Photo Credit: Press TV
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani

Since Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama announced the nuclear deal with Iran, outrage over what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rightly termed a “historic mistake” has been intense, especially among supporters of Israel.

That has led some observers to invoke comparisons with the 1938 Munich agreement in which the Western powers betrayed Czechoslovakia in an attempt to appease Adolf Hitler’s Germany.


The question of whether Munich should be mentioned in the same breath as the agreement signed in Geneva was discussed recently by Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Bret Stephens in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column. According to Stephens, the deal Obama is claiming as a triumph for diplomacy is “worse than Munich.”

Is he right? Whether you think the deal is as bad as Stephens thinks or whether the price of a mistake with Iran is as costly as the West’s miscalculations about Hitler, the real answer depends on whether Iran betrays Obama.

As to the merits of the Iran deal, the facts are very much with Stephens in terms of the feckless nature of this diplomatic endeavor.

The agreement loosened sanctions and handed over billions in frozen cash to the Islamist regime while tacitly legitimizing the Iranian nuclear program. While administration supporters can claim the sanctions relief involves a fraction of the existing restrictions, they cannot claim that Iran’s supposed concessions do anything to roll back the nuclear progress Tehran has made in the last five years.

Instead of making the world, and Israel, safer, as Obama and Kerry have insisted, it makes it more likely that Iran will get a nuclear deal in the long run as well as heightening the chances of a Middle East arms race involving Saudi Arabia and new outbreaks of violence involving current and perhaps future Iranian allies like Syria, Hizbullah, and Hamas.

Stephens also makes an important point when he speaks of Obama’s desire for détente with Iran as being far less defensible than British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s decision to trust “Herr Hitler.” Britain and France were weak in 1938. It can, as Stephens points out, be argued that delaying the war with Germany by a year, during which Britain built up its military forces, hurt Hitler even if it did result in the annihilation of the Czechs.

Though appeasers might have been justified in thinking they had no better option in 1938 than to give in to Hitler, there is no comparable excuse available for Obama and Kerry. Iran is weaker than the West and its economy is, thanks to the sanctions Obama opposed and delayed implementing, in tatters.

Like Chamberlain and French President Edouard Daladier, Obama sued the ayatollahs for peace while saying the only alternative to appeasement was war. Though no one wants a war with Iran, the alternative was to toughen the sanctions and increase pressure on Iran and to at least demand that it begin dismantling the nuclear program.

Like the appeasers of 1938 who thought Hitler couldn’t be persuaded to back down and therefore must be given what he asked for, Obama gave in to Iranian demands because the Iranians insisted on them.

Iran is not the hegemonic power Nazi Germany was. Nor can it attack the West on equal or superior military terms as Germany did. But the assumption that Iran has no capability or desire to commit genocide is merely a matter of faith. Once the Iranians get a nuke – and it can be argued that the Iran deal is a bridge to a containment policy rather than one aimed at prevention – genocide or at least a war with incalculable consequences becomes a possibility.

Bad as the Iran deal was, the real analogy to Munich is the way in which Obama and Kerry not only ignored the concerns of the nations endangered by an Iranian nuke – Israel and Saudi Arabia – but also excluded them from the negotiations.

Like the Czechs who were told by Chamberlain they had no choice but to accept the dismemberment of their country, Israel and the Saudis have been callously told they can either like the deal or lump it.

It is an iron rule of debate that the first person to invoke the Holocaust usually loses, and in the eyes of some any talk about Munich is always going to be viewed as over the top no matter how strong the analogy might be.

That may be so, but the flipside of this argument is that the problem with the Iran deal is not what it means for the world today but what will follow from it. Opponents of the appeasers of 1938 were unable to convince grateful Britons who were overjoyed that war had been averted, no matter the cost, to listen to their warnings. They could point to the probable consequences but until Hitler marched into Prague, and then invaded Poland despite promising Chamberlain that he wouldn’t, it was just talk. So, too, are the critics of appeasing Iran powerless to do much to stop Obama’s policy until the Iranians prove them right.

Until that happens, Obama’s defenders can accuse Stephens and others like him of hyperbole and hysteria. But once Iran cheats on the deal and uses its weak terms to get closer to its nuclear ambition, critics of the agreement will sound a lot more credible even to liberals who are trying their best to ignore this debate.

At that point, as the world confronts a nuclear-armed state sponsor of terror run by Islamist fanatics, Stephens’s suggestion that Obama and Kerry are the same as the appeasers of Hitler, “minus the umbrellas,” will seem tame.


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Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS. He can be followed on Twitter, @jonathans_tobin.