Jacob Heilbrunn

The Neocon Rush to War Against Iran

Is Iran a threat to America? Or is it a fading power? The Iranian storming of the British embassy should not be interpreted as a sign of growing radicalism in Iran but as testament to the weakness of the regime. It has nothing in common with the 1979 takeover of the American embassy. There is no mass support inside Iran for attacking the United Kingdom. The calls in the Iranian parliament for "death to Britain" have an obligatory feel to them.

Yet the possiblity of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons has prompted a number of neoconservatives to maintain that it's imperative to launch a strike against it. Max Boot's column in the Los Angeles Times is a case in point. Paul Pillar points to the abuse of Nazi analogies in his post today. But Boot's column can be questioned on other grounds as well.

What caught my eye were the other historical analogies that Boot made. He asks why the West remained passive not just during the rise of Nazi Germany, but also

While the Soviet Union enslaved half of Europe and fomented revolution in China in the late 1940s? And, again, while Al Qaeda gathered strength in the 1990s? Those questions will forever haunt the reputations of the responsible statesmen, from Neville Chamberlain to Bill Clinton.

Start with the Soviet Union. Could America and Great Britain have stopped Stalin from conquering Eastern Europe? This is an old conservative myth, the notion that Franklin Roosevelt sold out Eastern Europe, most notably at Yalta. But it's hard to see what leverage America had over what was, after all, its wartime ally. The Soviet Union bore the brunt of the fighting. America supplied it with weaponry. But no one in America, let alone England, was prepared to go to war over Eastern Europe. Winston Churchill himself agreed to a percentages deal over Eastern Europe with Stalin. Somewhat contradictorily, Boot indicates towards the end of his essay that it was the right choice to avoid war with Russia—which leaves open the question of how the West was supposed to impede the creation of the Soviet Union's East European satellite empire.

Then there is China. This was another conservative canard, the idea that the Truman administration "lost" China. It didn't. China wasn't America's to lose. For one thing, the communist takeover in 1949 was not the sole product of Soviet meddling. It was an internal civil war that pitted the communists against the corrupt nationalists. America was in the position of backing a losing horse in the form of Chiang Kai-shek. It would have been nice if it had turned out differently. But China plunged itself into the lunacy of mass famines and the Cultural Revolution. Along the way, incidentally, it became a fierce foe of the USSR.

And what about al-Qaeda? It's curious that Boot neglects to mention George W. Bush, the man who actually was president when the attacks were launched on September 11 and who brushed off in August 2001 his CIA briefer, who warned him about heightened terrorist threats, by informing him that "you covered your ass." No question: Clinton could and should have done more. But it isn't as though the Clinton administration stood by idly (to liken Bill Clinton to Neville Chamberlain does violence to what appeasement really represented). Anyway, there was no stomach in America for launching a full-scale war against al-Qaeda before September 11.

None of this means that Boot's bottom line might not be correct. It could be that in Iran we are facing an implacable and revolutionary foe that can only be stopped by force, the sooner the better. But the historical examples that Boot offers about Eastern Europe, China and al-Qaeda do not support that case.

Nor, for that matter, do the regime's latest actions. Iran is on the defensive. Far from slumbering about the Iran threat, the West has steadily been increasing sanctions. If they can be turned tightly enough, the regime will likely implode. Iran is not North Korea, where an isolated poplation has no idea about what is transpiring in the outside world. There is no reason to panic about Tehran. So far, it has been offering its population and the world nothing other than bluff and bombast.