Friday, August 8, 2014

Norman Podhoretz on Iran

From the article  

The new war in Iraq spurred you to write an article defending the Bush administration's original invasion and critical of President Barack Obama's subsequent policies. Now that the Sunni terrorist organization ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) is taking over the western part of the country, Obama is sending U.S. troops there. What is your position on this current strategy?

"We have no good option in Iraq at the moment, but the greater immediate danger is that Obama will use this as another excuse for letting Iran off the hook in the negotiations over its acquisition of nuclear weapons."

You have advocated bombing Iran. Not believing that the Obama administration is going to it, you have said that it will have to be up to Israel. But can Israel go it alone?

"Yes. According to assessments of people I trust, Israel has the capability to inflict a lot of damage in one day. The real question is what happens on Day 2. The Obama administration would undoubtedly be furious at Israel for undertaking it unilaterally. But I think it would be enormously popular in the United States.

"In 1981, When Israel bombed the Osirak reactor in Iraq, the Reagan administration condemned it; even [U.S. Ambassador to the UN] Jeanne Kirkpatrick, who was a passionate friend of Israel's, had to vote against it. Yet popular opinion was more than 80 percent in favor. Americans were saying, 'Why don't we have the guts to do something like that?'

"I think you would get a similar reaction from the American public if Israel bombed Iran; in which case, whether he liked it or not, President Obama would have very little choice but to resupply Israel."

Even as a lame duck president? Would he really have to take public opinion into account?

"He wouldn't have to, but it's very hard to resist that kind of pressure."

You have always said that Israel needs the U.S. and therefore cannot afford to dismiss its wishes. How, then, can you support Israel's thumbing its nose at its most important ally?

"Israel does need America, and the strategic necessity of keeping it friendly is an overriding consideration in almost every situation -- except this one. Iranian nuclear weapons would put Israel in immediate mortal peril. Under such extreme circumstances, and left to its own devices by the West, Israel wouldn't have much choice but to take military action.

"You know, everyone has been saying that one of the worst things that will happen if Iran gets the bomb is that there will be a nuclear arms race across the Middle East. My view is that we would be lucky to have enough time for an arms race. If Iran gets the bomb, Israel will be in a hair-trigger situation of a kind that has never existed since the invention of nuclear weapons. In the event that Iran gets the bomb, Israelis will ask themselves: ‎‎'Do we sit and wait to be attacked and then retaliate out of the rubble, or do we pre-empt?' The Iranians will be asking themselves the same question. So, one is going to beat the other to the punch."

This sounds like Mutual Assured Destruction, as existed between the U.S. and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Why is this situation any different?

"The difference is that the Soviet regime was evil, but it was not suicidal; it was very prudent. Whereas, from everything we can tell, the mullocracy in Iran doesn't care about the prospect of destruction. We know that the Ayatollah Khomeini had said he didn't give a damn about Iran; what he cared about was the Muslim umma. Even [Iranian politician Akbar Hashemi] Rafsanjani, who is considered a moderate in the West, once said that if Iran has a nuclear exchange with Israel, Israel would be completely destroyed, but the Muslim world would survive. He did not refer to Iran.

"According to their religious ideology, patriotism is a form of idolatry. And [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei gives every indication of believing the same thing.

"During the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians sent hundreds of thousands of children into mine fields with plastic keys -- the keys to paradise -- around their necks. There was nothing similar in Soviet mentality or behavior. The only thing that comes close was the Japanese Kamikaze pilots in World War II. But even that was considered a desperate measure taken by the Japanese when they were losing. In any case, they had a totally different world view from that of the Iranians."

Nevertheless, the P5+1 countries are engaging in negotiations with Iran, while pressuring Israel to make a deal with Palestinians, many of whom are backed by Iran. How do you explain that?

"They do not believe that Iran is suicidal, and that a deal can be reached with it. And though I hate to resort to what the philosopher, Leo Strauss, called argumentum ad Hitlerum, the situation now is very similar to 1938-39 in Europe, when the British and the French were unable to admit to themselves that Hitler was a dangerous foe.

"'We can do business with Herr Hitler,' was the slogan. And it's because they weren't prepared to do what was necessary to resist him, they had to persuade themselves that it wasn't necessary. In that case, they sacrificed the Czechs for the sake of the deal they were making with Germany. Today, there are many people who are willing to sacrifice the Israelis for the sake of a deal with Iran.

"They certainly don't see it that way; they persuade themselves that by putting pressure on Israel, they're doing Israel a favor. I remember a famous article written in 1977 by the former undersecretary of state, George Ball: 'How to Save Israel in Spite of Herself.'

"That insane mentality of 'knowing Israel's interests better than the Israelis do' still exists in the State Department and in the foreign ministries of other Western countries. But many of them are, in fact, simply hostile to Israel."

Is this, as the Israeli Left likes to claim, the fault of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- whom they accuse of causing the isolation of Israel in the international community?

"That's absurd. The same attitudes towards Israel existed when Netanyahu was still a furniture salesman, which is what he was when I first met him. It has nothing to do with him. It is true that he and Obama do not like one another. But it's childish to think that personal relationships are a serious factor in the actions of nations.
"Former U.S. president George W. Bush, who had a different world view from that of Obama -- and who had a great personal relationship with the late prime minister Ariel Sharon -- did not bomb Iran either.

"I can apologize for him to this extent: Everyone in his administration except [Vice President] Dick Cheney was against it. Henry Kissinger once told me that these were the most insubordinate State Department and Pentagon in American history.

"Though there was a moment at which Bush might have been able to pull it off, the CIA sabotaged it by releasing an intelligence report assessing Iran wasn't working on the bomb. Some of us knew at that point that this was nonsense. But the fact is that it made it impossible for Bush to be able to claim that there was imminent danger.

"Before the CIA report came out, I had a 45-minute meeting with Bush, during which I tried to persuade him to bomb Iran. He listened very solemnly, interrupting once or twice to ask a question.

"One question he asked was, 'Why are the Jews all against me?' A few years later, I wrote a book ['Why Are Jews Liberals?' 2010] trying to answer that question.

"But I had an article in galleys at that point in which I predicted he was going to bomb Iran. I had a chance to take that passage out or rewrite it, but I decided to let it stay, because I felt pretty sure when I left him that he was going to do it. And I think he wanted to. He then justified his inaction to himself by saying, 'Well, John McCain is going to be the next president, and he'll be able to get away with it better than I.' But, of course, Obama became the next president."

Obama has said that though he will exhaust every other avenue, he will not let Iran get the bomb, even if he has to take military action. Why is this any different from what Bush said?

"Look, at a certain point in the early 2000s, every country without exception said that Iran must not be allowed to get the bomb. There was also a universal consensus that force should be used, if necessary, not only because of nuclear proliferation, but because Iran is a rogue regime that might not only use nuclear weapons, but could give them to their proxies like Hezbollah. This was the consensus even before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president, and his presidency only reinforced the idea that the regime was crazy. Every intelligence agency in the world -- without exception -- said that Iran was building nuclear weapons. There was no debate about it. The only debate was weather it could be stopped short of military action, with carrots and sticks, diplomacy and sanctions.

"That's when multi-party negotiations started.

"But as time went on, and it became clearer and clearer to people involved in the process that they were not going to succeed with negotiations, they were faced with the question of what to do now: Do we let Iran have the bomb, or do we take military action?

"It was then that the foreign policy establishment in the U.S. and other countries began to say, 'Well, we're probably exaggerating; the Iranians are not really crazy.' And this meant that, due to Mutually Assured Destruction, we could probably live with an Iranian bomb.

"The election of Hassan Rouhani, touted by the West as a moderate, was confirmation of this idea in their minds, which justified an escape from military action against Iran, and then to go on pretending that an Iranian bomb can be prevented through an agreement.

"In any case, the only reason that Obama wants an agreement is so that he can take credit for preventing Iran from getting the bomb, knowing all the while, deep-down, that no agreement they might reach would prevent Iran from getting the bomb.

"As for pressure on Israel: The view of one administration after another has been that Israel needs to be forced to make peace, as though it were up to Israel to do so. Only Bush put the ball in the Palestinians' court.

"But the idea that this conflict is the key to stability in the Middle East is ridiculous. Most conflicts in the region since 1948, when Israel was established, have had nothing to do with Israel; nor did the Arab Spring uprisings have anything to do with Israel. Yet many people still believe -- or profess to -- that peace between Israel and the Palestinians is necessary for stability.

"Putting pressure on Israel is what the diplomats believe is a way of achieving détente with Iran. Though Iran doesn't give a damn about a Palestinian state, it does care about wiping Israel off the map, so putting Israel in a situation of maximum danger suits its purposes very well.