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Thursday, 24 January 2013

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Mannie Sherberg
The power of words is astonishing. When Chamberlain returned from Munich to London and announced to the British people that he had brought "peace in our time," he was -- literally -- cheered in the streets and hailed as a hero. Today, his very name has become synonymous with appeasement and cowardice and fecklessness all rolled into one. That's because, within weeks, the British people realized that he had spoken the wrong words in the wrong place. Instead of saying "peace in our time" in London, he should have said -- in Munich -- "Keep your hands off Czechoslovakia or you'll find yourself at war with Great Britain." Had he spoken those words (and been seconded by his French buddy Daladier) there's a strong likelihood World War II would never have happened. That's why "peace in our time" has become so infamous: It's a classic example of using language to cover up one's own wish to appease, one's own cowardice, and one's own fecklessness -- with catastrophic results. I have no idea how much Obama knows about history, but it is incredible that neither he nor his speechwriters knew that by using "peace in our time" he'd be signalling -- to all the world -- that he is himself advocating appeasement and cowardice and fecklessness all rolled into one. George Packer is wrong. Obama is neither complex, nuanced, nor elusive. He is instead as plainspoken and clear as anyone can be. He has delivered an unmistakable message to both Iran and Israel. As Rick Richman makes very plain, there can be no doubt that both of them got the message.
Elan
Excellent analysis, Mannie. I thought that the most charitable explanation of Obama's use of Chamberlain's words was that Obama did not know their import (it all happened before he was born). But it is hard to miss what Obama was doing by using Chamberlain's words. Obama knows that Bibi has regularly referred to Churchill and the lessons of watching a storm gather. Obama must know what using Chamberlain's words -- in an inaugural address (!) -- must signal to a foreign leader who well knows the import of those words.
Mannie Sherberg
Many thanks, Elan. And thanks for reminding me about Churchill's "gathering storm." Obama's doing all he can to help the storm gain force -- and he's doing it by talking in code. To most Americans, the code doesn't look like code at all; it simply says that Obama is the man to bring back the halcyon days for which we all yearn. But to Ahmadinejad and the mullahs, the code says: "Whatever you guys intend to do, I won't get in your way; you can depend on it." And to Bibi it says: "You're on your own, buddy -- just like the Czechs back in 1938." Obama used a single innocuous phrase to send three different messages to three different audiences. Clever, huh?

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