Niall Ferguson has a chilling look at the possibility of the Great War of 2007:
Americans did not want to increase their military commitments overseas; they wanted to reduce them. Europeans did not want to hear that Iran was about to build its own WMD. Even if Ahmadinejad had broadcast a nuclear test live on CNN, liberals would have said it was a CIA con-trick.
So history repeated itself. As in the 1930s, an anti-Semitic demagogue broke his country’s treaty obligations and armed for war. Having first tried appeasement, offering the Iranians economic incentives to desist, the West appealed to international agencies – the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council. Thanks to China’s veto, however, the UN produced nothing but empty resolutions and ineffectual sanctions, like the exclusion of Iran from the 2006 World Cup finals…
As in the 1930s, too, the West fell back on wishful thinking. Perhaps, some said, Ahmadinejad was only sabre-rattling because his domestic position was so weak. Perhaps his political rivals in the Iranian clergy were on the point of getting rid of him. In that case, the last thing the West should do was to take a tough line; that would only bolster Ahmadinejad by inflaming Iranian popular feeling. So in Washington and in London people crossed their fingers, hoping for the deus ex machina of a home-grown regime change in Teheran.
This gave the Iranians all the time they needed to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium at Natanz. The dream of nuclear non-proliferation, already interrupted by Israel, Pakistan and India, was definitively shattered. Now Teheran had a nuclear missile pointed at Tel-Aviv. And the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu had a missile pointed right back at Teheran.
The optimists argued that the Cuban Missile Crisis would replay itself in the Middle East. Both sides would threaten war – and then both sides would blink. That was Secretary Rice’s hope – indeed, her prayer – as she shuttled between the capitals. But it was not to be.
How realistic is Ferguson’s dark tale? The Iranians may be farther away from a working nuclear weapon than that – although it would be deeply foolish to simply assume that. Is Ahmadinejad really crazy enough to try and destroy Israel? It seems all too likely. Will the current course of diplomacy really work? Almost certainly not.
As outlandish as Ferguson’s hypothetical nuclear exchange in 2007 is, the elements he identifies are all there. The slow demographic death of the West, the weakness of multiculturalism, the radicalism of the Middle East, all of these factors could easily spiral out of control and lead to a major world crisis. Our dependency on foreign oil only adds fuel to the fire.
At the same time, that horror story doesn’t have to be. Iran’s nuclear program should be forcibly destroyed if no other option remains. The US can and shoud support pro-democracy forces in Iran, including arming Iranian dissident groups if necessary. Our dependence on foreign oil can be ameliorated by exporation of the Canadian Tar Sands and a massive push from fossil fuels and towards safe, clean, and reliable nuclear power. The United States can fight ten wars simultaneously – so long as 8 of them are settled with nuclear weapons. Iran may be led by a madman, but the Chinese realize that an invasion of Taiwan would be the very last thing they would ever do.
Furguson’s hypothetical is a warning – if we repeat the mistakes of the 1930s and let another anti-Semitic tyrant run wild, the results could be as destructive – if not more. The will of the world is being tested by Ahmadinejad, and if there is one thing we have learned in the past few years it is that sanctions and Securty Council resolutions are impotent and pointless acts that do nothing to solve the problems we face. As in Iraq, Anne Bayefsky notes that corrupt UN officials have been helping Tehran acquire nuclear technologies. Trusting those same group of effete and spineless bureaucrats to take the requisite actions to defuse Iran’s nuclear ambitions is a fool’s errand. Sooner or later the United States, Israel, and others will have to act.
And that’s where Ferguson’s warnings come it. When dealing with nuclear proliferation and Islamic terrorism, defense is suicidal. The choice we have here is simple: do we have the strength to stop Ahmadinejad or do we accept the strong possibility of the early 21st Century being one in which nuclear weapons fall into the hands of terrorists?
All of this began when a weak-kneed West allowed Iran to fall into the hands of radicals in 1979, taking hostages and spreading a wave of violence across the region. That mistake cost thousands of lives – are we to make it againt the cost could be in the millions.