Appeasement and War on Iran
by Michael S. Rozeff
by Michael S. Rozeff
Neocon appeasement story
Appeasement and Munich are favored neocon themes to promote and justify more war. In a dangerous trend, they are being picked up by more columnists. Strange that the more force that the U.S. applies in the Middle East, the more that the neocons wail appeasement and the more force they demand. Strange, because repeated applications of force, the opposite of appeasement and applied in the name of avoiding appeasement, have brought no tangible gains. They have brought losses, and losses should be cut. Once again, neocons can't think straight. One should not throw good money after bad. The U.S. can't win in the Middle East. It should take its chips off the table. It should never have sat down at the table.
Neocons now call for armed confrontation with Iran in order to prevent it from obtaining nuclear weapons. They want the U.S. to stand up to Iran and fight if necessary, starting a war if need be. If rhetoric and public fears launched wars, we'd already be in another one. And Congressional resolutions and sanctions have in fact moved us closer to war. This is a war that the U.S. cannot win physically. It is a war that is morally lost the instant that the first bombs are dropped on Iran. This is a war that leads to hundreds of years of future warfare setting Islamic peoples against the West.
There is no end to how much force neocons wish to apply, and anything less than total war is regarded as appeasement by them. Some take this position because they believe that anything less than overturning Iran and preventing it from obtaining nuclear weapons means the destruction of Western civilization. The neocon position has matters backwards. Trying to overturn Iran by force will itself hasten the destruction of the West.
Neocons argue that Iran wants to bring down the entire West no matter what. They infer that U.S. disengagement and negotiations are therefore useless and war is necessary. They are incorrect on all counts. Not all Iranians want to see the West destroyed, and not all are inflexible in their views. But suppose that Dr. Ahmadinejad is one of the inflexible ones. Suppose that he is indeed a "certifiable apocalyptic" (see Gary North). He can be restrained by those mullahs who do not share his beliefs or who have more realistic expectations. It makes sense to play for time and attempt to divide the Iranians. It does not make sense to play into Ahmadinejad's hands and bring on the conflict that he might desire or believe that he is called upon to instigate.
The neocon position entails the utter destruction of all Iranians who wish to see the West destroyed. What they do not realize is that it also entails the continued destruction of anyone else who takes their place after they are destroyed. And we can expect that initiating war on Iran will radicalize not only Iranians but also many other sympathetic Muslims.
On the face of it, the appeasement position is incredible. Where's the appeasement? The U.S. has plenty of force and has not been reluctant to use it. Where are the U.S. concessions? There haven't been any. Where's the Munich agreement? It doesn't exist. Where's the Iranian industrial power comparable to Hitler's or the comparable ability to place a very large well-trained and equipped armed force into combat well beyond one's borders? Iran is incapable of destroying the West. Where's the nuclear arsenal of Iran? Even if it had one, which it does not, it could not destroy the West without itself being destroyed. Where's the history of aggressions and annexations by Iran that compare to Hitler's? Iran has supported Hizbullah which managed to get the Israelis out of Lebanon for a while and has used and supported terror tactics. So have many nations. So have many dictators that the U.S. has supported. We condemn all such actions, but the question is whether they add up to a record like Hitler's. They do not. Why is Tehran so interested in negotiating with Washington, in a clear break with the past? Could it be that it sees a danger of being attacked? When Washington spurns Iran's overtures, the first in 25 years, is this appeasement? Of course not. And if Washington agreed to negotiate in good faith, would this be appeasement? Of course not.
Meeting with Iranians and Ahmadinejad has many immediate benefits. We gain information about what Iranians want. We gain information about their divisions and the strength of their preferences. We delay hostilities. We learn more about Dr. Ahmadinejad. We raise our moral stature. We have a chance to change some of their minds. The two sides might actually agree on a few further steps that lead away from war. What do we lose? Iran gains time to pursue its nuclear ventures. There is little we can do to stop that anyway, short of war. Sooner or later, if Iran wants nuclear weapons, it will get them. If starting a war with Iran is as bad as I think it is, with very negative long-term consequences, then meeting with Iranians is a very good investment.
The neocons simply want to ratchet up the level of violence to remake the Middle East. Their argument is that if we do not, we'll be destroyed by Iran or by some pan-Islamic combine. This is ridiculous. The U.S. nuclear arsenal deterred the Soviet Union. It can deter Iran. The neocon answer to this is that Iran is led by hate-filled fanatics who will not face a reality like seeing their country effaced from the earth by hydrogen bombs. How credible is that assumption? Should U.S. policy be based upon such an assumption? Not all Iranians are impervious to realities. Many Iranian leaders have a definite political agenda. Not all are expecting the imminent return of the Mahdi. Iranian goals run up against American ambitions in the Middle East, and this is a basic source of conflict, not an abstract desire to destroy Western civilization and be destroyed in the process. Churchill said "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject." If we rely on the extreme beliefs of our homegrown neocon fanatics, whose own ideas are impervious to change and who can't propose any course of action except war, then we shall ourselves destroy our own civilization.
Losing is not appeasement
The neocons do not realize that force is a great weapon as long as it's not used. They did not understand that once the U.S. embarked on a policy of force in Iraq, it risked more than its initial stake. Losing Iraq lost the U.S. prestige and credibility everywhere else in the region and wherever else it might be confronted. It strengthened Iran's hand. It weakened Israel's. Practically speaking, the American people and the military are much less likely and capable of underwriting another venture on the heels of a failed one.
Once an initial application of force goes wrong, as in Iraq, defeat and withdrawal begin to look like appeasement in the face of other threats, real or imagined. In other words, what seems like appeasement to the neocons now is a direct consequence of resorting to force in the first place and losing. A U.S. weakened by its missteps and unable to make good on its threats will indeed be more inclined to pull back. If it does, it won't be appeasement. It will be the result of losses and seeking to stem further losses. This will not be the end of the world or Western civilization. It will, however, be attributable to the long-term (flawed) U.S. policy of trying to control the Middle East and to the specific neocon policies that included attacking Iraq, sanctions and threats against Iran, a diplomacy of pressure, and attacking Lebanon.
The Lebanon fiasco
If Israel ever attacks Iran, it means the U.S. attacks Iran. The U.S. has to restrain Israel if it is to avoid setting fanatic against fanatic and launching a hundred or more year's war.
From this standpoint, the U.S. miscalculated badly in encouraging Israel to attack Lebanon. Neocons hoped that Israel would take out Hizbullah and reduce its threat. They hoped for a widening of the war to Syria and Iran.
If Israel failed, the risk was that Hizbullah would be strengthened and Israel weakened. Now that Israel has lost and Hizbullah won, the loss has exposed Israel's weak and vulnerable position. Israel is surrounded by foes with renewed spirit and hope.
The balance of power has shifted in favor of Hizbullah, Iran, and Syria. Hizbullah's political position in Lebanon has been strengthened. Even if it has been temporarily weakened by loss of men, material, and position, it can quickly rebuild its operations and resupply its guerillas. Israel won't be able to stop the flow of weapons or prevent recruiting and training.
Israel's foes have several advantages. Hizbullah's leaders can decide when they want to apply pressure. They can bide their time. They can decide how much pressure to apply and in what forms. They have allies in Gaza. They can maintain guerilla tactics and avoid outright massed attacks on Israel. The odds are that they will stay with tactics of attrition, threat, terror, and political pressure, hoping to weaken Israel or gain concessions. Some types of concessions that weaken it as a Jewish state might effectively, over time, spell the doom of Israel in its present form. The game is a long-term game in which changes in the demographics in Israel can play a part. Even out-migration of Jews from Israel can play a part.
Iran is a state that aspires to be the Middle Eastern hegemon while the U.S. opposes Iranian dominance. Iran and Syria have the advantage of Hizbullah, which buffers their direct involvement. Israel's advantage is that it can use surprise attack, but against whom and will it succeed? It didn't work against Lebanon.
Israel will try to block Hizbullah's resupply efforts while avoiding an expansion of hostilities. It will try to rebuild its credibility. A direct attack on Syrian territory would bring Syria into the war and then Iran, its treaty ally. Once Iran is in, the U.S. would come in. A major war would result. The U.S. military cannot rationally support such a costly and risky war. Therefore Israel (rationally) should be restrained by the U.S. Will it be? The U.S. urged Israel on in Lebanon. Influential interest groups like AIPAC that have no concern for U.S. interests will be urging the U.S. to support whatever Israel does to the hilt. And our current leadership seems only too anxious to comply, partly because they are operating under one neocon illusion after another anyway. This situation could not be more dangerous. The U.S. support of Israel's attack on Lebanon has only made it more dangerous and has only shown us once again that U.S. policy is on a disastrous course. Appeasement is not the problem whatsoever. Stupidity is.
The U.S. shouldn't even contemplate allowing Israel pre-emptively to bomb Iran for any reason. This is the same as a U.S. attack. What sort of world will we have after such an event? Such an attack would be long-term suicide for Israel and mean endless war for the U.S. Unfortunately, although the U.S. military cannot rationally recommend an Israeli air strike upon Iran, this does not mean that it could not happen. The U.S. has blundered numerous times in the Middle East (and elsewhere) and can again.
The U.S. hasn't appeased any country in the Middle East. It has done just the opposite. America's missteps in the Middle East have weakened its position. All is not lost. The U.S. can stop playing the foolish neocon war game, pull back, rebuild credibility, rebuild its financial and other strengths, take a breather, tone down the rhetoric, talk with its foes, rebuild its moral stature, and play for time. This is the smart course to take, as opposed to setting the world ablaze.
The two main issues in the Middle East are oil and Israel. U.S. can buy oil without controlling the politics of the Middle East. It can deregulate energy, including nuclear energy, and resolve its energy problems without war. The Israel issue can't be resolved as easily. Israel in its current political form is doomed. It makes no sense for the U.S. to start a world war in order to preserve Israel. It makes no sense for the Israeli tail to wag the U.S. dog. The U.S. has to control Israel. America got into this mess and only America can get out of it. America has little choice but strongly to control Israel, if it can, to control negotiations, if it can, and to lead the way in settling all the outstanding questions surrounding Israel's existence and political nature. The alternatives are that Israel will gradually be worn down anyway and/or that the U.S. will engage in the great folly of a major war.
Every official U.S. link with and every step into a foreign country creates costs and risks for the American people. They usually are not worth it. They usually cause losses. Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the Middle East.
August 25, 2006
Michael S. Rozeff [send him mail] is the Louis M. Jacobs Professor of Finance at University at Buffalo.
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