The Iran Failure Has Many Fathers

The dangerous belief that words alone can transcend an eternal truth of human nature.

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center.

Everybody knows the deal with Iran is a disaster. Why is equally obvious: Iran will get $150 billion to spend on weapons and its terrorist proxies, will keep its enrichment facilities, will continue to develop missiles, will easily avoid the laughably pusillanimous inspections regime, and will end up a nuclear power with malign consequences for the stability of the Middle East.

We also know who bears the responsibility for this fiasco––Barack Obama. Historically ignorant and terminally narcissistic, Obama has all the superstitions and delusions of the progressive elite. And one of the most persistent and hoary of those beliefs is the fetish of diplomacy as a means to resolve disputes without force. 

We must remember that Obama pointedly ran on the promise to “reinvigorate” American diplomacy. This trope was in fact a way to run against George Bush, whom the Dems and the media had caricatured as a “cowboy” with an itchy trigger finger, a gunslinger scornful of diplomacy and multilateralism. That charge was a lie––Bush wasted several months on diplomacy in an unsuccessful attempt to get the U.N.’s sanction for the war, even though the U.S. Congress had approved it, Hussein was in gross violation of the first Gulf War cease-fire agreement, and the U.N. already has passed 17 Security Council resolutions, all of which Hussein had violated.

Yet the narrative that Bush had “failed so miserably at diplomacy that we are now forced to war,” as then Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle put it, lived on. For the progressives committed to crypto-pacifism and to the belief that America is a guilty aggressor, the story was too politically useful. Obama, one of the most programmatic progressives in the Senate, embodied all those superstitions. As senator he continually criticized the war in Iraq, scorned the ultimately successful “surge” of troops in 2007 as a “reckless escalation” and a “mistake,” and introduced legislation to remove all troops from Iraq by March 2008. 

As a presidential candidate, his whole foreign policy was predicated on his being the “anti-Bush” who would “reinvigorate diplomacy” and initiate “engagement” with all our enemies in order to defuse conflict and create peace. As president, Obama has been true to his word. He has apologized, groveled, bowed to potentates, “reset” relations with our rivals, shaken hands with thugs, and now talked Iran into being a nuclear power. As for “peace,” it is nowhere to be found as violence and atrocities multiply from Ukraine to Yemen, Tunisia to Afghanistan.  

But as much as Obama is personally to blame for what will turn out to be a disastrous foreign policy mistake, the larger problem is the very notion that rational discussion, negotiation, and dickering with our enemies and rivals can replace force, rather than being an adjunct to a credible threat of force. It is based on the arrogant assumption that the enemy is a “rational actor,” as Obama’s flacks have been asserting about the mullahs, and respects life, coexistence, and peace as much as we. That this administration can believe this delusion––when the Iranians regularly chant “Death to America” and have practiced what they preach by killing Americans for 36 years––is as mystifyingly blind as the British were to Hitler’s threatening rants at the Nuremburg Party Rally a few weeks before the Munich conference, when the Fuhrer called Czechoslovakia an “irreconcilable” enemy. 

Plato, of course, expressed the truth of interstate relations 24 centuries earlier, when he said, “In reality, every state is in a natural state of war with every other,” and “peace is only a name.” Charles de Gaulle in 1934 made the same point in terms relevant for the just completed farce with Iran:

But, hope though we may, what reason have we for thinking that passion and self-interest, the root cause of armed conflict in men and in nations, will cease to operate; that anyone will willingly surrender what he has or not try to get what he wants; in short that human nature will ever become something other than it is? … ‘Laws unsupported by force soon fall into contempt,’ said Cardinal de Retz. International agreements will be of little value unless there are troops to prevent their infringement. In whatever direction the world may move, it will never be able to do without the final arbitration of arms.

The belief that words alone can transcend this eternal truth of human nature––a belief deeply engrained in the mentality of our leaders and foreign policy establishment–– led to the disaster of World War II, and will despite this lesson of history lead to a lesser, but still dangerous, disaster.

But there is yet another factor in this debacle that must be acknowledged: the tendency of democracies to privilege short-term comfort over long-term threats. In democracies the use of force must have the assent of the voters, who in the U.S. every 2 years hold leaders accountable at the ballot box. Setbacks, mistakes, atrocities, casualties, and all the other unfortunately eternal contingencies of mass violence try the patience of voters, and citizen control of the military gives them a means of expressing their impatience or anger. As de Tocqueville recognized more than 150 years ago, “The people are more apt to feel than to reason; and if their present sufferings are great, it is to be feared that the still greater sufferings attendant upon defeat will be forgotten.” That pretty much sums up America’s response so far to Obama’s agreement.

We know that no diplomatic “deal” with Iran will keep the world’s worst state sponsor of terrorism from obtaining nuclear weapons. As puny North Korea demonstrated, a determined regime can lie, obfuscate, and cheat its way around any parchment defenses. We also know that the U.S. possesses the military means to degrade Iran’s nuclear infrastructure and military assets enough to end that threat. It is not a question of ability, but will. But does anybody think that a critical mass of American citizens today has the will to support serious military action? Are there enough outraged moderate Democrats to hold their Democratic Representatives’ and Senators’ feet to the fire and convince them to pass with a veto-proof majority legislation stopping this train-wreck? When that vote comes, we will know the answer to the first question.

It is a cliché that free democracies are formidable warriors. But first they must be roused, as Tocqueville put it, to “a sudden effort of remarkable vigor.” So far it’s hard to see such vigor among the people, and one shudders to think what it will take to restore it. But one thing’s for sure–– it will take more than merely putting a Republican in the White House.