Neoconservatives, Reaganites and other militarily assertive factions in the United States are sometimes accused of thinking it is always 1938 - when Britain appeased Hitler at Munich - and that there always is a Hitler-like aggressor being appeased and about to drag the world into conflict. There sometimes is merit in that charge.
Likewise, there sometimes is merit in the charge against isolationists and other doves that they always see 1914 - the start of World War I - or 1964 - the beginning of troop escalation in Vietnam. For them, conflict always resembles the imminent and foolish entry into or escalation of a war that can’t be won - or even if victory were to be gained, it would be Pyrrhic.
Knowledge of history can be as much a snare as a guide - if it is wrapped in a dogma that distorts the current facts to match the preferred historic lesson.
Our actions - if there are to be any - in the Iranian nuclear-weapons-development controversy cry out for a careful assessment of facts - and a heartless rooting out of assumptions - hidden or otherwise - that may be driving policy.
Those who are or will be calling for U.S. military action to damage and delay Iran’s ability to develop operational nuclear weapons - that is, those for whom it is 1938 - make a number of assumptions: (1) The Iranian regime intends to develop nuclear weapons; (2) once Iranians have them, they, being fanatics, may actually use them against Israel, as they have threatened repeatedly; (3) even if they don’t use them, they will change the dynamics of the Middle East by inducing a nuclear arms race between Sunni Muslim countries and Iran and give Iran a huge capacity to intimidate and dominate the region; (4) both Europe and the United States eventually will fall within the missile shadow of a nuclear Iran, thus giving that nation the capacity to be a world player and possible precipitator of nuclear war even beyond the Middle East; (5) the regime is inherently hostile and aggressive, particularly toward the United States and Israel, and will keep pushing until pushed back, and moreover (6) even tough sanctions will not deter Iran, Russia is too invested in Iran to truly cooperate with us, and even Europe will not enforce tough sanctions.
The 1938 ers further believe - or claim to believe - that Iran can create havoc in response to our military action by threatening oil transport out of the Gulf; terrorist attacks in the Middle East, Europe and probably the United States; and further harm to our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran would be even more dangerous - and just as ill-intentioned - if it were armed with nuclear weapons. The 1938 ers also make the factual assumption that the threat will emerge sooner rather than later. John Bolton warned last week that we have only days.
The Obama administration, on the other hand, holds vastly different assumptions: (1) Iran actually may not want nuclear weapons; (2) if it does want them, Russia will help us stop them; (3) if we settle the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, that will reduce any nuclear aspirations Iran may have; (4) if we were to attack, Iran could create more chaos than we can manage, and (5) if Iran did develop nuclear weapons, we could deter their use by providing a nuclear umbrella for both Arabs and Israelis.
Factually, they assume the danger is at least a year off and that Iran is running into technical problems. Of course, predicting when Iran will reach its nuclear threshold is usually driven by policy goals. In 2007, the CIA, which did not want war, concluded that Iran had given up its objectives. Now it technically claims we have a year.
Back in 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain could have gone down in history as the greatest diplomat of the 20th century - if he had been right that Hitler had limited ambitions that could be appeased. There is nothing wrong with appeasement if the aggressor can be appeased at acceptable costs. But as we know, Hitler could not be appeased - he had to be defeated.
So the question today is not whether to appease Iran - but whether Iran is appeasable. And if not appeasable, whether its threat can be defeated with acceptable costs. Those are factual questions, although all the facts cannot be known before the event.
For me, having observed the Iranian regime, as we all have, I find the Obama administration’s factual assumptions to be mostly wishful thinking, at best. The near-certainty that Iran would respond to a military attack by the United States with terror is a factor to sober the mind and hesitate the hand. Nonetheless, the grim assessment of the 1938 ers seems sadly more realistic.
Tony Blankley is the author of “American Grit: What It Will Take to Survive and Win in the 21st Century” (Regnery, 2009) and vice president of the Edelman public relations firm in Washington.
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