When Ronald Reagan took on the Soviet Union, which he did through the simple tactic of announcing that he was taking on the Soviet Union, conventional wisdom, on both sides of the aisle was horrified. How could he? After almost 40 years of Cold War, we’d reached a tenuous balance predicated on mutually assured destruction. If nobody moved, nobody would fall off the tightrope, right?
This cynical détente wasn’t painless. Even as we, in America, were reacting with frozen fear to the Soviet Union, the Soviet Union kept a cruel, iron grip on its Eastern European satellites, and fomented bloody mischief all over the world.
What the American political class couldn’t understand, but what history has proven to be true, is that, by the 1980s, the whole Soviet empire was a giant Potemkin village. Certainly the Soviets had guns and bombs, and they used the most extreme intimidation tactics to control their people, but their power was hollow, and was based more on stage-craft than reality.
Soviet policies were economically destructive and, even in the Communist world, someone needs to pay the bills. Once Reagan finally started pushing, not only was there no “there there” to push back, but the dissidents who had struggled for so many decades under Soviet rule suddenly got a second wind and were able to upend the Soviets from within.
That was the lesson of my lifetime. The lesson of my parents lifetime was that, if someone had stood up to Hitler in 1938, instead of simply being paralyzed by the fear of what Hitler might do, WWII could almost certainly have been prevented.
Human nature is such that, as long as the status quo isn’t too awful, it’s a nice place to be. Until the situation becomes entirely untenable, we will always cling to the devil we know, rather than face the devil we don’t. Twice in our history — in the 1930s and during the Cold War — we in the West thought we had the devil under control. The 1940s showed we were fools to believe that; the 1980s, under Reagan, showed that it was better to fight the monster than simply to fear the monster.
What we in fairly free countries always forget is that, when a country rules its citizens through fear and intimidation, it has, at best a very fragile hold on them. As long as the dictator’s gun is pointing directly at the citizens’ backs, they will fight for their own government, no matter how cruel it is. However, if these same downtrodden, abused, fearful citizens have even the suspicion that a bigger gun is actually pointed at their dictator, that will give them the courage to refuse to fight. And without enslaved manpower at its behest, a dictatorship is nothing.
I’m waffling on here because of the situation with Iran. Right now, Iran does not yet have a nuclear bomb. It has only the potential of being nuclearized. It’s a monster, but it’s not as terrible a monster as it’s capable of being.
And make no mistake, if it does get the bomb, Iran will not be like the Soviet Union, held in check by the knowledge of its own weaknesses, and by the self-serving pragmatism of its leadership class. Instead, like the Nazis, Iran is an apocalyptic regime that’s wedded to its destiny of controlling or destroying the world. There is no such thing in Iran as mutually assured destruction. If you’re a fanatic Shia, win or lose, you’ve still won. Either you have world domination, or you’ve brought about the apocalypse that is the predicate to the coming of that missing 12th Imam. It’s a win/win.
The only way to deal with Iran is to weaken the government irrevocably before it gets a nuclear weapon. Unfortunately, as in the 1930s and during the Cold War, the political class is paralyzed by the potential downsides of doing so. The U.S. under an Iranian-sympathetic Obama is so paralyzed it does nothing at all. Israel, too, is afraid. It knows that America is no longer an ally, so anything it does is unilateral and, many believe, existentially dangerous to Israel and America. The fears of Israel’s acting are all well-spelled out amongst the political classes at home and abroad:
Such an attack would, they say, do great damage to the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Tehran would counterattack, punishing “the Great Satan” (America) for the sins of “the Little Satan” (Israel). An Israeli strike could lead to the closing of the world’s oil passageway, the Strait of Hormuz; prompt Muslims throughout the world to rise up in outrage; and spark a Middle Eastern war that might drag in the United States. Barack Obama’s “New Beginning” with Muslims, such as it is, would be over the moment Israeli bunker-busting bombs hit.
An Israeli “preventive” attack, we are further told, couldn’t possibly stop the Islamic Republic from developing a nuke, and would actually make it more likely that the virulently anti-Zionist supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, would strike Israel with a nuclear weapon. It would also provoke Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to deploy its terrorist assets against Israel and the United States. Hezbollah, the Islamic Revolution’s one true Arab child, would unleash all the missiles it has imported from Tehran and Damascus since 2006, the last time the Party of God and the Jewish state collided.
An Israeli preemptive strike unauthorized by Washington (and President Barack Obama is unlikely to authorize one) could also severely damage Israel’s standing with the American public, as well as America’s relations with Europe, since the “diplomacy first, diplomacy only” Europeans would go ballistic, demanding a more severe punishment of Israel than Washington could countenance. The Jewish state’s relations with the European Union—Israel’s major trading partner—could collapse. And, last but not least, an Israeli strike could fatally compromise the pro-democracy Green Movement in Iran, which is the only hope the West has for an end to the nuclear menace by means of regime change. This concern was expressed halfheartedly before the tumultuous Iranian elections of June 12, 2009, but it is now voiced with urgency by those who truly care about the Green Movement spawned by those elections and don’t want any American or Israeli action to harm it.
Reuel Marc Gerecht, who wrote the above words, also believes these fears are just as exaggerated as were the various worries that stopped the West from de-fanging Hitler before it was too late, or that prevented America from acting against the Soviet Union until millions of people had already died. None of the scenarios resulting from action are as extreme as the political class fears. Iran, like the Soviet Union, is a fundamentally weak country, one that controls a discontented citizenry through the worst kind of violent oppression. If Israel were to launch a targeted attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities, it’s more likely that the government will fall than that the apocalypse will come about.
My point of view is a bit more simplistic even than that. I believe that, if the world does nothing and Iran gets nuclear weapons, the apocalypse is a certainty. Iran will drop a nuclear bomb on Israel, and may spare some weaponry for other countries it hates, including Saudi Arabia. It will also exercise total control over a completely cowed Europe, which will be within the orbit of a nuclear Iran.
In other words, if the West continues on its current path of doing nothing, nuclear destruction is a certainty. However, if the West — and given Obama’s foreign policy, “the West” right now actually means Israel — does something, there’s a substantial likelihood (and Gerecht spells out the details of this likelihood), that Iran’s government will be destroyed. And yes, there’s still the possibility of Iran “going nuclear,” not by dropping a bomb, but by engaging in an all front war against Israel and America. That’s not necessarily a war Iran can win, however, and it’s still a better scenario than Iran with a nuclear bomb.
History has shown over and over and over again that the only thing that happens when you pretend you can get along with a monster is that the monster gets more monstrous. At some point, one has to fight that monster, and it’s always easiest to see so early on in the game.