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Richard Cohen: Muffling the Drums of War with Iran
Richard Cohen is Opinion Writer at the Washington Post.
If you want to read a cautionary tale about whether Israel will attack Iran, I suggest Kurt Eichenwald’s “500 Days,” which is not about that question at all. It describes how a determined George W. Bush took the United States to war in Iraq. “This confrontation is willed by God, who wants us to use this conflict to erase His people’s enemies before a new age begins,” Bush told a bewildered French President Jacques Chirac. For some reason, Chirac thought Bush sounded fanatical.
Benjamin Netanyahu is not one who sees himself willed by God to take on Iran — he is much too secular for that — but there is ample reason to think he sees himself as the savior of the Jewish people, what the Israeli novelist David Grossman has called his “megalomaniacal” vision. Netanyahu insists that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon to most likely use against Israel. He points to the repellent anti-Semitic and anti-Zionistic statements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and, most chillingly, to analogous statements made by Adolf Hitler. For a time, few took Hitler seriously, either.
I pay some heed. The Holocaust is too monstrous a crime to be easily dismissed. Seventy percent of Europe’s Jews were murdered, and much of the world, preoccupied and not all that upset, did little about it. The charge of complicity, of apathy, of heroic indifference, applies not just to the nations of Europe but to the United States as well. In 1939, as the Jews of Europe were running for their very lives, an emergency bill to admit 20,000 Jewish children as refugees was defeated in Congress. President Franklin Roosevelt’s cousin Laura Delano Houghteling summed up the national mood with a dinner party quip: “Twenty-thousand charming children would all too soon grow into 20,000 ugly adults.” (Her comment was discovered by the historian Rafael Medoff in the papers of the diplomat Joseph Grew at Harvard.)
What happened once can happen again...
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