Let me start by saying that I am not advocating either candidate. Unknowncountry is a website for people of every political persuasion, so we keep our political views to ourselves. However I want to discuss an issue which I feel is the first one we should consider when we decide which candidate we are going to chose, each of us by his own lights.
This issue has not been discussed with adequate clarity. It has come up in the debates, but not with the amount of importance that it actually has. And, for once coming from me, I’m not talking about climate change. It is not health care or the economy, either. It is Iran.
I am not going to tell you what I think should be done. I don’t know what should be done, because I obviously don’t have access to intelligence about Iran’s nuclear program. We must all hope that western governments do, especially ours. What I do know that a geopolitical moment of seminal importance is approaching, that has the potential to fundamentally redefine our world and the way the life of man will unfold for many years to come. If the Iranian regime continues to press for nuclear weapons, at some point Israel and the United States are going to attempt to destroy their nuclear capability using military means.
I am not going to comment on whether or not I think such an action would be right or wrong. Perhaps an Iranian bomb would stabilize the region much as the Indian and Pakistani bombs, and the Russian and American bombs, brought the stability that comes with contemplation of mutually assured destruction. On the other hand, maybe an Iranian bomb would grant them an ascendancy in the middle east that would be destructive of western interests and a continuing challenge to world peace.
It is not for me to decide these things, and I do not wish to pour from the empty into the void by speculating about matters of which I am incompletely informed.
Instead, I am going to start with a little history, but please keep reading. It’s interesting and of essential importance in this issue. It is my belief that American foreign policy has suffered greatly over almost its entire span, from the early 19th Century until the present, from a lack, not only of subtlety, but primarily of an awareness of the way that the weight of history bears on the way the current world works. We Americans look toward the future. The past fades away behind us and is disregarded. Our policy emerges out of the present, as if history did not exist. Most of us know little history. In general, our schools confine history education to the facts, and do not explore the really important part, which is the inner dynamics that made things happen as they did, and how they affect and shape the present world in which we live. Always, history is a profound influence, sometimes less and sometimes more.
Had George W. Bush, for example, known what happened to the Emperor Trajan when he conquered what is now Iraq, he might have questioned the assumption that our forces would be received by the Iraqi people with enthusiasm. In 113 AD, Trajan embarked upon an eastward expansion of the empire that included the annexation of Mesopotamia. His troops marched in virtually unopposed. (Sound familiar?) It was so easy that he left just garrison forces in the cities and withdrew his main body. (Sound familiar?) But soon Trajan, who was at Antioch, received the disquieting news that the entire province had erupted and the Roman garrisons were being destroyed. Consumed with his desperate attempt to salvage the situation, he died of a heart attack in 117 AD.
I suggest that if anyone at all in the Bush administration had known this story and respected its significance, we would have handled the Iraq war differently, or not fought it at all. To imagine that this culture has somehow changed over the years is very foolish and very deeply American. We change. We grow. We progress. But that simply is not true of much of the world, where change is far, far slower. We faced precisely the same mentality among modern Iraqis as Trajan did. Unfortunately, we did not understand this, and wasted lives and treasure because we failed to heed the lessons of history.
In the case of Iran, their history is the central, essential influence, and we ignore it to our peril. Our great peril. It has to be understood that these are the same people who Darius ruled, who the Greeks repelled, and who the Romans attempted to conquer. If a Persian of 500 BC was transported to modern Iran, he would not have any trouble adjusting to the culture. Even the food would be reasonably familiar. Family life and, above all, his sense of what his society was and his place in it, would be completely familiar.
The west has a long history of conflict with the whole region, and especially Persia, which is the area now called Iran. In fact, this is our world’s fundamental cultural conflict, and the way it has unfolded reflects the essential differences between eastern and western ideas of what a human being is, and what the human experience should be.
This conflict started when the Persians discovered that, by building roads, maintaining communications and organizing a fair and acceptable system of taxes, they could create an empire that its subjects would find acceptable, and even, in some cases, welcome. There was only one catch: they had to recognize the emperor as absolute monarch, and accept his rule in place of their own.
Iran has had a few brief experiments with democracy, but they have all ended badly. The last emperor, the Shah, has been replaced by a new emperor who is actually much more like the old Persian despots, in that he claims the will of God as the source of his right to rule. This is not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president, it is Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader.
When the original Persian empire sought to expand into Greece, it was difficult for the emperor to understand why they were so resistant to joining his wonderful new system which was bringing so much prosperity to its subjects.
It was at that point that east and west diverged, and it is at that point that the divide still remains.
Eventually, the Greeks drove the Persians away at the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC. This allowed the development of democratic political processes in Greece, along with what was essentially the discovery of the sanctity of the individual. This is an absolutely fundamental moment of history.
Another fundamental moment came in 379 AD when the Roman emperor Valens was forced to bargain with Goths who had crossed the Danube into Roman Europe rather than drive them out. He had to do this because his army was too heavily engaged in the east. From the moment that the Goths began settling in the empire, to its collapse a hundred years later, there is an unbroken line.
After the Roman Empire fell, the west endured a thousand years of poverty, superstition and ignorance. Only in the fifteenth century did our ancient democratic ideals began to reassert themselves in Italy with the development of republican city-states and in England with the signing of the Magna Carta.
Confrontation with Iran is as serious a military undertaking as the western world can contemplate. It cannot be conquered in any conventional sense of the word. It cannot be subjugated, not easily, or they would already be unwinding their nuclear program, in view of how terribly western sanctions are harming their economy and destroying their currency.
Soon, in one way or another, our country is going to become involved in a confrontation with Iran. Two of our allies cannot afford a nuclear armed Iranian state, Israel and Saudi Arabia. Should Iran develop a nuclear weapon, or come too close to it, no matter which party is in power, we are going to respond to their demands–public on the part of Israel, private on that of Saudi Arabia–and we are going to attack Iran with a view to destroying that capability.
So, a very major question that we must all take with us into the voting booth is this: which candidate do I think is better able to guide our country through such a storm? Each of us must find the answer in the privacy of our own minds.
Of course, there are many other issues to consider, but I can assure you, this will turn out to be the most important one in this election. The fate of nations and the way the future history of humanity unfolds will to an unusual degree turn on what the next president does in regard to Iran, and how he manages the application of American power.
Think about it. Then vote.