The verbal assault by certain Western leaders on Iran (apart from the political and economic sanctions that have been imposed on Iran unilaterally by the US, or by the UN) has remained at such terrifying heights for so long that, for example, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s comments of a few days ago that the US will “totally obliterate” Iran if it attacks Israel has passed without widespread condemnation. “I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran,” Clinton said. “In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.” For its part, Iran has said in the past that were it to be attacked by the US, it will respond with an “even more decisive strike” that will “lead to America’s collapse”.
The enmity between the US and Iran is nothing new, it goes back to at least 1953, when, after nationalizing the oil industry, then Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh was overthrown in a coup orchestrated by the CIA and British intelligence. Therefore comments such as the above should perhaps not be surprising given the history of the two countries, but what is alarming is that Western leaders have been impulsively comparing current Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to a “modern Hitler”. The most recent example that comes to mind is former Israeli Prime Minister (and current opposition leader) Benyamin Netanyahu, who recently stated, along with two other members of the Knesset, that the task of the United States “as the leader of the free world, is to act to remove the Iranian threat on world peace. Ahmadinejad is a modern Hitler and we cannot now repeat the mistakes that were made before the Second World War.”
Let us put things in perspective: Ahmadinejad is not the modern Hitler; as president of Iran, he doesn’t even have sole control of the army, and it is the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the ultimate say in all major policy decisions of Iran, including declaring war. There is no doubt that Ahmadinejad has made some unwarranted, racist, and unhelpful statements (some provoked, some not), but that’s true of all sides (the US, Israel, the EU, etc.). By comparing Ahmadinejad to Hitler, these Western leaders risk diluting the impact of a comparison between a modern day government or dictator and that of the Nazi Party and Hitler. We must of course be forever vigilant in order to prevent the rise of fascist dictators and the repetitions of past horrors such as the Nazi Holocaust, but we cannot allow the use of labels such as “the modern Hitler” to be used indiscriminately, for then they would lose all meaning and thus be reduced to clichés (like the label “the modern Einstein”, that has been used so much that the label has lost its prestige).
And what of the threat to “the free world” that Iran poses? US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it best late last year. She stated that the US was well within its rights to impose sanctions against Iran and that “We’re taking additional actions to defend our interests and our citizens, and to help our friends to secure their countries”. In other words, Rice states that the US is well within its rights to defend its (financial) interests by whatever means, and since “our friends” help the US to achieve their aims, the US will make sure their countries are secure (so that they can continue to help the US achieve their aims). If a country’s interests happens to conflict with the interests of the US then that country is no longer “our friend”, and the US is thus “well within its rights” to defend its interests by whatever means it sees fit.
I am not trying to deny that the stand-off between Israel and Iran, amongst others, is a dangerous predicament that could result in an all out war with many casualties; but the reasons for the conflict are much more complicated than “Ahmadinejad is a modern Hitler and therefore his aim is to wipe Israel off the map.”