Cry Munich, and let slip the dogs of hyperbole

I actually think Stephens might be right about the second prediction — there’s ample precedent here (Iraq, North Korea) and plenty of incentive for Iran to wiggle free. As for the third, it wouldn’t be surprising either, though I think it’s less likely. Still, we can only wait (anxiously) and see.

But it’s the first prediction that’s most significant and most easily dispensed with. The Mideast has been chaotic since, well, forever. It never seems to dawn on commentators complaining about the loss of U.S. leverage in the region that during the Reagan presidency (the one neocons pine for), one of the largest wars since the second World War was fought in the Middle East. That was chaos. U.S. leadership and regional influence under the sainted Reagan consisted of running interference for a dictator who neocons later concluded was the next Hitler while he used chemical weapons. The war ended in a stalemate with a million people dead and was followed by another invasion quickly thereafter that forced America to intervene.

Now Stephens would have us believe that this is the high water mark for American leadership in a region that was calm and pacified under Pax Americana. And, who knows, we may all look back from some future calamity and conclude it was. I hope not. But the relevant yard stick here is not the relative degree of chaos and misfortune in the Middle East but the extent to which such misfortune touches on U.S. security and the well-being of Americans. It seems dubious that this interim deal with Iran, which may well collapse anyway, has thrown those things sharply in jeopardy.