Monday, April 19, 2010

The Nazi Card

May 17, 2008

President Bush had this to say on thoughts of diplomacy with Iran:

“Some seem to believe we should negotiate with terrorists and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them they have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is—the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”

That’s right. It’s right up there in black and white. Bush played the Nazi Card. The Nazi Card is a little different from its more well-known cousin, the notorious Race Card. These, and all other “cards”, are really just cheap ploys the player uses in an attempt to weasel their way out of a real negotiation. In a battle of the minds, a panicked and besieged adversary may attempt to play a card.
Everyone knows about the race card. In fact, the current climate is such that the race card doesn’t actually get played the way it used to— if it does various media outlets will rip the player to shreds like a pack of wild dogs on a fresh kill. The version of the Race Card that’s currently in vogue is the one where an attacker gets to accuse a minority of playing the Race Card in an attempt to lambaste their credibility. Bill Clinton’s recent exploits spring to mind…
Playing the Race Card in its more traditional form though, summons forth ire from a variety of sources, and rightly so. The American public has recognized and branded this practice for what it is.
Still, most of the country has not woken up the brazen and widespread use of the Nazi Card. Frequently found in online discussion forums, the Nazi Card tends to get pulled by those who possess only a limited intellectual fortitude. Its use requires only a very basic and narrow working knowledge of history, and a close comfort with employing false analogies. And I think there needs to be a rule against it.
I understand that sometimes there actually is an apt analogy between modern day events and those that were taking place in Europe during the 1930’s and 40’s. But 90% of the time I hear someone pipe up with a comparison to these world events of yore, they’re just completely off-base.
Blogger Matt Eckel of Foreign Policy Watch puts it perfectly:Any benefits of Munich as an instructive historical precedent are now far outweighed by the analogy’s power as an intellectually lazy rhetorical cudgel that is too often used to bludgeon any diplomatic initiatives that are, well, diplomatic. Not every autocratic country is Nazi Germany. Not every foreign dictator we don’t like is Hitler. Not every threatening situation is most appropriately handled by eschewing diplomacy in favor of a “firm stance.” … Iran is not Nazi Germany. Though the Iranian regime is anti-democratic, and espouses values that are indeed antithetical to those of the liberal West, the notion that Iranian armies and proxies are poised to make a genocidal sweep across the Middle East is absurd. Even the Iranian nuclear threat, though serious, shows every sign of being able to be contained with an intelligent deterrence policy (should things come to that). Iran does not have a particularly impressive industrial base. Its infrastructure is mediocre, its economy is sclerotic (propped up only by high oil prices), and its regime is unpopular. Even the outrageous statements about Israel made by President Ahmadinejad should be taken with a grain of salt, remembering that the Iranian President is not the head of state, and that he is acutally at odds with much of Iran’s clerical leaders.Intellectual laziness. Exactly… Just say no to the Nazi Card. In fact, here’s some sound advice for anyone thinking about drawing a comparison between different sets of world events: think very hard about whether such a comparison stands up to any level of scrutiny. International happenings tend to be very complex—there are a lot of subtleties and variables at play. If you are trying to make a justification, or prediction for the future, most analogies aren’t going to take you very far. Iran isn’t Germany. They haven’t begun eating up all the countries around them, while the world sits idly by and hopes it will stop. That’s what appeasement was. The circumstances here are quite different. The end. Analogy argument FAIL. What makes this whole foreign policy debate even more delicious is a two year old video of John McCain explaining why it would be sensible to sit down and negotiate with Iran’s president. I agree sir! There are few things more satisfying than seeing politicians get owned by themselves. It’s at moments like this I thank my lucky stars for the internet revolution, and media blogs. Democracy owes a lot to these many and varied news sources. It’s a disappointing reality that we don’t usually see CNN breaking any of these stories…

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