Max Boot: The Iran Threat

Roundup: Historians' Take

Max Boot is a contributing editor to Opinion and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He is completing a book on guerrilla warfare.

In retrospect, weakness in the face of aggression is almost impossible to understand — or forgive. Why did the West do so little while the Nazis gathered strength in the 1930s? While the Soviet Union enslaved half of Europe and fomented revolution in China in the late 1940s? And, again, while Al Qaeda gathered strength in the 1990s? Those questions will forever haunt the reputations of the responsible statesmen, from Neville Chamberlain to Bill Clinton.
The answer to the riddle — why did the West slumber? — becomes easier to grasp if we think about present-day relations with Iran.
The Islamic Republic has been attacking the West, and in particular the United States, since the day of its birth. A central feature of the 1979 revolution, after all, was the storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The resulting hostage crisis allowed Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to consolidate power and drove out more moderate leaders. This is the direct inspiration for Tuesday's storming of the British Embassy in Tehran. If violating diplomatic immunity worked once, why not again?..

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