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Futility of Wishful Thinking

Avi Friedman

Rarely a day goes by without either another scary or even a “reassuring” headline about Iran’s nuclear ambitions. What is the Western world really doing to stop Iran? Not enough, says Dr. Michael Widlanski, whose newest book shows chillingly how the politics of wishful thinking has replaced analysis of hard and cold facts.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

american flag and manTo the uninitiated, a recent headline in Israel’s Hebrew-language Yedioth Aharonoth newspaper quoting a New York Times report that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has not yet approved construction of a nuclear weapon was meant to bolster the views of those who contend there is still time to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat. But to Dr. Michael Widlanski, a veteran commentator about Arab politics, Israeli negotiator and author of Battle for Our Minds: Western Elites and the Terror Threat, the headline was just the latest in a 40-year comedy of errors by Western officials, media and academia to minimize the true nature of radical Islam and the true nature of the countries controlled by Islamist groups.

“Whether Iranian scientists are trying right now to build a nuclear weapon is not an esoteric academic question, but just a matter of common sense,” Widlanski tells Mishpacha. While taking a break from a round of promotional engagements for the new book, he said the current media blitz about whether or not Israel will attack the Islamic Republic merely serves to blur the fundamental principle that should be guiding Israeli and Western policy makers.

“The basic facts of the case here are not in dispute: Iran is a radical Islamic regime that has made clear it wants to destroy the ‘Great Satan’ (the United States) and the ‘Little Satan’ (Israel). That regime is building the technology it needs to carry through on that threat. Those are the only facts needed to decide whether and how to ensure the regime never realizes its goals in this area.”

Unfortunately, Western security and intelligence officials are unlikely to take the Iranian threat seriously, Widlanski said. His new book is a painful outline of the failure of the international community to take similar threats seriously since at least the 1970s. From Iran to al-Qaeda to Palestinian groups and more, he said American and European academics, media types, and officialdom have willingly closed their eyes to the true nature of radical Islam, with devastating results.

“There is a very powerful current in the channels of the American intelligence and diplomatic community that willingly turns a blind eye to the Arab and Islamist nature of most modern-day terrorism,” Widlanski said. “Well-known academics like Noam Chomsky and [the late] Edward Said shout ‘Islamophobia’ or anti-Arab racism every time anybody draws a link between Islam and a terror attack. That’s not an epithet the editors at the New York Times and CNN really want to deal with, so they play it down, too.

“Finally, the political echelon and the intelligence community are stocked with people who have been educated by these individuals and are just as influenced by the mass media as the rest of us, so they create policy based on this ‘wishful thinking’ scenario, rather than on the cold, hard facts of the information in front of them.”

To illustrate his point, Widlanski cites the CIA’s 1978 analysis of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, a document that both fundamentally misread the nature of the new regime and set in motion a policy that has proven repeatedly to be wrong. At the time, State Department and CIA officials described Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as “moderates,” and called for talks with the new regime in order to drive a wedge between moderate and more extreme factions.

Widlanski doesn’t mince words about the futility of that policy.

“They are creating policy for the world as they wish it was, not for the world as it is,” he said. “In 1978 the CIA issued a professional analysis that the Shah’s government in Tehran was stable and would continue to be pro-Western. Three months later he was gone. They described Khomeini as a ‘moderate’ and denied he was looking to spread jihad; a year later they ransacked the American embassy and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

“This kind of narishkeit has been around for a long time.” 


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