The President is essentially using the anti-Zionist quotes of the President of Iran as the equivalent of the writings of Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf and Lenin’s What is to be Done?. If we ignore Ahmedinejad’s fiery rhetoric we will be just as guilty of appeasement as Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier.
I understand and am fully sympathetic to the Jewish cry of “Never Again”. The world would be foolish to ignore the threats against Israel issuing from people like Nasrallah and Ahmedinajed. That is why I support international efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear arsenal. However, there are innumerable differences between the threat Iran poses to the United States and the threat Nazis and Soviet Communists posed to the West.
The first and most obvious difference between the two situations is that the West possesses an overwhelming military advantage. We are no more able to occupy Iraq than Germany was able to occupy Russia, but we can literally end all life in Iran within minutes if they ever engage in an attack on our homeland or use a nuclear device against one of our allies. We have an overwhelming deterrence that simply did not exist for the powers that faced Hitler. It’s true that Hitler could have been (relatively) easily defeated at an early stage, but not without a large sacrifice in treasure and lives, and not with the flip of a switch.
Iran would be emboldened by an American retreat for Iraq, and they would be even more emboldened if they came into possession of a nuclear device. (The intelligence community still estimates they are ten years away from obtaining one). But they would be unable to acquire much new territory. Perhaps they might annex part of southern Iraq. They could potentially take a chunk of Kurdistan. But we could always thwart such efforts just as we thwarted Saddam’s attempt to take Kuwait.
Another difference is that Ahmedinejad in not as powerful within the Iranian government as Hitler was in the German government. Ahmednijehad’s predecessor, Mohommed Khatami, was famously ineffectual in getting his priorities passed into law. Iran is ruled by a Council of Guardians that has the power to negate any legislation it deems un-Islamic and even to disallow candidates from standing for office if they are not ideologically pure enough. Unlike Hitler, the Council of Guardians is not a charasmatic and wildly popular institution.
Iran, and the Shi’a revolutionary theology movement more generally, are definitely a major anti-American force in the Middle East. This fact is a major reason why Middle East experts like Anthony Zinni and Pat Lang opposed replacing Saddam Hussein with a Shi’a majority government. It’s also why they saw Israel’s attack on Lebanon as self-defeating. It only served to raise the popularity of Hezbollah, which is the Lebanese chapter of revolutionary Shi’a theology.
It’s inevitable that even Sunni Arabs will be drawn to Muslim movements that are successful at stymieing America, while their own leaders do nothing. It’s a recognition of this fact that leads neo-conservatives to conclude that Carter and Reagan failed us when they backed down respectively, in Iran (1979-80) and Lebanon (1982-3). It is this recognition that leads them to advocate attacking Iran now. At the very least, they are afraid of the consequences of giving Iran a strategic victory by drawing down our troops in Iraq.
What these thinkers need to do is not to draw strained parallels to pre-war Nazi Germany, but to start thinking outside the box. What we want to do is remove, as much as possible, the causes of Islamist grievance, and thereby reduce the appeal of radical ideology in the region.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, would do more to drain the appeal of radical Islamists than to hammer out a settlement of the Palestinian question. This cannot be done by democratizing the Middle East. In fact, it is not safe for American interests, or even the world economy, to democraticize the Middle East prior to hammering out a final agreement. The evidence for this is the electoral success since the invasion of Iraq of Hamas in Palestine, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egpyt, the Shi’a Revolutionaries in Iraq. Free elections in Jordan and Saudi Arabia would bring similar victories for hardline anti-Zionists and anti-Americans.
From the perspective of Israel, it is certainly a frightening prospect to see both the rise of democratically expressed hostility from their neighbors and the bellicose rhetoric coming for an Iran that is pursuing nuclear know-how. But both they, and the U.S. Government should do a little cost-benefit analysis and come to the obvious conclusions. The immediate causes of radical Islamist terrorism are opposition to the oppression of U.S./Israeli allied Arab governments in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt, the continuing occupation of Palestine, and the U.S. occupation of Iraq. They should now see the futility of overcoming this hostility through democratization. In fact, it only makes matters much worse, much less stable, and enormously more dangerous. If we can’t afford more democracy, and we can’t sustain occupation, what, then, are our alternatives?
One thing is for sure. Doing more of the same in not an alternative that has any prospect for success. It will only continue to drain our coffers, destabilize the region, and motivate a new generation of holy warriors.
We must remove the irritants. Settle the Palestine question, withdraw from Iraq, and only then pursue democratization.
How will we prevent such acts of “appeasement” from encouraging the Islamists to continue the fight and further endanger both Israel and the United States? First, removing the main irritants will reduce the appeal of jihad. Second, we have an overwhelming nuclear deterrent. Third, the region still depends on the rest of the world’s appetite for energy. It will always be a concern for Israel that some radical regime might give a nuclear device to terrorists. Pakistan could do it today. Iran could do it tomorrow. The Russians could launch ICBM’s at San Francisco this afternoon. Ultimately, we have to rely on a combination of counter-prolifieration, a nuclear drawdown, and the doctrine of assured destruction.
It appears that the Republicans plan to hype the existential threat of such an unlikely attack to justify the warrantless domestic surveillance of everyday Americans, the torture of Muslim prisoners (both of the terrorist and the innocent variety), and the unending occupation of Iraq.
You can read the freshly released The National Strategy for Combatting Terrorism to get an idea where the GOP wants to take this nation. It’s a recipe for both permawar and for the end of the American Empire. It’s unaffordable, immoral, strategically insane, and a blatant cover for a raid on our national treasury to pay for armaments and protect the interests of energy companies. The GOP must be stopped. Get out the vote!!