I have hesitated to comment on Christopher Hitchens’ much discussed approach to the Iran problem because, uncharacteristically for me, I was mulling it over. Basically it’s “Nixon in China” revisited and depends on the premise that the mullahs are just corrupt, not crazy (so that the US President can go to Tehran and actually
strike a deal with the Ayatollah). I wonder how Hitchens knows this. They are certainly corrupt, profiteering off everything from pistachios to oil, but I’m more than a little suspicious that a fair proportion of them take this Sharia stuff (and attendant apocalyptic mumbo-jumbo) more seriously than Hitchens wants to believe. It’s hard for us more secular Westerners to wrap our minds around that kind of faith, especially since our friends in Isfahan seem relatively modern beneath their veils and we ourselves know what it’s like to “believe” in Trotsky. But the latter comparison is inaccurate. Although Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tse Tung thought had it’s religious component to be sure, its basis was “scientific socialism.” It wasn’t meant to be accepted as blind faith, but to be proven. Islam, as practiced by the mullahs and their adherents, is toute autre chose.
When you examine the mullahs’ erratic behavior around the nuclear issue, you see this irrational “faith” component at work. Today they have rejected the Russian plan; yesterday it was another thing. Of course this could be regarded as simply stalling. And to a great extent it must be. But why would a merely corrupt regime get in such flamboyant controversies with their opponents? Why not just quietly go about building the bomb like so many other countries have done? In fact, for a “rationally corrupt” state, you would think that would be standard operating procedure. Instead, the Iranians have elected/installed mad Ahmadinejad and set him loose to make all sorts of pronouncements, only some of which can be excused as catering to the masses. Hitchens – in a manner that borders on the ultra-naive (or self-immolating) – dismisses Ahmadinejad’s Holocaust denial and bellicosity as mere “bullshit.” But as we have learned from psychological studies, the people who most often talk about extreme gestures (like suicide) are actually the people most likely to act upon them. I’m far from convinced Hitchens has the right approach here. But I wish I knew what was.