Iran’s gaudy announcement of its uranium enrichment capabilities, in defiance of the international community, coupled with its threat of the elimination of Israel in “one [presumably nuclear] storm” may be considered its Rhineland Moment — the equivalent in our time of Hitler’s remilitarization of the Rhineland in bold and open defiance of its international agreements. The current Rhineland Moment is being met with the same international inertia and media denial that took place 70 years ago with catastrophic results.
On March 7, 1936, after years of secretly building his military capability, Hitler began the German army’s reoccupation of the Rhineland, specifically forbidden under the Versailles treaty that ended World War I, as well as by another agreement called the Treaty of Locarno. The West did nothing in response to Hitler’s violation of the treaties, preferring the vain hope of peace to the harshness of reality. The inaction of the West led to Hitler’s increased boldness and capability, and directly to WWII. Winston Churchill wrote (The Second World War, V. 1, pp. 189-196):
Once Hitler’s Germany had been allowed to rearm without active interference by the Allies and former associated Powers, a second World War was almost certain. The longer a decisive trial of strength was put off, the worse would be our chances, at the first of stopping Hitler without serious fighting, and as a second stage of being victorious after a terrible ordeal…
Hitler announced to the Reichstag that he intended to reoccupy the Rhineland, and even while he spoke, German columns…streamed across the boundary… Simultaneously, in order to baffle British and American public opinion, Hitler declared that the occupation was purely symbolic…. This provided comfort for everyone on both sides of the Atlantic who wished to be humbugged….Meanwhile, most of the British press, with The Times and the Daily Herald in the van, expressed their belief in the sincerity of Hitler’s offers of a non-aggression pact…
When Hitler met his generals after the successful reoccupation of the Rhineland, he was able to confront them with the falsity of their fears and prove to them how superior his judgement or “intuition” was to that of ordinary military men. The generals bowed. As good Germans they were glad to see their country gaining so rapidly in Europe and its former adversaries so divided and tame. Undoubtedly Hitler’s prestige and authority in the supreme circle of German power was sufficiently enhanced by this episode to encourage and enable him to march forward to greater tests. To the world he said: “All Germany’s territorial ambitions have now been satisfied.”
Today Iran pays the tiniest homage to Hitler’s double-talk when it says its nuclear program is peaceful; for the most part, however, Iran is far more brazen than Hitler and doesn’t even bother with the charade of masking its intentions, but declares them openly, confident in the elites of the West and the MSM to humbug themselves.
Iran’s open ridicule of the UN, its sanctions proposals, and the possibility of US action to eliminate Iran’s nuclear plans, is integral to its Rhineland Moment of bold and brazen confrontation with the old powers of the West to see if they will take action, or, by their passivity, acquiesce to the emergence of a new, dominant power. Iran mocks the West, and perhaps rightly so, for its ineptitude and fecklessness, its unwillingness to call a threat a threat, and its seeming retreat from and acquiescence to the men of the Islamic Republic. Now, as in the 1930’s, the wise men say that inaction toward the smaller but bolder power is the best strategy. Seventy years ago former Prime Minister Lloyd George “hoped we should keep our heads”; Mohamed ElBaradei today says we should “lower the pitch” of the discussion of Iran: “There is no military solution to this situation,” said ElBaradei. “It’s inconceivable. The only durable solution is a negotiated solution.” Meanwhile, like the media of Churchill’s era that wanted to believe in non-aggression pacts, the MSM of our time yearn for non-existent diplomatic solutions, “a face-saving way” to get Iran to cease its nuclear ambitions, as the NYT put it.
We observe experienced security professionals echoing the Times’ editorial line in its op-ed pages. Richard Clarke and Steven Simon counsel caution, but offer no solution to the problem it aims to pose a few years hence, as they write in the NYT. (Clarke and Simon were senior security and counterterrorism officials in the Clinton National Security Council.)
Now, as in the mid-90’s, any United States bombing campaign would simply begin a multi-move, escalatory process. Iran could respond three ways. First, it could attack Persian Gulf oil facilities and tankers — as it did in the mid-1980’s — which could cause oil prices to spike above $80 dollars a barrel.
Second and more likely, Iran could use its terrorist network to strike American targets around the world, including inside the United States. Iran has forces at its command that are far superior to anything Al Qaeda was ever able to field. The Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah has a global reach, and has served in the past as an instrument of Iran. We might hope that Hezbollah, now a political party, would decide that it has too much to lose by joining a war against the United States. But this would be a dangerous bet.
Third, Iran is in a position to make our situation in Iraq far more difficult than it already is. The Badr Brigade and other Shiite militias in Iraq could launch a more deadly campaign against British and American troops. There is every reason to believe that Iran has such a retaliatory shock wave planned and ready.
No matter how Iran responded, the question that would face American planners would be, “What’s our next move?” How do we achieve so-called escalation dominance, the condition in which the other side fears responding because they know that the next round of American attacks would be too lethal for the regime to survive?
Bloodied by Iranian retaliation, President Bush would most likely authorize wider and more intensive bombing. Non-military Iranian government targets would probably be struck in a vain hope that the Iranian people would seize the opportunity to overthrow the government. More likely, the American war against Iran would guarantee the regime decades more of control.
So how would bombing Iran serve American interests? In over a decade of looking at the question, no one has ever been able to provide a persuasive answer.
The answer to their question above is obvious. Destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities would hamper Iran from going nuclear, which must be America’s number one objective, as we have discussed. Like the men of the 1930’s, these commentators list reasonable objections to American or Western action against the aggressor of the day. The objections are sound in all but one aspect: they fail to deal with the actual totalitarian aims of the Nazi or Islamic enemy. Undoubtedly all sorts of problems ensue from wiping out the aggressor’s coveted capabilities, and we should expect him to retaliate. So what? The Clarke/Simon line of thinking refuses to engage the larger issue that is just over the horizon, and must be faced.
How much worse will it be when Iran actually has nuclear weapons and the capability to deliver them? How much worse will it be when Iran uses them or credibly threatens to use them against the US, Israel or other allies? Why indeed should Americans take it for granted that the US would retaliate massively against Iran if American cities are hit by nuclear blasts of disguised origin in martyrdom operations? The world faced similar questions seventy years ago, but the stakes are higher today, given the devastating impact of nuclear weapons. Will we once again wait too long and once again pay the much higher, more tragic price? Consider this: there is no greater basis to believe that a nuclear Iran will not use its nuclear weapons than to believe that men will not fly airplanes into skyscrapers.
From the reoccupation of the Rhineland to the start of World War II was three and a half years. Where will we be three and a half years of inaction from now?