October 7, 2009

Iran Isn't Stalinist Russia

In the October 12 issue of Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria makes a case for containing rather than confronting Iran, partly because he expects “a massive outpouring of support for the Iranian regime” if its nuclear-weapons facilities are attacked by the U.S. or Israel. “This happens routinely when a country is attacked by foreign forces, no matter how unpopular the government,” he writes.

As a precedent, he cites how Russians rallied to Stalin when Germany invaded in 1941. But of course Russians rallied to Stalin. No viable political opposition existed as it does today in Iran, and besides: they were attacked by the Nazis. The Germans weren’t liberators. Russia was not going to be treated better by foreign totalitarians than by its own. Even the U.S. and Britain backed Stalinist Russia under those circumstances.

The people of Afghanistan, on the other hand, were euphoric when NATO demolished the Taliban regime in 2001. The Taliban has since reconstituted itself as a terrorist and insurgent militia, but its approval rating among Afghan civilians is by some reports as miserable as 6 percent. Support for the U.S. and NATO has slipped recently, but it’s still telling that, according to an ABC News poll of public opinion, 58 percent still say the Taliban is the greatest threat to security, while only 8 percent say the same of the United States.

Very few Iraqis outside the relatively small Sunni community threw their support behind Saddam Hussein when President Bill Clinton bombed Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities in 1998 or when President George W. Bush finished off his Baath party regime once and for all in 2003. Meanwhile, the various terrorist and insurgent militias that later rose up were almost exclusively sectarian and Islamist, not Baathist.

Even the Shia of south Lebanon — today’s Hezbollah supporters — initially hailed the Israelis as liberators in 1982 when they invaded to oust Yasir Arafat’s Palestinian Liberation Organization from its state-within-a-state along the border and in West Beirut. Only later, when the Israelis did not leave as expected, did the prototype of Hezbollah begin to take shape.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

And don't miss my collleague Emanuele Ottolenghi's follow-up comments.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at October 7, 2009 9:56 AM

While I don't feel qualified to speak to what groups of people or individuals would do if their nation state were attacked. I can only relate how I would feel if my family, friends and I were under a government that oppressed us and and killed/tortured or imprisoned my friends and/or family for objecting. That had stolen our freedom and liberty.

I would welcome it.

I would want the people and government that had caused my family so much grief and terror to us gone, no matter how it occurred.

Then afterwards I might consider what to do about the ones that had destroyed my hated and feared government.

But only afterward.

Papa Ray
Central(used to be West) Texas

Posted by: Papa Ray Author Profile Page at October 7, 2009 4:56 PM

It's a little surprising that more has not been mentioned about attacking the nuclear facilities in Iran combined with blockade/containment after their destruction.
The immediate threat is the looming nuclear destructive ability of Iran, not any likely or potential after-anger of the population. We Americans will be damned if we wait and 'discuss' further; we Americans are going to be damned if successful destruction of those nuclear facilities is accomplished even if we don't directly participate.
But the remaining priority is still elimination of an Iranian Bomb. Popularity is like charisma....it's a vapor, not a valid basis for American foreign policy.
It seems too much emphasis is being placed on democratic procedures being established and followed in that whole area where history indicates a basic resistance to and incompatibility with democracy. It's simply too alien a concept for that part of the world with its artificial boundaries, regardless of current instances of its short term practice...witness the shakiness of the governments of both Iraq and Afghanistan after disputes simmering after voting count messes. They both voted 'early and often', didn't they?
Don't forget the containment of the Soviets. Their collapse was from within.

Posted by: Morningside Author Profile Page at October 7, 2009 6:33 PM

Fareed Zakaria is a dangerous man. A foreign military strike may make it more difficult for protesters to protest openly in the streets in the short term, but a military strike combined with broad international sanctions and condemnation could expose the regime as weak and embolden opposition. Anyway, if we believe a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, we cannot wait on an ideal scenario of peaceful regime change.

A nuclear arsenal is a pandora's box that would certainly strengthen the regime in every way, internally and externally. And we all know how nuclear powers fight each other... through proxy wars. Iraq will have been just a preview. A nuclear Iran could be a disaster for sectarian countries like Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Yemen.

Lastly, I always thought air strikes were part of containment.

Posted by: jachapin Author Profile Page at October 8, 2009 6:26 AM

I don't see any good options when it comes to the IRI. But continuing to do nothing seems like one of the worst options, because it leaves the initiative to the Islamic Republic, by default. Which places us in a reactive mode. That's no way to win a conflict.

As far as "containment" - I haven't seen any evidence that containment has worked with the IRI in the past, or any indication that it might in the future. I think this is the argument of somebody who can't think of anything else to do, but wants to pretend they have a strategy.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at October 8, 2009 10:14 AM

The Russians who drove the Soviet Union aspired to be western, aspired to be nomenklatura and avoid being nekulturny. The westerners who came to Russia and showed them how to be other something after the demolition of their culture by the Mongols. We could contain the Soviet Union because we had cultural leverage, even with their thugs.

The greatest benefactor to the Iranian Islamic clergy was Tamerlane, when he destroyed the Persian nobility. There is a real possibility that the Iranian clergy welcome vile and bitter eradication of large portions of their population as a method of driving the survivors towards fanatic faith.

Containing the aspirations of clergy who welcome the destruction of their own people strikes me as flatly impossible. Nuclear weaponry provides the mullahs with the invitation to massive retaliation they need to purge the civilized Persians.

Posted by: Patrick S Lasswell Author Profile Page at October 8, 2009 11:07 PM
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

Winner, The 2007 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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