Learning a Lesson

LEARNING A LESSON….Andrew Sullivan, who is now a full-throated critic of the Iraq war and everyone associated with it, suggests that he now believes that raw military power isn’t the best way to fight jihadism:

I believe we have to fight, rather than accommodate, it. It seems to me we can be shrewd and deft and guileful in fighting it on our terms. Fighting does not merely mean brute military force. It can mean more skillful global diplomacy with other great powers to isolate Iran’s regime, better counter-insurgency tactics in Iraq and Afghanistan, covert military action, expanded intelligence, as well as subtle but real support for the people of Iran.

That’s all well and good. But what does it mean going forward?

But no American president can or should tolerate the Iranian regime’s acquisition of nuclear weaponry. And negotiating with theo-fascists is a mug’s game. Their God does not negotiate. And they are nothing if not faithful to their God.

For conservatives, liberals, and everyone in between, Iran is really the crucial touchstone. It’s one thing to say, in retrospect, that the Iraq war was wrong, and then to suggest that you’ve learned your lesson and now believe that there are more effective ways of fighting jihadism than bluster and invasion. But the rubber hits the road when you get down to cases. If you’ve learned your lesson, then why not apply those lessons to Iran?

It’s a funny thing. Conservatives have a peculiar habit these days of viewing the Cold War through nostalgically rose-tinted glasses. At least life was simple back then. We had one enemy, and as bad as they were, they had interests. We could talk to them.

But this is just flatly wrong. When Krushchev banged his shoe at the UN and promised to bury us, we thought he meant every word of it. And plenty of people were convinced that it was useless to negotiate with such a regime. At the time, a lot of people viewed Krushchev and the Soviets exactly the way the neocons view Ahmadinejad and the Iranians today.

But guess what? JFK proved them wrong. We now know that he didn’t stare down the lunatic Soviets during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He negotiated a deal with them, and it worked. Likewise, in Vietnam, anti-communist paranoia blinded us to the essentially nationalist nature of the war we were fighting there. Today we know that negotiations and support for fair elections probably could have worked.

In the 1980s, neocons were aghast that Reagan thought he could negotiate with the Soviets. He proved them wrong. Four years ago it was Saddam Hussein who couldn’t be boxed in. That turned out to be wrong too. He sputtered and blustered, but in the end we found out that sanctions and no-fly zones had scared him pretty well after all.

And now it’s Iran, yet another country that can’t be negotiated with. Why? Religious fanaticism is the excuse this time. But while the Iranians may seem scarier simply because they’re today’s enemy, that doesn’t mean they can’t be dealt with just like any other nation state can be dealt with.

Not every problem can be solved by diplomacy. Sometimes, as in the currently fashionable right-wing obsession with 1938, negotiation really is useless. But far more often than not, our enemies can be negotiated with, despite all the convincing reasons the hawks adduce for confrontation and war as the only possible solution. So ask yourself: With a track record this bad, why should we pay attention to the same old hysterical siren song this time? Shouldn’t we send the hawks packing and instead figure out more sensible ways to react to our global problems? Shouldn’t we have learned our lesson by now?