly threatened its neighbors and world peace. 

Kerry has said that the sanctions relief over a period of six months does not amount to very much but he is only deceiving himself. Whatever relief Tehran is getting now is only a down-payment on what they will demand in half a year in order to keep their program frozen where it is – a sure recipe for more appeasement later.

It is particularly disturbing that the centrifuges needed to enrich uranium to bomb-ready levels remain in place under this agreement. Everything that is stopped can be turned on again within a short period of time. The enrichment program, the core of the effort to produce weapons, largely stays intact. That’s why it is no exaggeration to call the so-called “deal” appeasement. 

Our two top allies in the Middle East, the Saudis and Israelis, are now united in their conclusion that under President Obama and Secretary Kerry, America has become an unreliable ally.  Because Iran’s nuclear program threatens the survival of both, they have been cooperating on ways to cope with this new reality. Israel’s former Ambassador to the U.N., Daniel Gillerman, noted on Sunday that the U.S. was perceived as historically weak when Kerry arrived at Geneva, and that this in turn led to a poor outcome for the West.

The Kerry-led deal with Iran gives up too much for the illusory promise of Iranian good behavior and “peaceful” energy production. A promise of future peacefulness from the militant mullahs, like a promise from Hitler, should be regarded as specious.

Likewise, promises from other dictators, like North Korea’s Kin Jong Un, should be regarded skeptically.  Let’s recall that Kim’s father, Kim Jong Il declared in Sept. 2005 that he would abandon pursuit of nuclear weapons.  Yet as soon as the international pressure was off, his regime wasted little time in resuming testing of nuclear weapons, and then exploded one underground just 13 months later.

America will not check further Iranian aggression by being weak or naïve; it will do so only by being strong enough to take a hard line until a more successful Green Revolution drives out the Ayatollah-led dictatorship that has kept the Iranian people prisoner for far too long.  The vast bulk of the Iranian people are our friends. In pursuing appeasement of their dictators, John Kerry has shown he is no friend of theirs.

Hanna is president of Let Freedom Ring, a public policy organization based in Pennsylvania that favors a robust national defense.