If Bernard Lewis is right, then decades of received wisdom from the Cold War are no longer operative. After all, it doesn’t really matter if you deter 99% of a society. You only need to deter the ones with their fingers on the trigger. But if you can’t deter them, then what?

“Iran’s leadership comprises a group of extreme fanatical Muslims who believe that their messianic times have arrived,” Lewis said. “This is quite dangerous. Though Russia and the U.S. both had nuclear weapons, it was clear that they would never use them because of MAD — mutual assured destruction. Each side knew it would be destroyed if it would attack the other.”

“But with these people in Iran, mutually assured destruction is not a deterrent factor, but rather an inducement,” Lewis said. “They feel that they can hasten the final messianic process.

So if he’s right…what do we do? I don’t like this conclusion, but it seems that prevention is the fallback strategy if we doubt deterrence will work. However, there seems to be no will for prevention–at least serious measures for prevention– and instead there seems to be a misplaced eagerness in the world to believe that Iran is negotiating in good faith.

Hey, I’d like to believe that myself. But I don’t.

Exit question: is he right?

MORE: “Duh,” say several commenters. But while it’s not surprising that my conclusion about prevention is seen as obvious on the Hot Air boards, it does not prevail worldwide. That’s why I though a statement by Bernard Lewis–especially a pithily phrased one like this–was newsworthy. My own thoughts haven’t changed much from Dec. 2006, but I have no illusions about how influential my thoughts on the subject are. BL’s words, on the other hand, carry more weight.

Tags: Islam