Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Let's bomb Iran

So argues Norman Podhoretz in the latest issue of Commentary magazine (reprinted today in Opinion Journal). His argument that Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is following the lessons of Adolf Hitler -- and like the world of 1938, today's international community fails to act at its peril -- is compelling and chilling (all bold emphasis mine):
By 1938, Germany under Adolf Hitler had for some years been rearming in defiance of its obligations under the Versailles treaty and other international agreements. Yet even though Hitler in "Mein Kampf" had explicitly spelled out the goals he was now preparing to pursue, scarcely anyone took him seriously. To the imminent victims of the war he was soon to start, Hitler's book and his inflammatory speeches were nothing more than braggadocio or, to use the more colorful word Hannah Arendt once applied to Adolf Eichmann, rodomontade: the kind of red meat any politician might throw to his constituents at home. Hitler might sound at times like a madman, but in reality he was a shrewd operator with whom one could--in the notorious term coined by the London Times--"do business." The business that was done under this assumption was the Munich Agreement of 1938, which the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declared had brought "peace in our time."

It was thanks to Munich that "appeasement" became one of the dirtiest words in the whole of our political vocabulary. Yet appeasement had always been an important and entirely respectable tool of diplomacy, signifying the avoidance of war through the alleviation of the other side's grievances. If Hitler had been what his eventual victims imagined he was--that is, a conventional statesman pursuing limited aims and using the threat of war only as a way of strengthening his bargaining position--it would indeed have been possible to appease him and thereby to head off the outbreak of another war.

But Hitler was not a conventional statesman and, although for tactical reasons he would sometimes pretend otherwise, he did not have limited aims. He was a revolutionary seeking to overturn the going international system and to replace it with a new order dominated by Germany, which also meant the political culture of Nazism. As such, he offered only two choices: resistance or submission. Finding this reality unbearable, the world persuaded itself that there was a way out, a third alternative, in negotiations. But given Hitler's objectives, and his barely concealed lust for war, negotiating with him could not conceivably have led to peace. It could have had only one outcome, which was to buy him more time to start a war under more favorable conditions. As most historians now agree, if he had been taken at his own word about his true intentions, he could have been stopped earlier and defeated at an infinitely lower cost.

Which brings us back to Ahmadinejad. Like Hitler, he is a revolutionary whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it in the fullness of time with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism. Like Hitler, too, he is entirely open about his intentions, although--again like Hitler--he sometimes pretends that he wants nothing more than his country's just due. In the case of Hitler in 1938, this pretense took the form of claiming that no further demands would be made if sovereignty over the Sudetenland were transferred from Czechoslovakia to Germany. In the case of Ahmadinejad, the pretense takes the form of claiming that Iran is building nuclear facilities only for peaceful purposes and not for the production of bombs.

But here we come upon an interesting difference between then and now. Whereas in the late 1930s almost everyone believed, or talked himself into believing, that Hitler was telling the truth when he said he had no further demands to make after Munich, no one believes that Ahmadinejad is telling the truth when he says that Iran has no wish to develop a nuclear arsenal. In addition, virtually everyone agrees that it would be best if he were stopped, only not, God forbid, with military force--not now, and not ever.

But, Podhoretz asks, how do we stop Iran if military force is not an option? Ideas include:
  1. Diplomacy, which has been pursued for several years and which only works with "a conventional statesman pursuing limited aims and using the threat of war only as a way of strengthening his bargaining position";
  2. Sanctions, which have "very rarely worked in the past" and "usually ended up hurting the hapless people of the targeted country while leaving the leadership unscathed." In addition, they will never be effective so long as Russia and China use their Security Council seats to block weighty impositions;
  3. More punishing sanctions in the hopes of provoking an internal uprising against Ahmadinejad. This sounds good, but has not happened in the years that it's been discussed (in Iran or elsewhere), and the Russia-China duocracy will again stand in the way of sanctions that might achieve this end.

And all of which have succeeded only in giving Iran more time to develop its nuclear capacity.

With the likely failure of those options, we're left with a military strike. A strike that would require wide-ranging air power with wide-ranging munitions. A strike that could only be carried out (because of both capability and will) by the United States of America. Yes, it could mean Iranian retaliation against our troops in Iraq. Yes, it could mean non-nuclear attacks against Israel. Yes, it could mean devastating economic impacts around the globe due to fossil fuel prices. And yes, it would mean a world that verbally (or worse) berated the U.S. for its unilateral actions.

But as John McCain has said, the only thing worse than bombing Iran is allowing Iran to get the bomb. And there is compelling evidence (if you don't fall into the camp that still believes Ahmadinejad is reachable through diplomacy or sanctions) that we've run out of time on that question:

In early April, at Iran's Nuclear Day festivities, Ahmadinejad announced that the point of no return in the nuclearization process had been reached. If this is true, it means that Iran is only a small step away from producing nuclear weapons. But even supposing that Ahmadinejad is bluffing, in order to convince the world that it is already too late to stop him, how long will it take before he actually turns out to have a winning hand?

If we believe the CIA, perhaps as much as 10 years. But CIA estimates have so often been wrong that they are hardly more credible than the boasts of Ahmadinejad. Other estimates by other experts fall within the range of a few months to six years. Which is to say that no one really knows. And because no one really knows, the only prudent--indeed, the only responsible--course is to assume that Ahmadinejad may not be bluffing, or may only be exaggerating a bit, and to strike at him as soon as it is logistically possible.

Podhoretz clearly supports Bush's statement that if we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, future generations will wonder how we could have allowed such a thing, and, Podhoretz notes, "they will rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did and what they failed to do at Munich in 1938."

Podhoretz concludes:

Much of the world has greeted Ahmadinejad's promise to wipe Israel off the map with something close to insouciance [definition: indifference]. In fact, it could almost be said of the Europeans that they have been more upset by Ahmadinejad's denial that a Holocaust took place 60 years ago than by his determination to set off one of his own as soon as he acquires the means to do so. In some of European countries, Holocaust denial is a crime, and the European Union only recently endorsed that position. Yet for all their retrospective remorse over the wholesale slaughter of Jews back then, the Europeans seem no readier to lift a finger to prevent a second Holocaust than they were the first time around.

Not so George W. Bush, a man who knows evil when he sees it and who has demonstrated an unfailingly courageous willingness to endure vilification and contumely in setting his face against it. It now remains to be seen whether this president, battered more mercilessly and with less justification than any other in living memory, and weakened politically by the enemies of his policy in the Middle East in general and Iraq in particular, will find it possible to take the only action that can stop Iran from following through on its evil intentions both toward us and toward Israel. As an American and as a Jew, I pray with all my heart that he will.

I find it difficult to pray for such a thing, but Podhoretz -- despite engaging in a bit of extreme partisan rhetoric on behalf of the president -- makes a convincing case. Taken together with Andy McCarthy's sarcastic question on NRO yesterday, it's difficult to see how another resolution is achievable.

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  • At 5/31/2007 6:35 AM, Blogger Chance said…

    I don't find his reasoning convincing at all. I am disgusted by anyone who prays for war, even if he only meant it as a rhetorical device.

    I will allow that unlike many advocates for military action, he seems to have considered the outcome of a strike and estimated that it would be devestating. At least he is being somewhat honest in that regard.

    Why am I not convinced? Let's say Iran gets the bomb tommorrow. Do we believe Israel will be nuked by lunchtime? Theocracy or not, the Iranian regime is well aware of the mutually assured destruction doctrine. Even if Amadimajed is truely willing to trigger a nuclear war, there is little evidence to suggest that the rest of the power structure shares this death wish. Iran getting nuclear weapons will be unfortunate, and maybe even tragic, but it will not come close to the scale or tragedy of the Second World War. To compare the two is simply a stretch.

  • At 5/31/2007 7:39 AM, Blogger Ken said…

    Chance -- you ask: "Do we believe Israel will be nuked by lunchtime?" and suggest that mutually-assured destruction (MAD) will be the deterrent.

    Podhoretz dealt with that question by quoting Bernard Lewis, who said MAD will not work with Ahmadinejad:
    For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement. We know already that [Iran's leaders] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. In the final scenario, and this applies all the more strongly if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick free pass to heaven and all its delights.

    There is no evidence to suggest the rest of the power structure holds a different view, and there is evidence (again, cited by Podhoretz) to suggest the opposite.

    As for calling the comparison to WWII a "stretch"? The population of Israel is 7.2 million people, 5.5 million of which are Jews. If Iran's goal is the annihilation of Israel, that would compare to Nazi Germany in chilling ways. Also, Podhoretz's comparison was not just to the scale of death in WWII, but to the ways the international community dealt with (or didn't deal with) Hitler, patterns that are repeating themselves today with Ahmadinejad.

    For you to call such a circumstance "unfortunate, and maybe even tragic" suggests to me you're not taking this seriously.

  • At 6/27/2007 8:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Please sign petition to Shell to stop doing business with terrorist regime of Iran!

    If you have a website, please feel free to post the petition.

  • At 6/30/2007 12:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Bombing Iran is a mistake, it will only help the regime. You read this great blog on why Iranian Americans oppose a strike on Iran:


    Jack Johnson


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