Danger at the Summit
First Lady Michelle Obama recently appeared on the Web holding a sign: #BringBackOurGirls. She was presumably acting with the full approval of her husband. President Barack Obama is the Commander-in-Chief of what was once known as a Superpower. In London, Prime Minister David Cameron similarly resorted to the Internet to express the concern of a nation once known as Great Britain. These fatuous responses to the kidnapping of nearly three hundred Christian girls by the Islamist Boko Haram in Nigeria have met with widespread derision, as they should.
But these empty gestures by the White House and Number 10 Downing Street are worse than futile -- they are dangerous. They reveal for all the world to see the spinelessness of Western leaders “at the Summit.” Could Mr. Obama and Mr. Cameron really think such infantile gestures will move the hard-bitten jihadists who have displayed the poor abducted girls in burkhas and chanting Islamic slogans? Will the girls be raped? Will they be genitally mutilated? It is terrible to contemplate their fate. Winston Churchill invented the term Summit Conference, and he expressed the view that “jaw jaw is better than war war.” That’s almost always true. Churchill, of course, was a powerful figure and he felt supreme confidence in his ability to impress his ideas on his allies -- even in the midst of war strategy meetings “at the summit.”
But there is also a danger at the summit. Churchill recognized this when he wrote of his almost having met Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1932. They were in the same hotel at the same time. Hitler’s lapdog, Ernst “Putzi” Hanfstaengl, tried to bring the two powerful orators together at the same table. The Harvard-educated Putzi played piano and served as an English-speaking go-between for Hitler and an assortment of visiting dignitaries. Churchill was then out of office, but Hitler and his Nazis were a rising force in Germany.
The two men never met in Munich, or anywhere else. And Churchill later reflected that it was a good thing. Had he met Hitler then, there would have been too great a disparity in their power and authority.
But Hitler did meet the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain in Munich six years later. Then, this almost feral creature took the measure in October, 1938, of Chamberlain and French Premier Daladier. He believed they were weak because they had meekly yielded up the German-speaking Sudetenland.
The British and French leaders had not even consulted democratic Czechoslovakia. They simply signed over the Czechs’ vital defensive region to the Nazi dictator. The German Führer was emboldened to seize the rest of mutilated Czechoslovakia the following year. And he rolled the dice again. He invaded Poland in September, 1939, confident that Chamberlain and the French would not attack him on his exposed Western Front. He was not wrong.
John F. Kennedy was unprepared for his 1961 Summit in Vienna with Soviet dictator, Nikita Khrushchev. Kennedy would later tell his advisers that Khrushchev “beat the hell out of me.” Khrushchev moved quickly to erect the Berlin Wall and he secretly put Soviet missiles in Cuba.
Kennedy recovered from his early missteps -- but only because he had the overwhelming force of the U.S. Navy behind him in placing a quarantine on Cuba in 1962. Still, President Kennedy took us to “the brink” of nuclear war because he had allowed Khrushchev to form such a negative impression of him.
With a Churchill at the helm, war-torn Britain could “punch above her weight.” That is, Britain was perceived to be stronger than she actually was.
With Ronald Reagan, even our adversaries took note. When he fired the Air Traffic Controllers in 1981, the whole world was watching. Reagan did not back down. In Moscow, even the KGB was impressed. They said: “With Reagan, words are deeds.”
With President Obama, with Prime Minister Cameron, deeds are words. They actually think that by saying “Bring Back Our Girls” they might accomplish something. Well, they are accomplishing something. They are convincing the most ruthless people on earth that their words are meaningless. And that is no laughing matter. That's why there's Danger at the Summit