Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2010 / 8 Adar 5770
Why the West is going down the drain
By Mark Steyn
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In Britain, it is traditional on Shrove Tuesday to hold pancake races, in which contestants run while flipping a pancake in a frying pan. The appeal of the event depends on the potential pitfalls in attempting simultaneous rapid forward propulsion and pancake tossing. But, in St. Albans, England, competitors were informed by Health & Safety officials that they were "banned from running due to fears they would slip over in the rain." Watching a man walk up the main street with a skillet is not the most riveting event, even in St. Albans. In the heat of the white-knuckle thrills, team captain David Emery momentarily forgot the new rules. "I have been disqualified from a running race for running," he explained afterwards.
In Canada, Karen Selick told readers of The Ottawa Citizen about her winter vacation in Arizona last month: "The resort suite I rented via the Internet promised a private patio with hot tub," she wrote. "Upon arrival, I found the door to my patio bolted shut. 'Entry prohibited by federal law,' read the sign. Hotel management explained that the drains in all the resort's hot tubs had recently been found not to comply with new safety regulations. Compliance costs would be astronomical. Dozens of hot tubs would instead be cemented over permanently." In the meantime, her suite had an attractive view of the federally-prohibited patio.
Anything else? Oh, yeah. In Iran, the self-declared nuclear regime announced that it was now enriching uranium to 20 percent. When President Barack Obama took office, the Islamic Republic had 400 centrifuges enriching up to 3.5 percent. A year later, it has 8,000 centrifuges enriching to 20 percent. The CIA director, Leon Panetta, now cautiously concedes that Iran's nuclear ambitions may have a military purpose. Which is odd, because the lavishly funded geniuses behind America's National Intelligence Estimate told us only two years ago that Tehran had ended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Is that estimate no longer operative? And, if so, could we taxpayers get a refund?
This is a perfect snapshot of the West at twilight. On the one hand, governments of developed nations microregulate every aspect of your life in the interests of "keeping you safe." If you're minded to flip a pancake at speeds of more than 4 miles per hour, the state will step in and act decisively: It's for your own good. If you're a tourist from Moose Jaw, Washington will take pre-emptive action to shield you from the potential dangers of your patio in Arizona.
On the other hand, when it comes to "keeping you safe" from real threats, such as a millenarian theocracy that claims universal jurisdiction, America and its allies do nothing. There aren't going to be any sanctions, because China and Russia don't want them. That means military action, which would have to be done without U.N. backing – which, as Greg Sheridan of The Australian puts it, "would be foreign to every instinct of the Obama administration." Indeed. Nonetheless, Washington is (altogether now) "losing patience" with the mullahs. The New York Daily News reports the latest get-tough move:
"Secretary of State Clinton dared Iran on Monday to let her hold a town hall meeting in Tehran."
That's telling 'em. If the ayatollahs had a sense of humor, they'd call her bluff.
The average Canadian can survive an Arizona hot tub merely compliant with 2009 safety standards rather than 2010. The average Englishman can survive stumbling with his frying pan: You may get a nasty graze on his kneecap, but rub in some soothing pancake syrup, and you'll soon feel right as rain. Whether they – or at any rate their pampered complacent societies in which hot-tub regulation is the most pressing issue of the day – can survive a nuclear Iran is a more open question.
It is now certain that Tehran will get its nukes, and very soon. This is the biggest abdication of responsibility by the Western powers since the 1930s. It is far worse than Pakistan going nuclear, which, after all, was just another thing the CIA failed to see coming. In this case, the slow-motion nuclearization conducted in full view and through years of tortuous diplomatic charades and endlessly rescheduled looming deadlines is not just a victory for Iran but a decisive defeat for the United States. It confirms the Islamo-Sino-Russo-everybody else diagnosis of Washington as a hollow superpower that no longer has the will or sense of purpose to enforce the global order.
What does it mean? That a year or two down the line Iran will be nuking Israel? Not necessarily, although the destruction of not just the Zionist Entity but the broader West remains an explicit priority. Maybe they mean it. Maybe they don't. Maybe they'll do it directly. Maybe they'll just get one of their terrorist subcontractors to weaponize the St. Albans pancake batter. But, when you've authorized successful mob hits on Salman Rushdie's publishers and translators, when you've blown up Jewish community centers in Buenos Aires, when you've acted extra-territorially to the full extent of your abilities for 30 years, it seems prudent for the rest of us to assume that when your abilities go nuclear you'll be acting to an even fuller extent.
But, even without launching a single missile, Iran will at a stroke have transformed much of the map – and not just in the Middle East, where the Sunni dictatorships face a choice between an unsought nuclear arms race or a future as Iranian client states. In Eastern Europe, a nuclear Iran will vastly advance Russia's plans for a de facto reconstitution of its old empire: In an unstable world, Putin will offer himself as the protection racket you can rely on. And you'd be surprised how far west "Eastern" Europe extends: Moscow's strategic view is of a continent not only energy-dependent on Russia but also security-dependent. And, when every European city is within range of Tehran and other psycho states, there'll be plenty of takers for that when the alternative is an effete and feckless Washington.
It's a mistake to think that the infantilization of once-free peoples represented by the microregulatory Nanny State can be confined to pancakes and hot tubs. Consider, for example, the incisive analysis of Scott Gration, the U.S. special envoy to the mass murderers of Sudan: "We've got to think about giving out cookies," said Gration a few months back. "Kids, countries – they react to gold stars, smiley faces, handshakes, agreements, talk, engagement."
Actually, there's not a lot of evidence "smiley faces" have much impact on kids in the Bronx, never mind genocidal machete-wielders in Darfur. So much for the sophistication of "soft power," smiling through a hard-faced world.
So, Iran will go nuclear and formally inaugurate the post-American era. The Left and the isolationist Right reckon that's no big deal. They think of the planet as that Arizona patio and America as the hotel room. There may be an incendiary hot tub out there, but you can lock the door and hang a sign, and life will go on, albeit a little more cramped and constrained than before. I think not.