Appeasement is a loaded term, bringing to mind British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the failure to stop Hitler before it was too late. But appeasement does not always lead to catastrophic war. It is sometimes the right policy, particularly if you are looking to buy time for a more robust stance against a potential aggressor. Indeed, the dictionary definitions of appeasement vary from the anodyne to the charged:
1) to bring to a state of peace, quiet, ease, calm, or contentment; pacify; 2) to satisfy, allay, or relieve; 3) to yield or concede to the belligerent demands of (a nation, group, person, etc.) in a conciliatory effort, sometimes at the expense of justice or other principles.
The Obama administration is now undeniably following a policy of appeasement. The latest indicator is this story from the Washington Times.
The political decision to downgrade our intelligence collection efforts against China is not motivated by a decreasing China threat (remember all those claims in the Bush years of "politicizing intelligence"). Quite the contrary, earlier in the year Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair called China one of the foremost threats to the United States. And, as the article points out, upon assuming command of the Pacific Command Adm. Robert Willard noted that China's military capabilities consistently exceed our intelligence estimates. The appropriate response to a growing military threat is to assign that threat a higher priority in intelligence collection. The president's National Security Council did the opposite.
It would be harder to call this latest move appeasement if it wasn't consistent with Obama's general approach to China: he has offered Beijing concession after concession. That brings us back to appeasement. What does the administration hope to accomplish by appeasing China? Bringing about a "state of peace and calm" would be a worthy goal, if China cooperated. But China seems to be going in the other direction. It is growing more belligerent, whether it be with American companies such as Google or by re-igniting a border dispute with India.
It seems the purposes of our appeasement are more in line with the third definition offered above: "to yield or concede to the belligerent demands of . . . a nation . . . in a conciliatory effort, sometimes at the expense of justice or other principles." Without any discernable benefits, the question remains: What is the Obama administration's China appeasement trying to accomplish? Maybe Obama believes that appeasement is the only policy option we have left toward a belligerent and powerful China. But before making that assessment, shouldn't we gather more intelligence?
Dan Blumenthal is a resident fellow at AEI.