Spare Me "Never Again"
by Jonathan Rosenblum
October 19, 2012
Last April, I joined my brother in Philadelphia on a march in commemoration of the victims of the Toulouse Massacre. The march began with an assembly at an after-school Hebrew school. None of the students appeared to know much about the tragedy they were mourning, despite the posters they held with pictures of the victims. Asked "What happened?", the rabbi responded only, "Very bad things," lest the students be traumatized by the knowledge that there are still people eager to kill Jewish children. The assembly ended with the children chanting after the rabbi, "Never Again, Never Again," while thrusting their posters in the air, and still clueless at whom their chants were directed.
"Never Again," has been a favored slogan of American Jewry since I was a child. Yet today when six million Jews in Israel are threatened with extinction by a nuclear Iran, American Jewry is missing in action. In the most recent American Jewish Committee poll, 65% of American Jews said they would vote for President Obama versus only 24% for Mitt Romney. (Since the first presidential debate, there are indications of a shift towards Romney.)
For those American Jews who claim even a smidgen of concern for their fellow Jews in Israel, I can think of four possible arguments why Iran should not sway them from their lifelong fealty to the Democratic Party. But one of those arguments is not the importance of ensuring free contraceptives for Sandra Fluke. Similarly, both abortion and single-sex marriage are trivial issues, in the context of the presidential election.. The Romney/Ryan ticket has largely followed Indiana governor Mitch Daniels's call for a "truce on social issues" and focused on the greatest threats to the United States: the national deficit and stagnant economy.
Single-sex marriage is state issue. There is no more chance of the U.S. Supreme Court finding a "fundamental right" to gay marriage than there is of the Court overturning Roe v. Wade. And the chance of either is far less than of Iran deploying a nuclear weapon against Israel.
The above-mentioned arguments are: (1) Sanctions may still convince the Iranians to abandon their nuclear ambitions; or (2) President Obama will ultimately take military action to stymie Iran's nuclear ambitions; or (3) Even if the Iranians obtain nuclear weapons, they would never use them; or (4) As president, Mitt Romney would not do anything different from President Obama. Let's consider each.
SANCTIONS CANNOT DETER a nation determined to obtain nuclear weapons and whose leaders are willing to allow their civilian population to endure untold suffering. North Korean leaders allowed millions to starve while pursuing nuclear weapons. Stronger sanctions than those imposed on Iran did not force Saddam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait or to open military sites to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency, even as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children died as a result of the sanctions. American air strikes that destroyed Iran's nuclear sites and cut off the head of Revolutionary Guard would be more humane than sanctions and offer a far better chance of overthrowing the mullahs.
Iran's theocratic leaders will never abandon their nuclear ambitions unless they fear the destruction of their regime because nuclear weapons are central to the expansionist agenda. From the start of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini viewed nuclear weapons as a prime tool for bringing about the submission of the non-Muslim world and of asserting Shiite supremacy. Nuclear weapons, writes former Defense Department Iran analyst Harold Rhode, would be a salve for Muslim feelings of humiliation by the West and "enable Muslims to hold their head high and force the West into retreat."
Iran also has a geo-political need for nuclear weapons. It is currently experiencing the most precipitous drop in national fertility in human history. By mid-century a third of its population will be seniors, just as its petroleum reserves begin to run dry. "Its only chance of survival," writes David Goldman, an analyst of long-range demographic and economic trends, "lies in annexing oil-rich regions on its borders: Bahrain, Iraq's Basra province, parts of Azerbaijan, and ultimately Saudi Arabia's Shi'ite-majority Eastern Province. That is why Iran needs nuclear weapons."
EVEN ASSUMING that President Obama is sincere about preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, he might not act in time. Intelligence is not that precise. The U.S. was surprised by the first Soviet nuclear test in 1949, China in the '60s, India in the '70s, and Pakistan in the '80s. We still do not know whether North Korea has the capability to deliver a nuclear weapon. In the vice-presidential debates, Vice-President Biden laughed about Iran still not knowing how to "weaponize" a nuclear warhead. But there are many other ways to deliver dirty nuclear weapons, and an almost unlimited supply of willing carriers.
For its part, Iran remains unconvinced of American resolve. It has strung along Western negotiators for nearly a decade, repeatedly holding out the prospect of imminent agreements, only to pull the football back at the last moment. Its negotiators boast publicly of their repeated deceptions of the West.
The Iranians reacted contemptuously to President Obama's "hand extended in friendship," out of a naïve belief that five years of previous negotiations between Iran and the West had gone nowhere because no one had thought of speaking nicely to the Iranians. Since 2009, President Obama and other Administration officials have repeatedly announced that "the time for negotiations is not unlimited," like a parent threatening, "I'm counting to three – one, two, 2 ½, 2 ¾, 2 7/8."
The spectacle of the President, Secretary of Defense, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff repeatedly explaining why an Israeli attack on Iran would be disastrous has further convinced Iranian leaders that they have nothing to fear. Finally, all the President's foreign policy instincts, described by the Washington Post's Jackson Diehl to explain his passive gazing from the sidelines in Syria, argue for no military strike against Iran – i.e., "his excessive faith in 'engaging' troublesome foreign leaders, … his insistence on multilateralism as an end in itself, . . . his self-defeating caution in asserting American power."
HITLER SHOULD HAVE taught Jews to take seriously those who threaten us with extinction, as Iran's leaders have repeatedly done. Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, invariably described as a "moderate" mullah, referred to Israel as a "one-bomb country." Iran's theocrats are not irrational: They just start with a different set of premises – for instance, high value of martyrdom in the service of the Islamic Revolution, as tens of thousands of child human minesweepers used by the Revolutionary Guard attest. Millions martyred as the price of eliminating Israel, might, as the great scholar of Islam Bernard Lewis puts it, prove an "incentive not a deterrent" for the mullahs.
Even if the mullahs were not inclined to immediately employ nuclear weapons against Israel, they might do so if they feared that their regime was on the verge of collapse. Why not at that point, at least fulfill a core value of the Islamic Republic by destroying the Jewish state, especially if those killed in retaliation are struggling to topple the regime? wonders Bret Stephens in the current issue of Commentary.
By just attaining the capability of assembling a nuclear weapon without actually doing so Iran would make life miserable for Israel and the West. The ability to put together a nuclear weapon quickly would allow Iran to provide an umbrella for terrorist proxies around the world, most notably Hezbollah and Hamas, and control world oil prices by intimidating oil producing neighbors or threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz. Via its Hezbollah proxy, Iran attacked a Marine barracks in Lebanon, killing 242, ordered terrorist operations around the world, plotted to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States – all without nuclear weapons. How much more unrestrained would it be with a nuclear capability.
STILL HOW WOULD ROMNEY DIFFER from Obama? He has wisely not enunciated his "red lines" for Iran, though, in contrast to the President, he has stressed that Iran must not attain nuclear capability, not just nuclear weapons themselves.
Aaron David Miller, a long-time State Department peace-processor, writes in Foreign Policy that Obama lacks the "warmth" for Israel of his immediate predecessors, and more closely resembles Jimmy Carter. Romney, by contrast, comes from a Mormon religious tradition that has always emphasized the importance of Jews returning to Israel. And he heads a party whose rank and file will not tolerate a threat to Israel's existence. Republicans are on average twice as supportive of Israel as Democrats.
One crucial difference between the two men might be in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran. President Obama told the most recent AIPAC convention, "I have Israel's back." But he explained the next day that was not a specific military or diplomatic policy, just a general expression of concern. Romney could be expected to strongly back Israel militarily. And lacking Obama's infatuation with the U.N. and multilateralism, he could be counted on not to allow Israel to be isolated diplomatically.
"FINE," MY AMERICAN JEWISH friends and relatives say, "but if you really believed the lives of every Israeli were under threat you would be leaving along with your whole family." Not so.
I've read the biography of Rabbi Michoel Ber Weismandl, who jumped off the train taking him and his family to Auschwitz, in order to transmit to the West detailed plans for bombing the tracks. When he arrived in America after the War, his eyes burned everywhere he looked: Virtually, every American Jew was in his eyes a murderer for not having done more to save the Jews of Europe. His pain was understandable, but the critique was too harsh. American Jews wielded far less power than today, and anti-Semitism still ran strong. Today, however, all that is asked of American Jews to lessen the mortal danger to six million Jews in Israel is to pull a different lever on election day.
I would not want to live with Rabbi Weismandl's bitterness, or in a world that allowed six million Jews to be annihilated twice in a single century. And if, chas ve' Shalom, catastrophe were to strike Israel, I could not bear to listen to American Jews, who would have forfeited all hopes for theirJewish future, bleating, "Never again, never again."
Related Topics: American Government & Politics, American Jewry & Continuity, Iran
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