Denial, Juan Cole and Ahmadinejad, and Munich
Christopher Hitchens (previously no special friend of Israel's) deconstructs Juan Cole's Dowdification of Ahmadinejad's threats to Israel in this Slate article (via Austin Bay) entitled "The Cole Report: when it comes to Iran, he distorts, you decide."
Hitchens's contention is that, contrary to Cole's statements that Ahmadinejad never threatened to wipe Israel off the map, Cole is playing fast and loose with the quotes, and that it's indeed what Ahmadinejad has said, several times over.
Cole is an excellent example of the repeated tendency of some on the Left to make excuses for outright declarations of annihilative intent by third-world tyrants. This tendency on the Left is both understandable and dangerous.
After all, many people (and not all of them are on the Left by any means, although a great number on the Left do fit this description) believe everyone pretty much resembles them in the way they operate. And my impression is that many on the Left see the use of words as a sort of harmless game.
It was George Orwell, a member of the Left but a different sort entirely (he knew the dangerous excesses of the Left up close and personal, and spent much of his writing life warning us about them, as well as musing on the extraordinary power of words themselves), who famously told us:
So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don't even know that fire is hot.
Plus ca change...
Hitchens, who recently wrote an entire book in praise of Orwell, clearly considers himself to be in the same mold: a straight-talking leftist who's not afraid to break out of the circle dance.
The signers of the recent Euston Manifesto have also stepped out of the leftist ring and stated their unequivocal opposition to tyranny and their refusal to apologize for it:
We decline to make excuses for, to indulgently "understand", reactionary regimes and movements for which democracy is a hated enemy — regimes that oppress their own peoples and movements that aspire to do so. We draw a firm line between ourselves and those left-liberal voices today quick to offer an apologetic explanation for such political forces....
People like Juan Cole are the ones they are up against. What else might be motivating him, besides a lightness about the meaning of "mere words?" My guess is that it's the need to keep his conceptual world intact, to continue to dance in that circle to which he's grown accustomed without feeling undue guilt or cognitive dissonance.
And what is that conceptual world? It includes, but is far from limited to, the idea that almost everything wrong with the world today is the fault of the US and past abuses of power by Western nations. And a further corollary--perhaps a more important one--is that human beings are basically well-meaning and reasonable (with the example, of course, of Bush, Cheney, et al).
The latter principle of general reasonableness applies even to tyrannical and dictatorial leaders who have unequivocally stated the desire to destroy the US and Israel (the famous "Big and Little Satans"). If the words of those such as Ahmadinejad are unequivocal, don't worry; Cole will do the honors and equivocate for him.
Twas ever thus. Or at least, it's been thus ever since the debacle of WWI made the fear and knowledge of war's destructive costs far greater, the dream of peace ever more powerful, the need to believe in the goodwill of dictators more intense, and the ability to equivocate and deceive oneself about said goodwill more likely.
Witness, please, exhibit B: the British Parliamentary debate on the Munich Pact, which took place on October 3, 1938. Duff Cooper, speaking in the House of Commons, said:
Prime Minister [Chamberlain] has confidence in the good will and in the word of Herr Hitler, although when Herr Hitler broke the Treaty of Versailles he undertook to keep the Treaty of Locarno, and when he broke the Treaty of Locarno he undertook not to interfere further, or to have further territorial aims, in Europe. When he entered Austria by force he authorised his henchmen to give an authoritative assurance that he would not interfere with Czechoslovakia. That was less than six months ago. Still, the Prime Minister believes that he can rely upon the good faith of Hitler; he believes that Hitler is interested only in Germany, as the Prime Minister was assured....
The Prime Minister may be right. I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, with the deepest sincerity, that I hope and pray that he is right, but I cannot believe what he believes. I wish I could. .
Here is a portion of Chamberlain's reply to Cooper (note, especially, the Pitt quote that ends the excerpt):
My right hon. Friend [Duff Cooper] has alluded in somewhat bitter terms to my conversation last Friday morning with Herr Hitler. I do not know why that conversation should give rise to suspicion, still less to criticism. I entered into no pact. I made no new commitments. There is no secret understanding. Our conversation was hostile to no other nation. The objects of that conversation, for which I asked, was to try to extend a little further the personal Contact which I had established with Herr Hitler and which I believe to be essential in modern diplomacy. We had a friendly and entirely non-committal conversation, carried on, on my part, largely with a view to seeing whether there could be points in common between the head of a democratic Government and the ruler of a totalitarian State. We see the result in the declaration which has been published, in which my right hon. Friend finds so much ground for suspicion....
I believe there are many who will feel with me that such a declaration, signed by the German Chancellor and myself, is something more than a pious expression of opinion. In our relations with other countries everything depends upon there being sincerity and good will on both sides. I believe that there is sincerity and good will on both sides in this declaration. That is why to me its significance goes far beyond its actual words. If there is one lesson which we should learn from the events of these last weeks it is this, that lasting peace is not to be obtained by sitting still and waiting for it to come. It requires active, positive efforts to achieve it. No doubt I shall have plenty of critics who will say that I am guilty of facile optimism, and that I should disbelieve every word that is uttered by rulers of other great States in Europe. I am too much of a realist to believe that we are going to achieve our paradise in a day. We have only laid the foundations of peace. The superstructure is not even begun....
As regards future policy, it seems to me that there are really only two possible alternatives. One of them is to base yourself upon the view that any sort of friendly relation, or possible relations, shall I say, with totalitarian States are impossible, that the assurances which have been given to me personally are worthless, that they have sinister designs and that they are bent upon the domination of Europe and the gradual destruction of democracies. Of course, on that hypothesis, war has got to come, and that is the view--a perfectly intelligible view--of a certain number of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen in this House….
If that is hon. Members' conviction, there is no future hope for civilisation or for any of the things that make life worth living. Does the experience of the Great War and of the years that followed it give us reasonable hope that if some new war started that would end war any more than the last one did? No. I do not believe that war is inevitable. Someone put into my hand a remark made by the great Pitt about 1787, when he said:
"To suppose that any nation can be unalterably the enemy of another is weak and childish and has its foundations neither in the experience of nations not in the history of man."
Read it and weep. Weep for the opportunities lost, for what Chamberlain himself called "facile optimism:" so noble, so hopeful, so well-meaning, so deadly, so fatally wrong about the benign intents of totalitarian dictators who threaten others.