Jonah Goldberg

What Iran needs is a Saddam Hussein.

Or at least it needs the sort of leader antiwar liberals claimed Saddam Hussein represented. Unlike the secular Saddam, Iran's president is a religious whack job. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad believes that the Holocaust was a myth and that Israel needs to be "wiped off the map," and - it is widely rumored - he belongs to a sect that believes in fomenting chaos and violence in order to hasten the arrival of the End Times.

None of this would be a big deal if Ahmadinejad were the president of Belize or if he were a toll booth attendant on the New Jersey Turnpike or both. The problem is that he runs a country which everyone acknowledges is fast on its way to getting nuclear weapons, exports more terror than pistachios, sits on top of vast oil wealth, and resides at the crossroads of Islamic terror.

More important, Ahmadinejad isn't alone. He is merely the head of an entire regime that, to one extent or another, buys into his nuttier-than-a-Snickers-bar ideology.

And he's solidifying power.  In the last year, Ahmadinejad and the mullahs who have the final say on everything in Iran have purged reformers, "moderates" and realists from various government and diplomatic posts. Scores of Iranian ambassadors have been recalled and replaced with pliable drones or ideologues.

Now, according to many opponents of the Iraq war, Saddam Hussein was a pragmatist and a realist. He understood where his interests were and could be "contained" in his "box" through sanctions and military pressure. He wasn't a "good guy," countless liberals argued, but he could be counted on to act in the interests of self-preservation.

This analysis was eminently wrong, but the underlying principle of the argument was perfectly valid. Indeed, this was a core insight of Cold War realists and neoconservatives alike who advocated a double standard for friendly - or at least manageable - dictatorships that stayed out of the Soviet orbit. The left, on the other hand, argued that democracy should be the goal everywhere, and that America sullied itself by working with dictatorships.

In recent years a massive intellectual switcheroo has taken place, whereby the right now champions exporting democracy and the left sees folly in such ideological crusades. I realize this is a pretty oversimplified treatment of a complex argument, but it will do for our purposes.

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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