Victor Davis Hanson:
And then there is Israel. All sane observers hope it is not drawn into this crisis, and for a variety of reasons. The emboldened Iranians count on this. Yet they do not realize the extent of the dilemma that their rhetoric and nuclear brinkmanship force on an Israeli president. To do nothing, a mere 60 years after the Holocaust, would imply three assumptions on the part of an Israeli leadership — “wiping us off the map” is just theocratic rhetoric; if the Iranians ever do get the bomb, they won’t use it; and if they use it, it won’t be against us.
Those are, in fact, three big “ifs” — and no responsible Israeli can take the chance that he presided over a second holocaust and the destruction of half the world’s surviving Jewry residing in what the radical Islamic world calls a “one-bomb state.”
History would not see such restraint as sobriety, but rather as criminal neglect tantamount to collective suicide, and would reason: “An Israeli prime minister was warned by the president of Iran that he wished to wipe Israel off the map. He was then informed that Iran was close to getting nuclear weapons. And then he did nothing, allowing a radical Islamic regime to gain the means to destroy the Jewish state.”
So for all the lunacy of Mr. Ahmadinejad, it is time for him to sober up and do some cool reckoning. He thinks appearing unhinged offers advantages in nuclear poker. And he preens that unpredictability is the private domain of the fanatical believer, who talks into empty wells and uses his powers of hypnosis to ensure his listeners cannot blink.
Iran, of course, is still an underdeveloped country. It seems to profess that it is willing to lose even its poverty in order to take out one wealthy Western city in the exchange. But emotion works both ways, and the Iranians must now be careful. Mr. Bush is capable of anger and impatience as well. Of all recent American presidents, he seems the least likely to make decisions about risky foreign initiatives on the basis of unfavorable polls.
Israel is not free from its passions either — for there will be no second Holocaust. It is time for the Iranian leaders to snap out of their pseudo-trances and hocus-pocus, and accept that some Western countries are not merely far more powerful than Iran, but in certain situations and under particular circumstances, can be just as driven by memory, history, and, yes, a certain craziness as well.
Ever since September 11, the subtext of this war could be summed up as something like, “Suburban Jason, with his iPod, godlessness, and earring, loves to live too much to die, while Ali, raised as the 11th son of an impoverished but devout street-sweeper in Damascus, loves death too much to live.” The Iranians, like bin Laden, promulgate this mythical antithesis, which, like all caricatures, has elements of truth in it. But what the Iranians, like the al Qaedists, do not fully fathom, is that Jason, upon concluding that he would lose not only his iPod and earring, but his entire family and suburb as well, is capable of conjuring up things far more frightening than anything in the 8th-century brain of Mr. Ahmadinejad. Unfortunately, the barbarity of the nightmares at Antietam, Verdun, Dresden, and Hiroshima prove that well enough.
So far the Iranian president has posed as someone 90-percent crazy and 10-percent sane, hoping we would fear his overt madness and delicately appeal to his small reservoirs of reason. But he should understand that if his Western enemies appear 90-percent children of the Enlightenment, they are still effused with vestigial traces of the emotional and unpredictable. And military history shows that the irrational 10 percent of the Western mind is a lot scarier than anything Islamic fanaticism has to offer.
So, please, Mr. Ahmadinejad, cool the rhetoric fast — before you needlessly push once reasonable people against the wall, and thus talk your way into a sky full of very angry and righteous jets.