Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Edited by Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ari Shavit Counterfactually Reassesses George Bush's Spelling Skills and Iran Policy

He may not have been as bad a speller as Dan Quayle (of infamous potato/e fame), but George Bush’s poor spelling skills, according to an essay by Israeli journalist Ari Shavit in today’s New York Times, served to dramatically weaken the United States’s international prestige.

Bush’s insertion of a “q” where an “n” belonged – translation: his decision to focus his foreign policy attention on Iraq instead of Iran – led the U. S. to make  a tragic miscalculation.

Shavit writes:

“The Bush administration’s decision to go after Iraq rather than Iran was a fatal one, and the long-term consequences are only now becoming clear, namely a devastating American failure in the battle to prevent a nuclear Iran, reflected in Washington’s willingness to sign a deeply flawed agreement.”

He then muses counterfactually:

"If Mr. Bush had decided to display American leadership and exercise American power by launching a diplomatic campaign against Iran rather than a military one against Iraq 10 years ago, the United States’ international standing would be far greater today....

The correct way to confront the Iranian threat would have been to establish a broad coalition including Russia, the European Union, Sunni Arab countries, Israel, and the United States. This would have placed Iran’s leaders in a real stranglehold and forced them to abandon their nuclear project — just as Libya did in 2003."

Shavit’s argument is a clear example of present-day regrets fueling “what if?” fantasies.

Whether they are fully warranted is another story.  It is unclear whether acting to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions would have been possible so long as Saddam Hussein – America’s chief perceived enemy in the region – remained in power. 

Bush’s obsession with removing him one way or another (and thus rectifying his father’s major mistake from the first Gulf War) probably prevented American officials from seeing the urgency of the Iranian threat.  But the urgency that many perceive today was itself a function of the Iraq war.  The threat posed by Iran was arguably kept in check as long as Saddam remained in power.  As is well known, the U. S. invasion of Iraq and the country’s ensuing collapse created a vacuum that an emboldened Iran quickly filled.  The country's growing sense of vulnerability (with American forces on both its eastern and western frontiers) may have intensified its push for a nuclear weapon.  It's possible that Iran never would have pursued this aggressive foreign policy without the Iraq invasion.  The U. S. may indeed have made a serious mistake in focusing on Iraq instead of Iran.  But it’s doubtful that things could have really gone that differently as Shavit wishes.  It’s doubtful that Bush ever would have seen Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khameini as a more pressing threat than Saddam as long as the latter continued to rule Iraq.  And so the “what if?” scenario runs aground on the shoals of historical inevitability.       

Friday, November 8, 2013

Ridiculous Fantasy of the Day: What if the Nazis Had Not Supported Gun Control?

I haven't yet read Steven Halbrook's new book, Gun Control in the Third Reich (and so I probably shouldn't comment on it, but isn't that what blogs are for -- a place to publish initial impressions before you've actually done your homework?). But I'm inherently suspicious of its argument and thus not inclined to read it because I fear it is an example of presentist advocacy masquerading as history.

From the blurbs, the book seems to be devoted to showing how Hitler and the Nazis "ruthlessly suppressed firearm ownership by disfavored groups," including Jews and leftists, as part of their consolidation of power.  

The clear message seems to be: if the Nazis embraced "gun control," well then it must be bad.

The first objection is that the Nazis did not practice gun "control" but gun confiscation, which, needless to say, no one (with any shred of political realism) is suggesting be pursued in the U. S.   Gun control in America is defined (tepidly) as gun registration, or the requirement of a waiting period before one purchases a gun, or the requirement of proving one's mental health, or a lack of a criminal record.  Halbrook seems to be muddying the waters in describing the Nazis' policies as gun "control." 

The second objection is counterfactual: Halbrook was asked in an interview if "allowing Jews to keep firearms would have made much of a difference in the end, given how well-armed the Nazi regime was.  He replied by noting:  “Had the Jews not been disarmed, they would have had a better chance to resist and survive, even if only in individual cases or in groups."

I suppose to best rejoinder would be that, yes, the Jews' ability to resist would have risen from next-to-impossible to barely-possible.  To be sure, Jews were able to undertake limited resistance efforts in many parts of Europe during the war.  But in Germany itself (which the book focuses on), the power of the Nazi state was unassailable -- and hardly only for potential Jewish resisters.  

While the Gestapo and later the RSHA were not omnipotent, there were comparatively few opportunities for the kind of armed resistance that Halbrook seems to imply would have been possible had the Nazis never passed "gun control."  A quick look at how the Nazis dealt with armed resistance groups in occupied Eastern Europe should put the lie to any notion that having guns will help you out much when facing a ruthless enemy waging a war of extermination. 

Footnote: Any study that is described as "based on newly-discovered, secret documents from German archives" should immediately raise red flags for average readers.  What is the definition of "secret," anyway?  Does the presence of a document in an archive make it "secret?"  Or is "secret" now just considered to be the opposite of "public?"  Yet another sign of our inflation of language....