September 24, 2004,
After years of baffling silence, George Will has finally written about Iran. His guide is the justly celebrated Azar Nafisi, but her one-liner Will used to portray contemporary Iran "What differentiated this revolution from the other totalitarian revolutions of the twentieth century was that it came in the name of the past" demonstrates a serious misunderstanding of the past (the Führer's movement was every bit as anti-modern as Khomeini's) and thus of the future (both forms of fascism being quite capable of asserting a terrible revolutionary claim on the destiny of all mankind and unleashing their murderous hatred on a global scale).
Worse, Mr. Will tosses off a dismissive pronunciamento so absolute and categorical that he implies it is writ in the very nature of things: "There is no plausible path to achieving (regime change in Iran)." Why? Because "the regime-changers have their hands full with the unfinished project next door to Iran."
He'd have done better to concentrate his great talent and energy on preventing major-league baseball from reaching Washington, D.C. The claim that the United States cannot possibly bring about the fall of clerical fascism in Tehran is as silly as similar claims directed at Ronald Reagan when he set about bringing an end to the evil Soviet Empire. Indeed, skepticism about our determination to defeat Soviet Communism was far more justifiable than doubts about the thoroughly plausible path to end the Iranian mullahcracy. For only a small minority of the oppressed peoples of the Soviet Empire were ever willing to openly challenge the Kremlin as, for that matter, were the people in the Philippines under the Marcos kleptocracy, or in Yugoslavia under the mad Milosevic. Yet all came crashing down, defeated by their own people, who were inspired and supported by Americans.
In Iran today, upwards of 70 percent of the population is openly hostile to the regime, vocally desirous of freedom and democracy, and bravely supportive of the Bush Doctrine to bring democratic revolution to the entire region.
If we could bring down the Soviet Empire by inspiring and supporting a small percentage of the people, surely the chances of successful revolution in Iran are more likely. By orders of magnitude. "No plausible path," my derriere! (as Senateur Kerry might put it). Ask Comrade Gorbachev about the power of democratic revolution before you write off the Iranian people.
I think that Mr. Will got it wrong because he assumes that regime change implies military conquest. But we don't need armies of fighting American men and women to liberate Tehran; the foot soldiers are Iranians, and they are already on the ground, awaiting good leadership with a clear battle plan. The war against the Iranian terror masters will be political, not military. The weapons that will end the dreadful tyranny so well described by Mr. Will and Mrs. Nafisi are ideas and passions, not missiles and bullets. To our great shame, we have failed to support the Iranians' battle against their hated regime, but that is a failure of will, not a failure of means.
Mr. Will believes it inevitable that Iran will become a nuclear power in the near future, and this may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Surely the United Nations, the British, and the Europeans are doing everything possible to bring it to fulfillment. But this is a fallacy of "static" thinking in a rapidly changing world. South Africa and Ukraine were members of the nuclear club when they were oppressive tyrannies, but scrapped their nukes when they became free. It is certainly true that the current Iranian regime will stop at nothing until they have atomic bombs, but a free Iran might well make a different choice.
Most importantly, there is a huge difference between atomic bombs in the hands of fanatical mullahs, and atomic bombs controlled by a pro-Western and democratic country. Mr. Will says it is "surreal" for Condoleezza Rice to discuss the Iranian nuclear program in terms of what we can "allow" Iran to do, I suppose because he is convinced we have no plausible path to prevent it. That may or may not be true; I don't know if there is a politically acceptable military option, and I agree that diplomacy cannot possibly derail the mullahs' mad atomic march. But it is at least equally "surreal" to dismiss the prospects of democratic revolution in Iran, and thereby join the ranks of the appeasers.
If Reagan had listened to this sort of criticism and there was no shortage of it in the early '80s Gorbachev would still be managing the gulags and funding Communist movements all over the world. If Bush accepts George Will's view of Iran, we will soon see the world's primary sponsor of terror armed with atomic bombs.
It is not inevitable. We can beat them. Delay costs lives, both ours and those of the brave Iranians who challenge clerical fascism.
Michael Ledeen, an NRO contributing editor, is most recently the author of The War Against the Terror Masters. Ledeen is Resident Scholar in the Freedom Chair at the American Enterprise Institute.