Bruce Thornton: Repeating History Yet Again

We all should be angry right now about the disastrous “general understanding” with Iran about its nuclear ambitions. According to its terms, Iran will not shut down a single facility, will not dismantle a single centrifuge, and will not ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country. 

Various inspection regimes and “sanctions snap-back” are supposed to punish Iran for cheating on its commitments, but those are empty threats. Worse yet, sanctions will be lifted upon signing, at least according to the Iranians. This means billions will pour into the coffers of the Republican Guard, money that will finance its current expansion throughout the region and support for terrorists.

The simple fact that will result from a formalization of these “key parameters” is that Iran will become a nuclear power and the regional hegemon, with serious consequences for our own and our allies’ security and interests. What is depressing about this failure is that it has happened so many times before, a history that should have aroused some prudence and caution in our leaders. Munich is everybody’s favorite analogy these days, but that disaster was the culmination of nearly two decades of wishful thinking, feckless idealism, and short-term thinking. Central to that dismal failure were arms agreements that in the end did nothing to prevent war, and instead armed the aggressors.

The pending agreement with Iran, for example, recalls England’s foolish naval agreement signed with Germany in 1935. This deal followed 15 years of Germany’s serial violations of the Versailles Treaty’s disarmament clauses. For example, Germany was allowed by the Treaty to build no more than 6 armored ships of 10,000 tons. Yet the British knew that two recently constructed “pocket-battleships,” allowed by the treaty, were in fact 26,000-ton light battle cruisers. Yet despite this “brazen and fraudulent violation of the Peace Treaty,” as Churchill described it, the government decided to negotiate the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. And this took place even as the British were protesting Hitler’s blatant violations of the Treaty’s limitations on Germany’s military development. So too today, Iran’s numerous violations of 6 Security Council resolutions––and its missile and nuclear weaponization programs unmentioned by the framework––are on the brink of being rewarded by a deal favorable to the violator.

The terms of the Anglo-German agreement were as detrimental to England’s security and imperial interests as those conceded to Iran will be to ours. The German Navy could not exceed 35% of the size of the British, but the German submarine fleet could reach 45%. Worse yet, Germany was given the option to raise that to 100% if circumstances warranted. The Germans gave heartfelt assurances that their U-boats would never be used against merchants, and we know now how much that promise was worth––2,779 allied ships. But the real flaw in the agreement was that Germany’s fleet was so much smaller than England’s that reaching the 35% limit would, as Churchill wrote, “set her yards to work at maximum activity for at least ten years. There was therefore no practical limitation or restraint of any kind imposed on German naval expansion. They could build as fast as was physically possible.”

The proposed agreement with Iran is similarly shortsighted. We will allow enrichment at levels that can be quickly increased to those necessary for a weapon, accepting the Iranians’ word that they need enriched uranium for peaceful purposes. If we didn’t believe that preposterous pretext, why else would we give up on the demand that they cease enrichment altogether? This belief is the “acme of gullibility,” as Churchill said of the German promise not to ever attack shipping with U-boats. Nor will there be any guarantee that the Iranians will not exceed enrichment levels whenever they want, long before any 10-year “sunset provision” for lifting restrictions. As North Korea and Iraq in the 90s have shown, inspectors can be deceived, gulled, and misdirected for years. And relying on inspections assumes we know of all the facilities that need inspecting. Finally, just as German U-boats were necessary only for Hitler’s anticipated war with France and England, so too today Iran’s research facilities and enriched uranium are necessary only for constructing a nuclear weapon in order to bolster and confirm its status as the region’s dominant power.

Next, England entered into the negotiations with Germany without involving its key ally France. This despite the fact that England had pledged to protect France from German aggression, for as the victim of 5 attacks during the previous 100 years, France was more vulnerable to German militarism. Thus Hitler scored a big diplomatic victory with the naval agreement, for he got one of the Allies formally to condone his violation of the Versailles Treaty, and to grant Germany de facto permission to rearm, both to the detriment of the other Ally, France. Moreover, other powers in Europe took note of England’s disregard of its ally’s security. Mussolini determined that England was an unreliable ally, motivated only by its own interests, and ready to accommodate Germany no matter how fraught with risk for its allies. And the Scandinavian countries were troubled that England had allowed Germany a naval force big enough to dominate the Baltic Sea.

Likewise the looming agreement with Iran has spooked our allies. Israel, of course, has already been the victim of 3 invasions by Muslim enemies. And today it is the Iranian theocracy’s mortal enemy, one the regime has repeatedly threatened to destroy. Just as England’s deal with Germany left France vulnerable to renewed aggression, so too Israel now finds its own security more at risk. And our other regional allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are also losing faith in our reliability, and looking elsewhere for new friends, just as Mussolini drew closer to Germany, a fateful realignment that made World War II more likely.

Finally, only Hitler’s invasion of Poland and instigation of the world war kept the agreement from sparking a naval arms-race of the sort instrumental in causing World War I. Today, however, there is no doubt that Iran’s acquisition of the bomb will provoke other countries in the region, Saudi Arabia in particular, to go nuclear in order to counter its historical ethnic and sectarian rival. Such an outcome will leave an already volatile region even more dangerous, particularly for our allies.

In short, as Churchill told the House of Commons, the Iran deal will not “be found to work for the cause of peace.” Nor will it, as the Obama administration ostensibly hopes, make Iran our regional “partner” in “stabilizing” the Middle East, any more than the Anglo-German agreement––mentioned by name in the infamous “Peace in our time” agreement Chamberlain waved on his return to England from Munich––helped bring Germany back into normal relations with its neighbors. Like Germany, Iran has other plans and ambitions, none of which serve the security and interests of our allies or us. If formalized into an agreement, this deal with Iran will instead help the mullahs make a quantum leap towards fulfilling those aims. And we will be doomed to repeat a history from which we long ago should have learned.