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The History Behind My Solution to the Iran Problem

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

By 1983, the year I entered this world, every Civil War veteran had died. When my dad was young he remembers watching a news program on the death of the last Civil War veteran. With their passing, the Civil War receded from our collective memory into the historic.

Like all wars. Mostly unremarked by the media, in February, the last living World War I veteran died in Britain at the age of 110. In the next generation, every World War II veteran will die. Then, like the Civil War, the “Good War” will recede into our historical memory.

How will our children, and their children, think about those European wars? After centuries of state on state war--averaging about one a decade--the United Kingdom, Germany, France and the other nations of Europe (and America) have avoided a major war for nearly 65 years. Will the children who never spoke to World War I or World War II veterans understand their tremendous good fortune?

A few weeks ago, two very good friends vehemently disagreed with my solution to the Iran crisis. They both said, “We just can’t be friends with everyone.” One repeated the often used Republican talking point about how the world is just dangerous. The other called my thinking “pollyanna-ish”. In each discussion, they relied on history to say, “Wars have always happened, and always will.”

But that’s not the same history I studied at UCLA. The history of Europe during the last sixty five years--marked by a long and extensive peace--says that former enemies can become fantastic allies. In Europe, international cooperation created the longest lasting peace in that continent's history.

More importantly, when America decides it wants peace, it can turn former enemies into fantastic allies. For instance...

Germany: After saddling Germany with intolerable debt that led to hyper-inflation (or failing to prevent the “victorious” nations from doing so) which caused the rise of fascism following World War I, America went back to war with Germany twenty years later. After World War II, having learned its lesson, America rebuilt Germany with the Marshall plan. Today, German chancellors welcome American presidents with open arms.

Italy: Pretty much the same story as Germany, with Italy switching sides in the middle of World War II. Italy, like Germany, joined NATO and the U.N., and hasn’t fought a war on the continent since.

Japan: Following World War II, few Americans and fewer Japanese would have predicted that 65 years later America would be Japan’s largest economic trading partner. Japan had attacked the U.S. first. America annihilated two cities in atomic fire and many more in fire bombings. Like Germany, America provided aid to rebuild destroyed societies while maintaining an economic relationship with Japan. Today, Japan is one of America’s strongest allies in the Pacific.

Russia: Following World War II, America and Russia started a Cold War, competing in arms races, espionage battles that raged across continents, and multiple proxy wars across the globe. Yet America and Russia avoided an apocalyptic nuclear war. After the collapse of the U.S.S.R., America has strengthened its ties to the Russian Federation.

China: In “the forgotten war” in Korea, Chinese armies pushed the U.S. Army back to the 38th parallel, killing thousands of Americans in the process. As described in “The Nixon Option”, until the late 1960s it seemed inconceivable that a U.S. President would travel to China. But that happened. The opening of China helped spur both globalization, and has provided the U.S. with an invaluable trading partner.

Vietnam: America also resumed diplomatic relations with Vietnam in 1995, where over 60,000 U.S. soldiers died. When America left Vietnam in 1975, I don’t think anyone would have predicted that, within a generation, America would renew diplomatic relations and allow unfettered trade with our former foe in south-East Asia.

At this time in our lives, America has more, stronger allies than at anytime in its past. The outliers--Iran, Venezuela, North Korea, Cuba and Ecuador (with their move to grant Julian Assange asylum)--are drastically poor and militarily wanting. In each case, if America really worked hard to change the relationship, it probably could turn these enemies into allies. The history of America’s diplomatic relationships over the last 65 plus years support my solution to the Iran crisis.

If America wants to avoid another disastrous war, America should make Iran one of its allies.

five comments

I see the counter-argument that America tried, and Iran rejected this approach. Obama tried to reach out to Iran, and they said no. This was a weak offer in the first place, and Stuxnet/Israel was going on at the same time. And hey, I got rejected by my wife plenty of times before she said yes.

And I would add that America could easily make Cuba an ally if it simply reached out.

Iran is a tough call. With a few nukes in their quiver any type of ground war is problematic. I also think that there are religious leaders in Iran who aren’t worried about a devastating response, after all it’s Gods will. Maybe that’s what it takes to get the 12th imman to crawl out of his well. The best scenario is stopping them from developing and building a few. I just don’t think we can do that short of an invasion or a nuke strike ourselves (or the Israelis). So we have to learn to deal with a nuclear Iran. Or the Israelis go it alone and the middle east goes south in a hurry.
Cuba, what a monstrous cluster chicken that is. Why have we boycotted them for so long. I have maintained for years we could have brought the communists down by opening trade with Cuba and sell them blue jeans and Ford trucks.

Someone pointed out on Twitter that this is simplistic reading of history, to which I’d say, yeah.

But then I’d also say, can you name bigger enemies of ours during the 20th century? Which one didn’t become an ally. Is North Korea the only one?

The Marshall Plan is vastly overrated, especially in regard to Germany.
It was a most welcome gesture of minimal relevance for the economic recovery of Germany. The myth of the Marshall Plan’s decisiveness is popular both in the U.S. and Germany for it’s a kind of bonding agent for friendship, but the simple fact is that the recovery is perfectly explainable with standard macro economics (Solow growth model, for example) and the Marshall Plan did provide very little assistance to Germany. It was actually less than Germany paid to the U.S. in that period – and the Marshall Plan funds were not grants, but mere loans.

It’s thus very misleading to conclude from the German economic recovery that Marshall Plan-like measures are very promising.