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The Rosett Report

George Eliot and the Iranian Bomb

May 18th, 2009 - 9:44 am

Commentary held its annual dinner in New York last evening, with Gen. Jack Keane and Fred Kagan jointly delivering the Norman Podhoretz lecture — on the surge in Iraq, and related matters. A line that jumped out, from Gen. Keane – on Iran, and what might be done about its nuclear bomb program:

“We’re out of the time that we could have used to implode the regime from within.”

Experts will continue to debate whether that is true, what might be done, and so forth. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu, meeting in Washington today with President Obama, is slam up against realities that no mere debate will stop. Whether he cares to face it or not, so is Obama. And the clock ticks and ticks…

Why are the great democracies so slow to do anything that would actually stop Iran’s bomb program? Why does America carry on as if there were, well, yes, a problem with Iran’s bomb program…  but no real and imminent mortal danger?

Well, here’s a thought.  As it happened, my subway reading the past few days has been George Eliot’s great novel, Silas Marner — perhaps as a way to escape, while immersed in its story, into a world at least beset by different problems. But in its pages, I find the same old human problem, beautifully laid out. Silas, the miser hoarding his gold, has come to feel a a false sense of security that because for 15 years no one has stolen his treasure, no one ever will. Eliot writes:

“The sense of security more frequently springs from habit than from conviction, and for this reason it often subsists after such a change in the conditions as might have been expected to suggest alarm. The lapse of time during which a given event has not yet happened, is, in this logic of habit, constantly alleged as a reason why the event should never happen, even when the lapse of time is precisely the added condition which makes the event imminent.”

So it is for Silas, who steps out of his cottage, leaving the door unlocked, and returns to find that the event is upon him. The thief has been, and the gold is gone. So it is with the Iranian bomb, and the terrible things too likely to follow. Perhaps our policy makers in Washington should set aside the debate and the briefings and the make-believe for an evening, and try a refresher course in reality, via the fiction of George Eliot.

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