Arguably, the success of Western Civilization and of its derivates can be attributed to the triumph of reason over irrationality in the course of its development. This process had its modest beginnings in the Middle Ages (at the outset of which Europe had a “traditional civilization,” meaning that it resembled all other previous and contemporary cultures). The movement then accelerated, and so it transformed its original environment through the Enlightenment and the eras that followed it. All through this there evolved a parallel and contrary trend. Its modern phase harks back to Rousseau. It continued with the “racialists” and scored with the Leninist version of Marxism and National Socialism as well as Fascism.
Those who can go along with this rudimentary sketch might agree that in the last century the counter trend grew stronger. So much so that its representatives have almost prevailed in the global struggle they caused. Although these systems seem to have been defeated, the use of the conditional suggests that the dominance of rationality is not assured. When I came to Americain 1956, a theme of a US History course that I attended greatly impressed me. Keen to know what makes societies, especially the American one, successful the insights were stunning. Briefly, the great decisions were mostly the product of a compromise issuing from strength. It became possible because, through a rational discourse the better, most convincing argument could prevail. The losers who still had some input on the course chartered have not lost everything: nor were they “liquidated” to realize a utopia. (This is not to insinuate that “Ausradieren” had not brought about lasting solutions.)
Nowadays the tradition of applying reason to find the best path leading to reasonable goals is being threatened. Worse, the patient polishing of positions while striving to evaluate ways and means regardless of where the conclusion might take one, is frowned upon. Just think of how the rational is depicted as “insensitive” and how facts that challenge someone’s doctrine which supersedes proof is qualified as an insult. How often do you hear arguments that are the equivalent of proclaiming: “The earth is flat. This my opinion. You say it is round. That is your opinion. We are equals. Thus my opinion is as good as yours.” Preempting discourse, arbitrary assertions abound. Challenging them is taken as an offense and the disapproval of it is demonstrated by staging extortionary protests spiced by riots.
The sense that there is a “right” to raise (non negotiable) demands that are inconsistent with another claim made concurrently, is spreading like oil on water. A typical case is “lower gas prices,” while pontificating “no new refineries.” Or: “Iraq is a failed state.” Its sovereignty “must be respected.” The trend is well represented in several of the components of the deliberations regarding Iran’s nuclear projects and what the world should do about it. This being possibly a crucial matter determining out planet’s future, it makes sense to deal with the inconsistencies of the opinions and positions that flow into the debate.
Europe wants the US to stop Iran’s flirt with nukes. America wishes Europe on her side if she is to act in the matter. Europe desires to delegate the problem to the Americans who, however, should not act unilaterally.
Russia does not want a nuclear Iran. It is, however, not prepared to give up her lucrative business with that country thereby supporting the USA. So Moscow desires the benefits of Washington’s action and also wishes to cash in on the reaction this will cause in the Muslim world. In power terms, while the application of the “hegemon’s” power is desired, the opportunity to weaken it is welcome.
China must be on board if – as a consequence of unilateralism in Iraq – the US wishes to act with the mandate of that UN that Tehran has deceived for decades. The growing power of Islam implies the growing separatism of China’s Muslim Uighurs. Meanwhile, however, Peking has a thirst for preferential access to Iran’s oil. Weakening “the” Superpower is a perk provided that in the process it is not made impotent to act. Unilaterally if need be. This is like wanting a good home-cooked dinner without needing to wash the dishes. On the whole, on this level, numerous powers wish to swim without getting wet.
In many countries US’ moves against Tehran are seen as bringing a fall-out of security. Condemning anything the US will do (“irresponsible bellicose adventurism”) will also bring benefits in terms of the good will of the restrained impostors. Should America do nothing she can be castigated for not having lived up to her obligations and for lacking the will to act resolutely. After all, weak allies are bad allies and feeble protectors increase the peril.
With all this going on, more than ever, the American people craves the active participation of the world community in whatever her government undertakes. Above all, at home and abroad, the “concerned” want “diplomacy” to be let to do the job. Regrettably, diplomacy depends on credibility and that is a derivate of the bayonets that back it up. In this case, however, this credibility is at best limited since “diplomacy” is twisted to imply the promise of the categorical renunciation of power. Alas, diplomacy has repeatedly failed to solve the crisis at hand. In its present form and condition - just think of the disunity of those trying to cajole Iran – diplomacy-made-toothless only aids Tehran because it gains time for its pursuits. The later in the process that action is finally contemplated, the greater will be the difficulties to be surmounted. This creates a steadily improving argument for limiting action to hand-wringing.
Overlooking Ahmadinejad’s increasingly virulent rhetoric is supposed to demonstrate the wisdom of restraint. Assumedly, subdued reactions will impress Iran that, after all, the world is not hostile to it. Wild talk by the enemies of the modern way of life is, in some circles, not considered to be a sign of aggressive ignorance or implacability. It rates as proof of “sincerity”. That is known to be a virtue: its source should be “respected” and deserves deference. In actual fact, since incendiary threats bring results – or at least no disadvantage – more of the same and corresponding actions are encouraged. Few wolves have turned vegetarian because the sheep remained dignifiedly peaceful.
One of the obvious means of “diplomacy” includes “sanctions.” Those who can remember from yesterday the pleas for isolating South Africa will be surprised by what they learn about the value of sanctions today from the same sources. According to the wisdom of the moment, sanctions are ineffective. Indeed, they really are in case that states use the enhanced demand of ostracized buyers to circumvent sanctions by selling quarantined items at a premium price. Boycotts are also said to raise the threat by radicalizing their target. This view is well exploited by Iran when it threatens boycotting and crushing the world in case sanctions are imposed. If sanctions of any sort are an insult to be avoided to serve the cause of peace then, by implication, disapproval is to be applied only if the addressee approves of it. (Well, at least if the troublemaker’s size is above the Liechtenstein class.) Lastly, sanctions hurt the average person who is, by this logic not co-responsible for the doings of his government. Never mind that the mass’ mood has repercussions for misbehaving regimes. Also, that states put beyond the pale are likely to have additional difficulties in acquiring, let us say WMD technology and in their dealings with other governments.
With this in mind one must ask, why, if sanctions are ineffective, are those upon whom they might be imposed so vehemently opposed to them? If sanctions would not matter then laughing them off would be the norm and the time gained could be used to complete armament projects. If sanctions would not matter then, rather than threatening to attack and trash the world, the foregoing would be the correct strategy to recommend to the Mullahs. “Ineffective” might be an attractive phrase to support a pray and wait strategy. Still, regardless of its virtue of justifying inaction, the term distorts the efficacy of implemented sanctions.Tehran, as its actions reveal, knows this much. Some of those who used to know it now play “three monkeys.” Those who refuse to notice will have themselves to blame.