In the fall of 1956, Nikita Khrushchev threatened to rain rockets down on London for the British invasion of Suez and sent his tanks into Budapest to drown the Hungarian Revolution in blood. He blew up the Paris summit in 1960, banged his shoe at the U.N., and warned Americans, "We will bury you!" He insulted John F. Kennedy in Vienna, built the Berlin Wall, and began secretly to place missiles in Cuba capable of annihilating every city in the Southeast, including Washington.
Those were sobering times and serious enemies. Yet in the Eisenhower-Kennedy years, living under a nuclear Sword of Damocles unlike any the world had ever known, we Americans were on balance a cool, calm and collected crowd.
How then explain the semi-hysteria and near panic in circles of this city over the possibility President Obama might meet with President Hassan Rouhani and hold negotiations over Iran's nuclear program? We hear talk of Hitler in the Rhineland, of a new Munich, of America failing to act as Britain failed to act, until, back to the wall, it had no choice but to fight. The old Churchill quotes are heard once again.
But is the Ayatollah Hitler? Is Rouhani von Ribbentrop? Is Iran the Fourth Reich? Should we be very very afraid?
Iran, we are told, is the most dangerous enemy America faces. But is this true?
Depending on one's source, Iran's economy is 2 to 4 percent of ours. After oil and gas, its big exports appear to be caviar, carpets and pistachio nuts. Inflation is unbridled and Iran's currency is plummeting.
Here is the New York Times last month: "Rouhani's aides describe Iran's economic situation as the worst in decades. ... The signs of woe abound. Lacking money, Iran's national soccer team scrapped a training trip to Portugal. Teachers in Tehran nervously awaited their wages, which were inexplicably delayed by more than a week. Officials warned recently that food and medicine imports have stalled for three weeks because of a lack of foreign currency."
Should Iran start a war, the sinking of its coastal navy would be a few days' work for the Fifth Fleet. Its air force of U.S. Phantoms dating to the Shah and few dozen MiGs dating to the early 1990s would provide a turkey shoot for Top Gun applicants. In 30 days, the United States could destroy its airfields, missile sites and nuclear facilities, and impose an air and naval blockade that would reduce Iran to destitution.
And Iran is not only isolated economically. She is a Shia nation in a Muslim world 90 percent Sunni, a Persian nation on the edge of a sea of 320 million Arabs. Kurds, Azeris, Arabs and Baluch make up close to half of Iran's population. War with America could tear Iran apart.
Why then would Tehran want a war — and with a superpower?
Answer: It doesn't. Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has attacked no nation and gone to war once — to defend herself against Saddam Hussein's aggression that had the backing of the United States.
In that war, the Iranians suffered the worst poison gas attacks since Gamal Abdel Nasser used gas in Yemen and Benito Mussolini used it in Abyssinia. Iran has thus condemned the use of gas in Syria and offered to help get rid of it.
Last year, Iran's departing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who frightened so many, made a simple logical point about Iran's supposed bomb program: "Let's even imagine that we have an atomic weapon, a nuclear weapon. What would we do with it? What intelligent person would fight 5,000 American bombs with one bomb?"
Yet, still, the beat goes on. "There is no more time to hold negotiations," says Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, Iran is only six months from developing an atom bomb. Yet the New York Times reports Monday, "American intelligence experts believe Iran is still many months if not years away from having such a weapon." Time to clear this up.
Congress should call James Clapper, head of national intelligence, and pin him down publicly on these questions:
Has Iran made the decision to build an atom bomb? Does Iran even have all the ingredients for a bomb? If Iran made a decision to build a bomb would we know about it? And how long would it take for Iran to build and test a nuclear device?
Americans were misled, deceived and lied into one war. Let's not follow the same crowd into another.
Obama is being urged not to meet with Rouhani, as the man has a checkered past. Yet U.S. presidents met three times with Stalin, three with the Butcher of Budapest, once with Chairman Mao. Compared to these fellows, Hussein Rouhani looks like Ramsey Clark.
Query: If Iran has the scientific and industrial capacity to build a bomb — and all agree it has — what could conceivably be the reason Iran has not yet done so?
Perhaps, just perhaps, Iran doesn't want the bomb.
Talk to the man, Mr. President.
(Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan has been a senior advisor to three presidents, twice a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination and the presidential nominee of the Reform Party in 2000. He won the New Hampshire Republican Primary in 1996.)