Friday, February 10, 2006

The Danger of Hitler in Teheran

The Munich security conference ended more than a week ago.

Its highlight this year was obviously the speech by Angela Merkel, who drew universal praise not the least from the present Americans for her very robust attitude to the regime in Teheran.

And she certainly went rather far. Drawing on the modern history of Germany she reminded the audience that there were many who had not taken Hitler too seriously in the beginning, and then failed to take the action that perhaps could have been taken.

"I remind you in this context of Germany's history. In the early 1930's, when National Socialism was on the rise, there were many - also outside Germany - who said 'It's only thetoric'... In retrospect it become clear that there were times when people could have reacted differently. Precisely because of that, Germany is in my view obliged to resist the beginnings."

This could very easily be interpreted as a call for preventive action against the regime in Teheran. In fact, any other interpretation would be difficult to sustain. The contrast to the policies of the Schröder government could not have been starked.

And what she said has certainly been taken up. An editorial in Wall Street Journal Europe makes the point very explicit:

"If Mrs Merkel really deplores the appeasement policy of the 1930s, she wont be able to pretend that there is a diplomatic solution to the Iranian problem for much longer."

And that, of course, means that there has to be some sort of military solution.

But in Berlin it's obvious that not everyone was overly happy with these strong Merkel words and where they might lead.

There are discreet warnings that comparisons like these will lead to military action, and that there will no longer by any room whatsoever for diplomacy. If it really is a new Hitler rising, and there is universal agreement that pre-emptive military action should have been taken early against the Hitler regime, there truly is not much of an alternative to taking pre-emptive military action.

But comparisons like these are often dangereous, and risks limiting options and possibilities far more than widening them.

For all the moral strength of her statement, I would not be surprised if we will hear somewhat less of this particular historical comparison in coming months.

42nd Munich Conference on Security Policy