Thursday, May 21, 2009

When Dictators Strut and Roar, Democratic Leaders Better Not Cringe

It's not so much that Iran launched a missile with a 1200-mile range but how that country's president characterized the event:

"We send them a message: Today the Islamic Republic of Iran is running the show. We say to the superpowers, 'Who of you dare to threaten the Iranian nation? Raise your hand!' But they all stand there with their hands behind their backs."

But at the same time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:

"Our goal is to persuade the Iranian regime that they will actually be less secure if they proceed with their nuclear weapons program."

So let me ask you a question: Does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sound like a man who is going to feel less secure once he has nuclear weapons?

Let's roll the tape again:

"We send them a message: Today the Islamic Republic of Iran is running the show. We say to the superpowers, 'Who of you dare to threaten the Iranian nation? Raise your hand!' But they all stand there with their hands behind their backs."

This just cries out for certain historic analogies with overconfident aggressive dictators. There are two in particular whose last names start with the letter "H." But let's focus on Saddam Hussein, the former president of Iraq. Miscalculating his power, he started two wars by invading Iran and then Kuwait. He thought his enemies were weak and knew that demagoguery was a potent weapon both at home and also to make him the region's leader.

There are certainly differences between Iraq and Iran, between Hussein and Ahmadinejad. The latter does not have anywhere near the power Saddam did. Still, one should remember that while the ruling establishment as a whole is more cautious we aren't exactly dealing with the ruling councils of Switzerland here.

[For an appropriate musical accompaniment to this article, play this song and video while you are reading it.]

Of course, there are elements of election rhetoric in all this by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. But do we think he's saying this just to shore up the bazaar merchant vote in the Third District of Isfahan on the advice of his Focus Group coordinator?  Someone who knows nothing about Iran's recent history might think so but this is vintage Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini stuff, the revolution's basic ideology:  The West is finished, the Arab nationalists are finished, Zionism is finished. We're taking over.

While he is running for president of Iran, Ahmadinejad is also engaged in a longer-run effort to make himself Iran's dictator. More immediately, Iran--and the ruling establishment as a whole--is running for the post of leader of the Muslim world and of the Middle East.

As with Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt in the 1950s and 1960s, as with the bid for regional hegemony made by Saddam in the 1980s and in 1990, such leaders who believe they are on top of the world tend to get a little frisky.

What should be the response of the West? Once upon a time people thought that the experience of the Munich agreement selling out Czechoslovakia was a model of how appeasement brought disaster. They would say that a certain leader could have been stopped on many occasions--before he occupied the Rhineland for example.

It is not generally known that at one time early in his reign, the Polish government approached Britain and France with a proposal to overthrow him through direct military action on the part of Warsaw. It was turned down. At the time this plan was proposed, in the early 1930s, Poland had a much stronger army than Germany. By the late 1930s, the courageous Poles didn't hold out for more than two weeks.

I am not suggesting that the Obama administration is going to sell out anyone. But that's not the real danger. The United States, Britain, and France today are simply not providing a credible deterrent. And that means not just a growing arrogance, ambition, and aggressiveness from Iran, but also a hysteria in large parts of the Arabic-speaking world and Muslim-majority states that Ahmadinejad (and others like Hizballah leader Nasrallah) is the man who will lead them to victory with swords flashing.

At the very least, at the very minimum, we should be hearing some persuasive toughness from Western leaders. In a sense, what's happening amounts to this: Please don't hate us or kill us! After all, we're bringing you an Arab-Israeli peace process and the TSS! (two-state solution).

This thinking is badly out of date. Western leaders are acting like this is the 1980s and they are trying to woo Egypt and other Arab states out of the Soviet camp. This is not about creating a Palestinian state, it is about creating an Iran-dominated region and a lot of radical Islamist states.

Something is seriously wrong here. We are living in a world where Western leaders whine and apologize while crackpot dictators who lead states whose militaries are paper tigers strut and roar. That's not a proposal for military attack but for some very serious roaring back.

Let me put it plainly and simply: Not to have a tough, credible response is inviting two things: aggression and the recruitment of hundreds of thousands people for the camp of what might be best called the Jihad Revolution--Jihad against non-Muslims; Revolution against Muslim rulers. It is the 21st century equivalent of Bolshevik class warfare.

Rather than trying to figure out ways to incorporate Iran, Syria, Hamas, and HIzballah, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others, Western leaders should be working to defeat them.

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