From the desk of George Handlery on Sat, 2006-02-04 12:08
Long lives cause us to have held views that are, in retrospect, nonsense. If your career enabled you to spread your ideas, these stumbles are recorded. A mishap because it takes some skill and cheek to pretend that one stood for the opposite of what became, as time passed, an embarrassment. If you have, at the time of the creation of the original imbecility, not been taken seriously, then this “for instant forgetting” feature of your labors makes the cover up easy. That done, you can start out fresh with a corrected past along a track that leads to recognition for wisdom. Another thing you can do is to publicize your error and let all participate in your rewarding learning experience.
Granted, few of us take pleasure from admitting our foolishness. In the case before you the motivation is less (deserved) flagellation than the use of a past derailment in the present. The case illustrates a weakness in international relations and of the wobbling commitment to protect Western Civilization.
The error admitted here stems from the writer’s habit of assuring listeners that nuclear proliferation will, once the process threatens to include “deranged criminals,” unite the society of nations to act with determination against these deviant aspirants of the nuclear club. The forecast assumed that such a development would be to the detriment of all. The intended targets were expected to resort to the maximal level of coercion within the range of their national means, to preclude their planned destruction. To assess the size of the error one is to confront the projection with the situation now unfolding. The search for the blunder embedded in the difference is, surprisingly, the anticipation’s logical nature.
The mistake leading to a limping prognosis had been that states and the societies creating them are led by a non-negotiable will to survive. By a consensus located well below the point where political differences begin, they are capable of identifying and reacting to threats to their existence. One naive component of the foregoing is that it ignores what the “death wish” civilizations are capable of. So were the hard-to-forget-lessons of the history of the last world war. (Forgetting these “lessons” is easy for those who had never learned them in the first place.) The reader who only thinks here of “Hitler,” should include the even more embarrassing case of Stalin, too. The attempt to elude dangers by ignoring them and by ducking in the face of threats to the order and the way of life of advanced civilizations is a contemporary trend. What could be written off as momentary confusion when, initially, the system of liberty confronted the Bolshevik, then the Nazi, and after ’45 the Soviet threat, does not fly today. Facing the present’s Islamist challenge, a pattern is being repeated and not set. In the case of the USA the duckers, the hiders and the relativists seem to have an ingrained “withdraw now” syndrome.
Thanks to the unconcerned “surrender now” crowd, what seemed to be impossible is now becoming actual fact. Due to that, the roots of the writer’s erroneous prognosis gain in clarity. By the rules of logic, what is now taking place should not be happening. As so often, calculations that presuppose the rationality of the actors on the scene are proven wrong because some decision makers and their voters act illogically for they are unaware of their interests. Man is capable of rational thinking: still is not our trait to always apply reason. Thus, calculations positing rational responses to testing challenges as a premise are apt to miss outcomes.
For months now, the story stewing on the front burner is about Iran’s drive to nuclear status. On the whole, those concerned under-react as, by their perception, the ends pursued by Iran are mere “posturing” because they are “not reasonable.” While a certain element of such ignorance and fact-denial also play a role, there are further components that explain the inadequate response to this and other threats.
For some who under-react it is a consideration that on the short run the menace, if it exists, is directed against the USA and Israel. Indeed, since neither can defer its security to another power, both are forced into roles that provoke the Islamists’ fury. The antipathy of the neutralists, leftists and some right-nationalists in Europe to these states precedes Iran’s nuclear projects. The idea is, regardless of contrary evidence, widespread that it is American-Israeli intransigence, such as now in facing Tehran’s moves, that bears responsibility for Ahmadinejad’s radicalism. It is frightening to contemplate the outrage provoked if Israel or Washington would mention Iran’s Ausradieren as a national goal. Coming from Iran (or similar sources) such pronouncements are bagatellized by noting that the phrase is old enough to be seen as folklore, it was not meant, and that it reflects an isolation that is best overcome by patiently ignoring the matter. Tehran’s hostility is said to be a reaction to concrete policies. Islamist revelations that their hostility is general and that they regard the concrete issues they articulate to be part of an over-all clash (of cultures), is ignored. This happens because such circles cannot believe in a collision of cultures, since they see little reason to defend their own. Why should others think otherwise? A contributory role is played by the doctrines of a “third-worldism” that assigns moral superiority to anything claiming to be non-western. There is also an inability to take seriously the message that, being an honest and sincere man, Ahmadinejad sends uncoded. Therefore some states feel that their immunity in the “war” can be guaranteed by putting a lot of light between themselves and the US-Israeli cabal.
The negligent mismanagement of the response to Iran’s nuclear projects also includes among its causes a conflict between several highly held values. For one thing, there is the perceived need to atone for the immorality of “colonialism, imperialism” and for the success of the industrialized countries. These blemishes are converted, by a process that has more to do with psychology than with logic, into the moral superiority of the descendants of the victims. The other principle is the tradition of opposing everything that is nuclear – extending from electric stations to bombs. Add a bit of unconditional pacifism made relative by support for “liberation movements.” Spice with the caveat that only industrialized societies are capable of aggression. Finally, resolve the contradictions by closing your eyes and plugging your ears.
The casual attitude regarding proliferation is especially surprising in the light of new developments. Nuclear weapons used to be instruments of states and governments. Today we are at the lowered threshold of a new phase of the nuclear age. With the direct or indirect access by terrorists, the mutual assured destruction (MAD) that kept us from nuclear – but not conventional – war since 1945, is ceasing to be operative. Retaliation, with made nuclear weapons of limited use as instruments of war, is of little use as a deterrent. Terrorist WMDs have no return address on them. More: the goal of terrorist movements is not the destruction of the instruments of power of a state to be taken over after victory. A Götterdämmerung has no dissuasive effect in the case of people who, as Ahmedinejad does, expect the “return of the Mahdi.”
In as much as an Ahmadinejad can be impressed by counter measures prior to getting his nukes, dissuasion before the fact has lost much of the persuasiveness it had initially. While nothing that Iran has done in the nuclear realm is new or sudden, or has been hidden unless one made an effort to overlook, the reaction has been generally equivocating. For quite a while even Washington has been satisfied with being able to declare its hands bound by the resistance of Russia, China and the Europeans. Both Russia and China are having trouble on their periphery with their own Islamists that still present themselves as ethnic separatists. Also, their religion and militant secularism make them a logical major target for later. Even so, they found and find reasons to extend technical and political support to the core of the Jihadist movement, presumably because they see it only as a force that saps “American Supremacy.” This moves them close on this level, but not on that of negotiating tactics, to the “Europeans,” specifically France and Schröder-Germany.
Having the, albeit not unconditional, support of two major powers and their UN veto against sanctions, has bolstered Tehran’s position. In themselves the EU3 [France, Germany and Britain]’s attempt to negotiate a solution did not intend to render matters worse. However, the EU kept on talking when signs became discernible that the Mullah-state uses diplomacy as a weapon. All this must have suggested that, the risks defying critics that are bribable with purchases/deliveries or too weak and irresolute to do more than protest formally, are negligible. Meanwhile, the breaking effect of Russian, Chinese and EU opposition could be counted upon to restrain the US hamstrung by its isolation in the Iraq entanglement. Therefore, added up, all this strengthened the case one could make in Iran for pursuing at small risk the nuclear project.
The consequences of this impression bear a major risk for those – here America and Israel are included – who are reluctant to undo the Gordian knot Iran tied with the sword. No one wants a pre-emptive strike but equally no one wishes a nuclear power run by radicals subscribing to a transnational ideology. And most certainly no one will be willing to bear burdens to defend the architects of such a policy. Regrettably, however, Iran has been sent a message that they have reason to be misled by. Before the outbreak of WW2, Hitler, reacting to a new Allied warning said something like, “Sie sind Würmchen, Ich sah sie in München.” Freely translated: “I saw them in Munich, they are maggots.” Maggots they were not but they were guilty of sending repeatedly a message that substantiated the wrong impression.
Applied to Iran’s not exactly men-of-the-world governors, by now the risks of going nuclear might seem to be limited, the opportunities grand and the enemies weak while also insincere, venal or distracted. This impression lessens the value of diplomacy and takes the starch out of persuasion, whereby the chances of a settlement with security shrink. Indeed what is now needed is not more “diplomatic” beating around the bush but hard talk. Otherwise, we might be living a case study for future school-texts. One that illustrates the thesis that too much patience and concessions to the wrong party and on the wrong issue augment the danger that peace’s advocates attempt to avoid.