Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

The Iran Failure Has Many Fathers

The dangerous belief that words alone can transcend an eternal truth of human nature.

by Bruce S. Thornton // FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Photo via FrontPage Magazine

Everybody knows the deal with Iran is a disaster. Why is equally obvious: Iran will get $150 billion to spend on weapons and its terrorist proxies, will keep its enrichment facilities, will continue to develop missiles, will easily avoid the laughably pusillanimous inspections regime, and will end up a nuclear power with malign consequences for the stability of the Middle East.

We also know who bears the responsibility for this fiasco––Barack Obama. Historically ignorant and terminally narcissistic, Obama has all the superstitions and delusions of the progressive elite. And one of the most persistent and hoary of those beliefs is the fetish of diplomacy as a means to resolve disputes without force.

We must remember that Obama pointedly ran on the promise to “reinvigorate” American diplomacy. This trope was in fact a way to run against George Bush, whom the Dems and the media had caricatured as a “cowboy” with an itchy trigger finger, a gunslinger scornful of diplomacy and multilateralism. That charge was a lie––Bush wasted several months on diplomacy in an unsuccessful attempt to get the U.N.’s sanction for the war, even though the U.S. Congress had approved it, Hussein was in gross violation of the first Gulf War cease-fire agreement, and the U.N. already has passed 17 Security Council resolutions, all of which Hussein had violated.

Yet the narrative that Bush had “failed so miserably at diplomacy that we are now forced to war,” as then Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle put it, lived on. For the progressives committed to crypto-pacifism and to the belief that America is a guilty aggressor, the story was too politically useful. Obama, one of the most programmatic progressives in the Senate, embodied all those superstitions. As senator he continually criticized the war in Iraq, scorned the ultimately successful “surge” of troops in 2007 as a “reckless escalation” and a “mistake,” and introduced legislation to remove all troops from Iraq by March 2008.

As a presidential candidate, his whole foreign policy was predicated on his being the “anti-Bush” who would “reinvigorate diplomacy” and initiate “engagement” with all our enemies in order to defuse conflict and create peace. As president, Obama has been true to his word. He has apologized, groveled, bowed to potentates, “reset” relations with our rivals, shaken hands with thugs, and now talked Iran into being a nuclear power. As for “peace,” it is nowhere to be found as violence and atrocities multiply from Ukraine to Yemen, Tunisia to Afghanistan.

But as much as Obama is personally to blame for what will turn out to be a disastrous foreign policy mistake, the larger problem is the very notion that rational discussion, negotiation, and dickering with our enemies and rivals can replace force, rather than being an adjunct to a credible threat of force. It is based on the arrogant assumption that the enemy is a “rational actor,” as Obama’s flacks have been asserting about the mullahs, and respects life, coexistence, and peace as much as we. That this administration can believe this delusion––when the Iranians regularly chant “Death to America” and have practiced what they preach by killing Americans for 36 years––is as mystifyingly blind as the British were to Hitler’s threatening rants at the Nuremburg Party Rally a few weeks before the Munich conference, when the Fuhrer called Czechoslovakia an “irreconcilable” enemy.

Plato, of course, expressed the truth of interstate relations 24 centuries earlier, when he said, “In reality, every state is in a natural state of war with every other,” and “peace is only a name.” Charles de Gaulle in 1934 made the same point in terms relevant for the just completed farce with Iran:

But, hope though we may, what reason have we for thinking that passion and self-interest, the root cause of armed conflict in men and in nations, will cease to operate; that anyone will willingly surrender what he has or not try to get what he wants; in short that human nature will ever become something other than it is? … ‘Laws unsupported by force soon fall into contempt,’ said Cardinal de Retz. International agreements will be of little value unless there are troops to prevent their infringement. In whatever direction the world may move, it will never be able to do without the final arbitration of arms.

The belief that words alone can transcend this eternal truth of human nature––a belief deeply engrained in the mentality of our leaders and foreign policy establishment–– led to the disaster of World War II, and will despite this lesson of history lead to a lesser, but still dangerous, disaster.

But there is yet another factor in this debacle that must be acknowledged: the tendency of democracies to privilege short-term comfort over long-term threats. In democracies the use of force must have the assent of the voters, who in the U.S. every 2 years hold leaders accountable at the ballot box. Setbacks, mistakes, atrocities, casualties, and all the other unfortunately eternal contingencies of mass violence try the patience of voters, and citizen control of the military gives them a means of expressing their impatience or anger. As de Tocqueville recognized more than 150 years ago, “The people are more apt to feel than to reason; and if their present sufferings are great, it is to be feared that the still greater sufferings attendant upon defeat will be forgotten.” That pretty much sums up America’s response so far to Obama’s agreement.

We know that no diplomatic “deal” with Iran will keep the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism from obtaining nuclear weapons. As puny North Korea demonstrated, a determined regime can lie, obfuscate, and cheat its way around any parchment defenses. We also know that the U.S. possesses the military means to degrade Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and military assets enough to end that threat. It is not a question of ability, but will. But does anybody think that a critical mass of American citizens today has the will to support serious military action? Are there enough outraged moderate Democrats to hold their Democratic Representatives’ and Senators’ feet to the fire and convince them to pass with a veto-proof majority legislation stopping this train-wreck? When that vote comes, we will know the answer to the first question.

It is a cliché that free democracies are formidable warriors. But first they must be roused, as Tocqueville put it, to “a sudden effort of remarkable vigor.” So far it’s hard to see such vigor among the people, and one shudders to think what it will take to restore it. But one thing’s for sure–– it will take more than merely putting a Republican in the White House.

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

21 Thoughts on “The Iran Failure Has Many Fathers

  1. Pingback: The Iran Failure Has Many Fathers | Newport Mesa Tea Party Patriots

  2. Carl Sesar on July 17, 2015 at 7:44 am said:

    Obama may well be “Historically ignorant and terminally narcissistic,” as Bruce Thornton describes him.
    But he is more than that. Obama is a sworn enemy of the United States and Israel, “The Big Satan and the Little Satan,” as the Iranian leaders whom he supports call them.

  3. What Obama has done, will have its way… except he’ll make a lot of money out of office, explaining in books and speeches and interviews just how what he did, isn’t having its way… or at least isn’t his doing, not at all!

  4. Republicans are pretty inertial these days too….

  5. Doctor French on July 17, 2015 at 9:24 am said:

    Where is the outraged against this new Munich agreement?

    L´occident s´enfonce un peu tous les jours……

    Amen.

  6. Chris on July 17, 2015 at 10:33 am said:

    Must disagree that Obama believes in diplomacy in this case. He knows this will lead to Iran having the bomb and that’s what he wants. He believes there should be a Muslim counter deterent to Isreal. At best. At worst I’m not unconvinced he wants the obliteration of Jews.

  7. Gary Westgeest on July 17, 2015 at 12:50 pm said:

    Love this guy’s analyses: succinct – bang! – and to the point.

  8. Mark on July 17, 2015 at 3:58 pm said:

    I believe it was after his time, but Obama seems like our first president who is a product of our grade schools’ “conflict resolution” programming. Except he’s taken it to the level of weakening a great nation.

  9. buybuydandavis on July 17, 2015 at 6:25 pm said:

    “It is based on the arrogant assumption that the enemy is a “rational actor,” as Obama’s flacks have been asserting about the mullahs, and respects life, coexistence, and peace as much as we. ”

    They’re rational and predictable enough, once you take into account their actual values.

  10. Proudly Unaffiliated on July 17, 2015 at 8:47 pm said:

    This deal with Iran is consistent with the Obama goal of deconstructing and destabilizing the mid-east.

  11. andrea on July 17, 2015 at 9:30 pm said:

    Kerry looks so miserable and dark. Like someone who has sold out the world and knows that hell awaits. A traitor 40 years ago and a traitor now.

  12. Jerry Stein on July 18, 2015 at 7:59 am said:

    Points all well taken but, with all do respect, irrelevant to the reality of Iran being on the cusp of obtaining both nuclear weapons and ICBM’s.

    Any astute observer of Obama from 2007 onward would know that, given his view of America as the main cause of instability in the world, he would have never credibly threatened or used force against Iran, irrespective of the opinion of the American people.

    The ball has always been in Israel’s court, given the immediate existential threat of a nuclear Iran. Unfortunately for Israel and the world, its massive diversion of resources to the growth of its socialist entitlement state has sapped it’s will and ability to launch the necessary preemptive strike. Israel had plenty of time to develop the bunker-buster technology on their own.

    Their last window for a preemptive strike was during the 2012 U.S. presidential campaign, when Obama would have been loath to alert Iran to a pending Israeli strike, or to retaliate for such a strike, for fear of alienating his high-dollar Jewish donors.

    Given Israel’s size, an Iranian first strike would be immediately fatal, so its own nuclear “deterrent” is meaningless.

  13. WRFREE on July 18, 2015 at 8:18 am said:

    You know from the looks of it the US and the West are just about in the middle of a kind sinking , drowsy sleep. Not fully gone to another world but perhaps almost there. Let’s hope that the US can do the duties of Lexington and Concord’s ‘Minute Men’. It would appear that’s the way we’ve been setting up ourselves to deal with threats that are getting sharper all the time. Really there are perhaps many ‘shots’ ready to be fired on democracies throughout the world.

  14. dupere on July 18, 2015 at 2:58 pm said:

    “” China’s three bubbles zero hedge.”” Deflating commies. Catch-22, damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

  15. Peggy on July 18, 2015 at 3:06 pm said:

    please keep on this connected theme: human nature, displayed throughout history. the truth of this seems to be vigorously denied in all sorts of quarters, all with dangerous/very painful results.
    peggy

  16. dupere on July 18, 2015 at 6:12 pm said:

    “” Russian liquids production hits wood mackenzie.”” Growth from condensate, ominous—-especially combined with sanctions. “” Russia says to discuss oil markets, Iran with OPEC on July 30.”” Now that Iran is liberated, and the new Saud-chief is keen on working with the Russians, will this meeting at some point flip the policy and curtail the over-supply of the oil markets——— American shale company’s are dying off like flies. Europe desperately needs a Marshall plan away from oil consumption, and start building nuclear power plants.

  17. Rebekah on July 18, 2015 at 6:52 pm said:

    Very well said, as usual.

  18. dupere on July 19, 2015 at 6:47 pm said:

    “” Putin warns defense industry moscow times.”” Pressure on failing Russia.

  19. I was listening to the Aaron Kline show tonight. He had an Cleric from Great Britian on. He stated that ISIS army is 300,000 . I fear that an Nucler Armed Iran will form an alliance against the United States and the West with ISIS To conquer Western Euope.

  20. arno on July 20, 2015 at 7:50 am said:

    Bruce, I am afraid Iran is the rational actor in this deal and Obama the passionate one.

  21. Roy Digliani on July 21, 2015 at 12:45 pm said:

    These progressives believe that bad guys won’t use nuclear weapons?
    It might be unimaginable to them but not to the bad guys.
    We dropped a bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki no problem because we thought it was justified.
    Will the Mullahs of Iran feel justified in dropping bombs wherever they want?
    Of course.
    70 million people died in WWII.
    Why would anyone think that an atomic war killing as many isn’t possible?
    It will happen and it will be bad.
    Iran will lose.
    All those wonderful brilliant handsome Persian people sacrificed by their ignorant evil leaders.
    Just like the residents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ……but this time some of us will be killed.
    Millions of us.
    Ultimately we’ll win but it will hurt.
    Obama is a stupid ignorant man.
    It’s funny how he thinks he’s the hero.
    The jokes on us.

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