The Jewish Policy Center is pleased to introduce its readers to members of the JPC Board of Fellows through what we expect to have as an occasional Q&A on subjects of interest. Michael Medved and Richard Baehr answer the first two questions, which discuss U.S. policy options toward the Arab/Muslim World, and U.S. and Israeli options toward Iran.
Michael Medved hosts a nationally syndicated, daily, three hour radio talk show broadcast in more than 200 markets across the country. He is also the author of twelve non-fiction books including the bestsellers Hollywood vs. America and The 10 Big Lies About America, and is a regular contributor to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Daily Beast.
Richard Baehr is chief political correspondent for American Thinker and President of Richard Baehr & Associates health care management consulting firm. Richard frequently serves as an expert witness in health care litigation cases involving planning and financial matters. He has a longstanding interest in the Middle East and American politics, and he is a frequent speaker and writer on these subjects.
inSIGHT: Is it possible that there is an unbridgeable gap between what we call Western civilization and the Arab/Muslim World? If so, what are the best policy options for the United States going forward?
Michael Medved: No gaps among nations are unbridgeable, but gaps between ideologies can and do count as unbridgeable and irreconcilable. There was no way to split the difference, for instance, between Americanism and Communism. President Reagan proved correct and prophetic (as usual) when he described his vision of the only possible conclusion for the Cold War: “We win. They Lose.” That same sort of definitive victory represents the only acceptable outcome for the ongoing war against Islamism: we must win, and they must lose.
But it’s important to note that the true battle involves Islamism—Quranic radicalism deployed as a militant political ideology—not Islam in all its forms, such as the mostly benign form practiced in the United States. Just as the West could absorb and assimilate democratic socialists while proceeding to the necessary triumph over Marxism as a totalitarian ideology, so too we can assimilate those Islamic communities that share a core commitment to Western values. Meanwhile, Muslim elements at home and abroad that refuse to embrace our values, or to make clear breaks with militant Islamism, must be confronted and marginalized. There is no more reason to accept radical Islamism as permanent and inevitable than there was to accept Soviet communism as permanent and inevitable—or to assume that China will never shed its totalitarian political system.
We should feel less concerned about winning friends in the Muslim world by moving closer to their assumptions and values, than we should feel determined to move nations, peoples, and governments in our direction. We will accomplish that purpose in the same way we ultimately prevailed over the Evil Empire: demonstrating that our ideas work, while their ideas produce poverty, dysfunction, failure, violence and isolation. In that context, apologies for past American policies represent exactly the wrong strategy—as does any retreat from the essential truth of American exceptionalism.
inSIGHT: President Obama has said U.S. policy toward Iran is based on intelligence information indicating that there is still time for economic sanctions and diplomacy to change the course of Iranian behavior. U.S. intelligence is not alone in that assessment. How confident do you believe the U.S., Israel, and the Western allies should be, considering that Western intelligence—including the CIA—was substantially “off” about the nuclear, chemical, and missile programs of India, Pakistan, North Korea, Libya, and Syria; and the CIA says it has little usable information about what is going on in Syria right now? What is the policy alternative for the United States and Israel?
Richard Baehr: No one in either the Israeli or American government is anxious for a military confrontation with Iran, given the uncertainty of the success of such an attack in delaying or destroying Iran’s nuclear capability, and the perhaps greater uncertainty of the nature of an Iranian response to an attack. What is generally accepted in both countries is that American airstrikes would have a far greater likelihood of damaging Iran’s program, and that Israel is on a different clock than America in terms of when it would need to launch an attack if it were to do so.
The approach of dangling carrots and sticks—diplomacy and respect, alongside toughening existing sanctions and imposing new ones to strangle Iran economically—with the goal of forcing Iran to negotiate away its nuclear capability, ignores the history of such efforts with North Korea, where the West has been played for decades, much as it has been by Iran. Iran has the second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia. Very little of its annual production is consumed in Iran, with the far greater share exported.
The idea, as expressed in the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) reports, that it is unclear whether Iran seeks to produce a nuclear weapon, suggests there is an alternative rationale for its pursuit of nuclear power. Alternative energy? Medical isotopes, a concept Bibi Netanyahu mocked in his talk to AIPAC? The more than decades long pursuit of acquiring enriched uranium, and Iran’s aggressive posture in the region and in areas far from the Mideast (e.g. the bombings in Argentina in the 1990s), provide a far more likely explanation—that Iran wants to be the world’s tenth country with nuclear weapons, and there is little reason to assume they will give up such an effort when they are so close to success.
If Iran with nuclear weapons is an unacceptable risk to the region and to the civilized world, then after a few more months of playing with the other options that will almost certainly prove unsuccessful, the possibility of a military action will be much higher.