Rouhani as the new Hitler
In 1940 he told his party:
“After the Munich agreement, the Labour Party were relieved that we had escaped the war. Now they want to know why we did not call Hitler’s bluff. If we get through this war successfully, then it will be to Munich that we shall owe it. In the condition our armaments were in at that time, if we had called Hitler’s bluff and he had called ours, I do not think we could have survived a week.” Photo from BBC Archive.
The ‘Munich’-Iran deal analogy is absurd
By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post
November 26, 2013
Pay not the slightest attention to the people yelling “Munich” about the Iran nuclear deal. The name of the charming, beer-loving Bavarian city has become a lazy, all-purpose argument against any international agreement, regardless of content or merit.
It’s no surprise to see a headline like “Worse than Munich” from Breitbart, the right-wing news site whose writers, suffering from Stage 5 Obama Derangement Syndrome, would object if the president came out in support of pumpkin pie. But even commentators who should know better are resorting to the empty Munich analogy.
Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, appearing on Fox News, said of the agreement, “This is a sham from beginning to end. It’s the worst deal since Munich.” Republican political strategist Alex Castellanos went straight to the historical source, tweeting a link to the speech Winston Churchill made in the House of Commons after Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich.
To Krauthammer, Castellanos and others in the Munich crowd who are not totally ignorant of history, I say this: Take a deep breath, have a sip of decaf and examine your words for meaning. You won’t find any.
“Munich” is being used to mean craven appeasement. Historians argue about how Chamberlain’s agreement with Adolf Hitler should ultimately be judged, but let’s stipulate that the conventional view is correct: The British prime minister threw Czechoslovakia under the bus of Hitler’s territorial ambitions in the foolish hope that this gutless surrender would make Britain safe.
In Geneva, a coalition of great powers, led by the United States, signed a pact with Iran that surrenders nothing except a small fraction of the money that has been withheld or confiscated through sanctions. Iran, by contrast, surrenders the right to enrich uranium to threatening levels, has to dilute half its stock of dangerously enriched uranium and turn the rest into reactor fuel, refrain from making any new nuclear facilities operational and submit to daily inspections. That’s not a good deal; it’s a great deal.
The Munich crowd says the “surrender” is the agreement’s recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium. The document is deliberately ambiguous on this point, but to the extent any right is acknowledged, it is the right to produce low-grade fuel for reactors – fuel that simply cannot be used for a bomb. But the Iranians might cheat, says the Munich crowd. That’s true, but we’ll know about it – because of inspections Iran acquiesced to in the deal – and the agreement will be void. And we’ll be better off because Iran will be further away from being able to make a bomb than it is today.
The Munich crowd seems to believe that some combination of bombing runs and cruise missiles – short of a full-scale invasion, of course – can wipe out not just Iran’s nuclear facilities (a questionable assumption) but all trace of nuclear knowledge and expertise. This is preposterous. What do they propose, lining up all Iranian physicists and shooting them? It’s not possible to control what Iran’s scientists know – or, for that matter, what its leaders say in their grotesque speeches. But what’s important is what those leaders actually do. Right now, they’re taking a big step back from the brink.
So screaming “Munich” in this instance is absurd. When you think about it, though, it’s always absurd. The word has become a substitute for thought, a replacement for argument; it relieves those who use it from the obligation of actual ideas.
If you think there’s something wrong with the Geneva agreement, explain what that shortcoming might be. The Munich crowd substitutes historical resonance for actual history – and, to paraphrase Shakespeare, gives us sound and fury that signifies nothing.
By Peter Beinart, Daily Beast
November 25, 2013
U.S. and Israeli hawks are rushing to call the interim nuclear agreement a capitulation and Obama another Chamberlain. It’s another sign the doomsayers don’t know their history.
Within hours of the Obama administration’s interim nuclear deal with Iran, Bill Kristol was already invoking Munich. Benjamin Netanyahu’s minions have been doing so for months.
Ostensibly, that’s because the agreement doesn’t doesn’t dismantle Iran’s nuclear program but stalls it in return for partial sanctions relief. That’s true. But Kristol and Netanyahu have no remotely plausible alternative for fully dismantling Iran’s nuclear program, either. In place of the interim agreement, they want more sanctions, which Iran’s reformist government has said would doom any agreement. Or they want war, which former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, who oversaw Israel’s Iran file from 2002 to 2010, has said would rally Iranians behind their regime, splinter the international coalition against Tehran, and thus ultimately increase Iran’s chances of getting a bomb.
If Netanyahu and company have no better strategy for preventing an Iranian nuke, why call Obama’s deal a Munich-style surrender? Because that’s their name for any diplomatic agreement that requires Western compromise. For Netanyahu and his American allies, it’s always 1938, because if it’s not 1938 and your opponents aren’t Neville Chamberlain, then you’re not Winston Churchill. And if you’re not Churchill, you’ve got no compelling rationale for wielding power.
Since the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat, Iran’s leaders have become the Hitlers du jour.
Over the past quarter-century, there’s hardly an American or Israeli leader the Kristol-Netanyahu crowd hasn’t compared to Chamberlain. In 1985, Newt Gingrich called Reagan’s first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev “the most dangerous summit for the West since Adolf Hitler met with Neville Chamberlain in 1938 in Munich.” When Reagan signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, hawks took out newspaper ads declaring that “Appeasement is as unwise in 1988 as in 1938.”
Then, when Israel moved to thaw its own cold war with the Palestine Liberation Organization, Yitzhak Rabin assumed the Chamberlain role. “Earlier in this century, Neville Chamberlain thought he could buy ‘peace in our time’ by handing over the mountain defenses of Czechoslovakia to Hitler, who promised to accept a deal of ‘land for peace,” wrote Netanyahu in The New York Times in 1993. “The Rabin government is now betting the security of Israel on Yasser Arafat’s promises.”
Then it was Bill Clinton. “The word that best describes Clinton administration [foreign] policy is appeasement,” explained Robert Kagan and Kristol in 1999. Then, of course, it was the opponents of war with Iraq. “The establishment fights most bitterly and dishonestly when it feels cornered and thinks it’s about to lose. Churchill was attacked more viciously in 1938 and 1939 than earlier in the decade,” wrote Kristol in a 2002 editorial, “The Axis of Appeasement.”
The new Hitlers: Rouhani becomes President of Iran, August 3rd, 2013. At the ceremony, Ayatollah Khameini and Ahmadi-Nejad sit on his right.
But since the deaths of Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat, Iran’s leaders have become the Hitlers du jour. Netanyahu alone has wielded the analogy so many times I’ve lost count.
Pundits and politicians, including Secretary of State John Kerry, vigorously debated the Iran nuclear deal on this week’s Sunday talk shows.
Iran’s leaders, to be sure, are a gruesome lot, guilty of terrible crimes against their people and of supporting some of the most odious dictators and terrorists in the Middle East. But the Nazi analogy is laughable. Hitler used Europe’s most advanced economy to build its most advanced military and for a time, conquer almost the entire continent. Iran, a middling economic power at best, couldn’t even defeat Iraq. Even if Tehran acquired a nuclear weapon, which I dearly hope does not happen, Iran would still be surrounded by a host of stronger countries, including Turkey (a NATO member), Pakistan (a Sunni country with a host of nukes), India (a nuclear-armed semi-superpower), and Israel (which reportedly has 200 nuclear weapons and a uniquely close relationship with the United States).
If Iran lacks the industrial and military might for regional dominance, it also lacks the ideological power. For a time in the 1930s, leading Western intellectuals believed fascist regimes could economically outperform democracies. No one believes that about Iran. Indeed, whatever regional prestige Tehran once enjoyed has been destroyed by its support for Bashar al-Assad.
Netanyahu believes Iranians are not allowed to wear jeans. In this pre-Rouhani photo, the Daily Mail’s caption is “A group of friends in the hills above Tehran. Many (every single one I met) young Iranians feel deeply embarrassed by their government, and the way the nation is perceived abroad. Zac Clayton, a British cyclist who will finish a round-the-world cycle on March 23 described Iran as having the kindest people of any country he cycled through. ‘I found most Iranians — particularly the younger generation — to be very aware of the world around them… with a burning desire for the freedoms they feel they are being denied by an out of touch, ultra-conservative religious elite.'”
Iran is a corrupt, nasty regime seeking to stay in power, deter attack, and extend its regional influence to the extent possible. It’s not suicidal. That’s Dagan’s view, and it’s the view of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey. It was once Israel’s view, too, since Israel sold Iran arms in the 1980s even though Tehran’s regime was more addicted to revolutionary Islamic rhetoric back then than it is now.
Israel did so because, at the time, it was more afraid of Iraq. But then Iraq’s patron, the Soviet Union, collapsed and a decade of Western sanctions hobbled Saddam. As Iranian power filled the void, Israel’s relationship with Tehran shifted from transactional to fearful. And after George W. Bush toppled Saddam, thus further increasing Iranian influence, American hawks jumped on the “Iran as Nazi Germany” analogy, too.
Now both groups are addicted to it. For Bibi, focusing on the Iran threat unites his hawkish base. Focusing on peace with the Palestinians, by contrast, leaves him caught between the world’s demand that Israel withdraw from the West Bank and his base’s insistence that Israel remain there. It was his 1998 Wye River agreement with Arafat, after all, that split Netanyahu’s government and ended his first prime ministership. No wonder that when Netanyahu returned to office in 2009, he reportedly told Obama in their first meeting that they should defer the peace process until they had dealt with Iran.
From Ali Ansari, RUSI, August 15th, 2013: Honeymoon in Tehran: Rouhani’s first 100 days
The reality is that Rouhani inherits a ‘Presidency’ that is both structurally and materially much weaker than the institution that had been reshaped by Rafsanjani in 1989 when he oversaw the abolition of the post of Prime Minister. Indeed given the powers (over National Security and foreign policy) that Khamenei has reiterated are reserved for himself, it would not be an exaggeration to state that Rouhani’s office resembles more that of a prime minister working under parameters defined elsewhere. No one, least of all Rouhani, would want to admit that. But the constant references to the wise counsel of the Supreme Leader and the thanks being repeatedly accorded to him for having managed such an excellent election, to say nothing of Rouhani’s cautious selection of his cabinet, all point to a presidency anxiously looking over his shoulder.
This is also reflected in his priorities which are firmly economic. His most interesting choices as far as his ministerial appointments are concerned (and we should be aware these need to be confirmed by Parliament, though there is little indication at present that any of his nominees will be opposed), are those dealing with the economy, many of which are drawn from the political faction known as the ‘Servants of Construction'; technocrats affiliated with the Presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani. The one interesting outlier here is Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s one time ambassador to the UN, highly proficient and popular among Western diplomats, and whose appointment seems to be strong signal, that foreign policy and Iran’s image abroad, will henceforth be given the attention it is due.
Zarif’s connections to the United States are far more intimate than some have realised. His two children were born in the US and are currently studying there. It is widely assumed they are both US citizens and that his wife is also resident in the United States. This along with Zarif’s strong identification with the reform period of Mohammad Khatami’s presidency, make him both an interesting yet potentially vulnerable minister. (It is worth remembering that Zarif’s appointment is not innovative. Both Rafsanjani and Khatami appointed individuals with training in the West, while Ahmadinejad’s last foreign minister was educated at MIT and his special adviser on foreign policy, Hamid Mowlana had lived in the US for decades and reportedly held a US passport.)
For Netanyahu’s American allies, Iran fulfills a similar function. For decades now, hawks like Kristol and groups like AIPAC have stoked American Jewish fears of a second Holocaust. But since the mild-mannered Mahmoud Abbas succeeded Arafat and the terrifying second intifada gave way to productive Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation in the West Bank, Jewish hawks have found it harder to slot Palestinians into the Nazi role. Yes, Hamas still understandably frightens many American Jews. But if the Palestinian issue is a political headache for Netanyahu, it has become a headache for groups like AIPAC, too, which are in the awkward position of publicly supporting a Palestinian state and yet also publicly supporting everything the Israeli government does, even when its actions clearly undermine the possibility of a Palestinian state. Iran, by contrast, unifies the American Jewish establishment, which dislikes grappling with the dilemmas of Jewish power and feels most comfortable depicting Jews as permanently menaced by potentially genocidal anti-Semitic threats.
“Netanyahu doesn’t know history,” declared the great Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer earlier this year. Nor does he know much about Iran, a country whose residents he thought were banned from wearing jeans. What he and his American allies do know is how to exploit historical analogies for political and ideological gain. Obama’s interim nuclear deal threatens their ability to do that, which is part of the reason it’s such a welcome thing.