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Waiting to Be Hit

By David Warren

One of the common, or "plausible" fallacies of the post-modern mind is that we should never act immediately on a provocation. We should instead wait until we have calmed down, for that is when we will have a clearer view. This fallacy was expressed even in the first days after the terror strikes of Sept. 11th, 2001. Our Left argued that, before thinking about a response, we must first get answers to such essay questions as, "Why do they hate us?" We must "address the root causes of terrorism," and so forth.

The truth twisted by this fallacy, is that we should act with a clear head. That we should do. And sometimes we should wait. But waiting seldom makes the view clearer.

In the days and weeks after 9/11 -- as becomes obvious looking back over so many public statements at that time, from people who have since lost their nerve -- we had a clearer understanding of what we were confronting. And this because we had just looked it in the face. We could, for an interval, see the result of waiting for such problems as Islamist terrorism to blow over.

The focus of our attention has since shifted, so that we now consider only secondary issues. We carefully examine the huge costs of any proposed action. We ignore the far greater costs of not acting.

I remain impressed with President Bush, no matter how low he has sunk in the U.S. polls, and no matter what difficulties have emerged in theatre, because he met the test of Afghanistan and Iraq. He acted to drain two of the enemy's principal cesspools. Alas: the public are not properly informed, for the media have not been reporting recent documentary disclosures of the degree to which Saddam Hussein's regime was in league with Al Qaeda and other international operators.

Iran will be President Bush's last test (unless something happens such as China invades Taiwan). It offers a bigger threat at every level than Afghanistan and Iraq put together. Not merely bigger geographically, and thus beyond the scope of invasion with present U.S. military assets; but bigger "existentially", as they say.

Mr Bush probably knows he can't "outsource" this problem any more: that multilateral diplomacy can't work. He is believed to be saying privately that he can't leave the problem to the next President. But what can he do?

As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has boasted, Revolutionary Iran now "owns" the entire nuclear fuel cycle, from the mining of uranium ore to its final enrichment in centrifuges. He has further boasted that Iran is working on advanced centrifuge designs supplied illicitly from Pakistan. Iran's longer-range missile delivery systems, developed from Russian technology, have been on semi-public show. Along with these facts goes the bloodcurdling rhetoric of Iran's "spiritual" leaders; the unprecedented fatwa from Qom, sanctioning the use of atomic weapons against "the enemies of Islam"; and open musing about the imminent approach of the Shia Islamic apocalypse, with the return to earth of the Twelfth Imam.

Might the ayatollahs get nuclear weapons but not use them? President Bush and other Western leaders should begin alerting their publics, to the possibility that this could be worse than if they did use them. For if the ayatollahs launched a surprise nuclear attack, on anyone, the West would respond robustly. At that point it would cost a few million lives, mostly Iranian; or at most, a few tens of millions.

But if Iran can continue to exploit American diplomatic weaknesses, by keeping the confrontation in the diplomatic arena, the ayatollahs can raise the stakes much higher. They could, in an easily foreseeable future, use nuclear blackmail in combination with an oil embargo -- and with the cooperation, subtle or overt, of Russia, China, a post-Saudi Arabia, perhaps a client Iraq, and Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.

Such a challenge could bring about the sort of "new world order", compared to which a few million casualties might seem a lucky break. It would create an order in which North America, Western Europe, and Japan, were deprived of the use of high technology, by the loss of the fuel to move goods around; and likewise deprived of the food supplies that require oil at every stage of production and distribution. All the cards of power would be suddenly transferred from the bourgeois democracies to the planet's most ruthless dictatorships.

Look into the eyes of an Ahmadinejad, or a President Hu Jintao (currently tightening controls at all levels of Chinese society, in direct response to the perceived weakness of the West), and ask yourself whether you wouldn't prefer to be ruled by men like Bush, Blair, Harper. The reader who is tempted to answer, "What's the difference?" may live to find out.

otiosus@sympatico.ca

© Ottawa Citizen


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