History’s Ghosts in Iran

Using historical analogies to interpret the present is both tempting and dangerous, for history never truly repeats itself. Yet, to understand the difficulty of responding to the problems that Iran’s nuclear ambition and anti-Israel obsession now pose, it might be helpful to analyze the three analogies that are most commonly used.

Some compare the Iranian regime to Nazi Germany. Others believe that the only useful analogy is to Europe’s old balance-of-power games. And still others combine the two, pointing to the “balance of terror” during the Cold War. In other words: is Iran to be treated as Hitler’s Germany in 1938, Prussia in 1756, or Stalin’s Soviet Union?

Each analogy contains an element of truth, but none, of course, corresponds to the realities of the challenges Iran represents. Above all, each analogy, if taken seriously, should lead to a specific course of action, and this is far from being the case today.

Let us start with the analogy between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hitler. Ahmedinejad pursues a dual objective with his anti-Zionist obsession: to de-legitimize Israel and to re-legitimize Iran’s claim to speak for Muslims over the heads of their more cautious governments. He very probably means what he says about Jews and Israel, but is he a latter-day Hitler, and is today’s Iran the equivalent of Germany in the 1930’s?