In the fall of 1938, a defiant British member of Parliament named Winston Churchill rose to deliver a speech denouncing the Munich Agreement recently negotiated by Europe’s leaders to appease Adolf Hitler by ceding part of Czechoslovakia to Nazi Germany, in a futile attempt to avert World War II.
Churchill was vilified by his opponents as a warmonger who would deny “peace in our time” and drag Europe into needless conflict. One year later, Germany invaded Poland and World War II began in Europe, just as Churchill had predicted. Shortly thereafter, a desperate England would turn to Churchill to help lead it against the Nazi onslaught. The rest, as they say, is history.
And history really does seem to repeat itself. In 1986, nearly a half-century after the Munich debacle, President Ronald Reagan traveled to Reykjavik, Iceland, to meet with Russian President Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan was under enormous pressure from U.S. allies, and some critics at home, to abandon his adamant opposition to the Soviet Union and instead forge a historic nuclear weapons reduction agreement with Gorbachev. But Reagan held firm to his conviction that the USSR was an irredeemable blot against human freedom, and rejected a nuclear deal he believed would have left the world even more vulnerable to Soviet aggression. Reagan, like Churchill before him, was denounced as a danger to world peace by the appeasers of his time. Yet within three years, Reagan’s steadfastness would be vindicated by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet empire.
Fast-forward to our own time — nearly three decades after the Berlin wall came down — and the world has again been faced with threats from belligerent dictatorial regimes, this time in Iran and North Korea, that could drag the world into nuclear holocaust. And again, the natural instinct of the international community has been to appease and reward these rogue regimes with hollow nuclear agreements that only left the world in greater danger.
President Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iranian nuclear deal has been vociferously opposed by timid European allies and modern-day appeasers in our own country. Their insistence on peace at all costs has blinded them to the belligerence and aggression of the Iranian regime, and the predictable danger that Iran will eventually continue to pursue its nuclear ambitions in concert with its spreading of conventional warfare and terror in the Middle East.
Iran today is heavily involved in a proxy war in Syria that further threatens stability in the region and poses an existential threat to Israel, the one steadfast ally the U.S. has in the Middle East. Unlike European nations, which stand at a safer distance from disastrous conflict, Israel must face constant barrages of Iranian rockets based in Syria, and the ever-present danger of incursions of Iranian-backed forces into Syria and Lebanon.
So yes, Trump’s firm position that Iran must irrevocably give up both its nuclear ambitions and its support for terror is the right one. With maximum sanctions pressure on the Iranian regime, there is a far better chance that the ayatollahs will finally get the message that their aggression doesn’t pay.
Iran today is a nation in deep conflict with itself. Its economy is in shambles, and young Iranians are especially disillusioned by a theocracy that strangles both their aspirations for a better life and their personal freedom. For every fanatic who chants “Death to America,” there are many other ordinary Iranians who silently and desperately hope for fundamental change in their country.
Is there some risk in Trump’s position? Of course, as there is with any bold break from staid diplomatic norms. But the consistent message the Trump administration has sent both North Korea and Iran has real promise. When Trump assailed North Korea’s Kim Jong-un for his nuclear ambitions, and promised “fire and fury” if Kim continued to threaten his neighbors, it appeared that Kim finally got the message that the U.S. was dead serious about countering North Korea’s danger to the world. Now there may finally be a real chance to reach a lasting peace deal on the Korean peninsula.
The same could be true with Iran. Standing on the shoulders of leaders like Churchill and Reagan, holding firm against those demanding “peace now,” Trump may be laying the foundation not just for a shaky peace with Iran in our own time, but peace for the long term.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column? ADAmato@liherald.com.