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Iran and Nazi Germany? The worst analogy almost ever

Who compares Nazi Germany to the Islamic Republic of Iran, except someone who knows very little about at least one of the two?

Haroon Moghul

Published: Updated:

Who compares Nazi Germany to the Islamic Republic of Iran, except someone who knows very little about at least one of the two? Bret Stephens, writing in The Wall Street Journal, for one. “The interim nuclear agreement signed by Iran and the six big powers,” he warns, compares to Britain and France’s 1938 “capitulation” to the Nazis. No, wait, he says – it’s worse.

One wishes this was fiction.

The P5+1 are not pre-war Britain and France, and Iran is not about to run roughshod over any continents. The Nazis, remember, smashed through Central Europe, marched to the Caucasus, conquered Paris, and fought in North Africa. They were defeated only by the combined might of the United States, the United Kingdom, free France, hundreds of thousands of colonial sepoys, and the Soviet Union.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Republic does not have the capacity to strike Israel without being severely punished in return. Nor could Iran challenge its powerful neighbors, Turkey, Pakistan, or Russia. Iran has been most successful in Iraq, but only after America toppled Saddam. In other words, our going to war empowered Iran. Likewise, Iran’s influence in southern Lebanon emerged after Israel’s invasion.

Differences

And most critical of all: Nazi Germany challenged the world’s greatest powers. (Too, the Rahbar is not a Fuhrer.) America is so much more powerful than Iran that our military is in fact of little relevance—and so a military solution is out of the picture. But there’s more to quarrel with, further misrepresentations and obfuscations that cause us to miss the importance of this interim agreement.

A strike against Iran could collapse the state, or just weaken it enough to realize al-Qaeda’s earthly paradise: A practically sovereignty-free zone from the mountains of Kashmir to southern Lebanon

Haroon Moghul

Stephens’ fears that Iran’s (alleged) pursuit of a nuclear weapon would ignite a regional arms race. But Iran is not the first country in the region to develop nuclear weapons, never mind how many other countries have such weapons. Inconveniently for this argument, Iran has been the victim of Iraqi chemical weapons attacks condoned by the United States (and arguably facilitated by us, too), and let us not forget that America is the only country to have ever used nuclear weapons. Against civilian targets. Twice.

Not a theocracy, a dictatorship, a fascist state or Communist empire, but a secular democracy. If the Iranians were so mad that they cannot be trusted to behave reasonably or rationally, why would they wait until they developed nuclear capacity to start an apocalypse? Surely, a country governed by mindless zealots would not care if it had deterrent capacity, and if it did - well then, we have signs of sentience. That Iran has strategic interests and can weigh costs and benefits means Iran can be talked to.

Which is a problem if your default position is in favor of war.

But even there - you would be doing America, and even Israel, a disservice.

Let us assume that, instead of “capitulating,” the British or the French had gone to war with Germany in 1938 over Czechoslovakia. If that war ground on, as it certainly would have, who believes the “Allies” would have come together as they did, or stuck together? Would their populations would have tolerated enormous casualties for a German-majority region in a small country far away from them?

We entered World War II after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor - and we only went to war against Germany because that country declared war on us first, marking the stupidest military move since Pearl Harbor. Never mind this: What if, fearing a Western agenda of preemption, the Soviet Union had sided with Germany? We do not even know if acting first would have prevented the Nazis’ greatest crime, the holocaust.

Had Nazi Germany perceived itself as being aggressed against, or an insufficiently powerful alliance cobbled together, Germany may have been harder to defeat.

So what if we went to war with Iran first?

I don’t mean assassinating scientists or exporting viruses. I mean all-out Operation Persian Freedom. What is very easy can become very hard. America’s military advantage over Iran is almost comical: The brief battle scene between the Hulk and Loki in The Avengers comes to mind. With a messier ending, the kind that leaves you dreading the looming sequel.

Strike Iran too hard, and its government could collapse. Strike Iran too softly, and you likely convince the country’s to go nuclear. And, what then? Either send troops into a country the size of Alaska, double the population of Iraq and Afghanistan and then some, or just strike Iran again? Either option could collapse the state, or just weaken it enough to realize al-Qaeda’s earthly paradise: A practically sovereignty-free zone from the mountains of Kashmir to southern Lebanon.

Americans and Europeans would have reason to be terrified, as do most regional countries. Just imagine how much worse this would be for Israel: Taliban in Lebanon? Pakistani militant outfits arriving in Arab countries, or extremist movements linking up across disparate regions? The scenarios are sufficiently uncomfortable to underscore the achievement that we have realized. Which is, of course, only the first step. But cautiousness and wariness do not justify nonsense.

It is Iran that has been forced, by sanction and exhaustion, to capitulate - Iran that is “militarily weak,” not the P5+1. While certainly Rowhani has much to celebrate, let us not imagine that by virtue of a diplomatic breakthrough, Iran has suddenly been transformed into a great power. This interim agreement offers badly needed relief to Iranians, holds off the prospect of war - which we should all be grateful for - and gives Iranian moderates a leg up in domestic struggles against more radical opponents. Take this lesson from history: Great statesmen do not lump their enemies together, but divide them, separating the uncomfortable from the intolerable, and in so doing, empower those who are better and weakening those who would do the most harm.

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Haroon Moghul is the Fellow in Muslim Politics and Societies at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School. He is a graduate student at Columbia University, a widely-recognized speaker on Islamic thought and Muslim history, and the author of The Order of Light (Penguin 2006). Haroon's writings have been featured on Foreign Policy, Boston Review, Salon, Tikkun, Religion Dispatches, Al-Jazeera, Today's Zaman and Dawn. He is a Fellow at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and serves as an expert guide to the Muslim heritage of Spain, Turkey, and Bosnia. Twitter: @hsmoghul

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