Commentary Magazine


Posts For: February 8, 2007

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Man of Peace

Neil Clark, a prominent commentator for the Guardian, wrote on his blog last Friday that “A nuclear-armed Iran would not be very dangerous. In fact a nuclear-armed Iran—and the acquisition of nuclear weapons by other countries threatened by the insatiable neo-conservative war machine, such as Syria, would be the best guarantor of peace in the Middle East. . . . The President of Iran has of course denied that his country has any plans to build a nuclear bomb and that his only interest is to develop nuclear energy. In the interests of peace, I do hope he’s lying.”

He is, of course, lying. And so is Mr. Clark. The only peace with Israel that is acceptable to President Ahmadinejad is the peace of the grave. Several times he has called for “the false regime occupying Palestine” to be “wiped off the map,” “annihilated,” “eliminated,” or “erased.” Zionists are “nearing the last days of their lives,” and their state “has reached its finishing line.”

Mr. Clark blames Israel “and its more fanatical supporters” for the confrontation with Iran. It is a standard ploy for anti-Semites to depict Jews as warmongers. In his speech to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, Hitler, too, insisted that he wanted peace, but warned that “if the Jews . . . should succeed once more in plunging the nations into a world war, then the consequence will be . . . the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”

Mr. Clark and others—such as President Chirac—who insist that Iran would not use nuclear weapons against Israel are being disingenuous. Arming Iran and Syria, the world’s leading sponsors of terrorists, with nuclear weapons would almost certainly lead to the rapid emergence of nuclear terrorism. Mr. Clark may not care what happens to Israel, but he too, along with the rest of the Western world, would be put in mortal peril.

Neil Clark, a prominent commentator for the Guardian, wrote on his blog last Friday that “A nuclear-armed Iran would not be very dangerous. In fact a nuclear-armed Iran—and the acquisition of nuclear weapons by other countries threatened by the insatiable neo-conservative war machine, such as Syria, would be the best guarantor of peace in the Middle East. . . . The President of Iran has of course denied that his country has any plans to build a nuclear bomb and that his only interest is to develop nuclear energy. In the interests of peace, I do hope he’s lying.”

He is, of course, lying. And so is Mr. Clark. The only peace with Israel that is acceptable to President Ahmadinejad is the peace of the grave. Several times he has called for “the false regime occupying Palestine” to be “wiped off the map,” “annihilated,” “eliminated,” or “erased.” Zionists are “nearing the last days of their lives,” and their state “has reached its finishing line.”

Mr. Clark blames Israel “and its more fanatical supporters” for the confrontation with Iran. It is a standard ploy for anti-Semites to depict Jews as warmongers. In his speech to the Reichstag on January 30, 1939, Hitler, too, insisted that he wanted peace, but warned that “if the Jews . . . should succeed once more in plunging the nations into a world war, then the consequence will be . . . the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe.”

Mr. Clark and others—such as President Chirac—who insist that Iran would not use nuclear weapons against Israel are being disingenuous. Arming Iran and Syria, the world’s leading sponsors of terrorists, with nuclear weapons would almost certainly lead to the rapid emergence of nuclear terrorism. Mr. Clark may not care what happens to Israel, but he too, along with the rest of the Western world, would be put in mortal peril.

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Iran’s Long War

There has been a surge of alarmism about Iran within the U.S. foreign-policy community. Many experts fear that belligerent fanatics will soon use their fearsome arsenals to put the entire world at risk with unprovoked aggression.

Makes sense, you might say. Except that in the view of some analysts, the fanatics are in Washington not Tehran. Some of our most eminent foreign-policy thinkers seem to think that supposedly trigger-happy hawks in America are a bigger threat to world peace than terrorism-sponsoring mullahs in Iran.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 1, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned of a looming conflict with Iran “and much of the world of Islam at large” in which he sees the U.S. as the culprit: “A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a ‘defensive’ U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” Note the skeptical quotes around “defensive.” In Brzezinski’s telling, a U.S. attack on Iran could resemble Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, which was preceded by a staged provocation in which SS soldiers in Polish uniforms pretended to attack a German radio station.

Stanford political scientists Larry Diamond and Leonard Weiss take up a similar refrain in the Los Angeles Times, urging Congress to use “its power of the purse to prevent an American attack on Iran.” Weiss and Diamond concede that “Iran is not innocent of dangerous and provocative behavior” but go on to assert that “war is not yet justified, except in the minds of those who have been lobbying for it for years.” Whoever they are.

As it happens, I agree with Weiss and Diamond—and with Edward Luttwak—that it’s not time to bomb, at least not yet. But I take exception to the premise of their argument and of Brzezinski’s, which is that if the U.S. were to bomb Iran, this would amount to starting a war out of the blue. In reality, Iran has been waging war on the U.S. for a quarter century, from the 1979 hostage crisis to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut to its present policy of supplying Explosively Formed Projectiles—i.e., highly potent landmines—to Shiite and possibly even Sunni insurgents in Iraq who use them to blow up American armored vehicles, killing or injuring the occupants. A U.S. attack on Iran would not represent the beginning of a war; it would merely represent belated recognition on our part that a war is going on.

That isn’t to say that military action is the right course. For the time being, I would prefer more political, economic, and diplomatic pressure, which already seems to be taking a toll on President Ahmadinejad’s popularity with the Iranian political class. But my fear is not that we will respond too belligerently but that, as in years past (including during the first six years of the Bush administration), we will respond too supinely—that we will continue to do nothing, beyond a few tartly worded statements, about the growing Iranian threat. That really will make war more likely.

There has been a surge of alarmism about Iran within the U.S. foreign-policy community. Many experts fear that belligerent fanatics will soon use their fearsome arsenals to put the entire world at risk with unprovoked aggression.

Makes sense, you might say. Except that in the view of some analysts, the fanatics are in Washington not Tehran. Some of our most eminent foreign-policy thinkers seem to think that supposedly trigger-happy hawks in America are a bigger threat to world peace than terrorism-sponsoring mullahs in Iran.

Testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on February 1, Zbigniew Brzezinski warned of a looming conflict with Iran “and much of the world of Islam at large” in which he sees the U.S. as the culprit: “A plausible scenario for a military collision with Iran involves Iraqi failure to meet the benchmarks; followed by accusations of Iranian responsibility for the failure; then by some provocation in Iraq or a terrorist act in the U.S. blamed on Iran; culminating in a ‘defensive’ U.S. military action against Iran that plunges a lonely America into a spreading and deepening quagmire eventually ranging across Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.” Note the skeptical quotes around “defensive.” In Brzezinski’s telling, a U.S. attack on Iran could resemble Hitler’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, which was preceded by a staged provocation in which SS soldiers in Polish uniforms pretended to attack a German radio station.

Stanford political scientists Larry Diamond and Leonard Weiss take up a similar refrain in the Los Angeles Times, urging Congress to use “its power of the purse to prevent an American attack on Iran.” Weiss and Diamond concede that “Iran is not innocent of dangerous and provocative behavior” but go on to assert that “war is not yet justified, except in the minds of those who have been lobbying for it for years.” Whoever they are.

As it happens, I agree with Weiss and Diamond—and with Edward Luttwak—that it’s not time to bomb, at least not yet. But I take exception to the premise of their argument and of Brzezinski’s, which is that if the U.S. were to bomb Iran, this would amount to starting a war out of the blue. In reality, Iran has been waging war on the U.S. for a quarter century, from the 1979 hostage crisis to the 1983 bombing of the U.S. Marine Corps barracks in Beirut to its present policy of supplying Explosively Formed Projectiles—i.e., highly potent landmines—to Shiite and possibly even Sunni insurgents in Iraq who use them to blow up American armored vehicles, killing or injuring the occupants. A U.S. attack on Iran would not represent the beginning of a war; it would merely represent belated recognition on our part that a war is going on.

That isn’t to say that military action is the right course. For the time being, I would prefer more political, economic, and diplomatic pressure, which already seems to be taking a toll on President Ahmadinejad’s popularity with the Iranian political class. But my fear is not that we will respond too belligerently but that, as in years past (including during the first six years of the Bush administration), we will respond too supinely—that we will continue to do nothing, beyond a few tartly worded statements, about the growing Iranian threat. That really will make war more likely.

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Rudy’s Low-Key Strategy

Rudy Giuliani was, for him, uncharacteristically coy about his presidential intentions until just the past few weeks. During last fall’s election campaign he stuck to the Nixon playbook, raising money for and campaigning on behalf of Republican candidates all over the country. This had the obvious merits of leaving many elected officials in his debt, and of introducing himself to GOP voters without asking them to vote for him.

Lo and behold, the strategy has been working. Without actively campaigning, Rudy has risen to the top of the polls of GOP candidates. What is most interesting is that he has done this despite the fact that he has not yet significantly trimmed his well known and fairly liberal views on social issues, especially abortion and gay marriage (though on the latter he has endorsed only civil unions). Since Reagan and the rise of the social right, it has been considered an iron law of politics that GOP primary voters are disproportionately conservative, and anyone who isn’t staunchly pro-life can’t get through a primary.

So what has happened?

My guess is Hillary. Senator Clinton has what looks like a lock on the Democratic nomination. Two years out, it has finally hit home that the GOP has a weak bench, and that the former front-runner John McCain, at seventy, may not have the fire in the belly to best her.

Giuliani’s strength is nothing if not sheer force of will. His virtues include making a city previously thought ungovernable orderly and livable. And then he kept that city functioning and staunch after the attacks of 9/11. In the years since, he has made it his business to learn what a leader needs to know about national security, Islamofascism, terrorism, and the war in Iraq. GOP voters may have noticed that he doesn’t trim there, either. Those are real and formidable accomplishments for a candidate running in a time of war.

After the election there was a spate of think pieces on the subject, “Is Conservatism Finished?” I’d agree with Wilfred McClay’s piece in Commentary, which answered “no.” But it may be that we are entering a moment less dominated by purist ideology. The national-security stakes are so high for 2008, and anti-war sentiment so broad, that even the most socially conservative voters may be willing to vote early and often for the lesser of evils.

Rudy Giuliani was, for him, uncharacteristically coy about his presidential intentions until just the past few weeks. During last fall’s election campaign he stuck to the Nixon playbook, raising money for and campaigning on behalf of Republican candidates all over the country. This had the obvious merits of leaving many elected officials in his debt, and of introducing himself to GOP voters without asking them to vote for him.

Lo and behold, the strategy has been working. Without actively campaigning, Rudy has risen to the top of the polls of GOP candidates. What is most interesting is that he has done this despite the fact that he has not yet significantly trimmed his well known and fairly liberal views on social issues, especially abortion and gay marriage (though on the latter he has endorsed only civil unions). Since Reagan and the rise of the social right, it has been considered an iron law of politics that GOP primary voters are disproportionately conservative, and anyone who isn’t staunchly pro-life can’t get through a primary.

So what has happened?

My guess is Hillary. Senator Clinton has what looks like a lock on the Democratic nomination. Two years out, it has finally hit home that the GOP has a weak bench, and that the former front-runner John McCain, at seventy, may not have the fire in the belly to best her.

Giuliani’s strength is nothing if not sheer force of will. His virtues include making a city previously thought ungovernable orderly and livable. And then he kept that city functioning and staunch after the attacks of 9/11. In the years since, he has made it his business to learn what a leader needs to know about national security, Islamofascism, terrorism, and the war in Iraq. GOP voters may have noticed that he doesn’t trim there, either. Those are real and formidable accomplishments for a candidate running in a time of war.

After the election there was a spate of think pieces on the subject, “Is Conservatism Finished?” I’d agree with Wilfred McClay’s piece in Commentary, which answered “no.” But it may be that we are entering a moment less dominated by purist ideology. The national-security stakes are so high for 2008, and anti-war sentiment so broad, that even the most socially conservative voters may be willing to vote early and often for the lesser of evils.

Read Less




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