A graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, Barack Obama is easily one of the most academically gifted Presidents in United States history.
Yet he has repeatedly failed to learn from history that appeasing tyrants is a guaranteed recipe for disaster.
History’s most infamous example of appeasement occurred in September, 1938, at Munich, Germany.
The prime ministers of England and France–Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, respectively–met with German dictator Adolf Hitler.
Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler
Hitler had demanded that Czechoslovakia surrender the “Sudetenland”–the northern, southwest and western regions of Czechoslovakia, inhabited mostly by ethnic Germans.
England and France had pledged to defend Czechoslovakia against German attack. But Chamberlain and Daladier desperately wanted to avoid war with Hitler.
On September 29, Hitler, Daladier and Chamberlain met and signed the Munich Agreement, which accepted the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland.
The Czechoslovak government had not been a party to the talks. Nevertheless, it promised to abide by the agreement.
Facing the threat of a German invasion, it had no choice, having been deserted by its pledged allies.
Chamberlain returned to England a hero. Holding aloft a copy of the worthless agreement he had signed with Hitler, he told cheering crowds in London: “I believe it is peace for our time.”
Winston Churchill knew better, predicting: “Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonor. They chose dishonor. They will have war.”
Less than one year later, Churchill was proved right.
Hitler next turned his attention–and demands–to Poland.
When his generals balked, warning that an invasion would trigger a war with France and Britain, Hitler quickly brushed aside their fears: “Our enemies are little worms. I saw them at Munich.”
On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland. And this time, France and Britain–reluctantly–honored their pledged word to declare war on Germany.
President Obama has repeatedly failed to learn that appeasing tyrants invites their contempt and emboldens their aggression.
In addition, he has failed to grasp and apply this fundamental lesson taught by Niccolo Machiavelli, the father of modern political science.
In his classic work on politics, The Prince, Machiavelli warns:
From this arises the question whether it is better to be loved than feared, or feared more than loved.
The reply is, that one ought to be both feared and loved, but as it is difficult for the two to go together, it is much safer to be feared than loved….
Men have less scruple in offending one who makes himself loved than one who makes himself feared. For love is held by a chain of obligations which, men being selfish, is broken whenever it serves their purpose. But fear is maintained by a dread of punishment which never fails.
Obama has failed to heed this advice. And, predictably, his sworn enemies–which is what Republicans consider themselves to be–have felt free to demonize and obstruct him at every turn.
In 2011, Republicans threatened to destroy the Nation’s credit rating unless their budgetary demands were met. Obama surrendered to their demands.
Yet he could have ended that threat via the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act
Passed by Congress in 1970, as Title 18, United States Code, Sections 1961-1968, its goal was to destroy the Mafia.
Originally, RICO was aimed at the Mafia and other organized crime syndicates. But inUnited States v. Turkette, 452 U.S. 576 (1981), the Supreme Court held that RICO applied as well to legitimate enterprises being operated in a criminal manner.
After Turkette, RICO could also be used against corporations, political protest groups, labor unions and loosely knit-groups of people.
RICO opens with a series of definitions of “racketeering activity” which can be prosecuted by Justice Department attorneys. Among those crimes: Extortion.
Extortion is defined as “a criminal offense which occurs when a person unlawfully obtains either money, property or services from a person(s), entity, or institution, through coercion.”
The RICO Act defines “a pattern of racketeering activity” as “at least two acts of racketeering activity, one of which occurred after the effective date of this chapter and the last of which occurred within ten years…after the commission of a prior act of racketeering activity.”
And if President Obama had believed that RICO was not sufficient to deal with Republicans’ extortion attempts, he could have relied on the USA Patriot Act of 2001, passed in the wake of 9/11.
In Section 802, the Act defines domestic terrorism. Among the behavior that is defined as criminal:
“Activities that…appear to be intended…to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion [and]…occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States.”
The remedies for punishing such criminal behavior were legally in place. President Obama needed only to direct the Justice Department to apply them.
Criminally investigating and indicting members of Congress would not violate the separation-of-powers principle. Congressmen have in the past been investigated, indicted and convicted for various criminal offenses.
Such indictments and prosecutions–and especially convictions–would have served notice on current and future members of Congress: The lives and fortunes of American citizens may not be held hostage to gain leverage in a political settlement.
In short, Obama could have replaced the rule of fear with the rule of law.
Instead, he acted like a Chamberlain, when America needed a Churchill.