by Victor Davis Hanson
Claremont Review of Books
[This piece appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of the Claremont Review of Books.]
“Bad and worse” is now the conventional wisdom regarding our choices in dealing with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s efforts to obtain the bomb. We are told that Western air strikes will lead to violent reactions in the Islamic world; increase terrorism; empower the Iraqi Shiite obstructionists; destroy the much ballyhooed but little heard from Iranian opposition; and that even after days of bombing, we will be unable to level all Iran’s nuclear facilities. That’s the “bad” option we face.
Apparently no one believes that stopping the Iranian bomb would humiliate the mullahs and teach others in the region not to try something similar — even though Libya gave up its WMD arsenal, by its own admission, only because Muammar al-Qadhafi feared the fate of Saddam Hussein.
“Worse” means they get the bomb — which results in a nuclear Iran threatening Israel, U.S. troops in the Middle East, neighboring Arab oil exporters, and European capitals, even as Western liberals bicker over whether Ahmadinejad seeks merely status, high oil prices, greater power over a restless populace — or paradise as his reward for destroying the Jewish state. This is a leader who listens to voices in a well, dreams about the missing 12th imam, claims his audiences can’t blink while he talks, and may have been one of the terrorists who stormed the U.S. embassy in 1979 — adding messianic nihilism to the tinderbox of petrodollars, nukes, and terrorism.
In response, Zen-like, the United States keeps silent in the background. The Europeans’ vaunted multicultural dialogue goes nowhere, earning them Iranian contempt rather than gratitude. The United Nations is, well, the United Nations, and more likely to obsess over Israel’s half-century-old arsenal than worry about a new nuclear theocracy. The Arab autocracies, meanwhile, don’t seem too worried about a Persian-Israeli conflagration that might cripple both traditional enemies, if it transpired without raining too much fallout on the West Bank.
China and Russia want either Iranian oil or petrodollars, and seem to enjoy the West’s anxiety, confident that in the worst-case scenario a nuclear Iran would probably point its missiles and terrorists at someone else. Russia promises oversight of Iranian enrichment, a fox-in-the-henhouse scenario since it sold the mullahs most of the requisite nuclear technology in the first place. The Israelis are stymied, at least temporarily. The fear of a second Holocaust will make them act at the eleventh hour, though they know that most of the world would sigh in relief — and damn them in the morning papers.
Stung over the perception that senior Democrats can’t be trusted with national security, Senators John Kerry and Hillary Clinton deplore the “outsourcing” of American responsibility in dealing with Iran — though of course they would be the first to condemn Bush cowboyism, once CNN got going with its live feed of collateral damage on about, oh, day 3 of any air campaign.
Former President Bill Clinton last year apologized to the Iranian mullocracy for American support for the Shah 30 years ago and CIA espionage a half century past, but not to the American people for allowing Pakistan, Iran, and North Korea to begin in earnest their nuclear acquisition programs on his watch. Jimmy Carter should turn up soon, calling for sensitive understanding of Iran’s unique security needs; indeed, the closer Iran gets to the bomb, the more the Left will say that we can live with it.
So for now, American policy seems to have established a window of restraint for about a year or so, until intelligence confirms that the Iranians are months away from arming their warheads. Then there will probably be a messy, incomplete air campaign that will set back the Iranian nuclear program for perhaps five years and send gas prices sky-high. We will hope that some fissionable material is not already in the hands of Hezbollah, and trust that anti-American global protests will be no worse than the lunacy toward the Danes. Israel will brace for a more horrific terrorist campaign, and we will pray that the Iraqi Shiites are more Iraqi than Shiite.
All that has changed in the past six months is the growing Western realization that radical Islam thrives on appeasement, and really does mean what it says. Once elected, Hamas, despite Western money and support, did not budge from its charter’s promise to destroy Israel. Far from withdrawing his pledge to wipe Israel out, President Ahmadinejad doubled-down on the boast by organizing formal Holocaust-denial conferences, the prerequisite for any Jew-hater who wishes to move from rhetoric to action. Unlike Hitler, however, Ahmadinejad outlined in advance not merely the intent but the method of his intended follow-up to the Holocaust.
The burning and killing over the Danish cartoons — coming on the heels of the French riots, the bombings in Madrid and London, and Theo van Gogh’s murder in Holland — have shaken the very foundations of Europe. Perhaps the European Union will realize that its 450 million citizens cannot tolerate living in range of radical Islam’s missiles, with Ahmadinejad’s finger on the button. Thus Holland increased its troop deployment in Afghanistan. Many European newspapers reprinted the cartoons in a show of solidarity. Germany’s Angela Merkel compared the Iranian President to Hitler. And even earlier, Jacques Chirac talked of using his country’s nukes against state sponsors of terrorism. We are coming to a showdown where the headshaking over “bad or worse” is no longer an excuse for inaction, but a tragic acceptance that there is still a bad choice, after all.
©2006 Victor Davis Hanson