Imagine that your neighborhood is overrun by a gang. These brutes are wielding crowbars, knives, and pistols in a frenzied spree of home break-ins and mugging and murder. Now suppose the police reveal that their grand strategy for dealing with this gang is to block them from getting submachine guns–as if without such weapons, the gang would no longer bother people.
Would you sleep soundly at night?
Or would you be outraged? Of course you would, because this gang–even without more powerful weapons–is already a serious menace that must be stopped.
Now, what would you say if this ridiculous what-if scenario resembled our actual response to the very real threat from Iran?
Ever since taking U.S. embassy staff hostage in 1979, the Islamist regime in Teheran has led an international spree of bombings, hijackings, and other terrorist attacks on Americans and Westerners. Now politicians and diplomats, who put up with Iranian aggression for years, are loudly promising to block Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.
On the campaign trail, for instance, the candidates debate how (i.e., with or without preconditions) they’d negotiate to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuke–on the idea that without such a weapon in Iranian hands, everything will be hunky-dory.
But the uncomfortable truth is that if the mullahs got a nuke, Iran would not suddenly undergo a Jekyll-and-Hyde transformation from a friendly neighbor into a rabid enemy. Iran long ago proved itself a threat that must be stopped; a nuclear arsenal would only make it a far worse threat.
For three decades the ayatollahs of Iran have been using proxies–such as Hezbollah–to carry out murderous attacks. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps helped create and train Hezbollah, which hijacked a TWA airliner and which kidnapped and tortured to death American citizens. Iran pulled the strings behind the 1983 bomb attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon and later the barracks of U.S. Marines, killing 241 Americans. Iran also orchestrated the 1996 car bombing of Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, where 19 U.S. servicemen died.
There’s more: The 9/11 Commission found that “senior al Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive training in explosives,” and that “8 to 10 of the 14 Saudi ‘muscle’ operatives traveled into or out of Iran between October 2000 and February 2001.” During the Afghanistan war, Iran welcomed fleeing al Qaeda and Taliban fighters. Today, according to the U.S. military, Iran is running training camps near Teheran for Iraqi insurgents, who return to Iraq to practice and train others in their bomb-making skills. There’s also growing evidence that Iraqi insurgents get bomb technology from Iran.
What’s going on here?
A rational assessment of Iran would have to recognize that the mullahs in Teheran have been conducting a proxy war against America. The inspiration for this war is Iran’s jihadist goal of imposing Islamic totalitarianism globally. Iran is a leading sponsor of jihadists and the self-identified role model for exporting its Islamic revolution to other countries. It is the sworn enemy of the West. We should take seriously its call to bring “Death to America!”–because it has already done so.
But too many American diplomats and commentators refuse to judge Iran. Instead, they regard its past hostility as a string of disconnected crises, unrelated to Iran’s ideological agenda. They avoid naming the nature of the regime and behave as if its acquisition of a nuclear weapon would be the decisive event. But that particular weapon–despite its power–cannot be the whole story, since we don’t worry about other countries, such as France and Britain, having nukes. The rarely admitted difference is that the regime in Iran would eagerly press the launch button.
This fear-the-weapon-not-the-killer mentality refuses to understand the threat posed by Iran right now. This view holds that only the concrete facts about Iran’s arsenal have any practical significance, while its abstract, ideological goals and character can be disregarded with impunity. But whether Iran uses one nuke, or attacks with more conventional weapons, its victims are still dead.
Our leaders’ narrow concern with Iran’s nuclear capability cannot make the regime’s longstanding hostility to America go away. Americans should face the real character and conduct of the Iranian regime, before it is too late.