Iran and Syria have been quite active of late. The last two weeks have seen terror attacks, cities rocketed, missiles launched, soldiers kidnapped, and threats of fire and brimstone to any who give them so much as a wry look. However, things aren’t quite as bad as they seem. As can be expected from dictators, they’ve focused entirely on the weakness the democratic would is showing and are ignoring our considerably strength and their own considerable weakness. As such they have grossly overplayed their hand and given us the initiative. Whether we use it to our advantage or surrender it again like in 2003 is up to us.
The world’s current crop of dictators miscalculating like this is entirely historical. The most well known example of this is of course Nazi Germany prior to World War II. Hitler’s moves to scrap the Versailles Treaty, re-militarize the Rhineland, annex Austria, the Sudetenland, and Bohemia & Moravia were all gross overextensions that occurred due to the perception of weakness in France and Britain. Any one of them could have easily cost Hitler everything had France and/or Britain called him on a bluff. He would have lost any war at that time as the country and military were manifestly not prepared for to fight at that time. Even had he backed down without a war it would have destroyed the aura of invincibility that a dictator requires to remain in power. As everyone knows, the Allies didn’t call his bluff until it was too late.
An example of this tendency where the bluff was called is the world wide advances by the Soviet Union following the fall of Saigon. The Soviets not unsurprisingly sensed weakness in America after we abandoned an ally and for some unfathomable reason elected Jimmy Carter President. The Soviets expanded their influence into host of countries and regions, Ethiopia, Somalia, Lusiphone Africa, Central America, the Philippines, and Afghanistan. They established major naval bases at Camranh Bay in Vietnam and Beriberi in Somalia which, properly used, would have greatly complicated matters for the U.S. Navy. Jimmy Carter and his foreign policy team suffered from the notion that America was in terminal decline, the Communists could never be defeated, and that it was better to just let the Soviets expand than to try to stop them. Ronald Reagan was under no such illusion and fully understood that the Soviets had overreached. They had apparently come to believe Carter’s world view of a weak America and strong U.S.S.R. It was not long before Reagan disabused them of such beliefs. By the end of the 1980’s, the Soviets broke under the strain of trying to match America’s arms buildup while supporting their old Communist satellite regimes, and their new ones in Central America, Africa, and Afghanistan against America’s counter-pressure. The Soviets were forced to abandon the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, their bases in Grenada, Beriberi, and Camranh Bay, their puppet government in Kabul, their Eastern European satellites and lastly the Soviet Union. As a dictatorship, they couldn't survive the weakness we forced them to display by standing up to them.
We are facing the same situation today with Iran and Syria. The weakness and hesitation we have shown since the summer of 2003 is driving their present actions. Since that time our one good move has been to run Syria out of Lebanon following their assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister. Otherwise, we have done nothing of substance regarding Iran and Syria’s support of Iraqi insurgents and terrorists, Iran’s clear desire for a nuclear bomb, Iran and Syria’s support of Hezbollah and Hamas, etc. The Iranians have badly misstepped by having Hezbollah attack Israel at this time. Its not exactly apparent at the moment what the Iranians were hoping to gain by Hezbollah attacking Israel. Whatever it is (trying to distract Israel so they don't hit Iran's nuclear program would be my best guess), since Israel isn't responding in the typical meek manner of a Western democracy it is backfiring on Iran and Syria. It has given the Israelis a golden opportunity to deal with Hezbollah and remove that annoyance from their strategic calculations. Without the Syrians in Lebanon the Israelis can destroy Hezbollah without worry of regional war. It’ll take at most a matter of weeks and a major problem for Israel can be rectified. With the destruction of Hezbollah, Lebanon will finally be cleared and the Lebanese can start rebuilding their country (if they choose to). Syria and Iran will both take an enormous prestige hit for not being able to save their terrorist proxy in Lebanon from Israel. This can be used to our advantage to put pressure on the regimes themselves hopefully bringing them down peacefully. As with Hitler both dictators have large factions within their countries who are not quite as interested in risking all by challenging America and Israel. Or failing that we can use it to spark a war after the Hamas/Hezbollah threat is eliminated. It is better to have it when they are not prepared for one and before they have nukes. Or we can continue out current policy of "Please sir, I'd like some more" responses to Iran's provocations. Meanwhile, the opportunity we have within our grasp will slip away.
However we respond, we must remember that we are running out of time to deal with the Iranians before they are nuclear armed. Our present options are to do nothing (what were doing at the moment), fight a war only after they’ve gone “too far” and we must, or fight an early war before they have nukes. The first option will lead to a certain future of nuclear protected Iranian terrorism and oil price extortion with the possibility of a nuclear exchange wiping out the Middle East (to people worried about what effect any action we take will have on oil prices I ask, what do you think oil prices will be after Israel exercises her “Samson Option” and nukes the entire Mideast?). The second option will lead to an unbelievably destructive war with an almost definite nuclear exchange. The third option will lead to a war and higher oil prices but with next to no possibility of a nuclear exchange. So to recap, the outcomes of our choices include 1) nuclear exchange, 2) nuclear exchange, 3) no nuclear exchange. As bad as option 3 is, it’s the best of the lot. The choice is ours, will we allow Ahmadinejad to run a replay of Hitler’s Germany, become a modern day nuclear armed Barbary Pirate, or will we break him like we did Andropov’s Russia? Just because Ahmadinejad seems to believe the John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Howard Dean, Harry Reid, et al world view of a weak money-obsessed America cowed by the bluster of a petty dictator and a few cents extra for a gallon of gas doesn’t mean its any truer than when Jimmy Carter was serving the same kool-aid in the 70’s. We didn't drink it then, we shouldn't today.