Here’s the thing: for this to be a “Munich moment,” Assad would have to, you know, have both the desire and capacity to conquer most of the region. Since in fact it’s far from obvious that Assad will even be able to maintain power in his own country — let alone have the ability to overrun the Middle East — Assad isn’t a new Hitler and whatever he does Obama won’t be Chamberlain. And in this particular case the analogy goes beyond stupidity to being self-refuting — if Assad poses a threat comparable to Hitler in 1938, why only “limited” “surgical” airstrikes? Really, let’s leave these dumb analogies to fourth-tier winger bloggers, please.What I'm wondering is whether we just have to wait for the last of the baby boomers to die out for it to finally stop being 1939 always, always, always, when it comes to foreign policy.
It's easy to see why Munich won out as a central metaphor. After all, Munich (and appeasement in general) not only was a legitimate policy disaster by almost all standards, but it's also an unusually dramatic one. And the in the postwar period, Truman's Cold War policy seemed to affirm the lessons of Munich. Stalin was blocked, not appeased, and that appeared to work perfectly. So anyone thinking about or (especially) teaching about foreign policy in the 1950s would be very tempted to make Munich a key story.
The next step, I'd guess, would be Cuba. The Missile Crisis was not, as it happened, a good fit for Munich lessons, given that Kennedy actually cut a deal. But there were lots of good reasons not to emphasize that at the time, and especially after Kennedy was dead. The classic Missile Crisis mythology isn't exactly an anti-Munich (that is, a positive story re-enforcing the Munich paradigm), but it's pretty close; it's assumed that confrontation was the correct move for JFK, with the crisis then being solved only in the context of that confrontation, with Kennedy correctly choosing to allow the Soviets to retreat with dignity instead of, as his advisers urged, moving quickly to war. The lesson of the classic Missile Crisis isn't to avoid confrontation; it's that confrontation works, but must (in the nuclear age) be managed very carefully.
All of which means that Munich remained the reigning story about foreign policy well into the 1960s. Which, given the way education works, meant that it was going to be a major story for everyone educated in the 1950s and 1960s, but also most likely those educated in the 1970s and even 1980s. It takes a while for these things to change. Eventually, Vietnam and then other stories would become equally important, but the Munich-talkers were still around. It can't help that Vietnam remained polarized forever, while WWII wasn't. It's easier to have a Big Foreign Policy Example from something that everyone agrees about than from something that risks starting fights if you try to characterize it.
So we're stuck, still, with Munich, although surely it's not nearly as powerful as it once was. But there is hope for the future. We may not be stuck with it for too much longer. Hey, at least Picard didn't teach the story of Hitler and Chamberlain at Munich in "Darmok."
And: nice catch!