First, an emphatic opener: I am unalterably opposed to sending American servicemen and women into another intractable foreign adventure. I oppose American adventurism and regime change from outside. If people in an oppressed country are not prepared to overthrow their Pharaohs, we Americans have no business doing it for them. We are not the world’s policeman, and we have learned all too well that nothing is more foolhardy and reckless than sending our bravest men and women to risk life and limb to free people who do not desperately want to be free.
When I first became a rabbi, I was like a kid in a candy shop. It was a dream come true. I arrived at my first congregation, and I wanted to help everyone. Over time I learned the hard way that some people cannot be helped by the congregational rabbi. They have to be sent to therapists. In fact, after enough experience I even got to the point that I could anticipate which people would not even improve with therapists. That is, I grew up, matured, learned from bitter experience. Today, 38 years later, I am rabbi of a congregation that I founded more than a decade ago with the support of some of the most uniquely wonderful people I ever have known. Because we were founded by amazing people, we have tended to attract mostly wonderful people. Every so often, though, someone has come in who, in short order, clearly was going to be trouble. With nearly four decades of experience behind me, when the “Trouble Detector” gauge starts moving from yellow to bright orange, that person is invited to leave our congregation and to join another one that specializes in people with social pathologies. I remain an idealist but no longer make the mistake of trying to save everyone.
The same happened to me when I began practicing law 25 years ago. I began, after my federal appellate clerkship, at one of the nation’s powerhouse law firms. Again, I was a bright-eyed idealist, ever the soul of the rabbi within, no matter the setting, eager to help everyone now with all my new additional skills and tools. I put in crazy extra hours, even non-billable, and actually gave personal time to counseling younger new associates who were unsure where their lives were going and to counseling some of the support staff. My moment of truth came when I was assigned by the firm to handle a case matter pro bono (i.e., at no charge to the client). All the prominent big firms know that they are under a Political Correctness microscope for defending the mega-rich, so they all pay lip service to “defending the poor without charge.” Each major firm takes on a commitment to provide “x” number of billable hours pro bono each year, and they get a Political Correctness plaque for it at a lavish Political Correctness banquet. But what they really do is they dump most of those pro bono cases on first-year and second-year new associates who barely know what they are doing. The thinking is that the firm gets the same shiny plaque and P.C. protection whether 100 pro bono hours are provided by “Super Lawyer” litigation partners of 30 years’ experience or by newbies straight out of law school. So they assign it to the newbies, and the firms even obtain a second purely mercenary benefit: the freebie effort gives the newbies actual real experience in meeting with clients, strategizing, filing motions, appearing in court — with limited downside because they are not exactly representing American Airlines or Samsung. So it is win-win.
Anyway, I was still a cheerful newbie on my second career, and they assigned me a pro bono case to represent a person. The person was a member of one of the intersectional demographic communities, in an era before intersectionalism, and the person had quite a tale of woe. I threw myself into the representation as though I were Gregory Peck in To Kill a Mockingbird. To make it short and sweet for readers, without revealing what I must not, during the course of the representation I learned that my guy was the wrongdoer, the bad guy. I had been devoting scores of free non-billable hours — time that could have been spent with my growing children or studying the daily Talmud page — to a bad guy who had been presented to me as a worthy. I learned an important lesson that has stuck with me throughout my legal career: Do righteousness and do good always, but learn from life’s lessons and don’t be a naif.
During the War of 1812 the British burned down the White House. During the 1860s, we busily were tearing ourselves apart. We still were trying to figure out who and what we are. Over the next half century we took in a ton of immigrants from Northern and Eastern Europe and worked to figure out what that all meant. We aimed at being a melting pot. We were not yet positioned to lead the world. When madness erupted in Europe resulting in the Great War — it could not be called “World War I” because no one then imagined there would be a World War II — that was not our problem. If Europeans had proven anything during the prior 2,000 years, it was that they love to kill each other. England killing France, and France killing England. Germany killing both of them, and they killing Germany. Just think back to high school world history and to Shakespeare’s dramas. Alsace-Lorraine everywhere, with kids in school having to learn a new language each time they were conquered. When none of those Lilliputs were at war with each other, they just killed themselves. The Wars of the Roses basically was one century of England’s House of York (sound like “Stark”?) and England’s House of Lancaster (sound like “Lannister”?) building alliances to kill each other. The House of York symbol was a white rose, Lancaster a red rose. That was England circa 15th century.
So the Great War was none of our business, and we stayed out of it for a long while. Eventually, though, for reasons outside the present focus, we got drawn in against Germany. Woodrow Wilson eventually had grand illusions of reshaping the world, and history has demonstrated quite conclusively that he was a fool — as well as a racist and our most tyrannically repressive and anti-democratic president. By the time the dust had settled, he was out of commission, and Europe made a mess of the armistice, heaping so much punishment onto Germany that they planted the seeds for the rise of Hitler. When World II erupted, we initially stayed out of that one, too, but Japan took care of that. When they start bombing your homeland and pursuing designs to take one of your states hostage, what are you going to do? You have to get in. And that was World War II.
With the end of WWII, we emerged for the first time truly a world superpower. Not just a “power” but a “superpower.” For a moment in time, we were the world’s only superpower, and it was left for our national leadership to blow it, allowing Stalin and Mao to create their own superpower engines. At that moment in time — call it 1945, give or take — we were akin to my first years as a rabbi and my subsequent first years as an attorney. We were kids in a candy shop, with the world our sugar fix. We had the bomb. We had finished off the Nazis, the Japanese, even Mussolini. We acknowledged the Red Army’s role in fighting off the Germans, but they had no choice, and they had snow. We did it transcending nature’s assistance, with the world’s most advanced weapons, a motivated military who knew we were fighting evil on all fronts, and we had tasted death and destruction on our western front in Hawaii and more homeland death and destruction at the hands of Germany submarines off the American east coast in the Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico.
We now were the world’s Superpower. And like a new rabbi who thought he could help solve everybody’s problems while imagining that every person is inherently good, and like a new lawyer who could not wait to represent the downtrodden pro bono because justice called, America got the idea that we could solve all the world’s key problems. So we went into Vietnam to preserve South Vietnam because, like my first pro bono client, they were the good guys. And over time we lost more than 50,000 boys in jungles located precisely in the Middle of Nowhere, with limited benefits to show for it, except for a musical named Miss Saigon. In the end, South Vietnam fell anyway, and we helicoptered out, leaving behind memories that we shall call sad. Did we prevent dominoes from falling throughout Southeast Asia? You decide. Pol Pot took Cambodia and perpetrated his own genocide, the hallmark of socialism. Our necessary ally in World War II, Stalin, perpetrated his various genocides. Mao perpetrated his genocides.
Vietnam humbled us for a long while. Meanwhile, a beautiful war was ablaze in the Middle East, with half a million Iranians fighting for Khomeini and Iraqis fighting for Saddam killing each other for eight years. Eventually, Saddam Hussein decided to expand his country’s borders into Kuwait, and we decided to form an international coalition to stop him. So we did. In return, he decided that one of these days he would kill George Bush, and he tried. Then came 9/11, with our own foolishness contributing by convincing ourselves into believing that Wahhabi Muslim Saudi Arabians are our friends, thus motivating us to allow thousands of Saudis into our schools, including those whom we taught air piloting without requiring them to attend the class on how to land a plane. As a result, 15 of the 19 murderers on 9/11 were Saudis. And then, with Bush’s son as our president, we not only had to respond to the Taliban who had provided Osama Bin Laden with his base and wherewithal but also to evaluate the role of Saddam Hussein, the guy who had just tried to kill the president’s dad.
Enter the neoconservatives and adventurists who believed that, while we are dealing with the Taliban and, OK, with Saddam also, let’s make both countries Western-style democracies like America, Canada, the UK, Australia, and Israel. Because, you know, there beats in the heart of every Arab Muslim in Iraq and Afghanistan the pulse of Patrick Henry, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. All they want is Western democracy: the First Amendment, habeas corpus, a penumbra of emanations of rights, eminent domain, the dormant commerce clause, Miranda rights, and nationwide judicial injunctions. So instead of just bombing the Taliban and Bin Laden’s strongholds à la Dresden, we decided to send our boys to help the locals implement regime change. The results, in terms of lives, limbs, and financial treasure, speak for themselves. You decide.
Like the new rabbi who learned with maturity the limits of what a rabbi can do, and like the new attorney who learned with experience where lines must be drawn, we have learned from the experience and maturity of half a century of unbridled Superpowerdom the limits of what we can do and what we should not even think of doing. We must not send boots on the ground in the Middle East to change regimes. Only the native denizens of a land can undertake that fight, just as we did here. And just as we received outside help in the form of some weapons and training then, so we can contemplate when to provide weapons and military wherewithal to those ready to fight their own fights for their own freedoms.
Today, the greatest threat to our long-term security comes from Iran. (Honorable mention: our American-based Corrupt Journalist Corps.) If Iran’s mullahs aimed solely at driving other Muslim countries crazy, in an effort to make Shiite Islam regnant over Sunni or Wahhabi Islam, that would be their religious problem, none of our business anywhere in America except in Ilhan Omar’s anti-Jewish Somali district. The thing is, Iran is fixated on “Death to America,” and they are determined to create a nuclear bomb with intercontinental ballistic missiles to deliver them. In 1979, they took our embassy for 444 days into the 1981 Reagan inauguration, and they recently started up again. Yet, in the aftermath of the Qassem Soleimani elimination, something became unexpectedly more clear to many of us: They are trying at warp speed to get to the point that they can destroy us, but right now they actually are much weaker than many of us realized. Under the impact of the Trump administration’s economic sanctions, the mullahs are breaking financially. They cannot afford a war. The mullahs are running out of moolah. And they are encountering enormous trouble at home.
The Corrupt Journalist Corps do not cover in our media the anti-government riots that take place in Iran, but I also watch an hour every night of news out of Israel on their Hebrew-language Kan Channel 11. For obvious reasons, they devote less time to Nancy Pelosi, Sanctuary Homelessness in San Francisco, and weekend shootings in Chicago — and more time to their survival issues, including nightly footage out of Iran. There is an entire segment of the Iran population that wants to take down the mullahs. Many of them long for the pre-Khomeini years of prosperity and comparative freedom. The Shah did have a terrible internal police force, the SAVAK, which so many of us detested reading about, but many of us now understand 40 years later what he was dealing with. The indigenous Iranian population that wants to take down the mullahs includes an amalgam of those whose values yearn for what was, and others who do not share those values but want their country to stop bankrolling international terror adventurism that is bankrupting them at home by sending hundreds of millions of dollars to foment terror via the mullahs’ surrogates throughout the Mideast from Afghanistan to Yemen to Lebanon to Syria to Gaza. They are feeling it really hard in Iran. The sanctions are taking their toll, despite the disaster of Joe Biden and Obama having sent the mullahs between $55 billion and $150 billion, including $1.7 billion in cash, highlighted by the $400 million that Biden and Obama flew to them. As reported by CNN in the days before Trump:
President Barack Obama approved the $400 million transfer, which he had announced in January as part of the Iran nuclear deal. The money was flown into Iran on wooden pallets stacked with Swiss francs, euros and other currencies as the first installment of a $1.7 billion settlement resolving claims at an international tribunal at The Hague over a failed arms deal under the time of the Shah.
That money that Joe Biden and Obama sent them went into funding the terror, the mayhem, the bombs, the nuclear development. It is a matter of semantics as to whether the cash was made payable to “Nuclear Weapons Account” or “Persian Rug Research and Development.” Money is fungible. Give me money to buy my kids Chanukah presents, and I have more money for groceries because otherwise I have to use some of the groceries money for presents. But the Trump sanctions are forcing Iran to cut back on funding international terror, and they are leaving less money at home. Under the sanctions, Iran’s economy was estimated by the International Monetary Fund to have contracted by 9.5 percent in 2019, while unemployment rose to 16.8 percent. Iran’s Brent Crude exports have dropped precipitously. The rial, Iran’s currency, has lost more than half its value. Inflation has risen from 9 percent to 35.7 percent.
The Iranian people are hurting very intensely, and they are rising up against the mullahs. And that leads me to wonder: What if we were to prepare now, upon the next Iranian provocation, to bomb to smithereens Iran’s main oil refineries in Abadan, Esfahan, Bandar-e Abbas, Tehran, Rak, and Tabriz? No boots on the ground. No adventures, no regime change from outside. Just a boost to those inside Iran who want to overthrow a medieval theocracy that is prepared to bring the whole world — and especially us — to Armageddon if they are not stopped. Yes, the first footage from Tehran will show the usual “Death to America!,” demonstrations, as they did after Soleimani was eliminated. And then the impact will set in. There was a time when Hitler could have been stopped. Europe let it pass by appeasing him. A time right after World War II when Stalin could have been reined in. He was appeased with his Warsaw Bloc. When Mao could have been stopped. We passed.
The weakness of Iran’s response to Soleimani’s removal raises the question whether this is the time to raise the economic ante for Iranians to contemplate what half a century of the mullahs have wrought for them. And whether they would be happier with a government less intent on building nuclear weapons and exporting hundreds of millions to finance overseas terror, and more focused on feeding the citizenry at home.