I was just reading the generally sensible ‘Talk of the Town’ piece on Iran and WikiLeaks that Rick Hertzberg had in the Dec. 13 issue of the New Yorker, that landed on our stoop this afternoon. (Sorry, can’t easily find a link for it.)
The piece is interesting because– though Hertzberg seems to take for granted that Iran is actively toward possession of a nuclear weapon, which has yet to be proven– still, he argues that,
- the supposed remedy of a ‘military solution’ would be more unacceptable [than the things that might predictably happen if Iran does get a nuclear weapon.] A bombing attack on Iran’s far-flung, fortified nuclear facilities… would be the start of a war of unknown duration and immense human, material, and political cost… In the past decade, we have been drawn [he does not say by whom] into two wars on Muslim soil. Both began with promises of quick and nearly bloodless (for us) ‘victory.’ Neither has ended. We cannot afford a third.
However, Hertzberg then goes on to argue for a repeat of the containment policy that the U.S. pursued toward the Soviet Union from the late 1940s until the largely peaceful (well, peaceful for the U.S.) collapse of the Soviet Union from the late 1980s on.
However, if (as Hertzberg advocates) the people of Iran are to be successfully persuaded that following the path of the peoples of the former Soviet Union and bringing about the end of their current political system would be a wonderful thing for them (as well as for Americans), then this would have been a much more persuasive argument had the U.S. actually been a more generous and visionary ideological “victor” in the U.S.-Soviet Cold War.
In this regard, Pres. George H.W. Bush looks to have been a lot more skillful, smart, and persuasive than Pres. Clinton. It was Bush Senior who famously noted to Pres. Gorbachev in 1990 that he “wasn’t dancing on the ruins of the old Berlin Wall,” and who also reassured Gorbachev and the Russians that he had no intention of extending NATO further to the west. But after Bill Clinton became president in 1993 he did just that. He also worked through the IMF and other international financial institutions to force on the Russian people a humiliating dismantling of their social safety net that pushed millions of formerly middle-class former-Soviet families into poverty.
If Clinton had not acted in that triumphalist way, then the idea of an American “victory” in the kind of containment-based mini-Cold War that Hertzberg advocates against Iran might be more acceptable to Iran’s people. But how many people, anywhere in the world, would like to follow the kind of path that the Russian and other former-Soviet people were forced to tread throughout the 1990s? I suspect, not many…
Actually, the idea that in the 21st century the U.S. even has the global clout to mount and maintain– even against a decidedly second-class country like Iran– a replay of the Cold War it maintained for for more than 40 years against the USSR is already a chimera. Washington just doesn’t have that kind of global clout or that ability to assemble and maintain world-circling coalitions that it had throughout the second half of the 20th century.
Instead of advocating for a replay of that lengthy post-1948 Cold War, Hertzberg would do far better to concern himself with what it would take to get an actual, human-equality-based and tension-reducing negotiation underway between our government and Tehran. Now there’s a revolutionary idea…