Politics & Policy

Ignoring History: The Folly of Our Iran Pact

Dictatorships abandon treaties when they become inconvenient.

According to our recently proposed treaty with the Iranian government, Iran keeps much of its nuclear program while agreeing to slow its path to weapons-grade enrichment. The Iranians also get crippling economic sanctions lifted. 

The agreement is not like détente-era arms reductions with the Soviets. After all, each superpower in the Cold War had enough nuclear missiles to reduce most of civilization to cinders. One mistake could have ended in Armageddon.

In this supposedly win-win deal, America does not have to worry about another costly and unpopular preemptive military action to stop proliferation. Iran keeps its nuclear program. It makes lots of money and can apparently maintain its ongoing support for global Islamic terrorism.

Unfortunately, such pacts of mutual advantage involving dictatorships do not have a good historical pedigree.

They were often proposed in the late 1930s and early 1940s, on the eve of, and during, World War II. In early 1939, Soviet strongman Joseph Stalin toyed with the idea of boxing in Nazi Germany by joining with democratic France and Britain.

#ad#When that gambit did not work out, Stalin suddenly flipped and came to terms with Hitler himself through the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact in August 1939. Stalin also later cut a similar deal with his former Japanese enemies in April 1941.

Authoritarians turned on each other just as often as they fooled democracies. They used these pacts to bide their time and never abided by their commitments once they found them no longer convenient. Hitler broke his non-aggression pact in less than two years and invaded the Soviet Union. Only after the European war was nearly won did Stalin turn on Japan and renounce his formerly convenient agreement that had left the British Commonwealth and the United States alone to fight the Japanese in the Pacific.

Dictatorships also used such wink-and-nod agreements in ways that went far beyond the treaties. The point of the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact was not just to prevent a German-Russian war for a few months. It also turned both tyrannies loose to gang up on Poland and begin World War II.

Russia got a free hand to invade Finland. With his eastern border temporarily quiet, Hitler turned west to attack France and bomb Britain. Once the Japanese signed on with Stalin to secure their own rear in Manchuria and Korea, they simply redirected their war efforts to attack Pearl Harbor and further expand the conflict. With the end of the Nazi threat, Stalin reneged on most of the agreements for postwar Europe that he had entered into with Britain and the United States.

Should we expect anything less from Iran?

Because Iran is not a consensual society, our nuclear deal will last only as long as Iran finds it strategically useful. After their fiscal health is restored, expect the Iranians to abruptly reboot all their centrifuges and finish making a bomb. The theocracy will also use the present non-aggression arrangement with the United States to double down in Syria, energize Hezbollah, and strengthen Hamas.

Just as the German-Russian deal ensured the start of World War II in Europe, and the Russian-Japanese accord led to Pearl Harbor and a Pacific theater of conflict, so too a now heady Iran will use its diplomatic exemption to fund more terrorism and offer more provocation to Israel and the Sunni Gulf states. 

The United States has already learned after its Syrian backdown that dictator Bashar Assad is emboldened and is now clearly winning the war against the insurgents. He looks more legitimate and certainly seems more confident ever since we begged Syria not to use any more weapons of mass destruction and asked the United Nations to help dismantle what they could find.

Americans are $17 trillion in debt and tired of intervention in the Middle East. Anything that might preclude the need to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent a nuclear theocracy is understandably attractive. But the problem with such appeasement is that it only delays a reckoning and usually ensures war.

The tough sanctions against Iran were finally beginning to work. The regime was getting desperate and running out of money to fund its bomb program and terrorist appendages.

Then, suddenly, we caved — allowing Iran both a nuclear program and normal commerce. The deal has terrified our Arab friends, bewildered some of our allies, and isolated Israel.

More than 70 years ago, various deals among totalitarian Germany, Japan, and Russia were not worth the paper they were written on. If the recent accord with Assad did not teach us that old lesson about trusting dictators, this one with Iran soon will.

— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His latest book is The Savior Generals, published this spring by Bloomsbury Books. You can reach him by e-mailing author@victorhanson.com. © 2013 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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