Where does the musical film Cabaret, which depicts the rise of German fascism, intersect with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance at the United Nations this week? “It is clear the future belongs to Iran,” said Ahmadinejad in an AP interview on Sunday, which conjures up the eerie beer garden scene in Cabaret in which a young Nazi stirs up jingoism with the song “Tomorrow Belongs to Me.” Ahmadinejad and Iran’s clerical rulers are closing in on the development of a nuclear bomb. That helps to explain his supremely self-confident attitude.
The pressing question at the end of the Cabaret scene was posed by the British actor Michael York, who expressed justifiable disbelief about whether Germany’s aristocracy could exercise control over the Hitler movement. China and Russia, with their meek U.N.-based sanctions strategy, are in the same delusional defensive position as Germany’s noble class. It is now up to the U.S. and its Western allies to aggressively enforce sanctions, and rope in the Chinese and Russians. Economic penalties might turn out not to be a panacea for the nuclear and human-rights crises in Iran, but there should be a genuine attempt to strangle Iran’s energy sector.
As Reuel Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz argued in last week’s Wall Street Journal, “If the Obama administration does nothing or only sanctions small Russian and Chinese violators (or politically easier targets in Switzerland and Venezuela), growing Russian and Chinese trade with the Islamic Republic will probably crack European resolve, collapsing our Iran policy.”
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former president of Iran and widely considered to be Iran’s wealthiest mullah, noted that it is “wrong to dismiss the sanctions as no threat to the economy.… We have never had such intensified sanctions and they are getting more and more intensified every day.” A ratcheting up of the sanctions pain could spell a collapse in the fragile Iranian economy and breed inspiration among Iran’s struggling pro-democracy activists to transform the regime into a non-jingoistic, secular democracy. In short, the “future of Iran” belongs to those brave Iranian democrats seeking to end the Mullah’s brutal repression of women, freedom of the press, and political democracy.
Soggy Western appeasement toward Iran’s regime is a natural precondition for Israeli military action, a country whose existence is immediately threatened by Iranian acquisition of atomic weaponry. The West has a chance to avoid a repeat performance of its wretched appeasement politics of the 1930s. If robust economic sanctions do not force Iran to walk away from its nuclear-weapons program, the West has to lay the foundation for military strikes. Time is the West’s enemy.
— Benjamin Weinthal is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.