In one of the most embarrassingly absurd, historically
baseless, and astonishingly one-sided speeches any U.S. president has ever
given, President Bush compared Iran to Nazi Germany in his speech to Israel's
Knesset. In doing so, the president repeated the same diatribes that Norman
Podhoretz, the godfather of the neoconservatives, and Benjamin Netanyahu, the
leader of Israel's Likud Party, have been making for quite some time.
"Some seem to believe that we should negotiate with the terrorists
and radicals, as if some ingenious argument will persuade them [that] they
have been wrong all along. We have heard this foolish delusion before. As Nazi
tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator [William Borah of Idaho]
declared, 'Lord, if I could only have talked to Hitler, all this might have
been avoided.' We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort
of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history."
Bush made his "argument" against "appeasement" only days after Defense Secretary
Robert M. Gates had called for a combination of incentives and pressure to
engage Iran. So, as Sen. Barack Obama pointed out, even the president's own
defense secretary is apparently an appeaser.
Comparing Iran with the 1939 Nazi Germany is ridiculous. Germany was a powerful,
industrialized nation that had been defeated in World War I. It had grievances
against the victors who had humiliated it. Germany's culture was such that
many Germans blindly followed their charismatic leader, Adolf Hitler. Even
the eminent physicist and Nobel Laureate Werner Heisenberg, though no Nazi,
worked for the regime. Most importantly, the 1939 Wehrmacht was the most powerful
military in the world, backed by Germany's advanced technology, industrial
capacity, and a great corps of first-rate scientists. At the point in time
Bush was referring to, Germany was invading Poland and had already annexed
Austria and devoured Czechoslovakia.
Compare this with Iran, which has neither territorial claims against any nation
nor has it attacked its neighbors for 1,000 years, but was the victim of an
eight-year war with Iraq, which was encouraged and supported by the U.S. Persian
culture is such that few Iranians blindly follow their leaders. In 1905 Iranians
set up the first constitutional government in all of Asia and the Middle East.
Despite its resources and potential, Iran is only a developing nation, not
an advanced industrial power.
Iran's armed forces have been designed to defend the country, without any
ability to project power outside the country's borders. The massive presence
of U.S. and NATO forces around Iran limits Iran's reach, as do its terrible
economy, restless population, and democracy movement. The U.S. and Israel constantly
point to Iran's aid to Hamas and Lebanon's Hezbollah as evidence of its "evil
intentions." But with relatively weak armed forces and constant threats from
the U.S. and Israel, Iran needs strategic depth to protect its territorial
integrity, hence its aid to both Hezbollah and Hamas.
Furthermore, Hamas won the democratic elections of 2006 and is far more popular
than Fatah. As Sen. John McCain said then, "They are the government. … It's
a new reality in the Middle East.'' And contrary to popular misconceptions,
Hezbollah would be just as powerful without Iran's help, because it was formed
as a reaction to the invasion of southern Lebanon by Israel in 1978 and 1982,
which created hundreds of thousands of Shi'ite refugees and tens of thousands
of Shi'ite dead and wounded, while the U.S. and the rest of the West stood
by, doing nothing. Hezbollah and Hamas receive aid, not orders, from Iran.
The president brazenly lies when he blames Iran for all the problems that
the U.S. and Israel face in the Middle East. Iran did not provoke the U.S.
to attack Afghanistan and Iraq, nor did it force the U.S. to support Israeli
aggression for decades. These are the main causes of anti-American sentiment
in the Islamic world. Half of all the foreign fighters in Iraq are from Saudi
Arabia, and the rest are from Egypt, Jordan, and other U.S.-supported sunni
States, as were the 9/11 terrorists. Almost all the suicide bombers are Sunni,
the majority of them Saudis. But instead of confronting Saudi Arabia, President
Bush has agreed to supply billions of dollars in advanced weaponry, as well
as nuclear technology, to that country.
Surely, Iran has considerable influence in Iraq. It has been supporting the
Badr Army and the Mahdi Army of Shi'ite firebrand Moqtada al-Sadr. These groups
spent years in Iran when Saddam Hussein was in power. But Iran also supports
the government of Nouri al-Maliki. There is a strong rationale behind this.
Iran was invaded by Iraq in 1980, so in order to avoid another war with Iraq,
Iran wishes to have influence there, regardless of who wins the internal struggle
among the various factions. At the same time, though, Iran's influence has
its limits because of the historical rivalry between Arabs and Persians.
Worst of all, military attacks on Iran will only consolidate the hardliners'
grip on Iran, just when economic problems and political repression are shaking
the foundations of their power. President Ahmadinejad is in deep trouble at
home, even among his own base. The vast majority of Iran's urban population,
and in particular its university students, despise him for his failed economic
policies, political repression, and the danger that his hollow rhetoric has
created for Iran's national security. In the March elections for the Iranian
parliament, he was attacked fiercely not only by the reformists, but also by
pragmatic conservatives and former allies. But as Shirin Ebadi, the Iranian
human rights advocate and the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate, said recently in a
speech at Barnard College,
"Foreign attacks and threats on the Iranian government will only harm
human rights efforts, since the government would act under the guise of 'national
security' to suppress those who are seeking more freedom in the country."
In April 2005, when the reformist Mohammad Khatami was still president, Iran
made a comprehensive proposal to the U.S., offering to enter serious negotiations
and putting all the important issues on the table. The offer was never taken
seriously. What is not understood in the U.S. is that, given the deep unpopularity
of the hardliners, the absence of an external threat to Iran's national security
would make it much easier for democratic groups to push for reforms. Therefore,
détente, not war, with the U.S. will make fundamental changes in Iran
President Bush, however, is oblivious to such realities. In his parallel universe,
which is completely disconnected from ours, rejecting negotiations with Iran
in, of all the places, the Knesset is in America's national interest. In his
fantasies, the invasion and destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, his unstinting
support for Israel, and a possible war with Iran are all good for the cause
of freedom and democracy in the Middle East.
How will Iranians react if their nation is attacked by the U.S. and/or Israel?
Most Iranians despise the hardliners, but as Ebadi and the author stated in
op-ed published by the International Herald Tribune on Jan. 19, 2006,
"A military attack would only inflame nationalist sentiments. Iranians
remember the U.S. help to Iraq during its war with Iran. They see the double
standards when the United States offers security guarantees and aid to North
Korea and advanced nuclear technology to India [and to Saudi Arabia and Bahrain],
but nothing but sanctions and threats to Iran.
"Iran is not Iraq: Given the Iranians' fierce nationalism and the
Shi'ites' long tradition of martyrdom, any military move on Iran would receive
a response that would engulf the entire region in fire."
Thus, the president is playing with fire when he threatens Iran at Israel's
behest. In response to a question about how Iran is a threat to the U.S., he
once replied, "Its leader wants to destroy Israel." In other words, Bush is
willing to order attacks on Iran because of Iran's nonexistent threat to Israel.
Shi'ites across the Middle East will not respond kindly.