"The lack of historical knowledge among journalists is merely appalling. But in a presidential candidate it's dangerous."

Real Clear Politic
Obama Needs a History Lesson
By Jack Kelly

Neville ChamberlainIn his victory speech after the North Carolina primary, Sen. Barack Obama said something that is all the more remarkable for how little it has been remarked upon.

In defending his stated intent to meet with America's enemies without preconditions, Sen. Obama said: "I trust the American people to understand that it is not weakness, but wisdom to talk not just to our friends, but to our enemies, like Roosevelt did, and Kennedy did, and Truman did."

That he made this statement, and that it passed without comment by the journalists covering his speech indicates either breathtaking ignorance of history on the part of both, or deceit.

I assume the Roosevelt to whom Sen. Obama referred is Franklin D. Roosevelt. Our enemies in World War II were Nazi Germany, headed by Adolf Hitler; fascist Italy, headed by Benito Mussolini, and militarist Japan, headed by Hideki Tojo. FDR talked directly with none of them before the outbreak of hostilities, and his policy once war began was unconditional surrender.

FDR died before victory was achieved, and was succeeded by Harry Truman. Truman did not modify the policy of unconditional surrender. He ended that war not with negotiation, but with the atomic bomb.

Harry Truman also was president when North Korea invaded South Korea in June, 1950. President Truman's response was not to call up North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung for a chat. It was to send troops.

Perhaps Sen. Obama is thinking of the meeting FDR and Churchill had with Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in Tehran in December, 1943, and the meetings Truman and Roosevelt had with Stalin at Yalta and Potsdam in February and July, 1945. But Stalin was then a U.S. ally, though one of whom we should have been more wary than FDR and Truman were. Few historians think the agreements reached at Yalta and Potsdam, which in effect consigned Eastern Europe to slavery, are diplomatic models we ought to follow. Even fewer Eastern Europeans think so.

When Stalin's designs became unmistakably clear, President Truman's response wasn't to seek a summit meeting. He sent military aid to Greece, ordered the Berlin airlift and the Marshall Plan, and sent troops to South Korea.

Sen. Obama is on both sounder and softer ground with regard to John F. Kennedy. The new president held a summit meeting with Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev in Vienna in June, 1961.

Elie Abel, who wrote a history of the Cuban missile crisis (The Missiles of October), said the crisis had its genesis in that summit.

"There is reason to believe that Khrushchev took Kennedy's measure in June 1961 and decided this was a young man who would shrink from hard decisions," Mr. Abel wrote. "There is no evidence to support the belief that Khrushchev ever questioned America's power. He questioned only the president's readiness to use it. As he once told Robert Frost, he came to believe that Americans are 'too liberal to fight.'"

That view was supported by New York Times columnist James Reston, who traveled to Vienna with President Kennedy: "Khrushchev had studied the events of the Bay of Pigs," Mr. Reston wrote. "He would have understood if Kennedy had left Castro alone or destroyed him, but when Kennedy was rash enough to strike at Cuba but not bold enough to finish the job, Khrushchev decided he was dealing with an inexperienced young leader who could be intimidated and blackmailed."

It's worth noting that Kennedy then was vastly more experienced than Sen. Obama is now. A combat veteran of World War II, Jack Kennedy served 14 years in Congress before becoming president. Sen. Obama has no military and little work experience, and has been in Congress for less than four years.

The closest historical analogue to Sen. Obama's expressed desire to meet with no preconditions with anti-American dictators such as Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the trip British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French premier Eduoard Daladier took to Munich in September of 1938 to negotiate "peace in our time" with Adolf Hitler. That didn't work out so well.

History is an elective few liberals choose to take these days, noted a poster on the Web log "Hot Air." The lack of historical knowledge among journalists is merely appalling. But in a presidential candidate it's dangerous. As Sir Winston Churchill said:

"Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it."