"I believe it is peace for our time," declared Neville Chamberlain in 1938. "Go home and get a nice quiet sleep."
Just returned from a peace conference, the British Prime Minister was convinced that the prospect of war between Germany and Western Europe had been nullified. How wrong he was.
Chamberlain is often criticized for being an apostle of appeasement. But appeasement can be a viable policy — provided it fits the time and successfully achieves a foreign policy goal at an acceptable cost. Chamberlain's problem lay in thinking that the Munich Agreement and the Anglo-German Declaration meant something. By signing on to "anything," he had actually accomplished nothing.
In his dealings with Egypt, President Obama has had more than a few Chamberlain moments of his own, confusing high-sounding words with action and doing exactly the wrong thing at virtually every critical turning point in the Arab Spring.
In 2011, when Hosni Mubarak's days were clearly limited, the president started cheerleading for the revolution — despite numerous warning signs that the revolution was fraught with danger. It was no secret that the Muslim Brotherhood was the best-organized political entity in Egypt. Clearly, they would dominate a new government. And, just as clearly, their objectives were incompatible with U.S. interests. Likewise, there was no realistic hope that the Brotherhood would address the core concern of most Egyptians — the appalling lack of economic freedom.
Yet, according to a White House summary of President Obama's congratulatory call to the newly-elected Egyptian President Mohammad Morsi, the White House "underscored that the United States will continue to support Egypt's transition to democracy and stand by the Egyptian people as they fulfill the promise of their revolution."
Indeed, Mr. Obama "emphasized his interest in working together with President-elect Morsi, on the basis of mutual respect, to advance the many shared interests between Egypt and the United States." Rather than draw clear red lines about behavior expected from the new regime, the White House simple continued aid, essentially bankrolling an Islamist takeover of the country.
Morsi promptly proceed to cross numerous "red lines" — suppressing freedom of the press, arresting officials of pro-democracy NGOs, assuming extra-judicial emergency powers, and replacing government officials with Brotherhood functionaries. In response, the White House issued some slightly scolding press releases and did little else.
Had Obama pressed Morsi harder, the Egyptian president might have been more nervous about aggressively advancing an Islamist agenda. Instead, it seemed, the White House preferred to take "a nice, quiet sleep."
When the people took to the Egyptian streets again — this time to demand the ouster of the Islamist regime — the administration responded by suggesting that Morsi's government should be "respected." In July, Mr. Obama explained, "The U.S. government's attitude has been, we would deal with a democratically elected government." That position had zero constructive impact on the course of events.
Out of desperation, the Egyptian military ousted Morsi — with the backing of most Egyptians. Only then did the U.S. government appear to have second thoughts about bankrolling Egypt.
First, the Administration insisted on continuing aid, even though it's legally forbidden to do so when a democratically elected government falls in a coup. (The proper course would have been to ask Congress to reauthorize aid — an act that would have shown the people of Egypt, and the rest of the Middle East, that the U.S. was willing to support a second chance at freedom.)
Then, as violence mounted, the Administration sent ambivalent signals about continuing aid.
But mixed messages have a disastrous effect. The only force in Egypt that benefits from an ambivalent America is the Islamists.
Mr. Obama's Egyptian dabblings have been disastrous at every turn — consistently fueling the prospect of violence and reducing the chance that justice and freedom would win out. Neville Chamberlain could have done no worse.
JAMES JAY CARAFANO, a Washington Examiner columnist, is Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.