President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry have conceded that some portion of the money released to Iran through the lifting of sanctions will result in “bad behavior,” a euphemism for terrorism. The supposition of the president’s team is that despite the bad behavior, Iran, unconstrained by sanctions, will in time join the community of responsible nations. In other words our concessions will yield a positive response from the Supreme Leader Khamenei and his acolytes.
What is in evidence in these negotiations is the implicit Western belief in rationalism, a stance that suggests our enemies, with the appropriate incentives, will act just as we would. “Trust but verify” is the qualifier President Reagan used in his negotiations with the Soviets. President Obama, on the other hand, has resorted to trust and have faith in rational expectations. What happens when the adversary is irrational remains unclear. A theological belief system and acceptance of taqiyya or a religious lie to promote the interests of Islam, challenge assumptions of rationality.
Nonetheless, rationalists persist. At a recent meeting a discussion took place on ways to combat ISIL’s influence in the Middle East. The intelligent and well-meaning host argued that a campaign designed to show the unspeakable and monstrous crimes of ISIL combatants might discourage many from joining this poisonous group. Here was the rationalist world view on display – clear, hopeful and seemingly sensible. Yet the one point rationalists cannot seem to comprehend is that rationalism doesn’t defeat irrationalism. At some point, even if it isn’t in his nature and even if there is recalcitrance to embrace this position, the rationalist must be as ruthless as his enemy.
The only way to defeat the dragon is to deliver enough heat to counter his fire. President Lincoln had to send a message to Generals Grant, Sherman and Sheridan – destroy the enemy, General Patton wasn’t loved by Eisenhower or FDR, but he could be as ruthless in war as the Nazi forces. Victory against relentless enemies doesn’t occur because of films and conferences, it occurs because of sacrifice and bloodshed. That is the axiom of war.
For those who want to avoid war at all costs, there is talk, negotiation and concession. But this is merely a delaying tactic until that moment when the enemy feels sufficient strength or recognizes weakness in his opponent to attack. History speaks volumes on this point.
Yet the same mistake will be made in the West as it was made in the past because we are constrained by an unwillingness to recognize evil. For us, there is always a rationalization, a belief that there must be a reason for “bad behavior.” When the attack on 9/11 occurred there were rationalists publishing articles about American misdeeds in the Middle East and a host of explanations each having some scintilla of evidence behind it. But it would not be said that this attack was an act of evil and, in order to correct it, we must stamp out that evil using every means available to us.
As a consequence we negotiate, hoping that enemies who say “death to America” don’t really mean it. President Obama rationalizes by saying “that’s politics.” Too bad no one from the press asks if his political statements should be put under the same lens.
Goethe’s Mephistopheles tells Faust “I am the spirit that denies! And justly so, for all that time creates, He does well who annihilates!” Alas, we deny those who wish to annihilate. We assume that we are immune. That history – this time – will not repeat itself, that the beast who wants to destroy will betray his instincts and act as we would like. Unfortunately the enemy of the West isn’t only found in the desert of the Middle East or the steppes of Russia, but within ourselves and a rationalist view that is unwilling to recognize evil.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries at www.londoncenter.org
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