We have been debating for some weeks whether or not to write a piece on Iran and, if so, just which facets of the Iranian dilemma should be addressed: Our decision, to offer this brief summary of a personal perspective, together with a frank discussion of a broader perspective for Conservatives in general, as to crucial foreign and defense policy considerations.
It should be clear, from previous articles on foreign policy matters, that we fundamentally oppose the Bush revival of the failed foreign policy of Dean Rusk--the Kennedy/Johnson Secretary of State--and others from a previous generation. It was cruel & arrogant to foist Western forms of Government on non-Western lands then; and the revival of the policy, today, which continues to deny the realities of class, ethnicity and race, is nowise less cruel. Nor is it in anywise more likely to succeed. Yet truculent babble about "regime change" is not the only rationalization for American concern over Iran.
There is a legitimate question over a possibly growing capacity, in the hands of a leadership motivated at least in part by a fanatical hatred of America, to attack our complex of interests. While we may deplore the manner in which the Administration in Washington has addressed this question, we do not deny the reasonableness of raising it. Unfortunately, that deplorable manner adopted for raising it involves, perhaps, the very worst conceivable approach, if the long term interests of the United States are to be fully served.
From the day President Truman managed to pressure Stalin's troops out of Northern Iran in 1946, until the tragic overthrow of the dying Shah by Islamic fundamentalists in 1979, Iran was a reliable friend to the United States; perhaps our most reliable friend in the region. We had very high respect for the late Shah, tarnished only by the fact that he allowed a friendship for the United States to be used in 1976, to help blackmail Rhodesia into suicidal negotiations with then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. Yet despite that tragic involvement in the folly of our own Government, we were personally truly distressed when the Shah was overthrown. From our perspective, the long term interests of both the Iranian and American peoples suffered a terrible setback at that time.
The issue in the 1979 Revolution in Iran was only partially religious. The actual drama had started over 50 years earlier, when the father of the late Shah shot the father of the late Ayatolla Khomeni dead. The Islamic Revolution may have been as much blood feud, between influential families, as theological extremism. But America was seen by the Revolutionaries to be as much an enemy as were the Iranian Royalists--as witness the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which immediately followed.
Had America responded decisively to the seizure of our Embassy and the taking of almost four dozen hostages, few could have faulted us. The moment to have intervened, if intervention was to have been our purpose, however, passed. Our personal hope, over now more than 27 years, has been that friendly Iranians would launch a counter-revolution and restore the Pahlevi dynasty. We now fear that the truculent posturing of the Bush Administration has made that unlikely; that anyone seen as being friendly to the United States has little chance of obtaining wide-spread Iranian support for the foreseeable future. Thus we must admit a certain displeasure with the Administration, at the start of this analysis. With that on the table, what do we believe should be involved in determining a contemporary policy towards Iran, to best serve the future interests of the United States?
The issue is complicated by two factors, which do not pertain to Iran, per se. First, there is an Administration, which has apparently totally rejected the Washington/Jefferson foreign policy, discussed in many essays, in favor of the pursuit of what in any other era would have been instantly perceived as a radical Leftwing agenda--the promotion of a particular type of political system in other lands. This pursuit, coupled with truculent posturing, makes it entirely possible that America may be involved in another war with little or no time for a serious debate, a formal declaration by Congress, or any other Constitutional formality. This leads to the second factor, a possible quandary: How to rein in the Administration--to force a return to Constitutional duties--without jeopardizing the morale and credibility of our Armed Forces.
While this problem may not appear obvious to those who would focus only on the question of war or no war, it will become more evident if one looks at the strange bed-fellows in some of the public protests, that have been taking place across America, against our ongoing involvement in Iraq. From the exploitation of human grief, such as demonstrated by those pulling Mrs. Sheehan's strings, to the harassment of military recruitment, there is much that Conservatives find reprehensible in these protests, even though many may agree that our presence in Iraq has begun to outlive any useful purpose.
Conservatives, concerned that Iran is not the right target need to make our points as to policy. But if War in some form does come, we must be careful not to undermine the morale of those in harm's way; those, who are merely carrying out orders. Once American youth are committed to the battlefield, they deserve the support of the American people, however distasteful the policy that put them there. That does not mean that we may not urge the Government to cease and desist ill advised action; but we must never give aid or comfort to those who would undermine the credibility of the United States Armed Forces. Iran may or may not be a serious threat. There will always be real threats; and we will always need a credible military. Nor can any honorable citizen seek to increase the danger of those who risk their lives to serve America.
Such considerations noted, just how serious is the Iranian threat, and how should we judge the Administration's response?
President Theodore Roosevelt, whose Administration began the Twentieth Century, advised Americans, in dealing with other Nations, to "speak softly but carry a big stick," while increasing American prestige around the world. President George W. Bush, whose Administration began the Twenty-First Century, has spoken truculently, while proving relatively ineffective. No where has this been more obvious than in our dealings with Iran. Indeed, one could make out a pretty good case that the Administration wanted polarization rather than rapprochement with Iran, even though it should be obvious that such a policy might only serve to undermine the prospects for whatever remain of the forces in Iran, who were our friends during the days of the Shah.
Frankly, we think the approach more likely evidence of an intellectual clumsiness than anything so ulterior. Even those, who have been misadvising Bush on foreign policy, surely must recognize that a return to the days of the Pahlevi dynasty would be very much in America's interest in the Persian Gulf. Unfortunately, they can not apparently be bothered to try to develop real empathy for where anyone else is "coming from." Iran is hardly their only botched interaction.
Truculent rhetoric tends, of course, to harden attitudes; to render diplomacy more, rather than less, difficult. The President's public pronouncements, to the effect that he would not rule out even the use of nuclear weapons--coupled with his earlier calls for a regime change in Iran--are far less likely to obtain a peaceful resolution than would even the same threats, privately delivered. Indeed, considering the religious fervor of the Iranian Government, it would seem obvious that threats of any sort might be less productive than quieter forms of diplomacy, pursuing the possibility of interests in common--perhaps even trying to capitalize on the good will we should have won with Teheran for removing their former Socialist enemy in Iraq. Speaking "softly," has never meant abandoning the option of the "big stick." The President does not add one whit to American credibility by electing, instead, the truculent demeanor.
The Administration did not claim a link between Iran and the terrorists that struck us on September 11th, 2001. Rather, it extrapolated from the action of one Islamic fundamentalist group (Al Qaeda) to the concept of an "Axis of Evil," and linked Iraq, Iran and North Korea, which, while all hostile to the West, represented quite different ideological movements. Did the "Axis" actually represent a common threat, or was it rather a subjective selection of targets for the Administration's hostility? In retrospect, it is a curious combination, for the three nations had perhaps more to distinguish them than they had in common. Moreover, the admitted author of the address was not the President, but one David Frum, a Canadian immigrant, who had attended the President's Alma Mater at Yale, had claimed to be a Conservative, but was perhaps better known as a self-promoter.
That speech writer showed his lack of true Conservatism at the time of the Trent Lott gambit, by attacking the values of the late Strom Thurmond. (No true Conservative, emigrating to another country, would take it upon himself to attack respected Conservative leaders in his adopted homeland, particularly with respect to the social issues of that country.) Frum later wrote a book suggesting that the imposition of "Democracy" might be the solution to Third World problems: A view neither Conservative nor rational, but certainly catering to the Bush mind set.
The problem with the "Axis" coupling is not that each was not a potential threat; they simply were not an axis, nor on an axis. If you are to launch a rational policy to counter a threat, you do not launch it with a false rationalization, that has embedded in that very rationalization the seeds for self-defeating analysis. Moreover, there was no equivalency in the dangers posed. North Korea was almost as far ahead of either Iraq or Iran, technologically, as would be one of the European powers--as witness the development of Atomic weapons, and the rocket capabilities to deliver them, by the Koreans. While we understand the Administration's focus on Iraq, which had waged aggressive war against others in the region, had provided a sanctuary for known terrorists, and had even tried to have the President's father assassinated; neither past action nor common sense can give any Iranian threat to American interests, a higher priority than the threat posed by North Korea.
North Korea is already an atomic power. North Korea already exports missile systems to deliver weapons to others. North Korea--the present Communist North Korea--waged aggressive war against the South in 1950. The present dictator's father never abandoned his goal of unifying Korea by force, until the day he died a few years ago. North Korea's rockets are already within striking distance of American territory. Furthermore, from a long term standpoint, the Korean population shows a considerably higher aptitude for future technological development than does the population of either Iraq or Iran.
We do not deny the gravity of the threat to the United States from a smuggled nuclear, chemical or biological device. Yet, we feel that the Administration's deliberate escalation of menacing rhetoric reveals an analysis which lacks both balance and context. A preemptive strike against Iran is hardly the most rational option to address such threat. Consider the immediate trigger for the heightened focus on Iran, the Iranian refusal to stop the enrichment of uranium:
While the Iranians insist that their purpose is the peaceful use of nuclear power, the Administration cannot be faulted for a vigilant skepticism. Yet the difference between skepticism and hysteria is in an understanding of context. Is there justification for the alarmist tone, which more and permeates public discussion of the subject? We certainly believe the threat exaggerated.
We mentioned the technological superiority of North Korea. There is also the greater ideological cynicism of a Communist power, compared to that likely to be found in a fundamentalist theocracy. Whatever the fanaticism of the theocracy--perhaps precisely because of the fanaticism of the theocracy--there is likely a more restricted pool of potential users for that theocracy's weapons. Moreover, if Iran were to develop an atomic bomb, how many bombs could they produce, and how quickly? If they could only produce one or two, for the time being, would they wish to part with such new deterrent, while risking a terrible war with the United States that would almost certainly follow a nuclear explosion on our soil? Possible, perhaps, but surely far less likely than one of the other potential sources, such as North Korea, for such a projected act of smuggled horror.
There are many known nuclear stockpiles, of whose absolute security, we can hardly be certain. Consider Russia, for example. There have already been reports of materials missing and unaccounted for, since the old Communist regime foundered. How certain can anyone be that some embittered secret adherent to the former Revolutionary Socialist regime, a "mole" with the right security clearances, might not sell bomb making materials to some would-be terrorist, hoping to sneak same into the United States? How about some one in China, in India, in Pakistan, in France? The Chinese military may appear unified to outsiders. But how certain can we be that there is not some rogue faction, whose access to highly technical weaponry might not be compromised for enough money?
Both India and Pakistan have values that Americans little understand. They also have many factions. The latter is true, also, of our long standing ally France. France used to have a huge Communist Party, before the DeGaulle reforms, in the late 1950s, sent it into a sharp decline. How certain can one be that there is not some Marxist cell in the French military--"moles" hoping for a revival of the sort of social chaos that feeds the Marxist cause?
Even tiny Israel is understood to have an atomic stock-pile. How perfect is their security? It is good at airports. But what assurance can we have that another "loose cannon," such as the never identified individual who launched the assault on the USS Liberty in 1967, does not have access to atomic material?
A terrorist group, with sufficient financial means, would be far more likely to explore the possibility for some such source from an existing stockpile than to wait for Iran, with far less demonstrated technological aptitude, to achieve anything remotely approaching the same capacity for mischief.
There is a legitimate question of the level of confidence, or lack of it, that one should have in assurances from the Iranian Government. Yet it must be noted that the Iranian/Iraqi War was started by the Iraqi Baathist Government. Baathist parties are modeled in some respects after the National Socialist movement in pre-World War II Germany. Like most Socialists and Communists, they appear to honor treachery and the Big Lie. (Who can forget the "news reports" from Saddam's chief propagandist, during the 2003 invasion.) While the West finds many of the seemingly looney pronouncements of the present Iranian Government, over the past 27 years, rankly offensive, the question is, "Have they engaged in actual deception?" Or in deception at a level remotely equivalent to some others in the region? Is deception even consistent with their religious orthodoxy? We do not raise the question to induce complacency, only to seek balance.
To attack Iran, which has assured the world that its development of atomic energy is intended only for peaceful use, without a better demonstration of a clear and present danger to the United States, could be to compromise our credibility for generations to come. The proposition that we have a right to thwart a large, once great, yet now under-developed nation, from utilizing the technology of progress--progress that will reduce the drain on badly needed oil reserves in a world of dwindling supply--will seem monstrous to many. If such attack could actually eliminate, or even materially reduce, the risk of atomic weapons being smuggled into the United States, that might be one thing. But there are too many other possible sources--perhaps several not yet even suspected--for us to risk a premature strike, based solely upon alarmist conjecture.
Iran is surrounded by nuclear powers, far closer than the United States. If Iran proceeds to develop greater capacity to threaten the peace of others, there are surely deterrents already in place in the military capacity of Russia, China, India and Pakistan, to the North and East. To the West, Britain and France have vastly greater military potential than Iran is likely ever to achieve; while, again, even Israel is understood to have nuclear weapons. It is clearly not necessary for us to deal with Iran on some sort of "balance of power" theory. Just what, then, should we do to better secure the safety of our own lands, people and property from any Iranian threat, near or remote?
While we must always gather intelligence, to identify those who wish us harm, and where they might strike or obtain the personnel or means for mischief; the first priority in prevention should be to control access to America. That means secure borders, safe coast lines and secure air space. The earth is a huge area, and the concept of trying to stamp out potential threats overseas, while sometimes practical, can easily degenerate into an exercise similar to trying to keep ants off a picnic cloth. There are days when one would be better advised to eat at home!
The Administration's record for neglecting our borders, makes it very difficult to accord them much credibility on the advisability of a campaign against Iran. Until we do everything possible to keep America safe from all threats, wheresoever they might originate, we are merely chasing ghosts to lull the susceptible into a false sense of security. Moreover, the reluctance of the Administration to rationally profile those coming into America, shows a higher devotion to Leftist theory than to pragmatic defense.
We do not suggest that our potential enemies cannot find an occasional blonde or fair skinned recruit to smuggle the means of mischief onto our sub-continent. But such are likely to be only the tiniest fraction of those who would embrace the Al Qaeda cause. Clearly, the major focus, in screening people entering the United States, should be directed at those whose Anthropological profiles are more consistent with origins among populations, where terrorists have the broadest base of support. We are in a long term war for our own safety, and we need to use every aspect of our technological advantage to scan the land, sea and air approaches to America. We should be aware not only of those who may be allied to an existing enemy, but those who may be less than completely loyal, whether against that or another enemy, tomorrow.
The reason for the huge influx of an incongruous immigration since the abolition of the National Origins Immigration policy, in 1965, is Leftist cant against racial and ethnic consciousness. There is not one shred of evidence that third world peoples--as for example those from the lowest classes south of the border, or those from Africa or the Near or Middle East--assimilate as easily into the mainstream American population, as do those from the lands that provided our earlier settlement. Unassimilated groups provide a far more fertile seed bed for sedition and social problems than do those who identify, who feel a part of, the American experience which springs from the original European settler ethic and ethos. There is no argument against trying to control the types of immigration save one that seeks to humor the compulsion to deny the importance of ethnicity. None! With America under a continuing threat of potential attack, there can no longer be any excuse for humoring Leftist compulsions. [For factors, which pertain to the debate over immigration policy, see Chapters 15 & 16, of the Conservative Debate Handbook, linked below. It should not be necessary to go into this in any greater depth in this article.]
We do not suggest that America should not use quiet diplomacy to persuade Iran to limit its nuclear experiments to peaceful ends--even to permit inspection by neutral agencies, etc.. But truculent rhetoric serves no useful purpose and unquestionably delays a time when Iran might again be a friendly venue, even a market for our goods. There are lines which Iran should understand she cannot cross--lines similar to those we should lay down for every nation on earth. That does not require humiliating rhetoric, which can only lead to unnecessary confrontation, creating an atmosphere in which the normal give and take, essential to amicable international relations, becomes impossible.
Yet, again, while we believe these questions should, indeed must, be fully discussed, American Conservatives need to keep in mind the reciprocal duties implicit in fielding Armed Forces. If, whether foolishly or not, the Administration commits American forces to combat in Iran, it is not fitting that we lend support to anything similar to the nauseating demonstrations, which so undermined American military morale for years after the Viet Nam War. We can and will discuss foreign policy, but our youth in combat are entitled to our support while they stand in harm's way. Any other attitude is unconscionable, and can only undermine the ability of America to defend herself in the future.