America’s Foreign Policy & the Psychology of Cowardice

John Kerry with sad look on face

“No one likes to think of himself as a coward. People prefer to think they end up yielding to what the terrorists demand, not because it’s safer or more convenient, but because it’s the right thing. Successful terrorism persuades the terrorized that if they do terror’s bidding, it’s not because they’re terrified but because they’re socially confirmed.” (George Jonas, Hungarian-born Canadian journalist)

Jonas nails the psychology of appeasement. Appeasement goes on in daily life. Many of us appease smirking acquaintances, gossipy “friends,” and mooching relatives. We allow people to think they’re entitled to things to which they’re really not entitled (material goods, approval, consideration, money, a place to live, etc.). We fume with resentment and confide this resentment to others, but continue to appease the person whenever dealing with him/her face-to-face.

The opposite of appeasement is not necessarily war or hostility. The opposite of appeasement is holding people accountable for their actions. Sometimes this means setting them free, refusing to sanction or support them in any direct or indirect way. Accountability is rational and proportionate. You don’t execute a purse snatcher. But you don’t just look the other away and let him take your purse, either. We don’t usually appease purse snatchers, but it happens every single day in response to terrorists.

When appeasing parties such as Islamic terrorists, the consequences can be deadly. Indeed, they’re deadly every day. Today’s news reports the latest “shocker” of Jews being attacked in a synagogue while praying.

Like the proverbial liberal who just got mugged, the Secretary of State (John Kerry), simply cannot believe this just happened. Not just after last week’s talks with terrorist-supporting Palestinians responsible for the attack. Why, those talks were supposed to stop all this, at least for awhile!

Both and are reporting:

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry angrily condemned Tuesday’s deadly attack on a Jerusalem synagogue and demanded that the Palestinian leadership take immediate steps to end incitement to violence as Israeli-Palestinian tensions soared.

“This morning in Jerusalem, Palestinians attacked Jews who were praying in a synagogue,” Kerry said shortly after Israeli authorities reported that two Palestinians had stormed the synagogue, attacking worshippers with knives, axes and guns, and killed four people before being killed in a shootout with police. Kerry commented after speaking by phone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who vowed to “respond harshly” to the attack.

“Innocent people who had come to worship died in the sanctuary of a synagogue,” Kerry said, his voice quavering. “They were hatcheted, hacked and murdered in that holy place in an act of pure terror and senseless brutality and murder. I call on Palestinians at every single level of leadership to condemn this in the most powerful terms. This violence has no place anywhere, particularly after the discussion that we just had the other day in Amman.”

Don’t hold your breath, John.

George Jonas’ explanation for the psychology of appeasing terrorism applies here. People like John Kerry cannot be that stupid and naive. They have to know that the United States has attempted to reason with Islamic terrorists and their supporters going back to the Eisenhower administration. Kerry cannot actually believe that his brand of diplomacy — in contrast to all the decades of similar or identical diplomacy before him — would have any more impact than previously. Even he cannot be that stupid, that ignorant or that arrogant. Something else has to be at work here.

While it’s neither possible nor necessary to “psychologize” what exactly is in John Kerry’s mind, it is informative and useful to try and understand what’s generally in the mind of people who — decade after decade, particularly right now — let such terrorists keep getting away with what they do. (Remember Obama’s vow to crush ISIS a few weeks ago, following the beheadings of Westerners? Whatever happened to that?)

Ayn Rand had a quote somewhere (I’m paraphrasing from memory here) about not trying to explain an irrationality or a folly — but merely asking what it accomplishes. In classical psychiatry there’s a term called “secondary gain.” Secondary gain refers to what a person possibly gains (or at least feels he gains) out of a particular psychological symptom or maladaptive, irrational behavior, despite the self-defeating impairments it creates. Examples of secondary gain for psychological disorder include attention, not having to work, pity or sympathy from others, or a sense that one is a victim (a feeling that some find soothing.)

What does John Kerry — or all the others like him who spend their whole careers making the world safer for terrorists, by excusing and appeasing them — get out of doing so?

George Jonas’ quote provides an intriguing hypothesis: Appeasing and excusing evil is easier than just giving in, and admitting that this is what you’re doing. And — more than that — you can gain social approval, not only from your peers but from most of the morally befuddled world who has been trained to believe that the only proper way to handle an enemy or a transgression (physical or not) is by appeasing, or turning the proverbial cheek. “Look at me. I’m magnanimous and above it all. I’m self-sacrificial and turning of the other cheek. I’m progressive and enlightened.”

John Kerry is apparently in a state of voice-quavering shock over the idea that anyone would attack people engaged in the private and quiet act of prayerful meditation at a synagogue in Israel. It’s almost as if he really believes the absurdity of the previous president, George W. Bush, that Islam is a “religion of peace,” or of his own boss that whatever ISIS and Palestinian terrorism is about, it has nothing whatsoever to do with religion, including Islam.

Can John Kerry and others like him really be that stupid? I don’t think so. I think their secondary gain has something to do with the fact that they seek to look noble and enlightened in the eyes of others. Insert next beheading or 9/11 or synagogue attack here.

I recognize it’s only a theory, and I could be wrong. Maybe John Kerry and the others who inhabit our diplomatic establishment (not to mention the Oval Office) have other motives in mind. Maybe they’re even deep down on the side of the terrorists, as some have suggested about Obama. That seems like a stretch to me. In an odd way, it seems more complicated and even more sinister than that. The horrifying spectacle here is that these people really believe what they’re saying. They really believe what they’re doing — appeasing — is right.

In the end, the results are the same. People who want to live peaceably keep getting blasted or stabbed to bits, while the rest of us must live in terror, or at least go through the motions of pretend-safety such as those exhibited in security lines at the typical airport, and spending half the week assembling the birth certificates, passports and other information required by Homeland Security to renew your driver’s license.

If most of us hadn’t silently accepted the false view that we must “love our enemies,” we’d laugh Islamic-appeasers such as John Kerry, Barack Obama and all the others out of the halls of power, and pronto. It would be inconceivable to permit people into office with such attitudes. Sadly, these bad and inadequate leaders are not the real problem. The false ideas most of us have internalized and accepted are.



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