FZ Quotes on Iran

From Zakaria–he no left-wing nutso–on Iran. Damning and cutting through all the rhetoric (both sides) as always. The full article here. How much longer do we have to sit back and watch this administration and the so-called opposition party squander the gains of the last fifty years? From FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon/Kissinger, George HW Bush–Republican and Democrat alike.

Here’s Zakaria: emphasis mine.

To review a bit of history: in 1938, Adolf Hitler launched what became a world war not merely because he was evil but because he was in complete control of the strongest country on the planet. At the time, Germany had the world’s second largest industrial base and its mightiest army. (The American economy was bigger, but in 1938 its army was smaller than that of Finland.) This is not remotely comparable with the situation today.

Iran does not even rank among the top 20 economies in the world. The Pentagon’s budget this year is more than double Iran’s total gross domestic product ($181 billion, in official exchange-rate terms). America’s annual defense outlay is more than 100 times Iran’s. Tehran’s nuclear ambitions are real and dangerous, but its program is not nearly as advanced as is often implied. Most serious estimates suggest that Iran would need between five and 10 years to achieve even a modest, North Korea-type, nuclear capacity.

Washington has a long habit of painting its enemies 10 feet tall—and crazy. During the cold war, many hawks argued that the Soviet Union could not be deterred because the Kremlin was evil and irrational. The great debate in the 1970s was between the CIA’s wimpy estimate of Soviet military power and the neoconservatives’ more nightmarish scenario. The reality turned out to be that even the CIA’s lowest estimates of Soviet power were a gross exaggeration. During the 1990s, influential commentators and politicians—most prominently the Cox Commission—doubled the estimates of China’s military spending, using largely bogus calculations. And then there was the case of Saddam Hussein’s capabilities. Saddam, we were assured in 2003, had nuclear weapons—and because he was a madman, he would use them.

One man who is greatly enjoying being the subject of this outsize portraiture is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has gone from being an obscure and not-so-powerful politician—Iran is a theocracy, remember, so the mullahs are ultimately in control—to a central player in the Middle East simply by goading the United States and watching Washington take the bait. By turning him into enemy No. 1, by reacting to every outlandish statement he makes, the Bush administration has given him far more attention than he deserves. And so now he writes letters to Bush, offers to debate him and prances about in the global spotlight provided by American attention.

Even Ahmadinejad’s most grotesque statement, implying the annihilation of Israel, is likely part of this pattern. Iran is seeking leadership in the Middle East, and what better way to do so than by appropriating the core grievance of the Sunni Arabs: Israel. By making his dramatic statements, he is taunting the regimes of the Arab world, using rhetoric they dare not, for fear of Washington. His rhetoric is not so new; the Iranian “moderate” Ali Hashemi Rafsanjani said similar things. The real shift that has taken place in the Middle East is that 30 years ago most Arab regimes would have made statements like Ahmadinejad’s. Today his “rejectionism” stands alone.

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Published in: on September 7, 2006 at 7:58 am  Comments (3)  

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  1. What do you make of these two responses to Zakaria’s piece?

    First, Stanley Kurtz:

    “Interesting article by Zakaria, Ramesh, but I don’t find it particularly reassuring. Zakaria says that, unlike Germany in 1938, Iran in 2006 is a weak and insignificant power. Hitler in 1938 controlled the world’s second largest industrial base and its mightiest army, so why should we worry about a little punk country like Iran? Zakaria seems to me to be repeating the problem of our overconfidence in the matter of Iraq. We have the world’s largest economy and its mightiest army. We can crush Saddam’s army in a head-to-head fight, so why worry about occupying a little punk country like Iraq? Surely we can figure out a way to secure the place with relatively little bother. Isn’t the very line of thought Zakaria is repeating what got us into trouble in Iraq.

    “Zakaria says 2006 is not 1938, but I think he misses the bigger difference. Technology has put terrorism and guerilla war (always tough for big powers to stop) in a position to do more damage than ever. September 11 took down many more civilians and did far more damage to America’s mainland than anything that happened in WWII. That’s an old point, but Zakaria seems to have forgotten it. Ahmadinejad may be a populist Huey Long, but a Huey Long with a bomb, living next to the Persian Gulf, has got to be taken seriously. If Iran was as powerless as Zakaria says, how has it managed to get as far as it already has in defying the world? Underestimating our foe has been our problem. Zakaria is doing it again.”

    And Mario Loyola:

    “The difference between Iran and Nazi Germany is one of degree but not of kind — strategically speaking. Let’s remember that nobody knew in 1938 (not even most Nazis) that the Holocaust was coming. And yet all that was horrifying about the Nazis was plainly visible during their opposition period in the late 1920s and early 1930s, during which time their propaganda message was not much more objectionable than that of Michael Moore — and not really all that different (By the way, I firmly believe that all the similarities between Farenheit 9/11 and Nazi propaganda of the opposition period are purely accidental — I can’t believe he would have plagiarized the Nazis intentionally).

    The key thing to understand is that, in the remilitarization of the Rhineland, in the violation of the Versailles troop limits, and in the elimination of Czechoslovakia (the key link between France and Poland, upon which the containment of Germany vitally depended) Germany captured a series of offensive strategic advantages. An attack was not imminent in any of those cases, but as Winston Churchill said after the betrayal of Czechoslovakia at Munich in 1938: “We faced a choice between shame and war. We chose shame and will get war.”

    Churchill understood, as so many pseudo-pacifists did not, that allowing Germany to alter the status quo in a way that gave it a huge offensive advantage guaranteed that the Nazis would attack when they were ready. He understood that the last moment for effective self-defense was Munich in 1938–when there was no imminent attack. The choice was preemption or appeasement.

    And likewise the choice Bush faces now. Waiting until an attack might be imminent is suicide. If Iran wants nuclear technology, they need to go about getting it in a way that the international community will consider safe. Otherwise, we must understand Iran’s current violations of applicable Security Council resolutions as acts of aggression, which is what Germany’s diplomacy was during the 1930s. And we should responsd accordingly.

    Zakaria’s conclusions, based on a comparison of mass between Germany and Iran, are infantile. We did not even know, in 1938, that there would ever be such things as nuclear weapons. Are we to understand that Zakaria thinks that because 10 Al Qaeda guys get their hands on a nuke, we shouldn’t worry, because they have no million-man S.A.? What sense does that make?”

  2. A few thoughts.

    On Kurtz…

    Zakaria is not assuming Iran is no problem to contain/destroy. Actually it is quite the reverse–it’s the growing realization that no military solution is feasible.

    Kurtz is right that technology has changed the dynamics. But again what does 9/11 or alQaeda have to do with Iran? Iran is a state that wants to continue into the 21st century. Al Qaeda is a viral parasite.

    “If Iran was as powerless as Zakaria says, how has it managed to get as far as it already has in defying the world? Underestimating our foe has been our problem. Zakaria is doing it again.”

    He’s not implying their powerless. Zakaria is simply asking for “perspective” on the degree of their power. Instead of comparing them to the Nazis. They are a regional power who will have a bomb in a decade and will be along with Israel the strongest power in the Middle East. Take that Huey Long that seriously.

    No country who has gone nuclear in order to achieve great nation status has EVER used a nuclear weapon. Israel, China, France, even India and Pakistan.

    Iran and Israel would be like a new Pakistan/India. Tensions, flare ups, proxy fighting perhaps. But as the 2000 standoff between In/Pak showed, when nuclear, they back off.

    Strangely, only an Iranian nuclear weapon opens up the possibility for a lasting peace plan for Israel/Palestine.

    The proper analogy, if there is one, is not to Nazi Germany but to the Soviet Union or Communist China even. They were countries with nukes. They were countries whose ideology was not supported by the mass of their citizens and was derelict. They were authoritarian ruling classes that therefore just wanted to keep control. All of those are the case in Iran.

    We never fired a shot on the Soviet Union directly and destroyeed it. We could easily do the same with the Ayatollahs.

    Nazi ideology was on the upsurge. Iranian natinoalism is, not Shi’te theocracy (except in some parts of S.Iraq).

    On Loyola.

    Iran did not create the strategic advantage they hold in the ME. The US did. Not by a shameful bargain as at Munich. By our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Again they are the Soviets to our real “Nazis”, Salafi jihadism. We didn’t and couldn’t have beaten the Nazis without the Soviet alliance. Just so, we will not truly isolate the Salafis until the Shia are recognized, the P/I resolved, and economic opportunity & more responsive government in the Sunni Arab heartland.

    Never going to go away completely and all of that is only so that we can focus on the real battle for humanity’s future–sub Saharan Africa.

    To quote Churchill for my purposes: he was railed for his alliance with Stalin. To which he famously quipped, “If Hitler had invaded Hell, I’d have put in a good word for the devil.”

    Beat the Nazis, THEN contain and wait out the Soviets. That’s the gameplan. Not try to fight the Nazis and Soviets simultaneously–alone.

    Why do we assume Iran is going to attack? The Soviets were forever committed on the rhetorical level to the destruction of the West. That’s was Zakaria’s point of the populism of Mahmoud’s speeches. Only Nixon could go to China; only Ahmadinejad could accep the US.

    The only way we can get the people of Iran/Hezbollah/S.Iraq against us in an ideological fight is to bomb them. The Ayatollahs of Iran do not have the backing of the people in that way. But an attacked nationalistic button pushed would.

    Zakaria nowhere talks about not fearing 10 alQaeda guys with nukes. In fact, those are the guys we should be worried, who we could be worried about if we made our pact with the new devil.

    The Shia have never religiously held sway in Muslim history. The Safevid Shia Iranian empire was not particularly religious. The Shia Arabs have never in Muslim history held power as they do now in Iraq. They have never had so much influence in Lebanon.

    The Iranians know they can always pull the Sunni/Shia versus the West card we needed. Because we give them an opportunity to do so.

    We are not giving Iran any land as in Munich. We are recognizing, as we did with the Soviets, the reality of what Iran already is–an authoritarian government, with an ideology hostile to Western rule of law, who wants a sphere of influence, taken over in opposition to a Western backed imperial rule.

    They can be bought in–they have a stake. Al Qaeda and alQaeda inspired groups can not. They have to simply be destroyed. Period. While simultaneously buliding the economic mesh necessary for the eventual crazy transformation that will be whatever comes next after Sunni autocracy.

    What comes next in Iran–in this scenario–is quite clear. A dissolution of the Ayatollah’s regime in 20 years or less. Barely a generation. And the installatino of a government that will satisfy basic demands as a modern, rule of law state.

    It’s recognizing their existence and their regional influence, so we can actually force them to involve themselves.

    The Iranians gave incredible amoutns of money to the Coalition to train Afghani soldiers specifically under US leadership. Of course they wanted to bolster the Shia in Afghanistan, prevent a re-Talibanization of the area. So what?

    We fight Iran, and the Middle East implodes. It is that simple. This is what all these conservative authors to me miss.

    They can call on Shia Iraqis to revolt against the Coalition/iraqi government. They can have Hezbollah/Hamas attack Israel. They can attack Israel. Israel will lose hudnreds of thousands. AT minimum I bet. And Iran, with increasing innfluence/stature on the Palestinian issue will incite the Sunnis of the world to rise up against the dictators/American allies. Those regimes can not afford to be seen standing against the Palestianians. That issue now belongs to Iran.

    Plus we will lose China and Russia, to whatever degree we are connected with them now. And Pakistan, the only of the Muslim countries with a bomb and where alQaeda actually lives would be threateend–possibly inner Shia/Sunni violence, or an attempted coup at the Musharraf government. Pakistan would also use the confusion over Iran to further the destruction of the Karzai government.

    All of thaf for a war that we fundamentally can not contain the area. Whwere we could be likely attacked at home as a result. When our military is deeply weakened by mistakes in Iraq.

    Not to mention the shorter term boogey–the threat of a spreading regional war in the Middle East emanating from Iraq.

    Failed states and economic/human disolocation is the perfect haven for terrorism. What would attacking Iran create except another failed state?

    Iran has a cult of matryrdom like Japan WWII. To “win” the military conflict, would likely necessitate in my mind the use of nuclear weapons on a civilian population.

    I want that thought to sink in.

    If there is any comparison to Nazi Germany and Iran I think it is this. Both rose as a product of the humiliation of the Western democratic regimes.

    Nazi Germany arose in part as a reaction to the humiliating terms of the Versailles treaty. The CIA assasinated Mossadeq, the President of Iran and installed a puppet autocrat.

    Further humiliation, to a REGIONAL not World-wide power (a la Germany) will have what positive effect?

    The Middle EAst will be trahsed for the next century, the world will turn into a neo-Cold War bipolar reality with the West increasingly isolated. The ME will be a swamp for never ending fear spread through terrorism. The further radicalization of Muslim populations in Europe and corresponding attacks.

    A brutal world. The issue is the humiliation and regional power status. In other words–can be co-opted through lifting the ceiling on the humiliation.

    This is no “quasi-pacificist” position.

  3. It was funny to see that Kurtz thought Zakaria was alluding to Iran with the Hitler comparison. I thought he was alluding to the US.


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