Norm Podhoretz Let me Down

Norm’s arguments about the apocalyptic nature of the Iranian mullahocracy are understood by those informed, but like the Spanish Inquistion nobody who’s an average American ever expects the Persian Apocalypse.

As you can see by my sidebar I am a Rudy Guiliani supporter – one of his foreign policy advisors is Norman Podhoretz, also someone whose views I support. Norm is going to have to get quicker on his feet however. Here he debates with Fareed Zakaria, who makes a seemingly clear argument that Norm failed to counter well.

You cannot sound-bite attack arguments like this with Chamberlin arguments — instead you must destroy the case in total, not with ad hominem comparison but instead with clear facts. There are many that Norm could have marshalled, but failed to. 

Here is the transcript of the segment with “Jihad Judy” Woodruff, (sorry, that’s my Mom’s nickname for her,) Norman Podhoretz, and Fareed Zakaria, please read and follow to my thoughts  below the segment. The lead-in was a pastiche of fact and opinion on the potential of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons:

JUDY WOODRUFF: And the debate goes on outside Congress with perhaps even more intensity. Commentary magazine editor Norman Podhoretz wrote in June that military force was “required” to stop Iran from getting a bomb and offered this description of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. Quote, “Like Hitler, he is a revolutionary whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism,” end quote. Newsweek International editor Fareed Zakaria responded recently to Podhoretz, writing, “For this staggering proposition, Podhoretz provides not a scintilla of evidence.” And Zakaria wrote, “The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality.” And now these two writers join us. Norman Podhoretz is editor-at-large of Commentary magazine. His latest book is “World War IV: The Long Struggle against Islamofascism.” He is also a foreign policy adviser to Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International. His latest book is “The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.” Gentlemen, thank you very much for being with us.

Norman Podhoretz, let me begin with you. You wrote over the summer that, if Iran is to be prevented from going ahead with a nuclear program, then the United States has “no alternative” but to strike against Iran. Do you still believe that? And if so, why?

NORMAN PODHORETZ, Foreign Policy Adviser, Rudy Giuliani: Very much so. It seems to me that most people in the world, at least until recently, agreed that it would be catastrophic to allow the Iranians to develop a nuclear capability. The only debate was over what the best means to prevent this from happening might be.

Well, for over four years, diplomacy has been tried, first by the Europeans and then with some American participation, and all they’ve accomplished, these negotiations, is to buy the Iranians more time with which to move forward inexorably toward a nuclear capability.

The other hope has been vested in sanctions. And, of course, there have been two rounds of sanctions voted by the Security Council, neither of them very tough, because the Russians and the Chinese are opposed to really tough sanctions.

We’ve now unilaterally imposed, just the other day, a new round of sanctions involving the banks and the financial system. But as a good report in the Washington Post this morning indicates, most experts on Iran think that these are not going to bite sufficiently and certainly not going to make the Iranians change their behavior.

So that leaves us with only one terrible choice, which is either to bomb those facilities and retard their program or even cut it off altogether or allow them to go nuclear. And I agree with what Senator McCain has said in the past: The only thing worse than bombing Iran is to allow Iran to get the bomb.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Fareed Zakaria, the choice, either strike Iran or allow them to go nuclear, are those the only two choices?

FAREED ZAKARIA, Editor, Newsweek International: Well, there is a third choice, Judy, which is the choice we have used for pretty much every other country that has developed nuclear weapons, and that is deterrence.

We allowed Mao to get a nuclear weapon and have used deterrence against them, against the Chinese. We allowed the Russians, the Soviet Union to get nuclear weapons and used deterrence against them. We’ve allowed the North Koreans to get nuclear weapons and have used deterrence against them.

It used to be that one had to explain deterrence to the left; it has now become something the right does not understand. You know, Mao Zedong was a much more revolutionary figure than Ahmadinejad is. China was actively helping insurgencies all over the world that were anti-American, killing Americans in Vietnam, in Korea.

Mao spoke actively about his great desire to overturn the international system. He even talked about destroying half the world to allow communism to triumph. And yet, you know what? The desire for self-preservation meant that Mao Zedong was deterred. The Soviet Union was deterred. North Korea is being deterred.

We have a policy that we understand, which is containment plus deterrence. We’re using sanctions. We’re using a kind of anti-Iranian alliance mechanism in the Middle East, which has become quite successful, by the way. We have isolated Iran.

Time is not on their side; time is on our side. I think that the onus surely must be on the other side to explain to us why, because Iran might gain the knowledge to make nuclear weapons in the next three to five to eight years, we should launch a unilateral American invasion.

This would be the third invasion of a Muslim country that the United States would have undertaken in the last five years; that seems to me a pretty serious business. And we’ve seen deterrence work against all these other countries.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let me ask…

FAREED ZAKARIA: Let us even assume that Iran gets the bomb, and it’s not clear that it will. Why are they more crazy than Kim Jong Il, a man who let two million of his own people starve in the last decade?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, you pose several points that I want to bring to Norman Podhoretz, but, number one, this question of deterrence. If these other countries Mr. Zakaria is listing have listened to the argument to use nuclear weapons they be destroying themselves, why do you think that argument doesn’t work with Iran?

NORMAN PODHORETZ: Well, I’ll tell you why. First, I want to say that I think the attitude expressed by Fareed Zakaria represents an irresponsible complacency that I think is comparable to the denial in the early ’30s of the intentions of Hitler that led to what Churchill called an unnecessary war involving millions and millions of deaths that might have been averted if the West had acted early enough.

FAREED ZAKARIA: Norman, perhaps instead of calling my names, you could just explain why the arguments are right or wrong. That would be just fine.NORMAN PODHORETZ: Why can’t the…JUDY WOODRUFF: Let’s let Mr. Podhoretz finish his point.NORMAN PODHORETZ: Yes, I would appreciate being allowed to finish my point. The reason deterrence can’t work with Iran is that there’s a different element involved here than was involved with either Mao or even Kim Jong Il or Stalin, and that is the element of religious fanaticism.The fact of the matter is that, with a religious fanatic like Ahmadinejad and the “mullahcracy” ruling Iran generally, there’s no assurance that self-preservation or the protection, preservation of the nation, will deter them.And let me tell you why. Here is what the Ayatollah Khomeini, of whom Ahmadinejad is a devoted disciple, once said. He said: We do not worship Iran. We worship Allah, for patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land of Iran burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.Well, you can’t deter a nation that is led by people with that kind of attitude. And what’s more, on the issue of whether these are revolutionaries, let me again quote Ahmadinejad himself.JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let…NORMAN PODHORETZ: May I?JUDY WOODRUFF: All right. Mr. Zakaria?FAREED ZAKARIA: You know, I had a feeling Norman would bring up that one quotation that he’s used before, so I have one from now. “If the worst came to worst and half of mankind died, the other half would remain, while imperialism would be razed from the ground.” This is what Mao said. And it wasn’t just his words. It was his actions. He was actively aiding revolutionary movements and killing Americans all over the world. So the question about Iran’s rationality rests on this: They’ve been in power for 30 years. What have they done? Iran has followed a pretty rational, national interest-oriented foreign policy. If you look at the way in which they opposed al-Qaida and the Taliban, this was another Islamic revolutionary movement. You’d think that they would find them sympathetic, but, no, they were the sworn enemies of al-Qaida and they helped the United States depose the Taliban.

By and large, over the last 30 years…

NORMAN PODHORETZ: Let me respond to that.

FAREED ZAKARIA: … they’ve been fairly calculating, they have followed their national interest. When it has bumped up against the United States, they have worked against us. When they have thought that our interests were in common, as in Afghanistan, they’ve worked with us.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Mr. Podhoretz, on that point?

NORMAN PODHORETZ: Yes, let me respond to that. You know, similar arguments were made about Hitler in the early ’30s, and it appalls me that this kind of attitude can still prevail after what we should have learned from the words of despots.

Let me quote Ahmadinejad: “Thanks to the blood of the martyrs, a new Islamic revolution has arisen. The era of oppression, hegemonic regimes, and tyranny, and injustice has reached its end. The wave of the Islamic revolution will soon reach the entire world.” And that is a world, he says, without America and without Israel.

And he says people who say how is this possible, says this goal is attainable and surely can be achieved. He goes on to say nobody believed we could topple the shah or the Soviets, but we did both, and we can create a world without Israel, wiping Israel off the map, and diminishing American influence to the point where it will no longer stand in our way.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Zakaria, what about that?

FAREED ZAKARIA: Look, if you look at the way in which the mullahs have run Iran, by and large they have been incredibly savvy. They’re building up bank accounts in Dubai and in Switzerland. This does not strike me as the kind of ravings of, you know, an end of days millenarian.

The Iranians are trying to capture the core political high ground of the Middle East, and they’re trying to become the dominant power in the region. We should be working against them; we should building an alliance against them.

But the idea that they are not going to be deterred by Israel’s 200 nuclear weapons, including a second strike capacity on submarines, is just fantasy. It’s based on plucking a few quotes here and there from a president who is not constitutionally or operationally in charge of the nuclear program.

JUDY WOODRUFF: If you don’t mind, I’d like to go back to Mr. Zakaria on that point, because essentially what you’re arguing, Mr. Podhoretz, is that Iranian leadership is not rational. Mr. Zakaria?

NORMAN PODHORETZ: Well, they’re rational within their own frame of reference, but not within ours.

The rest of the interview is wrap-up, clean up and follows similar vein, but where did Norm fail? The political shorthand of comparing Achmadinejad to Hitler plays well to the base and to people who understand the paralells, but it does not convince the middle, nor the left, nor the other Islamic countries. It works for primary season, but not through to the second half when we get into the Superbowl of the main election.

Norm’s arguments about the apocalyptic nature of the Iranian mullahocracy are understood by those informed, but like the Spanish Inquistion nobody who’s an average American ever expects the Persian Apocalypse.

Instead he should have accepted the Mao comparison, for it is apt and fitting. Then he should have ripped the roots from Fareed’s arguments. 

First at the time we couldn’t stop China from gaining the bomb, and they had clear superpower allies that Iran does not. We could not project force then as effectively as we do now without investing the entire nation in a long war of attrition in which the enemy had more foot soldiers. Such is clearly not the case with Iran – we can destroy their infrastructure, their government, and their nuclear capabilities and walk away if we wish to.

Iran has no large land mass to shield them, and the mountains which buttress their country are anthills beside the Hindu-Kush Southern bulwarks of China. As we took out the government of Iraq, so could we take out the government of Iran with much greater ease and far fewer reprecussions than that of China.

Second the policy of trying to deter and contain Maoist China clearly failed — five to ten times as many millions died in genocides and hunger and the wars of Communistic Imperialism as died in the Second World War and Hitler’s genocides. Fareed’s argument contained the seed of its defeat at its heart – had we confronted the evil ideology then, millions and millions would have lived, the last century might not have been the bloodiest in all of human history. Containment and deterrence clearly delayed but grew the confrontation.

In the other part of his argument Fareed is clearly wrong as well, and Norm should have pointed this out. Iran is actively involved in destabilizing the government of every neighboring country, they have puppet-clients like China did, and they are expansionist. You clearly see their hand at play in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Lebanon, and Pakistan. Less clear are the Qods force activities in Azerbaijan and Georgia, but those exist as well. It is completely arguable that the war in Iraq would have wound down to victory year before last had Iran not been so opportunistic.

Beyond that they’ve threatened their neighbors with border disputes, tribal insurrections and interuption of commerce. They demonstrably attempted that interuption at the straits of Hormuz last century, and recently they threatened Bahrain once again.

The other paralell is the confrontation of two dangerous ideologies — on the one side you have Arab Islamist extremists, and the other you have Persian Islamist extremists — this is an ancient emnity that plays well back into history, and the underlying current of tribal nationlism coupled with the dangerous ideas of Qutbist extreme political Islam are marshalled by both sides. Without the threat of the Mullahocracy, what strength would the counterweight of the Wahabist extremists have? Would they find recruiting as easy?

Would the atavistic regression to dead ideology be as powerful if Iran were not demonstrating some success with it? Would the Arab world be pouring gasoline on the fire at the papermill of extremism to combat Iranian expansion if they were confronted instead of “contained?”

One thing that Fareed gets right: the Mullahs are patient like Mao, and like Kim Jong Il, Ahmadinejad is just the flapping bad-cop scarecrow to distract from their long term aims. Hitler’s greatest fault was his impatience, Mao’s greatest strength was his patience, Fareed’s analogy is apt indeed.