Sunday, May 27, 2007

James Taranto Talks To Benjamin Netanyahu

I ask Mr. Netanyahu if the U.S. made a mistake in liberating Iraq. He says it did not: "I think it was right to bring down Saddam Hussein, who murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people." But he brings the discussion back to Iran. "It would have been prudent to use the rapidity of success of victory--that is, the fact that the U.S. had accomplished in three weeks what Iran couldn't accomplish in 10 years and a million casualties--to deliver a stern warning to Iran to dismantle its nuclear program. In a way, this was achieved without design with Libya's nuclear program that had been much more advanced than anyone understood. . . . That same leverage could have been used on Iran."

If Mr. Netanyahu seems preoccupied with Iran, it is not because he is dismissive of other threats, including al Qaeda. "Of the two, Iran is more dangerous, because the Sunni militants so far have not gotten their hands on a nuclear weapons program. . . . If the Taliban were to topple the current regime in Pakistan and get their hands on nuclear weapons, I would say they're more dangerous than Iran, or equally dangerous."

He sees al Qaeda as existing on a continuum with Tehran's Shiite fundamentalists: "They're now competing with each other on the soil of Lebanon to gain paramountcy--al Qaeda in the north and Hezbollah in the south. But both of them practice suicide attacks, both of them have the cult of death, and both of them are absolutely uninhibited in the use of force against their chosen enemies. Now, is there a difference? Yeah, I suppose. I think one wants to send us back to the ninth century and one wants to send us back to the seventh century." The Shiite extremists, Mr. Netanyahu quips, "give us two centuries extra."

Yet he is careful to distinguish between "militant Islam" and the broader Muslim population. "Militant Islam condemns and intimidates and kills Muslims before anyone else. That's what they're about. The infidels are defined first as the renegades of Islam--that is, Muslims who do not practice some . . . pre-medieval religious creed that is hopelessly antiquated for most Muslims and most Arabs."

Because of the militants' power to intimidate and the weak civic institutions in Arab societies, Mr. Netanyahu is wary of pushing those societies too quickly toward electoral democracy. He thinks it was a mistake to allow Hamas to compete in last year's Palestinian voting. "But I think that one element that should be expedited as rapidly as possible is the democratization of markets. I think that expanding economic freedom is just as important--in some cases more important--in moderating societies than accelerated moves to political freedoms without the proper democratic institutions."

I ask if he can point to any positive examples in the Arab world. "How about Dubai? How about the Gulf states? What you see there is quite remarkable. It also tells you that Arabs and Muslims are not inherently or genetically programmed to oppose free markets. That's just nonsense. With the right system of incentives and economic freedoms, you see this explosive growth that I, frankly, admire. . . . We always said that if we have peace, then we'll have prosperity. It may be the other way around."