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Modus Vivendi with Iran: It’s 1941 All Over Again

Netanyahu is a modern-day Chiang Kai-shek, seeking to be heard over the noises from his enemies and benefactors.
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While some in Washington are afflicted by a specific kind of color blindness which renders Red Lines invisible, no such affliction is known to exist in Jerusalem, where the clock keeps ticking. But protracted negotiations, outside pressure and inner squabbles are not new in international conflicts, and the U.S. has experienced them all before. Time is always ticking away and it is ultimately the clock that decides for war or for peace.

Then like now, the U.S. was confronting a regional power that viewed expansionism as its lifeline to long term economic survival and to global ambitions. Then like now, the embargo was working, resulting in dwindling raw resources, and an increasingly grim economic outlook. Then like now, the options were war, continuing embargo, or yielding to America’s demands. Then like now, it boiled down to national pride and a celestially ordained code of honor. Imperial Japan of December 1941 chose war. As the American ambassador to Tokyo at the time, Joseph Grew, put it “Japanese sanity cannot be measured by American standards of logic.”

And this is equally true for Iran today.

Many factors and personalities played a role in the complex, unfolding drama of the last few months of 1941, leading to the Japanese surprise attack on Pear Harbor, on December 7. By the beginning of November, the sides were still far apart and no agreement was in sight. On November 5, Japan’s Prime Minister Tojo Hideki summed up the Imperial Conference: “Two years from now we will have no petroleum for military use. Ships will stop moving. I see no end to difficulties. We can talk about austerity and suffering, but can our people endure such a life for a long time?”

By then the Japanese were left with only two choices: peace with austerity in a world under American domination, or a defeat at war while upholding the honor of the land of the Gods. Of these two choices, war seemed preferable. There was a unanimous agreement that waiting will only worsen Japan’s chances at war and the consensus was that there was no better time for war than right then. Ultimately, what decided the outcome of these few tense months were misjudged intentions, uncompromising positions with no room to wiggle, and time running out.

Time was a key factor. While the U.S. would have preferred to maintain the status quo for a while longer, in order to avoid involvement on two fronts—in Japan’s upper half of the hourglass the sand was running out. By November 24, there was still no diplomatic resolution, and intercepted Japanese communications clearly indicated that Japan was gearing up for war. A day later, on November 25, the U.S. came up with a draft proposal of a temporary, six months “modus vivendi” which included a stop to Japanese troop movements, and resumption of commerce and economic relations.

It was a breakthrough in the gap that separated the sides for a very long time. Significantly, it did not address the sticky issue of Japanese troop withdrawal from China and thus it allowed the more moderate elements in Japan’s leadership a bit of wiggle room in their inner squabbles with the more hawkish members. There were indications that this temporary truce was agreeable to both parties.

It was at this point that Chiang Kai-shek, the Chinese nationalist leader, entered the scene. Up until then, despite being the injured party and the target of Japan’s aggression for years, he had not taken part in the negotiations. He abrasively and vehemently objected to what he regarded as an American appeasement at the expense of China, and the short lived modus vivendi understanding disintegrated. The next American proposal was a rigid and uncompromising ten point list of demands that were both offensive and unacceptable to the Japanese.

In the absence of resolute principles, historic perspective, and a vision that goes beyond self aggrandizement, failed leadership often resorts to recycling old tricks. The U.S. is now in the process of negotiating another surprisingly similar modus vivendi, a temporary six months agreement, with Iran. The wiggle room that should have been (but was not) offered to Japan is now handed to Iran.

Absurdly, President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry appear to be pressed for time in a setting that has no time constrains. The details of the proposed agreement have not yet been made public, but it is safe to assume that they include matters of commerce and oil, and halting uranium enrichment. Like the modus vivendi of 1941, which avoided the subject of Japanese troop withdrawal from China, this one, too, appears to be steering far away from any dismantling demands on the Iranian nuclear program.

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7 Responses to “Modus Vivendi with Iran: It’s 1941 All Over Again”

  1. Just always remember, no matter how good their offers are, obama and kerry are evil and would very much see the total collapse of Israel. The farther you can distance yourselves from these two tyrants the better.

  2. Just always remember, no matter how good their offers are, obama and kerry are evil and would very much see the total collapse of Israel. The farther you can distance yourselves from these two tyrants the better.

  3. Susn Cohen says:

    i don't understand why so few people get it!!!!??????

  4. There are two ways: US congress should increase the sanctions to Iran or Israel has to strike Iran untill to topple the mullahs regime.

  5. Eva Feld says:

    How very very sad.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Do we ever learn from history or are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes? 75 years ago, German Jews suffered Kristallnacht, the prelude to the Final Solution. Mein Kampf, written in 1925 and replete with demonization of Jews, became the Nazi bible. It was ignored by the “civilized” world. Hitler used Kristallnacht as a test of international conscience watching to see whether democratic governments would take action over the increasingly violent treatment of Germany’s Jewish minority. He got his answer when Germany suffered no serious action or condemnation, giving Hitler the green light to continue persecution of Jews. Shortly after, Chamberlain, Britain’s Prime Minister, declared “Peace in our Times”, thereby capitulating to the growing danger from a militant Germany intent on world domination. If only the world had taken on Germany in the 1930s, perhaps some 52 Million people lives could have been saved.

    Fast forward to today’s increasing danger to Israel and to the Free World in general. Are the same naïve appeasers leading the world down the path of repeating history? Iran has demonized Israel and world Jewry and is threatening to unleash nuclear devastation. Palestinians continue to delegitimize Israel, seeking its elimination. Both have announced their intentions, as did Hitler in his Mein Kampf. Yet we see a pliant American government leading the charge, accommodating the Iranian goal of attaining nuclear weapons, and emboldening the Palestinians.

    John Kerry refers to a third Intifada unless Israel allows a Palestinian state, ends its “perpetual military occupation” of Judea and Samaria, and agrees to conditions jeopardizing the Jewish State. He trashed the Oslo Peace Negotiations, in the process stating that Israel is “gonna get it”. Nothing was demanded of the Palestinians. The Administration is signaling that sanctions against Iran would be watered down on the promise that Iran will not seek nuclear weapons. Can anybody really believe that Iran will halt its development of nuclear weapons and the means of delivery?

    The Administration needs to learn from the lessons of Kristallnacht. The world, not only Israel, is in great danger from a nuclear armed Iran and a weak American foreign policy

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