Zakaria: A history lesson could deter Iran
An Israeli F-15 fighter jet.
February 16th, 2012
06:26 AM ET

Zakaria: A history lesson could deter Iran

By Fareed Zakaria

We are hearing a new concept these days in discussions about Iran - the zone of immunity. The idea, often explained by Ehud Barak, Israel’s defense minister, is that soon Iran will have enough nuclear capability that Israel would not be able to inflict a crippling blow to its program.

In fact, while the specifics are fresh, this is not a new strategic concept at all. Nations have often believed that they face a closing window to act, and almost always such thinking has led to disaster. The most famous example, of course, was Germany’s decision to start what became World War I. The German General Staff believed that Russia - its archenemy - was rearming on a scale that would soon nullify Germany’s superior military strength. The Germans believed that within two years - by 1916 - Russia would have a significant, and perhaps unbeatable, strategic ­advantage.

As a result, when turmoil began in the Balkans in June 1914, Germany decided to act while it had the advantage. To stop Russia from entering a “zone of immunity,” Germany invaded France (Russia’s main ally) and Belgium, which forced British entry into the war, thus setting in motion a two-front European war that lasted four years and resulted in more than 37 million casualties.

Now, I am not suggesting that an Israeli attack on Iran would have anything close to these consequences. But I am suggesting that it is profoundly shortsighted to base a major decision - to go to war - on narrow technical considerations like windows of vulnerability. Many in Washington in March 2003 insisted that we could not wait for nuclear inspectors to keep at their work in Iraq because we faced a closing window - the weather was going to get too hot by June and July to send in U.S. forces. As a result, we rushed into a badly planned military invasion and occupation in which soldiers had to endure combat in Iraq for nine long and very hot years.

Israeli officials explain that we Americans cannot understand their fears, that Iran is an existential threat to them. But in fact we can understand because we have gone through a very similar experience ourselves. After World War II, as the Soviet Union approached a nuclear capability, the United States was seized by a panic that lasted for years. Everything that Israel says about Iran now, we said about the Soviet Union. We saw it as a radical, revolutionary regime, opposed to every value we held dear, determined to overthrow the governments of the Western world in order to establish global communism. We saw Moscow as irrational, aggressive and utterly unconcerned with human life. After all, Joseph Stalin had just sacrificed a mind-boggling 26 million Soviet lives in his country’s struggle against Nazi Germany.

Just as Israel is openly considering preemptive strikes against Iran, many in the West urged such strikes against Moscow in the late 1940s. The calls came not just from hawks but even from lifelong pacifists such as the public intellectual Bertrand Russell.

Read the rest of my column in The Washington Post.

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Topics: From Fareed • Iran • Israel • Military

soundoff (245 Responses)
  1. john

    A huge delta which Mr. Zakaria fails to mention is the fact that Iran has called for the destruction of Isreal on numerous occassions. This was not the case between Germany and Russia nor between Iraq and the U.S.. The comparisons do not hold water. The correct time to deal with Iran has past. Now the world is faced with a much greater challenge beause Iran has been given a green light for far too long. The time to take out Iran is now. Procrastinating any longer will only make the challenge that more difficult.

    February 19, 2012 at 6:57 am | Reply
  2. Ralph Spyer

    24 million russians died in ww2, 20 million Chinese were killed mostly cilviltans, 6 million poles. Never again as a reason to start a war is oxymoron. Were was the out cry when Isreal got the bomb ? Isreal and if we do Isreal dirty work for them can not bomb the knowledge form Iran to make a bomb only slow them down One just has to look at the U.N. vote Palestine that shows what is comming down the Road. That F15 in the picture was American made. Starting a war is SCHMECKENA.

    February 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  3. OJ

    Israel aside, I appreciate the points made in the articles, but I think analogy is not accurate. Here is why I think Iran is different than Russia, Germany, or Iraq for that matter:
    • Iraq was definitely welling to have inspectors back to check for WMD. The UN chief inspector did not thing there were WMD in Iraq.
    • The impact of Russian having nuclear weapons did not economical impact on the USA. The US had its allies in a different part of the world, and Russian did not have the geographical advantage to cut off supply routes or directly threaten US allies.
    • Unlike Russia’s neighbour, Iran neighbour are relatively weak and Iran can become a regional super power very shot after acquire a nuclear weapon. A direct thread to the US and its interest.
    • After 1968, the Russian’s learned to play nice. The Iranian don’t know how to play nice. Two weeks ago they threatened to close the strait of Hurmoz. Sending two destroyers definitely gave a strong message. They are involved in Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq. They also have active small cells in Kuwait.
    • Finally, Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon would definitely result in an arm race in unstable region.
    • US allies in the region would feel betrayed by the US, and may seek partnership with someone else like Russia. Not only this results is losing arms and other export business, but the loss of an important geopolitical power for the US.
    • Finally, I don’t think any one is saying go for all out war with Iran. However, attacking their installations is not a bad idea. If done right – remember the computer virus attack on the Iran facilities – it could result in them loosing precious time and maybe abandoning the project.

    February 19, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  4. Fareed is Wrong

    I just watched, in total disbelief, Fareed Zaakaria claim that Iran has never been responsible for a suicide bomber. This is such an enraging statement! Iran is the creator, sponsor and enabler of Hezbollah. Hezbollah is the organization that perfected the suicide bomber as an effective weapon of terror. Ask the 200+ Marines who died at the hands of a Hezbollah suicide bomber in southern Lebanon if they think Iran has never been responsible for a suicide bomber. Or maby ask the 40+ French Paratroopers who dies at the hands of yet another Hexbollah suicide bomber. How about the countless Isreali's? What on earth are you thinking Fareed Zakaria!!!!! That statement is a blatant and dangerous lie. I'll never respect or follow your reporting again. Shame on CNN for allowing blatant lies to air.

    February 19, 2012 at 1:19 pm | Reply
    • jim22

      Yes he is wrong. (1) I am sure that the words of Mr. Zakaria come with a warranty. Should Iran attack Israel and kill thousands, Zakaria will personally tell God to resurrect all the people. We however will need to see the warranty signed by God right now. (2) Stalin was crazy and he wanted to see US dead but he and his government were not into this martyring and 72 virgin stuff. Stalin/Khruschev/Breznev/etc did not go on TV every day saying they plan to bomb the US. (3) And last difference is the military capability. If USSR launched strike on US, it would take 30 minutes for the ICBM to reach USA which gives USA plenty of time to send US missiles. The distance from Iran to Israel is seconds. Mr. Zakaria is a journalist but he is not a physicist or psychologist.

      February 20, 2012 at 2:01 am | Reply
    • jim22

      He is wrong but maybe not intentionally. Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by incompetence. (Hanlon principle.)

      February 20, 2012 at 2:04 am | Reply
  5. Cody Christianson

    On a state to state relationship, Iran will never nuke Israel because of the mutually assured destruction principal. Proof is with North and South Korea. We, the Americans, make sure of that. The only problem with Iran getting nuclear tech is giving it to terrorists. Bad! But we deal with that threat now, north Korea, Russia etc. Could have done it by now. Bombing Iran will only start a stupid war. Taking out their facilities will only DELAY Iran's nuclear tech, so unless we do what we did in Iraq and unseat the govt(which will make the US more hated and gives reasonfor radicals to attack us), Iran will get nuclear tech if it desids too. Its a reality we all have to deal with cause we all know anither Iraq would beunfair to us, the US...Has anyone thought that they may already know how to make a nuclear bomb and are just waiting for the right time to assemble it, like say an attack by Israel. Preemptive wars are the most ridiculous.

    February 19, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  6. Asif

    War mongers dont realize that attacking Iran nuclear sites is not a good solution. They will still have the knowledge of the technology with their nuclear scientists and have oil which they can sell to refinance their nuclear ambitions. Plus they will also attack in retaliation and many lives will be lost for nothing. In the end, I think there will not be an attack as Iran is not a weak country. Israel knows that.

    February 19, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  7. Dan

    Israel will do anything to pull the US into this, they did this with the USS Liberty, nearly sank the ship. I fear Israel more than Iran.

    February 19, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  8. John Kantor

    "...we rushed into a badly planned military invasion and occupation in which soldiers had to endure combat in Iraq for nine long and very hot years."

    Is this clown for real? Your kid would get an F in middle school contemporary history for a pathetic statement like that. Time has its own agenda – and it's the same as the appeasers in the 30s who brought about the rise of Hitler.

    February 19, 2012 at 10:48 pm | Reply
  9. jim22

    (1) I am sure that the words of Mr. Zakaria come with a warranty. Should Iran attack Israel and kill thousands, Zakaria will personally tell God to resurrect all the people. We however will need to see the warranty signed by God right now. (2) Stalin was crazy and he wanted to see US dead but he and his government were not into this martyring and 72 virgin stuff. Stalin/Khruschev/Breznev/etc did not go on TV every day saying they plan to bomb the US. (3) And last difference is the military capability. If USSR launched strike on US, it would take 30 minutes for the ICBM to reach USA which gives USA plenty of time to send US missiles. The distance from Iran to Israel is seconds. Mr. Zakaria is a journalist but he is not a physicist or psychologist.

    February 20, 2012 at 1:54 am | Reply
  10. freedomandjustice

    Do not let the Jewish-American lobby money bribe American politicians!

    Do not let the American media brainwash the American public into going to war with Iran like they did with going to war with Iraq!

    March 4, 2012 at 12:33 am | Reply
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