On that horrid Wednesday, I sat in my cluttered office at Main State in Washington, DC, in a deep, deep funk. Blinds drawn; lights out; a small TV on the far side of the office ran images of Obama’s victory celebration in Chicago the night before.
Two colleagues, one male and one female, both white, and both career State officers, walked into the office and started bubbling, “Isn’t this great!” Startled out of my near coma, I glumly asked, “What’s great?” The woman looked at me as though I were from outer space, “The election! Obama’s victory.” I stammered, “Wha-what’s so great about it? He’s going to be an awful president.”
They looked at each other, and then the male officer said, “When you drove in today, didn’t you see the joy and pride in the black parking attendants in the basement? They have a real spring in their step this morning.” For one of the few times in my career, I was speechless. No withering reply. No cutting remark. No Churchillian riposte. No well-aimed stream of verbal acid shot from between my lips. Known while I was at the UN as the "Master of the Reply," I stared at him, as a fish pulled out of the depths might. Uncomprehending. Mouth moving without a sound. My pea-sized brain had failed me, yet again. I clearly had not understood that the 2008 national elections in the world’s most important country were about the happiness of parking attendants, about ensuring they had a "spring in their step."
Although featured on the cover of TIME at least twice, Édouard Daladier, on this side of the Atlantic, anyhow, is hardly known today; he is a figure lost in the fog of history. That is unfortunate. His valiant and ultimately doomed struggle against the homicidal fraternal twin tyrannies of Communism and Nazism deserves study; we can learn from his mistakes. Today, when the "leader" of the West is in full appeasement mode, the story of Daladier and France in the 1930s is an important one for those who would be America's allies. Unfortunately for our long-term interests, it seems that regardless of whether our allies know of Daladier, some already understandably have taken steps to avoid a fate akin to that he and France suffered.
Daladier, a classic leftist politician of the era, became Prime Minister three times. French politics were rough and tumble, with alliances made and dissolved, and little attention paid to foreign policy. There was a general refusal to acknowledge that Germany was re-arming and preparing for another round. Daladier was a voice in the wilderness. He saw the threat coming from Germany and became particularly alarmed by the Nazi-Soviet Pact. Unlike many others of his time, and today, he understood that Communists and Nazis comprised two sides of the same totalitarian coin. Daladier became PM for the last time in April 1938. By this time, the West's appeasement policies towards Hitler were firmly set. Daladier desperately tried to convince Britain's Neville Chamberlain to take a firmer stance against Hitler. Chamberlain would have none of it, and France's parlous military state prevented Daladier from striking out on his own. Chamberlain had decided to yield to Hitler's demand for the Sudetenland, and to the effective dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. Daladier argued against this, but found himself helpless to do anything but go along. To his life-long shame, Daladier became a signer of the September 1938 Munich Agreement, the now universally recognized monument to appeasement. Heading back home from Munich, Daladier assumed angry French patriots would rip him to shreds. He, instead, got a hero's welcome. Enthusiastic crowds sang his praises, prompting him to turn to an aide, and utter the famous, bitter, and prophetic words, "Ah, the fools! Why are they cheering?"
Daladier knew that war with Hitler would come, and France was not ready. He subsequently tried to develop an arms relationship with the US, seeking American weapons to plus up the poorly armed French military. The negotiations became complicated because of France's default on WWI-era loans from the US. By the time this got worked out, it was too late. The American planes France ordered ended up in Britain as France fell to the Nazis. (NOTE: A fascinating book about the rescue of Daladier and other French politicians in 1945 from an SS prison by a combined unit of US and German soldiers--yes, you read that right, US and German soldiers--is The Last Battle by Stephen Harding.)
I have written before about the Obama foreign policy (here, here, and here, for example). We are firmly in the grip of an appeaser, perhaps even worse. Other countries have begun to see that quite clearly.
In the Middle East, we have shown great weakness in the face of an Islamist totalitarian onslaught, and, in fact, many of our statements on Egypt appear to favor the murdering totalitarians of the Muslim Brotherhood. Thanks to Obama, regardless of what happens in Egypt--and I suspect the Egyptian military will hang on--the US will lose. Egypt's leaders, not wishing to repeat the Daladier experience, will drift away from us. Already we see the Saudis and others in the Gulf stepping in; don't rule out a move by Russia, as well, as our ineptness in Egypt and Syria provides Moscow wonderful opportunities to reestablish its influence in the region.
Not only in the Middle East do we see this move away from the USA. In Latin America, for example, our long-time ally Colombia has just about given up on Obama. The callous and exceptionally stupid and arrogant manner in which the misadminsitration handled the free trade agreement and its refusal to stand up to Venezuela in Honduras, has convinced the Colombians to look elsewhere. We will see others follow, including Israel which will begin to develop a policy much more independent of us than heretofore.
All this forms part of the legacy of long-term damage done by the man who brought "a spring to the step" of parking attendants in the basement of the State Department.