Why Must We Be the Loudest Drum-Beaters?

The Hour

By Leonard Fein

Published November 07, 2007, issue of November 09, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

It may be going too far to call Norman Podhoretz, the venerable editor at-large of Commentary, a “warmonger.” After all, his repeated call for the United States to bomb Iran would not, as he sees it, begin a new war; he has been arguing for some time now that we are already engaged in World War IV — World War III was, he says, the Cold War — and it is not clear that one can monger an ongoing war. (The current war, says Podhoretz, is against “Islamofascism,” and it began on September 11, 2001.)

Podhoretz is hardly alone in his call for an assault against Iran. He is supported by Vice President Dick Cheney, who has been beating the drum persistently for several years and who, just weeks ago, cautioned that “Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions,” that if Iran continues on its current course, the United States and other nations are “prepared to impose serious consequences.” President Bush, just three days earlier, proposed that “if you’re interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.”

Both Bush and Cheney insist that their preferred resolution of the problem is via diplomacy, but to be blunt about it, there is no reason to believe them, since that is exactly what they said during the run-up to Iraq, while they were cooking the books and preparing for the invasion. When they say that “we must keep all options on the table” — a statement echoed these days by much of the let’s-not-sound-wimpy political elite — we are not wrong to infer the nature of the main course being prepared in the kitchen while we munch on diversionary hors d’oeuvres.

As to Podhoretz, now a senior foreign policy adviser to Rudy Giuliani, he doesn’t set much store in diplomatic efforts, nor, for that matter, in sanctions. These, he says, merely give Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad more time to achieve nuclear capability.

In a remarkable article in the Wall Street Journal this past May, remarkable almost as much for its more than 5,000 words as for its substance, Podhoretz wrote that “[T]he plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force — any more than there was an alternative to force if Hitler was to be stopped in 1938.”

The Hitler motif runs through the whole of Podhoretz’s essay. As he sees it, no one took Hitler seriously, even though he’d stated his aims explicitly in “Mein Kampf.” Instead, people — Neville Chamberlain most notoriously, hence “1938” — thought “we can do business with him.” That business turned out to be appeasement, and you dare not appease revolutionaries who have unlimited aims — read, Ahmadinejad.

And yes, Podhoretz acknowledges, the downside risks of armed intervention are very real: Iran might “attack Israel with missiles armed with non-nuclear warheads but possibly containing biological or chemical weapons.” There might “be a vast increase in the price of oil, with catastrophic consequences for every economy in the world, very much including our own.” And “The worldwide outcry against the inevitable civilian casualties would make the anti-Americanism of today look like a love-fest.”

Yet it would be worse still to allow Iran to have the bomb. And since that may happen sooner rather than later, we must “strike… as soon as it is logistically possible.”

Podhoretz, who has directly explained his views to Bush, “guesses” that the president intends, while still in office, “to order air strikes against the Iranian nuclear facilities from the three U.S. aircraft carriers already sitting nearby.” Bush, he says, is “a man who knows evil when he sees it and who has demonstrated an unfailingly courageous willingness to endure vilification and contumely in setting his face against it. It now remains to be seen whether this president, battered more mercilessly and with less justification than any other in living memory… will find it possible to take the only action that can stop Iran from following through on its evil intentions both toward us and toward Israel. As an American and as a Jew, I pray with all my heart that he will.”

How much heart Podhoretz has is a matter of speculation. After all, he says that when Iran seized 15 British sailors, Britain “should have threatened to bomb the Iranians into smithereens if the sailors weren’t returned immediately. They should have threatened it. Whether they would have had to carry out the threat, I doubt; maybe they would have.”

And in any case, if we’re right to fret about Iran, why not agonize over Pakistan, clearly the more imminent nuclear threat?

Podhoretz wants to use force now. Others, including a disturbing number of major Jewish organizations, endorse “merely” the threat of force, loudly proclaiming that “all options” must be on the table. Is such a threat a useful deterrent, or does it instead increase Iran’s very real sense of vulnerability, thereby encouraging precisely the behavior it is meant to deter?

And is not such talk a way of creeping toward war? Another real war just now? Madness. Yet that is the risk being pressed upon us.

Why must Jewish organizations be and be seen as the loudest drum-beaters of all? Why can we not bring ourselves to say that military intervention is not on the table at all? Why not stash it under the table, out of sight, and mount instead a diplomatic assault?

Germany, 1938? The more relevant and equally cautionary precedent is Iraq, 2003 — and counting.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Maybe he was trying to give her a "schtickle of fluoride"...
  • It's all fun, fun, fun, until her dad takes the T-Bird away for Shabbos.
  • "Like many Jewish people around the world, I observed Shabbat this weekend. I didn’t light candles or recite Hebrew prayers; I didn’t eat challah or matzoh ball soup or brisket. I spent my Shabbat marching for justice for Eric Garner of Staten Island, Michael Brown of Ferguson, and all victims of police brutality."
  • Happy #NationalDogDay! To celebrate, here's a little something from our archives:
  • A Jewish couple was attacked on Monday night in New York City's Upper East Side. According to police, the attackers flew Palestinian flags.
  • "If the only thing viewers knew about the Jews was what they saw on The Simpsons they — and we — would be well served." What's your favorite Simpsons' moment?
  • "One uncle of mine said, 'I came to America after World War II and I hitchhiked.' And Robin said, 'I waited until there was a 747 and a kosher meal.'" Watch Billy Crystal's moving tribute to Robin Williams at last night's #Emmys:
  • "Americans are much more focused on the long term and on the end goal which is ending the violence, and peace. It’s a matter of zooming out rather than debating the day to day.”
  • "I feel great sorrow about the fact that you decided to return the honor and recognition that you so greatly deserve." Rivka Ben-Pazi, who got Dutchman Henk Zanoli recognized as a "Righteous Gentile," has written him an open letter.
  • Is there a right way to criticize Israel?
  • From The Daily Show to Lizzy Caplan, here's your Who's Jew guide to the 2014 #Emmys. Who are you rooting for?
  • “People at archives like Yad Vashem used to consider genealogists old ladies in tennis shoes. But they have been impressed with our work on indexing documents. Now they are lining up to work with us." This year's Jewish Genealogical Societies conference took place in Utah. We got a behind-the-scenes look:
  • What would Maimonides say about Warby Parker's buy-one, give-one charity model?
  • For 22 years, Seeds of Peace has fostered dialogue between Israeli and Palestinian teens in an idyllic camp. But with Israel at war in Gaza, this summer was different. http://jd.fo/p57AB
  • J.J. Goldberg doesn't usually respond to his critics. But this time, he just had to make an exception.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.