I studied fascism primarily because I wanted–desperately–to understand how so many people could have appeased it. Did they–and by “they” I mean the European victims of the Holocaust and the European and American targets of the Axis–not see the evil? Did they not hear the words of the tyrants who constantly called for the destruction of the Western democracies, the enslavement of the inferior races, and the imposition of a new order? Did they not see the armies on the march, the concentration camps being built, and the ruthless campaigns against the racially unworthy, from the Jews to the gays, the gypsies and the mentally challenged?
Why did it take Pearl Harbor to bomb us into action? Why did the Soviet and European Communists–intended victims of Nazism–make a Grand Bargain with the Fuhrer? Why did the Jews, with rare exceptions, go quietly onto the cattle cars?
Nearly fifty years later, I think I understand at least part of it, and, alas, that understanding applies to the current appeasers as well. You’ll find it discussed at length in my forthcoming book, Accomplice to Evil, which identifies many sources of the willful blindness that has long been a central part of the foreign policies of the Western democracies. The three most important factors seem to me to be:
–the Enlightenment theory of human nature, according to which “we are all the same, and we are all basically good”;
–Baudelaire’s profound insight, most recently presented in the great movie “The Usual Suspects”: “the greatest trick the devil ever played on mankind was to convince us that he does not exist”;
–the terrible costs and risk of failure if we recognize our evil enemies for what they are, and defend ourselves against them. Politicians don’t like that; they’d rather leave it to their successors.
If you look at some of the recent commentary on Iran, some of it from very serious, knowledgeable and experienced policy makers, you will find the willful denial of evil in full bloom. Take, for example, the astonishing essay by Francis Fukuyama in the Wall Street Journal last Tuesday, in which he describes Iran in these terms:
A real tyranny would never permit elections in the first place–North Korea never does–nor would it allow demonstrations contesting the election results to spiral out of control…
Following which he opines on how gradual Constitutional change might produce “a genuine rule of law democracy within the broad parameters of the 1979 constitution,” but concludes it is unlikely, and that the most likely outcome of the present internal conflict is “conflict with other countries in the region. This could easily consolidate its legitimacy and power.”
How quickly we forget Comrade Stalin, a “real tyrant” who staged many elections, or Saddam Hussein, who was triumphantly reelected with 99% of the popular vote in Iraq after Gulf War I, or for that matter the Fuhrer himself, who did very well at the polls.
Are we really expected to believe that the evil torturers and terrorists who compose the elite of the Iranian Islamic Republic pay close attention to the letter of the constitution? Its importance lies primarily in transferring all meaningful power to men with turbans, theocratic tyrants who have been waging war against the Iranian people, and against the infidels (most importantly, us and the Israelis) ever since 1979. But Fukuyama has nothing to say about this war, nor the many Americans who have been murdered by the mullahs’ terrorists and soldiers.
He is at one with the deep thinkers around President Obama. Although it is painful, everyone should read the long essay by Roger Cohen, in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine.
Cohen interviewed the whole Iran policy crowd, headed by Dennis Ross, whose penchant for negotiating with anyone and everyone has been welcomed by presidents of various party and ideological convictions. He just wants to make a deal, and Cohen puts it very clearly:
Ray Takeyh, an Iranian-born adviser to Dennis Ross, the veteran Mideast negotiator who has been working on Iran for the Obama administration, told me before the election. “We’re trying to deal with Iran as an entity, a state, rather than privileging one faction or another. We want to inject a degree of rationality into this relationship, reduce it to two nations with some differences and some common interests — get beyond the incendiary rhetoric.” Takeyh’s words reminded me of Ross, who in his book “Statecraft” defined the term’s first principles as, “Have clear objectives, tailor them to fit reality.”
Chamberlain could not have done better. Takeyh, Ross and their colleagues, up to and including the president, do not even identify the evil that rules in Tehran, nor the death that the mullahs have visited on their own people lo these many decades, nor the death they have spread in our own ranks. Do they know that Iran declared war on us thirty years ago? If so, it is not a factor in their policy making.