As Britain's foreign minister Jack Straw utters ridiculous statements about how Iran should never be attacked based on its nuclear ambitions, China and Russia restock Iranian generators and supply it with advanced technology, and the more noteworthy nutcase states in the Muslim world (Sudan) cheer on Ayatollahstan, the world faces potentially the gravest threat since Hitler's Germany. Yes, a nuclear Iran is more of a threat to innocent people throughout the world than the USSR because Iran feels no constraints on its actions -- it is a "revolutionary" state that perceives its role as spreading radical Islam to an unbelieving world. The best formulation of Iran with nukes is Mark Steyn's observation in his fantastic essay about the danger from Iran that "Iran with nukes will be a suicide bomber with a radioactive waist."
And the West not only fails to understand this reality, it turns a blind eye to it all. This is merely an ongoing pattern as Steyn notes:
If we'd understood Iran back in 1979, we'd understand better the challenges we face today . . . But, with hindsight, what strikes you about the birth of the Islamic Republic is the near total lack of interest by analysts in that adjective: Islamic. Iran was only the second Islamist state, after Saudi Arabia--and, in selecting as their own qualifying adjective the family name, the House of Saud at least indicated a conventional sense of priorities, as the legions of Saudi princes whoring and gambling in the fleshpots of the West have demonstrated exhaustively . . . The difference in Iran is simple: with the mullahs, there are no London escort agencies on retainer to supply blondes only. When they say "Islamic Republic," they mean it. And refusing to take their words at face value has bedeviled Western strategists for three decades.
Twenty-seven years ago, because Islam didn't fit into the old cold war template, analysts mostly discounted it. We looked at the map like that Broadway marquee: West and East, the old double act. As with most of the down-page turf, Iran's significance lay in which half of the act she'd sign on with. To the Left, the shah was a high-profile example of an unsavory U.S. client propped up on traditional he-may-be-a-sonofabitch-but-he's-our-sonofabitch grounds . . . To the realpolitik Right, the issue was Soviet containment: the shah may be our sonofabitch, but he'd outlived his usefulness, and a weak Iran could prove too tempting an invitation to Moscow to fulfill the oldest of czarist dreams--a warm-water port, not to mention control of the Straits of Hormuz. Very few of us considered the strategic implications of an Islamist victory on its own terms--the notion that Iran was checking the neither-of-the-above box and that that box would prove a far greater threat to the Freeish World than Communism.
But that was always Iran's plan. In 1989, with the Warsaw Pact disintegrating before his eyes, poor beleaguered Mikhail Gorbachev received a helpful bit of advice from the cocky young upstart on the block: "I strongly urge that in breaking down the walls of Marxist fantasies you do not fall into the prison of the West and the Great Satan," Ayatollah Khomeini wrote to Moscow. "I openly announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the greatest and most powerful base of the Islamic world, can easily help fill up the ideological vacuum of your system."
Today many people in the West don't take that any more seriously than Gorbachev did. But it's pretty much come to pass. As Communism retreated, radical Islam seeped into Africa and south Asia and the Balkans. Crazy guys holed up in Philippine jungles and the tri-border region of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay who'd have been "Marxist fantasists" a generation or two back are now Islamists: it's the ideology du jour. At the point of expiry of the Soviet Union in 1991, the peoples of the central Asian republics were for the most part unaware that Iran had even had an "Islamic revolution"; 15 years on, following the proselytizing of thousands of mullahs dispatched to the region by a specially created Iranian government agency, the Stans' traditionally moderate and in many cases alcoholically lubricated form of Islam is yielding in all but the most remote areas to a fiercer form imported from the south. As the Pentagon has begun to notice, in Iraq Tehran has been quietly duplicating the strategy that delivered southern Lebanon into its control 20 years ago. The degeneration of Baby Assad's supposedly "secular" Baathist tyranny into full-blown client status and the replacement of Arafat's depraved "secular" kleptocrat terrorists by Hamas's even more depraved Islamist terrorists can also be seen as symptoms of Iranification.
So as a geopolitical analyst the ayatollah is not to be disdained. Our failure to understand Iran in the seventies foreshadowed our failure to understand the broader struggle today. As clashes of civilizations go, this one's between two extremes: on the one hand, a world that has everything it needs to wage decisive war--wealth, armies, industry, technology; on the other, a world that has nothing but pure ideology and plenty of believers.
The way to gain credibility with the masses in the Islamic world is to peddle Jew-hatred (another fine export from Europe to the Middle East). Indeed, Iran threatens a second Holocaust that it can cause with the turn of a launch key. As Charles Krauthammer notes in the title link of this post:
The establishment of Israel was a Jewish declaration to a world that had allowed the Holocaust to happen -- after Hitler had made his intentions perfectly clear -- that the Jews would henceforth resort to self-protection and self-reliance. And so they have, building a Jewish army, the first in 2,000 years, that prevailed in three great wars of survival (1948-49, 1967 and 1973).
But, in a cruel historical irony, doing so required concentration -- putting all the eggs back in one basket, a tiny territory hard by the Mediterranean, eight miles wide at its waist. A tempting target for those who would finish Hitler's work.
His successors now reside in Tehran. The world has paid ample attention to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declaration that Israel must be destroyed. Less attention has been paid to Iranian leaders' pronouncements on exactly how Israel would be destroyed ``by a single storm,'' as Ahmadinejad has promised.
And the Brits do not care; the French see commercial opportunities; the Russians and Chinese see a potential ally; and Europe as a whole worries about its cradle-to-grave welfare benefits. Even the United States lacks the will and foresight to take whatever action is necessary to actively prevent a nuclear Iran, as Bill Kristol notes. Secretary of State Rice is right, Iran is not Iraq -- it is a more clear and imminent danger than Saddam dreamed of becoming. It's the scenario of Tom Clancy's Executive Orders . . . only it's real now, not a technothriller as Krauthammer notes.
Last week, Bernard Lewis, America's dean of Islamic studies who just turned 90 and remembers the 20th century well, confessed that for the first time he feels it is 1938 again. He did not need to add that in 1938, in the face of the gathering storm -- a fanatical, aggressive, openly declared enemy of the West, and most determinedly of the Jews -- the world did nothing.
When Iran's mullahs acquire their coveted nukes in the next few years, the number of Jews in Israel will just be reaching 6 million. Never again?