Rep. Ron Paul’s defense of Iran’s nuclear weapons program should surprise no one. The same resentment motivates Ron Paul and the Iranian leadership — a paranoid hostility toward a world that is swiftly changing and has little mercy, and a Millenarian desire to return to a mythical, untroubled past. Get rid of the Federal Reserve, scourge the bankers, return to a gold standard and erect a wall around the United States — and we will return to when? To 1957, when the Russians launched the first space satellite, alerting the United States to the danger that it might lose the Cold War? Then, as always, we prevailed, but by the skin of our teeth. Ron Paul’s program is an American version of the Iranian desire to return to a world of Islamic purity that never existed, any more than did a golden age of American isolationism.
America is not the embodiment of hope, but the abandonment of one kind of hope in return for another. America embodies the spirit of creative destruction, selecting immigrants willing to turn their back on the tragedy of their own failing culture in return for a new start. Its creative success is so enormous that its global influence hastens the decline of other cultures. For those on the destruction side of the trade, America is a monster. Now China has become an agent of creative destruction as well, the consequence of its partial adoption of the American model. China indirectly brought about the so-called Arab Spring, by driving up world grain prices and pricing the Arab poor out of the world market for food. Chinese pigs will eat before Arab peasants; food insecurity (if not actual starvation) undermined the Arab dictatorships.
Iranian resentment is understandable. They recall the Brontosaurus in an old Far Side cartoon, standing at the dais addressing an auditorium full of dinosaurs: “The climate is changing, our food supply is dwindling, and we have a brain the size of a peanut. I’d say we’re in trouble.” Islam is a religion of traditional society, of iron constraints and unquestioned hierarchies. By teaching Iranian girls to read, the late Shah set off a cultural chain-reaction: fertility has fallen from 7 children per female a generation ago to just 1.5 today, a catastrophic decline unparalleled in demographic history. And mosque attendance is down to only 2% by some estimates. Creative destruction has burst in upon Iran and turned its society inside-out. The mullahs still have all the money in Iran’s hydrocarbon monoculture, and almost all the guns, and they will do anything necessary to turn the clock back. Their world is disappearing in front of their eyes. They have nothing to lose.
Of course, the mullahs would have nothing without the global economy; after oil, Iran exports nothing but pistachios and carpets. Without foreign oil companies, the mullahs could not drill, pump, or ship their hydrocarbons. The whole apparatus of Iranian Islam is a theme park, an Shi’ite Disneyland funded by oil revenues, perpetuating a barbaric society that could not feed itself without global demand for the natural resources that, by unlucky accident, happen to be located in Iranian territory.
Mullah Paul voices the same fear and resentment in its milder American form. He has in common with the Iranians a desire to make the world go away, and a fixed idea that an evil conspiracy brought about all the problems. Ron Paul isn’t an Iranian, to be sure; he’s just the closest an American can come to thinking like an Iranian without actually moving there.