With every minute that races by, the best prism through which to view the current Iran crisis looks more and more like Munich in 1938. One of the things to remember about the European appeasement of the Nazi Reich is that the Czechs had no seat at the table. Britain’s parliament may have erupted in joy when the prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, announced he would go to Bavaria to meet with Hitler. But the joy was not shared by the Czech minister in London, Jan Masaryk.
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The son of the founder of the Czechoslovak Republic, Masaryk was sitting in the parliamentary gallery, looking on in disbelief. He would confront Chamberlain and his foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, to ask whether his country would be included in the delegation to Munich, only to be told that it would not. The explanation was that Hitler wouldn’t allow it. William Shirer later recounted that Masaryk “gazed at the two God-fearing Englishmen and struggled to keep control of himself.”
That’s when, in Shirer’s account, Masaryk uttered the words, “If you have sacrificed my nation to preserve the peace of the world, I will be the first to applaud you. But if not, gentlemen, God help your souls.”
Over the years, I have quoted various accounts of Masaryk’s warning, including in a column for the Wall Street Journal in 2001 when then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was warning that Israel would not play the part of Czechoslovakia.
But the lesson has rarely seemed so apt as now, when an American president is signaling that he doesn’t want the Israeli prime minister to address the U.S. Congress. This despite the fact that Iran is openly declaring its intention to destroy the Jewish state.
Why doesn’t Israel have a seat at the table in the main negotiations? It’s one thing to parse the fine points of etiquette in respect of who gets to invite the prime minister to address a joint meeting of Congress. What do those who want to exclude Netanyahu from addressing Congress have to say about Israel’s absence at the P5+1, meaning the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany? If this group can include Germany – Germany, for crying out loud – why can't it include Israel?
Oh, no doubt the Mullahs would fall over in a dead faint. They’d object, just like Hitler would have objected to any thought of including the Czechs at Munich. It’s not necessary to suggest that U.S. President Barack Obama is clothed in the same sentiments as Chamberlain to mark the point. The similarity between Munich and the current crisis is no less glaring.
This whole charade with Iran is being conducted in exclusion of the very state against whom Iran intends to use the nuclear weapons it covets.
This is the context in which to view the question of whether Netanyahu should reject Speaker of the House John Boehner’s invitation to speak to the Congress – or whether Congress itself should have a role in the formation of any deal with Iran.
The idea that either the Speaker inviting Israel to speak to the Congress or the Congress preparing contingency sanctions is a violation of some kind of diplomatic tradition is bizarre, a point that was underscored in an important editorial in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday. It went through the whole detailed history of congressional involvement in arms-control talks. This goes back more than 50 years.
The gist of the Journal’s point is that, given the 50-year history of arms control, it would not be an anomaly for Congress to play a role in the Iran drama. The anomaly would be any exclusion of Congress, such as the almost manic insistence by the administration that reaching a deal with Iran is a matter solely for the president and his secretary of state.
It mocks any notion that, as the Journal puts it, “the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, can be trusted to put Iran’s nuclear genie to sleep.” The “arms-control model,” the Journal writes, “may appeal to the Nobel Peace Prize committee, but it should not impress U.S. Senators.”
Congress itself is a dangerous enough place as it is. The latest version of the Menendez-Kirk Iran sanctions bill provides authority for a presidential waiver that would gut the measure by allowing the president to “waive the application of any sanction” on Iran for 30 days, and to repeatedly renew such waivers. A similar waiver process is why the American embassy is still in Tel Aviv, even though Congress required it be moved to Jerusalem a decade ago.
One of the things that Netanyahu brings to this crisis is that he is the son of a great historian. He knows his history down to the ground. The global debate cries out for a serious speech in respect of what happened in the appeasement 77 years ago. The ironies just leap from the headlines.
Over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met for what the Agence France Press called “surprise talks” with his Iranian counterpart. The site of their meeting: Munich.
Seth Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun. He was foreign editor and a member of the editorial board of The Wall Street Journal, founding editor of the Forward and editor from 1990 to 2000.