The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

27 Years

My life experience indicates that when you have a really bad feeling about someone or something, it’s usually a good idea to pay attention to it. More importantly, it’s almost never a good idea to shrug your shoulders and hope it will go away. It almost never does.

I’ve had a really bad feeling about Iran for 27 years, and I’m ashamed to admit I was perfectly willing to shrug my shoulders and hope it would go away. Over the three decades since this feeling crept into my consciousness, Iran has not changed, and the feeling remains. In an excellent article in City Journal Mark Steyn summarizes my concerns with specifics:

Anyone who spends half an hour looking at Iranian foreign policy over the last 27 years sees five things [illustrated in detail in his article]:

1 contempt for the most basic international conventions;
2 long-reach extraterritoriality;
3 effective promotion of radical Pan-Islamism;
4 a willingness to go the extra mile for Jew-killing (unlike, say, Osama);
5 an all-but-total synchronization between rhetoric and action.

Yet the Europeans remain in denial. Iran was supposedly the Middle Eastern state they could work with. And the chancellors and foreign ministers jetted in to court the mullahs so assiduously that they’re reluctant to give up on the strategy just because a relatively peripheral figure like the, er, head of state is sounding off about Armageddon.

Back in 1979, when the Ayatollah Khomeinii’s Islamic thugs took over the American embassy in Teheran, and President Carter did nothing, I wrote to him – the only letter I’ve ever written to a President. I’ve lost the letter, but in essence, I suggested that we were at a cusp in history and that the USA would be perceived as weak and ineffective if we didn’t act decisively to end the Embassy take over -- even if it meant the loss of hostages’ lives. Carter, of course, thought otherwise, and tried to negotiate with the predessors of today’s Islamofascists. He failed, and radical Islam began its ascendancy.

Today, we’re at another cusp in history. In a year, or three, or five, Iran will go nuclear. Those who hope that things will resolve themselves, argue that negotiation is the key to containment. They simply want to kick the can down the road, hoping the the problem will disappear. It won’t.

Again from Mark Steyn on modern-day Iran:

By way of illustration, consider the country’s last presidential election. The final round offered a choice between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an alumnus of the U.S. Embassy siege a quarter-century ago, and Hashemi Rafsanjani, head of the Expediency Council, which sounds like an EU foreign policy agency but is, in fact, the body that arbitrates between Iran’s political and religious leaderships. Ahmadinejad is a notorious shoot-from-the-lip apocalyptic hothead who believes in the return of the Twelfth (hidden) Imam and quite possibly that he personally is his designated deputy, and he’s also claimed that when he addressed the United Nations General Assembly last year a mystical halo appeared and bathed him in its aura. Ayatollah Rafsanjani, on the other hand, is one of those famous “moderates.”

What’s the difference between a hothead and a moderate? Well, the extremist Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” while the moderate Rafsanjani has declared that Israel is “the most hideous occurrence in history,” which the Muslim world “will vomit out from its midst” in one blast, because “a single atomic bomb has the power to completely destroy Israel, while an Israeli counter-strike can only cause partial damage to the Islamic world.” Evidently wiping Israel off the map seems to be one of those rare points of bipartisan consensus in Tehran, the Iranian equivalent of a prescription drug plan for seniors: we’re just arguing over the details.

So the question is: Will they do it?

And the minute you have to ask, you know the answer. If, say, Norway or Ireland acquired nuclear weapons, we might regret the “proliferation,” but we wouldn’t have to contemplate mushroom clouds over neighboring states. In that sense, the civilized world has already lost: to enter into negotiations with a jurisdiction headed by a Holocaust-denying millenarian nut job is, in itself, an act of profound weakness—the first concession, regardless of what weaselly settlement might eventually emerge.

Conversely, a key reason to stop Iran is to demonstrate that we can still muster the will to do so. Instead, the striking characteristic of the long diplomatic dance that brought us to this moment is how September 10th it’s all been. The free world’s delegated negotiators (the European Union) and transnational institutions (the IAEA) have continually given the impression that they’d be content just to boot it down the road to next year or the year after or find some arrangement—this decade’s Oil-for-Food or North Korean deal—that would get them off the hook. If you talk to EU foreign ministers, they’ve already psychologically accepted a nuclear Iran. Indeed, the chief characteristic of the West’s reaction to Iran’s nuclearization has been an enervated fatalism.

Our problem, I think, is that we want to believe that every geopolitical decision has one good and one bad outcome. In the case or Iran, that is simply not the case. Any decision that we now make will have a dual outcome – one bad, and the other even worse. The question is: Do we avoid making a decision because we can’t face the “bad” and don’t want to even contemplate the “worse.” I think that’s exactly what we (and the rest of the West) are doing, and as a consequence, Iran acts with impunity.

Soon, it will be time to act – even if the outcome is bad. Why? Because inaction will lead to an outcome that is far, far worse.