An Interview: Reflections on Iran, Iraq, the Middle East and the West

by Ellis Weintraub

Private Papers

The Jerusalem Post recently published a portion of Weintraub’s interview with Victor Davis Hanson.

What steps should be taken on Iran by Israel, the United States, or the West in general?

I believe we have one to two years, a little more at best, so [the U.S.] must up our military profile in the Gulf, pursue and enhance the U.N. sanctions, get the Europeans to stop selling this regime almost anything it wants (the E.U. is Iran’s largest trading partner), work with neighboring Arab states, and collapse the price of oil to below $50 a barrel, which would cut off the petrol wealth of this corrupt and shaky regime.

How dangerous is an atomic Iran? Would they use the bomb?

No one knows exactly to what extent Ahmadinejad is typical of the current leadership. My guess is that he is seen as a useful pit bull whose barking whips up Islamic solidarity, but whose leash the mullahs are not ready to cut loose until they have the bomb.

This sort of extremist Persian Shia fervor nullifies classical deterrence. Would such madmen be willing to lose 40 million [citizens] so that the martyred would be in paradise and the survivors eternally boasting that the despised Persian Shi’ites were the true jihadists of Islam who took out the Zionist entity?

The world must act collectively; it cannot expect that 60 years after the Holocaust an Israeli prime minister will sit idly by while a Persian dictator first promises to wipe out the “one-bomb” state, and then proceeds to obtain the means to fulfill that sick boast.

Does U.S. involvement in Iraq limit America’s ability to deal with Iran’s nuclear program?

It cuts both ways: having troops deployed nearby helps if they are winning, and the opposite if they are perceived as losing. Iran is terrified of a stable democratic Afghanistan, Lebanon, and Iraq near or on its borders, so we are in high-stakes gambit. We must not lose in Iraq. The consequences would be terrible.

I still think the U.S. can stabilize [Iraq] — betting against the U.S. military is not wise. We forget that going 7,000 miles into the ancient caliphate and fostering democracy in a climate of three decades of nightmarish terror isn’t easily accomplished in four years.

What role can democratic reforms in the Middle East play in ending terrorism?

Ultimately, constitutional government will help to break the connection between corrupt autocracies and jihadists.

In the short term, we may see the election of terrorists like Hamas.

The Palestinians got their free elections; they voted; and now they must stew in their own juice. That’s why it is critical not to give a dime to the Palestinian Authority Hamas government until [they] renounce their terrorist charter.

What explains the overwhelming criticism of Israel? What can Israel do to combat this?

Envy, mostly — how can fewer than seven million achieve what 500 million Arabs could not? Israel is successful, wealthy, and pro-American, the usual foci of the anger of those who need some psychological banshee to deal with their own sense of failure and inferiority.

Israel must continue to explain its democratic essence, its humanitarian accomplishments, and its willingness to treat future democratic Arab states as equals, but assume that such magnanimity will win it only contempt. It must always beware of tiring, of sinking under the Western maladies of cynicism and nihilism. Remember, for Europeans and Arabs, hating “Zionists” and “Israel” has become an acceptable way to hate Jews without the stigma of anti-Semitism.

Considering ancient Israel’s role in the development of Western civilization, does being a classical historian influence your current views on Israel?

Yes,  especially the pseudo-claims by Israel’s enemies of an eternal Islamic or Arab homeland, as if Jews, Persians, Greeks, Macedonians, Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Ottomans, and Europeans have not all staked their claims on the Middle East. History is unkind, and does not magically settle mythic claims like Zeus on Olympus. In the case of present-day Israel, it is unique in that the Jews were the first settlers of Israel, and presently they have the legal right, the military strength, and the cultural dynamism to enhance and protect their homeland.

When are you planning on coming again to Israel? We would love to host you here at the Jerusalem Post.

I was last there during December 2004. I would love to come back and will soon. Israel serves today as the ethical barometer in the western collective mind. Support for it brings no oil, no ingratiation with terrorists, no psychological lift of the usual easy bullying of a small democracy, but it does reveal respect for democracy, confidence in the history of the West, and respect for a humane culture and an accomplished people under terrible assault. So, I confess, as I age I sort of judge Westerners I meet now by their degree of fairness toward Israel. I’ve gotten to the point when I hear a rabid Leftist or a creepy Right-wing nut rant on Israel, I just pack it up and walk away. Life is too short for such nonsense.

©2007 Victor Davis Hanson

Share This