Europe's Iran Fantasy
Weekly Standard - By Leon de Winter
Sep 9, 2004
Europeans are from Venus, Mullahs are from Mars
ON OCTOBER 22, 2003, the Guardian, a leading British newspaper, carried no fewer than three articles about the remarkable events in Tehran the day before. The foreign ministers of the three leading European Union countries--Britain's Jack Straw, France's Dominique de Villepin, and Germany's Joschka Fischer--had flown to Iran to try to persuade its Shiite leaders to conclude an agreement about Iran's nuclear program.
The first was a news story, under the headline, "E.U. ministers strike Iran deal." The lead began, "Three European foreign ministers claimed a diplomatic coup yesterday, securing an agreement from Iran over its nuclear program which could defuse a brewing crisis with the U.S." Central to the agreement was a commitment "to suspend [Iran's] uranium-enrichment and reprocessing activities"--in other words, to halt production of materials for nuclear weapons.
The second article was by Guardian commentator Ian Black, who wrote: "The agreement marks a significant victory for the European Union's policy of 'conditional engagement' and the use of carrots and sticks, in contrast to threats from the United States against the Islamic republic, part of President George Bush's 'axis of evil.' . . . 'We often find ourselves on the defensive, being told we are appeasers for engaging with regimes like this,' an E.U. diplomat said last night. 'This agreement gives the lie to that argument. Clearly the Iranians did not do this because they feared E.U. military action. They did it because they want a relationship with us and want to keep channels open.'"
The Guardian's third piece about
this triumph of European diplomacy opened as follows: "Iran's agreement to allow unlimited U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities and to suspend its uranium enrichment program marks a tremendous success for European diplomacy. . . . Mr. Straw played down the significance of the achievement. He should not be so modest. . . . Iran will doubtless remain an axis-of-evil rogue state in George Bush's florid lexicon. But Washington must not try to undermine this accord. To date, [Washington's] polarizing, aggressive pressure tactics have mostly made a difficult problem worse. Europe demonstrated yesterday that there is a different, more effective way. And it is not the American way."
These articles were typical of those then appearing in the European press about the success of European soft power. Few commentators could resist the opportunity to malign Bush, even though many realized that Iran had no intention of adhering to the agreement. The warnings and reports by the International Atomic Energy Association, then and since, make it clear: Everything that happened on that fall day in Tehran was fiction and deception. Yet Europe's leading politicians chose to deceive and debase themselves rather than recognize Iran's play-acting for what it was. For them, the illusion of soft power was infinitely preferable to the suggestion that they should be prepared to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power at all costs. The Iranians knew perfectly well that the Europeans would not back up their demands with force--the only language tyrants building nuclear arsenals understand. The mullahs are quite familiar with Europe: The life-loving Europeans of the third millennium would never have sent their children into the minefields of Iraq.
All but a handful of Europe's politicians, obsessed by the specter of electoral defeat, refuse to take a stand if doing so could force them to sacrifice lives. Post-historical and post-religious Europe, born in the shadow of the Holocaust, does not see sacrifice as legitimate. Of course, considering that Europe has nurtured some of the world's cruelest ideologies, the dread of scenarios that might require sacrifice is hardly surprising. The problem is that much of the world, especially the Arab Islamic parts of it, is simply not interested in the moral and ethical implications of Europe's bloody past.
Since Auschwitz--the benchmark of ideological and political developments in Europe--the miracle of European prosperity and freedom has not led to the conviction that this prosperity and freedom must be defended, if necessary by force; on the contrary, the miracle has given birth to an attitude of cultural relativism and pacifism. It is as if modern Europe had divested itself of its idealistic and historical context, as if many Europeans saw the miracle of a prosperous and free Europe as an ahistorical, natural, and permanent state of affairs--as if Auschwitz had been wiped from their memory.
But anyone who is ignorant of, or ignores, the fact that tens of millions of Europeans died in the twentieth century in the struggle between good and evil--and it seems most Europeans have simply forgotten this--will fail to appreciate that the continued existence of Europe's system of liberal moral and ethical values is the result of conscious choices by courageous Europeans (and many others).
It may be something worse than amnesia: Today's Europeans may see the history of the twentieth century as scarred only by an abstract process known by the ancient Germanic word "war," a concept that for them represents some monstrous destructive force beyond good and evil that blindly spews out victims, like a flood or a hurricane. Most Europeans no longer regard Auschwitz as the disastrous result of evil ideas and the evil decisions of human beings. Instead, they see it as the consequence of something more like a natural disaster.
Perfectly expressing this concept of war were the huge demonstrations in Europe against the war in Iraq. In these rituals, the term "war" was taken out of its historical, political, and cultural context, and no justification for fighting was deemed acceptable. The high priest of this antihistorical creed is Michael Moore, who, 59 years after the end of the Second World War, in a discussion with TV talk show host Bill O'Reilly, would not state categorically that only a devastating war could have saved Europe from something far worse, namely Nazism. By these lights, war is bad whatever the historical or political circumstances.
Another manifestation of the same kind of thinking is the antihistorical view of the suffering caused by the Allied bombing of Nazi Germany: Germans increasingly see themselves as victims of "the war," as if the conflict were not a consequence of the German people's national obsessions with race and purity. A recent German novel about the Allied bombing enjoyed a succès de scandale because it purposely left out any reference to historical context. Everyone is a victim in war, was the message, and the difference between good and evil disappears when the dogs of war are unleashed. "Ordinary Germans" were victims too.
The European landscape is littered from north to south and east to west with monuments to battles and massacres. Many of them commemorate distant conflicts that now are hard to understand, but some mark the struggle against the most recent European evils: the right-wing totalitarian fascism of Nazi Germany and the left-wing totalitarian fascism of the Soviet Union. Although carved in stone, their lessons have not been learned. For most Europeans, the monuments no longer speak to Western civilization of the essential choice between good and evil. Instead, the memorials to the millions who died, from American soldiers to murdered civilians, stand for a faraway world that today's European, safe in his postmodern cultural relativism, thinks he has long since left behind: a world as distant as the Ice Age, plagued by an abstract phenomenon called "war."
It was only logical, therefore, that the implosion of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, which threatened to generate yet more massacres and monuments, left Europe paralyzed. Europe had to bring an end to the mass killings of Europeans by other Europeans in the Balkans, but it lacked the ability to take the necessary action. For that, Europe needed the detested United States.
Of course the horrors of war are beyond comparison, and it is a mark of civilization to deploy military force only with extreme caution. But most Europeans no longer realize that to avoid taking a path that may in the end lead to violent conflict--to avoid opposing totalitarian ideologies--can result in even greater suffering and more casualties. Today's Europeans seem unable to accept the idea that bowing to tyranny is sometimes worse than going to war to resist it. Indeed, to judge from the way European appeasers have handled the threat of a potential Iranian nuclear bomb, it seems that Europe would rather accept its own demise than sacrifice its sons to the dogs of war, which make no distinction between good and evil.
Last month the Brookings Institution hosted a conference of former American and European politicians and bureaucrats on the danger of the Shiite bomb. Newsweek quoted Madeleine Albright as commenting: "Europeans say they understand the threat but then act as if the real problem is not Iran but the United States."
It is remarkable that current developments in Iran do not dominate our headlines. The media are obsessed by Abu Ghraib, by those "liars" Sharon and Bush, by Halliburton and the neocons. And their obsession extends to conspiracy theories, although they fail to realize that something must be wrong when a radical pacifist like Michael Moore can receive the best film award at Cannes from Quentin Tarantino, a man who has done more than anyone to glamorize violence. In the meantime, a terrifying danger looms on the horizon, set to transform the geopolitical map of the Middle East within two years and so the map of the entire world: the Iranian nuclear bomb.
The mullahs are quite frank about why they want nuclear weapons. On December 14, 2001, the de facto dictator of Iran, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, spelled out his dream in a sermon at Tehran University. "If one day the world of Islam comes to possess the [nuclear] weapons currently in Israel's possession," Rafsanjani said, "on that day this method of global arrogance would come to a dead end." This, he said, is because the use of a nuclear bomb on Israel would entirely demolish the Jewish state, whereas it would only damage the Islamic world. Iran's leaders have made dozens of similar statements.
Last week Israel's senior commentator Zeev Schiff wrote in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: "There is an impression that Iran has no fears of any United Nations Security Council action. If its audacity succeeds, Iran will gain another period of unhindered nuclear development. Even though the Iranians have been caught out in the lies they have been weaving for 18 years, it is possible the ayatollahs' regime in Tehran believes that time is on their side."
What happened in Tehran on October 21, 2003, was not proof of the viability of soft power, but the opposite--proof of its impotence. The Guardian and the rest of the European media were fooling themselves and us, blinded by their hatred of Bush's hard power. "Washington sought to persuade Western allies to take a tougher line on Iran," Haaretz wrote last week, concluding dryly, "But Britain, Germany, and France say they prefer to try and persuade Tehran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency." They never learn.
Leon de Winter is a Dutch novelist and columnist for Elsevier magazine, Holland's premier political weekly. He is also a contributor to German publications like Die Zeit, Der Spiegel, and Die Welt, as well as an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute.
Europe's Iran Fantasy
Weekly Standard - By Leon de Winter
Sep 9, 2004
Europeans are from Venus, Mullahs are from Mars