Iran and Britain's dislocation from reality
Published in: Daily Mail
Anyone who remains blissfully unaware of what passes in Britain for debate about Iran might like to listen here to Wednesday evening’s edition of BBC Radio Four’s The Moral Maze, on which I am a regular panellist.
The show – whose somewhat misunderstood purpose is not so much to discuss an issue in the round as test individual arguments to destruction – featured two particularly illuminating contributions by Professor Michael Clarke, Director-General of the prestigious Royal United Services Institute, and Dr David Rodin, Senior Research Fellow at the Oxford Institute for Ethics, Law and Armed Conflict, University of Oxford.
Prof Clarke, who by virtue of his position is one of Britain’s top military analysts, blithely asserted that Iran would not pass the nuclear threshold for another three to four years. On what evidential basis does he put this point so much further down the line than US or Israeli estimates? And anyway, the real point about the dilemma of whether or when to attack Iran is surely not when it might go nuclear, but at what point it becomes impossible to stop it from going nuclear.
He argued that Israel and the west should hold back until Iran gets to that nuclear threshold. But once it has done so, would it not be by definition too late to stop it? He claimed an attack on Iran now would be illegal, because a pre-emptive strike can only legally take place to stop an ‘imminent’ attack. So it would seem that, according to his own argument, even if Iran has arrived at the nuclear threshold attacking it would still be illegal unless an attack by it was ‘imminent’.
But from the point of view of Israel -- for whose position as Iran’s principal target Prof Clarke expressed due sympathy -- waiting for signs of an ‘imminent’ attack by Iran is as idiotic a proposal as it is suicidal. ‘Imminent’ means in practice it would be too late to stop it. And does he really expect Israel to know when Iran loads up its nuclear warhead to strike Tel Aviv – or equips a suicide bomber with a nuke in a suitcase?
Moreover, what was even more remarkable was that neither Prof Clarke nor anyone on his side of this argument seemed to grasp that Iran was already attacking Israel, through Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror groupings. It has also been attacking western interests for some three decades; it has been providing weapons to attack coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and one of its bombs was probably responsible for the killing of six British soldiers in Afghanistan this week.
It is astonishing, in fact, that the west has chosen not to defend itself against all these attacks but continues to pretend that war with Iran is some kind of hypothetical possibility. For Israel, Iran is not only an imminent threat but is already waging against it a war of intended annihilation, against which Israel is most certainly entitled to defend itself under international law.
The same inexplicable disregard of Iran’s record of aggression, with a resulting desperate confusion between aggressor and victim, was displayed by Dr Rodin. He thought that, in some aspects, Iran was merely making a rational response to the west’s own nuclear capability.
It was the west’s possession of nuclear weapons, apparently, which was causing Iran to make its own. So it was the west’s fault, was it, that Iran was threatening to wipe Israel off the map and announcing the religious duty of all Muslims to destroy Israel and kill all Jews everywhere?
Dr Rodin seemed taken aback when that was put to him. But that was the inescapable conclusion from what he was saying.
There were other similarly eye-popping opinions on this show. The view was expressed that Iran was no different from any other rogue, unstable state and just as likely to adhere to the unspoken assumptions of ‘Mutually Assured Destruction’ that kept the peace during the Cold War. The fact that the Iranian regime is dominated by those who believe that by bringing about the apocalypse they will return the Shia messiah to earth, and consequently that they would welcome even the destruction of half of Iran to that end, was brushed aside.
At the root of this gross dislocation from reality lies the core western cultural fallacy – the assumption that everyone in the world is a rational actor who acts in his own self-interest. The result of this mistake is a catastrophic inability to understand the existential threat to the west.
Listen to the show in order to understand just what the formerly lion-hearted Britain has now become.