Thursday, April 13, 2006

The Iran Crisis

While there are all sorts of things in the news right now, one of the major questions coming to a head is the question of what the United States should do about Iran. There has been an excellent discussion by Hugh Hewitt both on his radio show and on his blog about the various arguments for and against military intervention.

I believe that Hewitt may be right in comparing the current situation to the historical dilemma faced by the rise of Nazi Germany. People did not take the Nazis’ rhetoric seriously. They believed that they could be contained through international diplomacy. As a result, when a variety of thresholds were crossed, such as the militarization of the Ruhr, Europe stood by and did nothing. Had the British and the French attacked the Nazis and forced them to abide by the Versailles Treaty at the time when Hitler marched troops into the Ruhr in violation of Versailles, it would have been costly to subdue Germany, but far less costly than it was years later after the Nazis had multiplied their weaponry and their military. Tens of thousands might have died, but the lives of millions would have been saved. The same thing may be true of Iran today.

Certainly we need to be careful. God loves the people of Iran too. It will be horrible if thousands of them die in attacks on military targets placed near civilian populations by an Iranian government unconcerned about the lives of their own people. I pray daily that the current government will be overthrown by a group of more reasonable people who will put peace and prosperity ahead of pride and terror. But if no revolution occurs time is running out.

Iran is constantly sending out mixed messages. On the one hand, they formally deny that they are planning on developing nuclear weapons. On the other hand, they continually threaten Israel with annihilation and threaten the West with potential nuclear terrorism through their back channels and speeches for in-house consumption. People are reluctant to believe the worst.

Much of the American public currently believes that we were mistaken in taking Sadam Hussein seriously about his rhetoric and in using force to remove him. Ultimately, I believe that the removal of Hussein was a good thing because he was killing hundreds of thousands of people. The few thousand that have died in eliminating him and temporarily occupying Iraq are a high cost, but not compared to the damage Hussein was actually doing prior to his removal.

If we take Iran’s internal rhetoric seriously, we must conclude that they propose a grave risk to humanity and world stability. They apparently not only intend to develop nuclear weapons, but are quite willing and able to use them for genocide and blackmail. Under those circumstances, it is worth paying a high cost to prevent that development of nuclear weapons from occurring.

Undoubtedly the cost will be high. Even if we make the decision not to attempt the occupation of Iran—something that is not really conceivable considering the size, population and rugged terrain of Iran—the war itself would consume a high proportion of any of the Pentagon’s remaining stores and would risk the loss of thousands of additional lives. Nevertheless, the cost of two thousand aerial sorties against Iran is far smaller than the cost of an incinerated Tel Aviv or New York.

Some people would say that we should simply attempt to use diplomacy to limit Iran, but this would seem to be wishful thinking. There is no rational reason why Iran should respond to the kind of diplomatic pressures the world is capable of or willing to create. The Iranians know that the vast majority of the world prefers low oil prices to the safety of Israel and the US. In addition, much of the world considers it good when any enemy of the United States prospers and becomes more powerful. Judging by the acts of the United States and other nations, this may be a foolish set of preferences, but there is no question that to a certain degree it exists.

It is also certainly true that a war with Iran would polarize additional elements of the Middle East and cause people to become more active in pro-Islamofascist violence. However we already have pro-Iranian violence going on throughout Iraq and attempts by Iranian agents to foment violence in other parts of the world. We already have Islamofascism doing its best to organize opposition to the United States, England and the rest of the West. Ignoring the struggle between Islamofascism and the United States will not make that struggle any easier in the future. If our enemies gather in strength and weaponry, we are not going to have an easier time dealing with them. The belief that Islam will pacify itself is also wishful thinking. Islam has had radical and violent expansionist adherence since the life of Mohammad. While at times these people have been impoverished or lived in remote areas, it is unlikely that that will be the case in the future. Radical Islam is going to be in our backyard unless its adherents are deterred, moderated or converted to a religion that believes that the Golden Rule applies to bar religious persecution and religious expansion through violence.

In fact, the only way that Islamofascism can be permanently defeated is probably through an explosion of conversions to Christianity throughout the Muslim world. This puts us in a perilous and paradoxical position. On the one hand, the efforts necessary for strategic victory in this war of ideas will be precisely those actions that will most alienate people in the Muslim world. On the other hand, while war may be a necessary exigency to prevent the immediate threats proposed by Islamofascism, war will also present short-term obstacles to conversion of Muslims. On the other hand, Islamic military success is one of the classic reasons given by Muslims for their belief in their religion. While attacking Iran may alienate people from Christianity, allowing Iran to grow in power will also strengthen Islam. In addition, there is the whole problem that we do not think it appropriate to wage war for the furtherance of Christianity. But it may be necessary to wage war for the defense of the lives of our neighbors and to prevent the harm done by Islamiofascist regimes.

Clearly, a war with Iran is not a simple issue. But as Christians who believe in the depravity of man, we cannot expect that human beings will somehow evolve into pacifistic non-violent people who no longer threaten us. Nor can we afford the cynicism of our culture and our age. We live in a time in which major media and academic leads teach the idea that there is nothing worth fighting or dying for. They seem to believe that defending others is the cause of war and violence rather than the covetousness that is the actual cause of original aggression. In addition, they seem to believe that the use of force is in some way inherently bad regardless of the reason for its use or the relative moral attributes of those on either side. They also tend to believe in moral equivalence, that the West’s insistence that people buy Coca Cola and hamburgers, even though they are not good for them, makes us as evil as regimes that murder millions of people. While there are some issues here, I think it is worthwhile for Christians to maintain a larger view of the world. There are differences in the morality of various nations, states and regimes, despite the fact that we are all sinners. There are just wars even though human sinfulness will always arise and create sinful acts within the context of any war. There are things worth fighting and dying for including protecting the lives of our neighbors. And even if there are bad results such as war profiteering that occur as the result of war, there are worse things that can occur when good people do nothing in the face of aggressive state-sponsored evil. And indeed, evil is not a word to avoid. There really is such a thing as good and evil. And even though people engaging in evil don’t like to have it pointed out, it is not improper to do so. This is true whether the evil is the evil among us in our own hearts, or across oceans and continents. The media and academic elites have tried to claim that the problems of the last centuries have been caused by too much judgmentalism about good and evil. I would say that the reverse is the case. Most of the evils of the last several centuries have arisen because of an unwillingness to recognize evil as evil and to do something about it at an early stage. I do not believe there is any real question that the terror in France, the demagoguery of Napoleon, or chatteled slavery in the United States, Jim Crow in the United States, the rise of Fascism, the rise of Marxism, the eugenics movement in the United States and around the world, the abortion movement in the United States and around the world, and the rise of Islamofascism were and are all evils that would have been better dealt with swiftly and early on rather than allowed to blossom into powerful realities intertwined with the lives of millions and the power of large nation states. It has been our unwillingness to act on simple and easy moral judgments rather than the existence of moral judgments that has resulted in the deaths of ten of millions and the misery of many millions more. It is the relativism of Nietzsche, Hobbs, Hume, Machiavelli, Heidegger, Henry Clay and Stephen Douglas that has been the problem, not the civic morality of Lincoln, Churchill, Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

All this is not to say that we can always succeed in controlling the world. There are problems and events beyond the human ability to deal with them or sort them out. Our efforts may ultimately fail because their success requires human beings to choose the better even if they are not willing to choose the best. This is difficult when human beings are fallen and sinful and live in cultures that reinforce and rationalize their sinfulness. Nevertheless, the United States was largely successful in getting rid of slavery and ending Hitler’s Fascism and the Fascism of Tojo, all despite the cultural shortcomings of the peoples and regimes dealt with in those conflicts. Undoubtedly, we cannot turn Iraq or Iran into western countries that act morally and wholesomely, because they are not Christian. And even if they were, they would need centuries to absorb the lessons of Christianity, just as Western Europe and the United States have taken centuries to begin to change their culture in various ways in response to the teachings of Christianity. We may succeed in making them less of a threat and less of a danger than they would have been had their course continued without our interference.

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