At least he’s consistent—crazy, yes, but consistent. Back in 2007, Norman Podhoretz, the wheezing, 76-year-old neoconservative warhorse wrote a piece for Commentary magazine called “The Case for Bombing Iran.” (Commentary helpfully reprinted it this week.) In that piece, widely scorned at the time, Podhoretz urged immediate bombing of Iran. He said:
In short, the plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force—any more than there was an alternative to force if Hitler was to be stopped in 1938.
Podhoretz said, then, that George W. Bush—who was, we now know, being urged to unleash the bombers by Vice President Cheney at the time—might be the man to bomb Iran. “As an American and as a Jew, I pray with all my heart that he will,” concluded Podhoretz. As evidence, perhaps, that one’s prayers aren’t answered when directed toward Satan, Bush didn’t.
Fast forward six years. This week, writing in the Wall Street Journal, the even older Podhoretz, 83, issued an updated version of his argument from 2007’s Commentary. Called “Strike Iran to Avert Disaster Later” (i.e., “Disaster Now, Not Later!”), Podhoretz has given up on the idea that the United States will bomb Iran, so he suggests that it’s Israel’s job:
Given how very unlikely it is that President Obama, despite his all-options-on-the-table protestations to the contrary, would ever take military action, the only hope rests with Israel. If, then, Israel fails to strike now, Iran will get the bomb.
Yet as an unregenerate upholder of the old consensus, I remain convinced that containment is impossible, from which it follows that the two choices before us are not war vs. containment but a conventional war now or a nuclear war later.
In the piece, Podhoretz trots all the old arguments: that Iran’s moderates are really secret, Israel-hating hawks, that Iran doesn’t care if it loses millions of people in a nuclear exchange because they are suicide-loving fanatics (and here he quotes the equally old, wheezing warhorse Bernard Lewis).
When it comes to neoconservativism, of course, Podhoretz is royalty. His wife is the equally radical Midge Decter, his son-in-law is Elliot Abrams, and his son John Podhoretz—who, if anything, is crazier than his parents—is a stalwart at the American Enterprise Institute and current editor-in-chief of Commentary. It’s hard to overstate how far out of the mainstream is the Podhoretz clan, which makes it easy to dismiss old man Podhoretz’s ravings. Even the Israelis, who’ve bitterly criticized the U.S-Iran interim accord reached last month, generally recognize that the military option has been taken away from them, and so Israel and the Israel lobby in Washington have fallen back to a strategy of trying to head off the more permanent deal expected to be reached between Iran and the P5+1 in 2014.
But Podhoretz is channeling another extremist pro-Israeli kook, Sheldon Adelson, the 79-year-old billionaire casino magnate who singlehandedly funded Newt Gingrich’s 2012 campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. In remarks in October, Adelson said that the United States ought to bomb Iran, using nuclear weapons:
What are we going to negotiate about? What I would say is, “Listen, you see that desert out there, I want to show you something.” You pick up your cellphone … and you call somewhere in Nebraska and you say, ‘O.K., let it go.’ So there’s an atomic weapon goes over, ballistic missiles, in the middle of the desert, that doesn’t hurt a soul. Maybe a couple of rattlesnakes, and scorpions, or whatever. Then you say: “See! The next one is in the middle of Tehran. So, we mean business. You want to be wiped out? Go ahead and take a tough position and continue with your nuclear development. You want to be peaceful? You want to be peaceful? Just reverse it all and we will guarantee you that you can have a nuclear power plant for electricity purposes, for energy purposes.” So.
So. You see. That’s it.
Even though, according to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal ’sBret Stephens said that he agrees with “98 percent” of what Adelson said, even the Journal today isn’t quite calling for bombing Iran—though it gives Podhoretz a forum. Instead, like AIPAC and other hawks, the Journal is essentially trying to wreck the deal by demanding new, tougher sanctions on Iran. That’s not working, because Senate Democrats have been working with the White House to head off new sanctions, which would indeed destroy the ongoing talks with Iran. Thus, the Journal editorializes, not quite grammatically:
Especially since the only hope for producing a positive outcome is if the mullahs are convinced that the alternatives would be crushing sanctions and military strikes on their nuclear sites. The Administration has already all but declared that it does not view military strikes as a serious option and that it is prepared to accept Iran as a threshold nuclear state as long as it doesn’t actually test a bomb. Now the Administration is signaling that it also isn’t keen to exert more economic pressure.
In fact, Iran is already taking steps to implement the November agreement, and there will be new talks soon aimed at putting the finishing touches on the interim deal and then securing a final accord.