Mark Steyn on the Iranians: believe what you hear
History (like life) must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards, if at all.
That adage came to mind as I was reading this piece by the inimitable Mark Steyn.
Assignment, class: compare and contrast the clarity of the Steyn piece on Iran (not to mention the writing style) to the murky gobbledygook on roughly the same subject that Seymour Hersh recently spewed out onto the pages of the New Yorker, whose editors seem to have taken leave of their editorial senses when they invited him on board.
I discussed Hersh's piece yesterday, here. Today I'm going to discuss Steyn's.
Ah, but who's Steyn? After all, he's only an opinion columnist--unlike the veteran Pulitzer Prize-winning Hersh, who became famous for having My Lai dumped in his lap through a tip in 1969, and then investigating the story and writing a series of articles and a book on the subject. This Salon puff-piece on Hersh makes it clear how much fame and journalistic glory descended on Hersh as a result of his My Lai work. Hersh has tried to follow the winning formula ever since: reliance on the tip, almost always anonymous, to lead him to a story that exposes US atrocities and/or atrocities-in-the-making. And if he can't find them, he'll invent them, or report unsourced rumors and innuendos as fact.
One of these days, one of these days--I plan to write a longer piece about Hersh, whose fingerprints can be found in some of the most surprising places. But for now, I urge you to read this piece on Hersh from the Columbia Journalism Review, hardly a right-wing hit job, but full of interesting stuff nevertheless.
Steyn doesn't have nearly the reputation of Hersh, but he makes use of two items that don't seem to be in Hersh's toolbox: excellent writing; and, more importantly, logic. But now I'll let Steyn speak for himself on the subject of Iran: what sort of leaders it has, what their intentions might be, and whether it is a "rational" or "pragmatic" actor:
If we’d understood Iran back in 1979, we’d understand better the challenges we face today. Come to that, we might not even be facing them...When [the mullahs of Iran] 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....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...
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. (Its sole resource, oil, would stay in the ground were it not for foreign technology, foreign manpower, and a Western fetishization of domestic environmental aesthetics.)
For this to be a mortal struggle, as the cold war was, the question is: Are they a credible enemy to us?
For a projection of the likely outcome, the question is: Are we a credible enemy to them?...
If you dust off the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, Article One reads: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” Iran fails to meet qualification (d), and has never accepted it. The signature act of the new regime was not the usual post-coup bloodletting and summary execution of the shah’s mid-ranking officials but the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by “students” acting with Khomeini’s blessing. Diplomatic missions are recognized as the sovereign territory of that state, and the violation thereof is an act of war...Yet Iran paid no price. They got away with it...Washington should have reversed the affront to international order quickly, decisively, and in a sufficiently punitive manner. At hinge moments of history, there are never good and bad options, only bad and much much worse. Our options today are significantly worse because we didn’t take the bad one back then.
Here's what Steyn has to say on what Iran is prepared to do, and the nature of its reach:
Anyone who spends half an hour looking at Iranian foreign policy over the last 27 years sees five things [right before this Steyn has cited, among other things, the Iranian-led bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994, which killed about 100 people and injured another 250] :
1. contempt for the most basic international conventions;
2. long-reach extraterritoriality;
3. effective promotion of radical Pan-Islamism;
4. a willingness to go the extra mile for Jew-killing (unlike, say, Osama);
5. an all-but-total synchronization between rhetoric and action.
Yes, believe: synchronization between rhetoric and action. In analyzing that rhetoric, Steyn goes on to compare the two candidates in Iran's most recent election ("hothead" vs. "moderate"--and, by the way, the "hothead" Ahmadinejad won):
What’s the difference between a hothead and a moderate? Well, the extremist Ahmadinejad has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map,” while the moderate Rafsanjani has declared that Israel is “the most hideous occurrence in history,” which the Muslim world “will vomit out from its midst” in one blast, because “a single atomic bomb has the power to completely destroy Israel, while an Israeli counter-strike can only cause partial damage to the Islamic world.” Evidently wiping Israel off the map seems to be one of those rare points of bipartisan consensus in Tehran, the Iranian equivalent of a prescription drug plan for seniors: we’re just arguing over the details.
So the question is: Will they do it?
And the minute you have to ask, you know the answer. If, say, Norway or Ireland acquired nuclear weapons, we might regret the “proliferation,” but we wouldn’t have to contemplate mushroom clouds over neighboring states. In that sense, the civilized world has already lost: to enter into negotiations with a jurisdiction headed by a Holocaust-denying millenarian nut job is, in itself, an act of profound weakness—the first concession, regardless of what weaselly settlement might eventually emerge.
Conversely, a key reason to stop Iran is to demonstrate that we can still muster the will to do so.
As for those negotiations with Iran, here is Steyn's description:
...the striking characteristic of the long diplomatic dance that brought us to this moment is how September 10th it’s all been. The free world’s delegated negotiators (the European Union) and transnational institutions (the IAEA) have continually given the impression that they’d be content just to boot it down the road to next year or the year after or find some arrangement—this decade’s Oil-for-Food or North Korean deal—that would get them off the hook. If you talk to EU foreign ministers, they’ve already psychologically accepted a nuclear Iran. Indeed, the chief characteristic of the West’s reaction to Iran’s nuclearization has been an enervated fatalism...
I don't know about the "enervated fatalism" part. From the Hersh article, I see something even more frightening than that: an out-of-touch-with-reality denial of the stark truths about Iran that Steyn's article so clearly delineates. It seems to me that many on the left, and in the world of diplomacy, actually and sincerely believe Iran to be a rational and pragmatic actor. Come to think of it, though, maybe that stance comes from one of "enervated fatalism" after all; if there's no way to stop Iran from going nuclear, if the "Hamlet men" of the diplomatic world have all "lost the name of action"--well then, best to believe it'll all be okay, because Iran is a rational actor just blowing hot air with its inflammatory rhetoric.
How much do Iranian leaders care about the possible negative consequences of its own war aims and/or rhetoric on the welfare and lives of its own people, or on others in the Moslem world? Not very, and not a whole lot, says Steyn:
Like Rafsanjani, [Ahmadinejad] would regard, say, Muslim deaths in an obliterated Jerusalem as worthy collateral damage in promoting the greater good of a Jew-free Middle East. The Palestinians and their “right of return” have never been more than a weapon of convenience with which to chastise the West. To assume Tehran would never nuke Israel because a shift in wind direction would contaminate Ramallah is to be as ignorant of history as most Palestinians are: from Yasser Arafat’s uncle, the pro-Nazi Grand Mufti of Jerusalem during the British Mandate, to the insurgents in Iraq today, Islamists have never been shy about slaughtering Muslims in pursuit of their strategic goals....
The remedy? As I wrote yesterday, the answer is not clear, and the choices are not easy. But whether or not it can be accomplished--and, if so, how (and I'm in favor of clandestine operations)--regime change in Iran is a worthy goal.
And if that statement makes me one of those nefarious neocons, then so be it; I may as well live up to my name. And I guess Steyn is one, too:
Nukes have gone freelance, and there’s nothing much we can do about that, and sooner or later we’ll see the consequences—in Vancouver or Rotterdam, Glasgow or Atlanta. But, that being so, we owe it to ourselves to take the minimal precautionary step of ending the one regime whose political establishment is explicitly pledged to the nuclear annihilation of neighboring states.
We owe it to ourselves, and to the world--including the Moslem world.