A History Lesson for Obama

Paul J. Shlichta
"Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain...."
  - B. Obama 

"I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did."
  - B. Obama 

Mr. Obama has already been taken to task for the first of these naïve statements by Hillary Clinton   and for the second by Jack Kelly. I would like to add a footnote to Kelly's analysis.

Roosevelt actually did once try to negotiate with Hitler, not in person but by telegram. The exercise turned out to be not only futile but embarrassing.

On April 14, 1939, in the hope of easing the tensions in Europe, Roosevelt sent a public telegram that began:

"You realize I am sure that throughout the world hundreds of millions of human beings are living today in constant fear of a new war or even a series of wars...."

and continues:

"Because the United States, as one of the nations of the Western Hemisphere, is not involved in the immediate controversies which have arisen in Europe, I trust that you may be willing to make such a statement of policy to me as the head of a nation far removed from Europe in order that I, acting only with the responsibility and obligation of a friendly intermediary, may communicate such declaration to other nations now apprehensive as to the course which the policy of your Government may take.

"Are you willing to give assurance that your armed forces will not attack or invade the territory or possessions of the following independent nations: Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain and Ireland, France, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Russia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, the Arabias, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Iran."

and ends:

"I hope that your answer will make it possible for humanity to lose fear and regain security for many years to come."

It was Roosevelt's most fatuous, most "Obamesque" moment.

Hitler capitalized on Roosevelt's naiveté. He replied  , two weeks later, in a viciously satirical speech  :

"Finally Mr. Roosevelt demands the readiness to give him an assurance that the German fighting forces will not attack the territory or possessions of the following independent nations, and above all, that they will not march into them. And he goes on to name the following as the countries in question: Finland, Latvia..."

When he got to Roosevelt's long list of countries, he spun them out, with increasingly long pauses between countries, in a masterpiece of deadpan stand-up comedy.

The audience roared as Hitler held Roosevelt up to ridicule before the whole world. What was less obvious was that, in an hour-long speech, Hitler had neatly dodged Roosevelt's pleas and had  refused to offer any promises.

The ridicule didn't end there. Nearly three years later, in his declaration of war  against the U.S., he got in a final dig:

"On 5th April, 1939, came Roosevelt's famous appeal to myself and the Duce. It was a clumsy combination of geographical and political ignorance and of the arrogance of the millionaire circles around him. It asked us to give undertakings to conclude non-aggression Pacts indiscriminately with any country, including mostly countries which were not even free, since Mr. Roosevelt's allies had annexed them or changed them into Protectorates. You will remember, my Deputies, that I then gave a polite and clear reply to this meddling gentleman. For some months at least, this stopped the flow of eloquence from this honest warmonger. But his place was taken by his honorable spouse. She-declined to live with her sons in a world such as the one we have worked out. And quite right, for this is a world of labor and not of cheating and trafficking."

I contend that this embarrassing exchange is just what one might expect between Obama and Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez. In the light of this snippet of history, of Mr. Carter's similarly embarrassing failures both as president and after, and of the historical record of the innumerable failures of negotiation to deter determined aggressors from war, I gasp in amazement at Senator Obama's arrogant boasts about his expertise in foreign policy and history.

If Obama makes it to the White House, be afraid...be very afraid.

Update -- reader Stephen Incledon writes:

"When he got to Roosevelt's long list of countries, he spun them out, with increasingly long pauses between countries, in a masterpiece of deadpan stand-up comedy."

And as Shirer commented in "Berlin Diary", "Nobody seemed to note that he slyly left out Poland". I expect the Poles noted it, after that speech they turned over all their data on the German code system to the British.

"Foreign policy is the area where I am probably most confident that I know more and understand the world better than Senator Clinton and Senator McCain...."
  - B. Obama 

"I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did."
  - B. Obama 

Mr. Obama has already been taken to task for the first of these naïve statements by Hillary Clinton   and for the second by Jack Kelly. I would like to add a footnote to Kelly's analysis.

Roosevelt actually did once try to negotiate with Hitler, not in person but by telegram. The exercise turned out to be not only futile but embarrassing.

On April 14, 1939, in the hope of easing the tensions in Europe, Roosevelt sent a public telegram that began:

"You realize I am sure that throughout the world hundreds of millions of human beings are living today in constant fear of a new war or even a series of wars...."

and continues:

"Because the United States, as one of the nations of the Western Hemisphere, is not involved in the immediate controversies which have arisen in Europe, I trust that you may be willing to make such a statement of policy to me as the head of a nation far removed from Europe in order that I, acting only with the responsibility and obligation of a friendly intermediary, may communicate such declaration to other nations now apprehensive as to the course which the policy of your Government may take.

"Are you willing to give assurance that your armed forces will not attack or invade the territory or possessions of the following independent nations: Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain and Ireland, France, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia, Russia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Iraq, the Arabias, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Iran."

and ends:

"I hope that your answer will make it possible for humanity to lose fear and regain security for many years to come."

It was Roosevelt's most fatuous, most "Obamesque" moment.

Hitler capitalized on Roosevelt's naiveté. He replied  , two weeks later, in a viciously satirical speech  :

"Finally Mr. Roosevelt demands the readiness to give him an assurance that the German fighting forces will not attack the territory or possessions of the following independent nations, and above all, that they will not march into them. And he goes on to name the following as the countries in question: Finland, Latvia..."

When he got to Roosevelt's long list of countries, he spun them out, with increasingly long pauses between countries, in a masterpiece of deadpan stand-up comedy.

The audience roared as Hitler held Roosevelt up to ridicule before the whole world. What was less obvious was that, in an hour-long speech, Hitler had neatly dodged Roosevelt's pleas and had  refused to offer any promises.

The ridicule didn't end there. Nearly three years later, in his declaration of war  against the U.S., he got in a final dig:

"On 5th April, 1939, came Roosevelt's famous appeal to myself and the Duce. It was a clumsy combination of geographical and political ignorance and of the arrogance of the millionaire circles around him. It asked us to give undertakings to conclude non-aggression Pacts indiscriminately with any country, including mostly countries which were not even free, since Mr. Roosevelt's allies had annexed them or changed them into Protectorates. You will remember, my Deputies, that I then gave a polite and clear reply to this meddling gentleman. For some months at least, this stopped the flow of eloquence from this honest warmonger. But his place was taken by his honorable spouse. She-declined to live with her sons in a world such as the one we have worked out. And quite right, for this is a world of labor and not of cheating and trafficking."

I contend that this embarrassing exchange is just what one might expect between Obama and Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez. In the light of this snippet of history, of Mr. Carter's similarly embarrassing failures both as president and after, and of the historical record of the innumerable failures of negotiation to deter determined aggressors from war, I gasp in amazement at Senator Obama's arrogant boasts about his expertise in foreign policy and history.

If Obama makes it to the White House, be afraid...be very afraid.

Update -- reader Stephen Incledon writes:

"When he got to Roosevelt's long list of countries, he spun them out, with increasingly long pauses between countries, in a masterpiece of deadpan stand-up comedy."

And as Shirer commented in "Berlin Diary", "Nobody seemed to note that he slyly left out Poland". I expect the Poles noted it, after that speech they turned over all their data on the German code system to the British.