Monday, November 20, 2006

Misappropriating Munich, Take 2

Several weeks ago the magazine held a roundtable on Misapproprating Munich, the tendency of Americans to make every threat into a repeat of World War II.

My colleague Ray Takeyh will likely win no friends for coming out bluntly and saying that Ahmadinejad is "not the next Hitler." Some excerpts from his "incideniary" essay from Sunday's Los Angeles Times:

IF YOU THINK IRANIAN PRESIDENT Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes outlandish comments, consider what Mao Tse-tung said to a visiting head of state in 1954: "If someone else can drop an atomic bomb, then I can too. The death of 10 or 20 million people is nothing to be afraid of."

Nonetheless, 15 years later, a nuclear-armed China was not only contained by the world, it opted for normalization of relations with its archenemy, the United States. Today, it is fashionable to equate Ahmadinejad with Hitler, yet the lesson of the 20th century is that rash leaders can, in fact, be deterred. And Iran's president will prove no exception.

Remember that Ahmadinejad's comments are not even unique in the context of Iranian discourse. In 2001, the former Iranian president and putative moderate, Hashemi Rafsanjani, declared that although Israel would be destroyed by an atomic bomb, the Islamic world would only be damaged by one and therefore "such a scenario is not inconceivable." Nevertheless, four years later, when Rafsanjani was running for president, Washington and its European allies were eagerly hoping that he would win.

Ahmadinejad is considered nutty in the United States because of his denial of the Holocaust--but that's nothing new in the Islamic Republic either. The foremost ruler of the country, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has declared: "There are documents showing close collaboration of Zionists with Nazi Germany, and exaggerated numbers relating to the Jewish Holocaust were fabricated to lay the groundwork for the occupation of Palestine and to justify the atrocities of the Zionists." Yet today, it is quietly hoped in Washington that Khamenei will be the one to restrain the intemperate Ahmadinejad.

All this suggests that in dealing with Iran, American officials have historically discounted its bluster and paid attention to its actual conduct. And they were right to do so. Khamenei and Rafsanjani, despite their irresponsible assertions and pernicious support for a variety of terrorist organizations, have pursued a relatively pragmatic foreign policy that has sought to eschew direct confrontation with the U.S. and Israel. ...

It is a peculiar American fascination to continually look for the next Hitler. Josef Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh and even Saddam Hussein were all touted at one time or another as Hitler incarnate. Ahmadinejad is simply the latest figure to be contemplated for that role. Evidently, many in Washington simply cannot grasp the fact that Hitler was a uniquely evil politician and that he is in fact dead. The United States--the country that won the Cold War and contained its adversaries--should be able to deter a second-rate power with an intemperate leader.

I think you guys are missing the point; Munich is a propaganda tool - it will be used until its efficacy as such a tool is lost or the cost of the miserable policies pursued under its guise becomes intolerable for the US, EU electorate.

US & EU can no longer be great military powers, great economies, and great (read Welfare) societies simultaneously while comepting in a global market.

The electorate has to learn this first hand and rather painfully.

The lessons of Algeria, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Somalia, Iraq and other places have to be learnt anew - it seems by every generation.

Realism (Prudence) is not exciting. It is boring like brad, like day-to-day life, but it is filling.
Takeyh piece reads like appeasement ... don't confront this guy, just suck it up and deal with him, hope he doesn't do anything rash.
Go ahead, make my day - provoke yet another war against Islam.
We can fight now or fight later, why put off the inevitable?
Just do what Homer Simpson did when he dropped Principal Skinner's mother into traffic, "I'm pretty sure she was going to be the next Hitler!"

Works every time.
"The United States--the country that won the Cold War and contained its adversaries--should be able to deter a second-rate power with an intemperate leader."

Note that Afghanistan, a third-world state that wouldn't even qualify as a third or fourth-rate power, proved to be a threat to the United States because it sheltered those who ultimately would strike us on 09-11-01.

We should move beyond this question of whether a state is "contained" per se. Every state and no state is "contained" from doing something that would further their objectives but not "contained" from doing everything that would further that same objective.

Iran could be contained from doing x and y, x but not y, y but not x, or neither.

Ray Takeyh is probably right. The Iranian president is no Hitler and his country may not have the capability, let alone the desire, to spread their army across the Arabian peninsula.

But that doesn't make a nuclear Iran any less dangerous, particularly if it believes their very possession of nuclear weapons would "contain" us from "containing" them from an agenda we may or may not be able to tolerate once it is revealed.
Neither article admits a third possibility: the creation of a more strongly integrated global system that might give Iran (and other present and would-be nuclear states) a stronger incentive to forego nuclear energy.

Takeyh would leave deterrence to an increasingly centrifugal world system, while Muravchik (Takeyh's counterpoint in the LA Times) would push it over the edge. One can agree or disagree with either view but neither is really a long run solution.
You guys don't seem to get it.
Nucler Iran is a fact and cannot be reversed.
Anonymous 6:09 AM:

Did you say "over"?

Nothing's over until we decide it is!
Anonymous 6:09,

Iran faces a dilemma: it cannot be more secure if all of its neighbors go nuclear, as they will once Tehran does so, but Iran cannot be secure if great powers are free to depose governments that lack nuclear weapons.

A way out of this bind would be for the United States to propose a new global system of more strongly shared power and integrated defense in which the existing and would-be nuclear states move to dismantle nuclear weapons and guarantee each other's security.

Obviously, if perceptions of national differences are stronger than a perception of common interest, option (2) won't work. But the alternatives are hardly better: the status quo cannot be sustained and a nuclear Iran will unleash proliferation elsewhere that makes Iran and the world less safe. You may be right that the last outcome may be preordained, but I see no reason why a third alternative shouldn't be debated.
Sorry, that should be paragraph (2), not option (2).
david billington:

I am not opposed to a debate - it can even be fun. But I do not believe such a debate is going to affect policy in US or in Iran.

Iran will not build & test nuclear weapons nor will it leave NPT unless attacked by US. Iran has made too many promises to NAM and others to do otherwise.

While I agree that it behooves the United States to work on a more useful global security structure - I just do not see it in the cards.

US policy, under both Clinton and Bush, has been to seize as much strategic (high) ground as possible to the detriment of other states - who also have absorbed those lessons.

The NPT review conferences were poorly attended by US and no leadeship was shown there.

I just do not believe the US elite shares your concerns. They might be inhabiting a mental universe that is not reality-based but they do control levers of power.

And the US population seem to be evenly divided between Buchanan type nationalists and agressive internationalists.
Ray Takeyh stands as a very good example of why realism will always be relevant from a foreign policy perspective.
jordan w.

Ray Takeyh has been consistently ignored by the US Administration over the last 6 years.
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