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Tuesday, 7 March 2006
De Winter: Soft Europe

Leon De Winter writes in the WSJ:

After two years of disastrous dialogue, and more of the same in recent days, we can conclude that no diplomatic initiative can stop Iran from getting the bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency meets again this week to discuss the mullahs' nuclear ambitions, while Russia floats a plan to get Iran to enrich uranium on its soil. But before we got to this point, we had the Europeans in the starring role. The foreign ministers of the leading European Union countries--Britain, France and Germany--did try for years to persuade Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions, most recently at Friday's meeting in Vienna that ended up in yet another failure. But Iran knew all along that this threesome, formally the "Troika," had no real negotiating authority and would never resort to serious measures...

The mullahs also knew that the Troika couldn't back up its threat of an economic boycott with the threat of military action. If the EU couldn't muster the will to fight in its own backyard in the Balkans without America leading the way, it surely wouldn't put any lives at risk beyond the frontiers of the Continent.

By contrast, Iran, ostensibly a democracy but in reality a religious tyranny, possesses a character trait that is almost nonexistent in modern Europe: Iranians, almost exclusively Shiite, are willing to suffer. This quality is deeply rooted in their religion. Ashura, one of the central Shiite rituals that marks the death of Imam Hussain at the Battle of Karbala in 680, celebrates flagellation, blood, pain. As Steven Vincent, the remarkable American journalist who tragically was murdered last August in Iraq, observed in his book "In the Red Zone": "Eight-foot long white silk flags depicting crossed sword, the blades oozing with blood . . . pictures of severed hands, severed heads,  . . a fountain in front of Meshed Ali spraying geysers of blood-red liquid. . . . bloody swords flashing over the heads of milling crowds . . . men with blood-soaked bandages wrapped around their heads to stanch the bleeding from self-inflicted wounds . . . endless posters of the slaughtered innocents. This is an orgy of death imagery, I thought."

Can Europe grasp this commitment to voluntary suffering? For casualties to be acceptable on the battlefield, people need collective ideals and values that transform their society into a sacred entity. In European eyes, Shiites have ritualized this to the point of absurdity, with most Westerners finding it bizarre...

Europe could have suppressed the Iranian threat if it had convinced the mullahs two years ago that it was willing to contemplate military options. Only Europe lacks core values that it holds sacrosanct and that it's willing to defend at the highest cost. It will continue to operate on the diplomatic field and cling to soft power even though this is the path of certain defeat when confronted with power players burning with geopolitical and religious ambitions.

Thanks to European illusions about soft power, the free world has two options left on Iran: disaster or catastrophe. America and Israel will bleed for Europe's lack of conviction.

Posted on 03/07/2006 7:00 AM by Rebecca Bynum
7 Mar 2006
Send an emailMary Jackson
Leon de Winter? Any relation to Maxim de Winter in Daphne du Maurier's novel "Rebecca"? Rebecca - did you realise that your namesake was eponymous?