Rapid reaction post
Some semi-random thoughts on events that occurred since Friday. 1. I thought about posting something about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s most recent fit of Holocaust denial, but Juan Cole said everything I would have said with just the right tone of outrage. For what it’s worth, I see this latest bit of bile as a ...
Some semi-random thoughts on events that occurred since Friday.
1. I thought about posting something about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s most recent fit of Holocaust denial, but Juan Cole said everything I would have said with just the right tone of outrage. For what it’s worth, I see this latest bit of bile as a sign of desperation on Ahmadinejad’s part. The government faced renewed protests last week and seems to be somewhat at a loss for how to deal with its manifest unpopularity. As I noted during the initial round of demonstrations that followed the elections in June, Iran’s leaders are increasingly out of touch with the broader population, and especially its younger elements. The clerics are a bunch of old men, and Ahmadinejad himself hardly in the bloom of youth at 53. By contrast, seventy percent of Iran’s population is under 30 and was born after the 1980 revolution. Spouting foolish and hateful nonsense about the Holocaust isn’t going to buy him much support at home or abroad, and I think it’s a sign of waning legitimacy for the clerical regime as presently constituted. I just hope we don’t do something stupid that allows him to rally nationalist feeling.
2. A reader wrote in and pointed out that I had incorrectly referred to “Czechoslovakia” in my post last week on Obama’s missile defense decision. My bad; I obviously should have said “Czech Republic.”
3. Why is Benjamin Netanyahu stiffing Obama and Mitchell, and why are they letting him? My answer to that question is in Sunday’s Washington Post.
4. Matt Yglesias had a nice comment over the weekend about one of my pet peeves: the infamous “Munich analogy.” His obvious but still very important point is that making Adolf Hitler’s behavior your standard guide to foreign policy is foolish, because Hitlers are (fortunately) quite rare and you’ll do a lot of stupid things when dealing with the overwhelming percentage of governments that aren’t Nazi Germany and who aren’t led by a genocidal monster.
I would only add a corollary comment: another reason Britain and France had trouble dealing with Hitler is that they were overcommitted in other areas (such as the Far East), and were also loathe to get too close to Stalin’s Russia. The lesson (which those who constantly warn of another “Munich” never mention), is that you can get your country in just as much trouble by exaggerating threats and losing sight of strategic priorities as you can by failing to respond vigorously enough when a real challenge arises. For more on how Munich has been misused in policy debates, check out the late Ernest May’s “Lessons” of the Past: the Use and Misuse of History in American Foreign Policy (1973), and Christopher Layne’s article “Security Studies and the Use of History: Neville Chamberlain’s Grand Strategy Re-Visited.” in the July 2008 issue of Security Studies.
BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images
Stephen M. Walt is a columnist at Foreign Policy and the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University. Twitter: @stephenwalt
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