The document is termed a “Plan of Action,” though its purpose, from the Western perspective, is to induce inaction — to persuade Iran’s rulers to halt their development of nuclear weapons in exchange for an end to the pain that being economically ostracized by the West has caused. In this first phase, the centrifuges will continue to spin, while the sanctions begin to wind down. Small wonder Iran’s rulers have been celebrating.
The preamble to the plan states: “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will Iran ever seek or develop any nuclear weapons.” President Obama reads that as a significant concession. But it is a claim that Iran’s rulers have repeated many times in the past. We know beyond any reasonable doubt that they have not been telling the truth. So it may seem to Iran’s rulers that the United States and other Western nations are now complicit in the big lie that the nuclear infrastructure they have assembled is intended only to provide electricity to kindergartens and hospitals that prefer not to rely on Iran’s abundant petroleum reserves.
Several commentators have compared Geneva 2013 to Munich 1938. It is today commonly accepted that the deal Neville Chamberlain concluded with Germany’s Nazi rulers was a desperate and wrongheaded attempt to secure “peace for our time” through appeasement. Chamberlain faced what Winston Churchill called a “choice between war and dishonor.” Churchill told the British Prime Minister: “You chose dishonor and you will have war.”
Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens rightly points out that Chamberlain actually had little choice because Britain lacked the “military wherewithal to stand up to Hitler.” That was because British politicians, with the encouragement of the British public, had for years declined to invest in Britain’s military — despite the rise of militants in Germany.
Also worth recalling: After Munich, Chamberlain was hailed as a hero, his agreement applauded as a great victory for diplomacy. Churchill, by contrast, stood virtually alone — denounced as a “war monger.” Opinions would change only after much of Europe was under the Nazi jackboot. Liberating Europe would entail a far bloodier conflict than would have been necessary had Hitler’s ideology and ambitions been confronted earlier.
Those now suggesting a parallel between Munich 1938 and Geneva 2013 may be wrong — count me among those who hope that’s the case. But it cannot be wise for us to close our ears to echoes of the past.
The ideology of Nazism called for the creation of a racial aristocracy. The ideology to which Iran’s rulers subscribe calls for a religious aristocracy.
In 1935, Hitler commissioned an infamous film called “Triumph of the Will.” Its theme was Germany’s claim to global power. Last week, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei addressed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, not unjustifiably likened to Hitler’s brown shirts. My colleague, Reuel Marc Gerecht, a Farsi speaker and former CIA operative, noted that Khamenei spoke of “zurazma’i,” a struggle of wills. The Supreme Leader (the word for that in German is fuehrer) stressed that proud Muslims have the will to win. He implied that decadent Westerners do not.
Utopian theories rooted in atheism were the principle cause of carnage in the 20th century. Is it really inconceivable that the principle cause of carnage in the 21st century will be utopian theories proclaimed to be ordained of God?
My best guess: Over the days ahead, the sanctions wall will begin to crumble. Iran’s rulers will then offer less, not more. They will continue toward their near-term goal: a quicksilver nuclear breakout capability.
Their longer-term goals include hegemony over the Middle East, control of the region’s vast petroleum resources, and impunity for the terrorists they sponsor.
Over the decades ahead, the odds of a major war, one in which nuclear weapons are used, will rise; as will the possibility of terrorists acquiring and deploying nukes.
It is often forgotten that once Hitler’s lies and ambitions became manifest, Chamberlain did not go off to write a book and make speeches defending his decision at Munich. Instead, he resigned the premiership and joined the War Cabinet of the critic who succeeded him as Prime Minister, a singular statesman who led Britain through the years of bloodshed and peril that we now call World War II.
Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on national security.