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Like Neville Chamberlain

May 18th, 2013

Five years ago to the day in 2008, both Bush (speaking on foreign soil no less) and McCain accused Obama of being an “appeaser.” In that case, it was for saying that he would talk to groups like Hamas.

I pointed out that the definition of “appeasement” requires the actor to “pacify or placate someone by acceding to their demands.”

Now, in retrospect, I see that in fact, they were right about Obama. Not in that he appeased Hamas or Iran or anyone they were suggesting… but that Obama is an appeaser at home. His major flaw is genuinely wanting to bring in a consensus, despite facing an implacably irrational opposition dead-set to oppose him on any grounds.

Bush and McCain were correct, just not about who Obama would, to our own ruin, appease.

It’s a blind spot that has cost us dearly.

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  1. Tim
    May 18th, 2013 at 16:02 | #1

    A word or two on behalf of Chamberlain. No doubt, he wasn’t the right man to be running Britain in war time. But he was way above average in running Britain during the Great Depression. His policies in the early 1930s triggered economic growth for the rest of the decade. Upon ascension to the premiership, he persued a fairly aggressive domestic reform agenda (especially for a conservative). He was a domestic agenda PM, not an international relations PM let alone a war PM>

    Part of his aversion to war was that it would impede several programs he had on his agenda, a couple of them had even passed – such as extending standard education pass the age of 15 – would have to wait until the war ended before implementation. International politics was rudely imposing on his domestic agenda.

    Second, the English establishment had long held that the terms of the Versailles treaty to be overly harsh and unjust towards Germany (John Maynard Keynes first rose to prominence by writing a critique of the treaty – which Republicans seized on as an excuse to attack Wilson’s plan for a League of Nations. The one good idea in the Versailles treaty – had the U.S. been in the League its possible that the League could have been more effective at preventing WWII – which is why the United Nations was created at the end of WWII). Clemenceau was able to maneuver Wilson into agreeing to harsh unfair treaty. To the Keynes, Germany had agreed to the armistice under a set of terms, that were thrown out at Versailles because Germany politically and economically had become much, much weaker by 1919 than it had been in November 1918 when it agreed to the armistice – and so to the British, this constituted a sort of an unfair breach of contract, or opportunism.

    So the British establishment was more inclined to give the Germans their due – thinking reclaiming some things taken by Versailles might even make things more stable. In a world without a Hitler in it, it might have been so.

    Finally, the British were a good two years behind the Germans in their rearmament program – a program also set up by Chamberlain. He saw to it that Britain had not one but two first rate fighter aircraft – just barely arriving in time for the war, a reinvigorated Navy and radar set up around the coast. The Nazi’s had taken power in January 1933. In Mid 1934 they began an all out re-armement drive. This was not evident to casual observers until almost 1936 – so the British were two years later in reacting. Chamberlain’s tactics did by Britian more time. Thanks to his domestic programs Britain had a stronger, healthier work force when it came time to work 12 hour days.

    Strategy: Chamberlain’s view was that Hitler was mostly bluffing – because the basic strategic situation had not changed since the first world war. Germany acceded to the armistice because it was starving to death: with 80 million people with a high animal fats diet, Germany had to import food stuffs to feed their people. It was hard for Chamberlain to see the war going any other way: the French and the English armies would plug the Germans up again in Northern France and then Germany would begin to slowly starve. So Chamberlain was throwing Hitler a few bones, but he thought the choice to go to war was suicidal for Germany and figured, they’d take their bones and go knaw on them and that would be the end of it.

    The still larger strategic view was that another general war in Europe would reduce the European powers to satellite powers reliant to the flanking powers of the United States &/or the Soviet Union. Both the French and the English were reluctant to start another war because the price of ending it was to lose their political and economic autonomy. This has proven correct.

    Chamberlain really didn’t have a read on Hitler’s mind. Hitler had embraced mobile armored divisions as one way to avoid the seige warfare of world war I. The second thing he did was sign a trade pact with the Soviet Union. From this agreement – Germany would be able to get all the oil, food and minerals it needed from the Soviet Union. The Nazi-Soviet pact in one stroke eliminated the strategic advantage that Britain’s Navy contributed to the situation.

    The reason that the Soviet Union was open to the pact was in part, a reaction to the western allies selling out to the Nazis in Munich. The other aspect was both capitalist Chamberlain and nationalist Poland were reluctant to cut a deal with Stalin: Chamberlain loathed Boshevism, and half of Poland’s territory was land it took from Russia during the Civil War in 1920 – any deal was going to cost them. Germany’s military would not have been comfortable with starting a two front war. Without the threat of a two front war, it was game on.

    We can see now that appeasement was a bad policy. But it was made worse by the fact that Germany was run by half crazed psychopath bent on war – who, driven by zeal for war, was able to tactically maneuver out of a strategic straight jacket. The war was horrible, but Britain managed to avoid losing.

    I think appeasement and Chamberlain deserve the reputation they have, but Chamberlain did have considerable accomplishments in other areas of civil life and these deserve to be recognized. He was a better than average peace time premier.

  2. Luis
    May 18th, 2013 at 19:36 | #2

    Well, aside from the fact that I was using the name representationally rather than as an explicit analogy:
    His policies in the early 1930s triggered economic growth for the rest of the decade. … Chamberlain’s view was that Hitler was mostly bluffing … Chamberlain really didn’t have a read on Hitler’s mind … We can see now that appeasement was a bad policy. But it was made worse by the fact that Germany was run by half crazed psychopath bent on war … He was a better than average peace time premier.
    Hmm… a lot of that actually sounds rather familiar….

  3. Tim
    May 19th, 2013 at 00:25 | #3

    Yeah, does sound like I was talking about Obama.

    But, other than health care, Obama hasn’t done much. Chamberlain’s track record on domestic policy was pretty good for the context of the times, and the fact that he was a conservative. In 1938 it was the law that all working people get one weeks vacation.

    The main reason for voting for Obama is he’s the least of bad alternatives.

    I am mildly optimistic for the future but not because of Obama.

    Even without progressives pushing the agenda, the economy is getting better, repatriating jobs back to the U.S. is becoming the thing to do in corporate America (perhaps they worry that there will be no enthusiasm from the working class when China eventually does pose as a threat with a population five times bigger than ours). And despite the fact that the environment is going to hell, the price of natural gas is going to be 25% cheaper in North American than anywhere else – which means any energy intensive manufacturing is going to want to have presence in North America.

    Obama is likely to have created 12 to 15 million. But the big boom could come after he’s gone. We’ll have another Clinton and another 20 million jobs. Then the score will look something like this:

    Clinton I: 20+ million private jobs created
    Bush II: 0 (zee-roh) private jobs created
    Obama: 15 million private jobs created
    Clinton II: 20 million private jobs created.
    Oh, and Reagan: Ancient History.

    On top of that, demographics will totally destroy the Republican party. Look for the re-emergence of a new “whig” party around 2020. It’s not unreasonable to think that George Bush might be the last republican president. He almost destroyed America and global civilization – small justice that he destroyed his own political party.

  4. Troy
    May 19th, 2013 at 07:32 | #4


    repatriating jobs back to the U.S. is becoming the thing to do in corporate America


    blue is total jobs

    red is mfg + info jobs

    Obama is likely to have created 12 to 15 million.

    The economy has yet to get back to the 2008 peak employment:


    The Clinton Boom saw 24 million jobs and almost full employment ca 2000.

    But its root causes were of the time — GUIs, internet, rising trade with China making lots of things we buy cheaper & cheaper.

    Zooming in on 2000-


    shows the Bush Boom/Bubble/Bust. The Bush-era recovery was created by blowing a $8T housing bubble, much of that money was borrowed & spent to support consumption.


    is annual rise of consumer debt since 1990, showing at the peak we were borrowing $100B/month — that was a $1000 per household per month stealth stimulus!

    When that went away in the inevitable housing price crash (bubble prices in 2005-2006 were being set by people completely unable to make the payments on the loan from current income, plus so much employment was being indirectly funded by this immense financial flow from housing speculation and construction), 8M jobs went away, and we were back to the post-2000 dotcom recession conditions, only worse since we had a lot more debt.

    Since 2010, recovery measures — mostly free money from the Fed, really:


    shows the 3 waves of central bank intervention, the first was mortgage bond buying, the middle was short-term treasury buying, and the last one is more treasury buying (between the middle and the third was “Operation Twist”, where the Fed converted short-term debt for long-term debt, “locking in” their previous printing.

    This intervention has kept liquidity high, banks are able to lend to anyone with a solid business plan who needs money (which would not have been the case had the bubble been allowed to continue collapsing at it was in 2008), mortgages are still available, and prices are higher because interest rates are still rock-bottom, which is saving the banks and real estate market in general from the financial armageddon it had coming to it.

    Since 2010 we’ve seen 6M new jobs:


    although demographically we’re in something of a flat spot:


    (red line is age 25-54 people)

    But the big boom could come after he’s gone. We’ll have another Clinton and another 20 million jobs.

    Dunno, man. On the plus side the baby boom is retiring now, which will allow them to start spending down their savings, adding greatly to domestic demand.

    But as they retire we won’t see new jobs created, just replaced (if we’re lucky).

    The current expansion is actually getting long in the tooth. If this were a normal recovery we’d be start thinking about a recession coming.


    is annual job growth since 1970, showing we’re plateau’d now and maybe nowhere to go but down again.

    If Clinton can regain a Democratic Congress like what we had in 2007-2009ish, then maybe The System will work towards growth again, like the 1990s.

    But if the Republicans can continue their bullshit with impunity at the polls, things might be a lot darker for the US.

    Hard to see what’s going to happen this decade.

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