Jun 12 2009

Mythical moderates?

Category: Iranharmonicminer @ 9:10 am

Influencing Iran: Beware the myth of the moderates

Democracies have an unfortunate record of falling prey to the myth of the moderates. Confronting unfriendly regimes, they perceive powerful, moderate elements where none in fact exist. As the Obama administration moves to open a dialogue with Teheran, it would be wise to recall the lessons of history and place little faith in the influence of Iranian reformists.

Consider this: An authoritarian state appears poised to dominate a region of paramount strategic importance. The democracy that has sustained a balance of power in the region grapples with how to respond. Does this sound familiar? Yes – the US and Iran in 2009, and also Great Britain and Germany before the First and Second World Wars. At both historical junctures, Great Britain let the myth of the moderates lead it astray.

As Europe lurched toward war in July 1914, the British government turned to German moderates in the hope of averting a military conflagration. For a time, Edward Grey, the British foreign secretary, believed that civilian leaders like chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg could serve as a counterweight against bellicose elements within the German regime.

This belief was unfounded. In reality, Germany’s civilian leadership was powerless to stop the march to war. Moreover, German diplomacy deliberately broadcast the pacific inclination of civilian leaders in the hope of obtaining British neutrality. Seeking to enlist German moderates was not only a fool’s quest, it delayed the one British action that might have convinced Germany to step back from the precipice – issuing a public pledge to defend Belgium.