Best Defense

Some misleading analogies about the Ukraine crisis: More to life than Munich

Some misleading analogies about the Ukraine crisis: More to life than Munich

By Christopher J. Fettweis
Best Defense guest columnist

5) Putin is Hitler. And nothing good ever comes from appeasing dictators.
I doubt that anything is as depressing for observers of U.S. foreign policy as the rate at which the Munich analogy is rolled out to support one hawkish policy or another. There is no limit to its application, no topic for which it is inappropriate. Neoconservatives have long been incapable of making any point without reference to Hitler, but the crisis in the Ukraine has brought out the reference in a wide variety of people on the right and left, from Madeleine to Hillary Clinton to "experts" who ought to know better.

Just as there is no analogy more abused, there is no analogy more studied. Rather than repeat yet again just how inappropriate it is, perhaps it is instead worthwhile to consider its effects: Once the other becomes identified with Hitler, compromise is removed from the set of options. All possible resolutions that may be mutually beneficial become suspect; the only option is to thwart the designs of the latest Hitler, and crush him in the long run.

Putin is not Hitler. This does not mean he is trustworthy, or that he doesn’t dream of re-establishing the Soviet empire. But nothing good can come of treating him like Hitler, no matter what he is really like.

Recognizing the mythology surrounding Ukraine that has arisen in the marketplace of ideas will not eliminate it, but it might help the rest of us resist its charms.

Fortunately, the don’t-just-stand-there caucus has not yet been able to affect the general prudence of the American people, who stubbornly (so far) refuse to believe that much is at stake here, and insist that we stay out. But repeated pathological hyperbole might change that, if left unchallenged by reason.

(That’s all folks.)

Christopher J. Fettweis is still associate professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans. The thoughts in this essay are extensions of his latest book, The Pathologies of Power: Fear, Honor, Glory and Hubris in U.S. Foreign Policy.