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Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Iranian Revolution

This is a conservative dissent against any plans to take out Iran's nuclear facilities, invade that country, or invest American tax dollars in it dissident movement. The best policy would be to allow Iran to stew in its own juices over the next thirty years or so while keeping the proverbial American powder dry, and talk when Iran is ready to talk.

This is also coming from someone who believes the following:
(1) That if Iran's mullahs were so angered by our having made it impossible to find martyrdom at the hands of the Soviets in 1946 or Mossadegh's Tudeh friends a little later, they should have simply kicked our diplomats out in 1979--as we did with Japan's in 1941.
(2) That Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is an utterly disgusting piece of work.
(3) That the USA should regard Iran as a threat.
(4) That President Obama's desire for engagement with Iran was ill-advised.

China and France should have taught us in the 1960's that there is no way to keep a determined state from developing its own force de frappe. Neither the science nor the technology of nuclear weaponry is all that difficult to obtain. Nor is enrichable uranium all that difficult to obtain. Iran has chosen the path of many other ambitious and able states, and now we must live with it.

Sarah Palin and others who advocate either our or Israel's assault on Iran's nuclear facilities are probably frightened of Iranian-sponsored terrorists smuggling parts of a nuclear device into the USA and detonating it. This is indeed a legitimate fear, and any American administration that discounts it needs to be voted out of office ASAP. However, would Iran take such a step when it knows that it could lose sixty of its most important cities and military sites in retaliation? Probably not.

A strike on Iran would mean war with that country. But what form would such a war take? A successful invasion of Iran is possible. The Arabs proved it in the 7th century, the Mongols proved it in the 12th, and Temur Lenk's Central Asian Turks did it again in the 14th. But such an invasion would almost surely galvanize the Iranian population and unify it behind its government. Victory over Iran could be achieved only if the invader was willing to employ a ruthlessness that is foreign to American political and military culture. Further, the occupation of Iran and the rebuilding of that country would be a costly investment with an uncertain return.

Nor should the USA invest in Iranian dissent. The people in the streets of Tehran, like the mullahs whom they seek to overthrow, descend from the same crowds who occupied the US Embassy in 1979. The most credible organization among Iranian dissidents is the mojaheddin-e-Khalq, who in their own circles boast of being the first "revolutionary fighters" into the "nest of spies" back in 1979 even as their exiles solicit American support. They, no less than the mullahs, must be kept at arm's length, and, if present in the USA, really should be rounded up and deported rather than given asylum and support. The potential for rule-of-law liberalism (in the sense of valuing political liberty, not in the sense of allowing the have-nots to loot the haves) in Iran is basically nil.

China offers an instructive parallel to present-day Iran. Between 1919 and 1959, China's intellectuals were determined to realize a scientific socialist (Marxist-Leninist) regime in their country. No amount of Japanese militarism or American Cold Warring could change that. When Japan invaded, the Marxist intellectuals of China rallied around Jiang Jieshi, even when they despised his government and successfully fought for its overthrow as soon as the Japanese were defeated. Indeed, had Japan not invaded, Mao's Communist China could well have died by 1940.

Only the Wenhua Geming (Cultural Revolution) cured China of its radical dreams--largely by killing off the Marxist intellectuals who had made Communist China possible. The vision of China embodied in the post-Deng reforms is far closer to the vision of the defeated Jiang Jieshi than to that of the victorious Mao Zedong. Despite Mao's determination to be a socialist god on earth and his ruthlessness in pursuing that vision, Mao is now a mummified corpse, and Mainland China is undergoing one of the largest Christian revivals the world has ever seen.

In dealing with Iran, America should heed the adage that to try to save people from their own folly is to fill the world with fools. Our disastrous experiment with world imperialism in the post-World War II world, no matter how benign, should have taught that. Europe's intelligentsia has never forgiven America for having made it impossible for them to live and work under their idol Stalin. Our attempts to save Asia from Communism only resulted in making Communism credible. Our attempt to save the Islamic world from "fundamentalism" (whatever that is) is also making radical Islamicists seem credible and even is radicalizing Muslim immigrant minorities in the US and Europe. At the present moment, the Islamic world wants to be ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Iranian-style mullah-ocracy. It wants to apply Sharia, and badly wants to believe that Crusaders and Zionists are responsible for all of Islam's ills. That is the meaning of the Iranian Revolution, the current brutalities being visited on the Christian minorities of Egypt and Pakistan, and Salafist agitation in the Maghreb. It is also the meaning of the current bout of Moro dissdence in the Philippines and the oral idiocies of Muhammad Mahatir.

If the Iranian people are allowed to grope their own way over the next thirty years or so, they will awaken to the fact that they were swindled by their mullahs and radicals and that the Twelfth Imam of Ithna'ashariyya Shi'ite Islam is not going to come. Their regime will face the problem observed by Kong Zi in the fifth century B.C. that when the people cease believing in the state, the state will not stand. The internal contradictions within the Islamic world will probably force a search for allies elsewhere, and, maybe then, a more prudent America can normalize its relations with a sadder but wiser Iran.

At a time when the USA is up to its ears in debt to nations that hate us in order to pay for an expanding entitlement state and under an administration that has raised the deficit more in one year than its admittedly spendthrift predecessor did in eight, the USA cannot afford another nation-building exercise in a part of the world it does not understand.

So, with all due respect to Daniel Pipes (a usually worthwhile and brilliant commentator) and Sarah Palin (a sympathetic figure to me, even if one whom I would be reluctant to vote for),hand off Iran. We do not need to be the target of popular anger in yet another failed state in the making.

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