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As the clock ticks closer to a nuclear-armed Iran, the Western powers are girding their loins for––more talks. Actually, they’re getting ready to talk to Iran about the conditions for talking some more. EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton announced that the “P5 + 1” powers (the permanent Security Council members plus Germany) hoped to persuade “Iran to move away from its nuclear program,” and expected “from the contacts we’ve had that this process can now move forward swiftly and seriously.” Ashton didn’t produce any evidence why the Iranians would voluntarily give up the bomb, or how yet one more round of negotiations, like the so-called “crippling sanctions,” will produce anything other than giving Iran more time to “swiftly and seriously” achieve nuclear-weapons capability.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration keeps shifting the conditions under which the U.S. would take military action. Secretary of State Clinton on February 29 three times told the House Foreign Affairs committee that “it’s absolutely clear that the president’s policy is to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons capability.” A few days later anonymous “administration officials” said Clinton had “misspoken,” which Obama confirmed in his speech to AIPAC where he several times asserted that “obtaining a nuclear weapon,” not capability, would be the casus belli, even though he has no clue exactly how we’d know the mullahs had nuclear weapons before they announced it to the world, the same way we found out Pakistan and North Korea had them. The purpose of this shift is obvious: it provides more time for “diplomacy” and “sanctions” to work their magic, and puts more pressure on Israel not to do anything that might make unpleasant headlines compromising Obama’s reelection. However, the history of Pakistan and North Korea’s acquisition of nuclear weapons shows that the consequence of this delay will be a nuclear-armed Iran.
But that contingency doesn’t seem to bother Obama’s academic allies like Bruce Ackerman, who recently provided a specious justification for inaction in the Los Angeles Times. The Yale law professor asserted that American support for a preemptive strike on Iran “would be a violation of both international law and the U.S. Constitution.” The Hoover Institution’s Peter Berkowitz dismantled Ackerman’s tendentious and erroneous interpretation, which Berkowitz shows is an attempt “to bend the precedents and provisions of international law and twist the facts of American politics to conform to their policy preferences.” The left’s hysterics about the illegality and immorality of “preemption,” of course, has always been an ideological pretext for demonizing and hence discouraging U.S. military action, which to the left is almost never justified, given America’s neo-colonial crimes and oppression.
But preemption has for millennia been an obvious common-sense response to an aggressor. The 4th century B.C. orator Demosthenes used a memorable metaphor for preemption when he was trying to rouse the indolent Athenians to use force to resist Philip II of Macedon’s aggression: “To manage war properly, you must not follow the trend of events but must forestall them . . . But you Athenians, possessing unsurpassed resources––fleet, infantry, cavalry, revenues–– have never to this very day employed them aright, and yet you carry on war with Philip exactly as a barbarian boxes. The barbarian, when struck, always clutches the place; hit him on the other side and there go his hands. He neither knows nor cares how to parry a blow or how to watch his adversary.” In other words, anticipate the aggressor’s actions, and, as Nathan Bedford Forrest supposedly put it, “ Get there firstest with the mostest.”
So much is mere common sense, but common sense is woefully lacking in the West’s response to a regime of religious fanatics in pursuit of nuclear weapons. Unwilling to act, whether because of fear, ideology, or political self-interest, Western leaders continue to camouflage their inaction with sanctions and diplomatic palaver. Yet the historical record of both in deterring a committed aggressor is one not just of failing to stop aggression, but of enabling it. The Thirties, of course, provide numerous examples, starting with the League of Nations’ toothless response to Japanese aggression in China, moving on to the flaccid reaction to Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia, and culminating with the Munich conference that delivered Czechoslovakia to Hitler and paved the way for World War II. In each case, sanctions and talk led to more aggression, because the aggressors correctly interpreted that sanctions and words were the face-saving excuses of nations afraid to act.
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