Wishful thinking - interpreting matters as one would like them to be, as opposed to how they really are - is a relatively common affliction. It affects common folk, stock-market investors, politicians, even statesmen. It’s generally accompanied by the best of intentions.
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History is replete with tragic mistakes based on wishful thinking. One need only think back to Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier at Munich in 1938, despite all indications to the contrary, wanting to believe that all Hitler wanted was the Sudetenland and the world would be at peace. Or Joseph Stalin refusing to believe the overwhelming evidence that Germany was preparing an attack on the Soviet Union and ordering the Red Army not to take defensive measures.
And 40 years ago, Israel’s leaders refused to heed the overwhelming evidence that the Egyptians and Syrians were preparing an attack; here wishful thinking was preferred to the facts. And what about the belief that Yasser Arafat had forsworn terrorism and was a partner for peace?
It’s often the laudable desire for peace that leads to the abandonment of rational thought and a thorough examination of the evidence - and decisions based on wishful thinking. When people face the threat of death and destruction, it’s understandable when they turn a blind eye to the oncoming danger, preferring to disregard all warning signals. When the newly organized Jewish underground in Vilna sent four young men to the Warsaw Ghetto to tell about the mass executions at Ponar, the Jews of Warsaw refused to believe that a similar fate was in store. The deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka followed six months later.
This brings us to the smile on the face of the newly elected Iranian president, Hassan Rohani. What a change from his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust denier who regularly threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Who doesn’t want to believe that his intentions are the best, that he harbors no hostility toward the United States and Israel, and that producing an Iranian nuclear bomb is the farthest thing from his mind? So why not ease up on the sanctions and give diplomacy a chance? How’s that for wishful thinking?
Except that as we all know, the guy who calls the shots in Tehran isn’t the president but Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei, and Rohani follows his orders. The Iranians are engaged in an intensive effort costing billions to produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, as the centrifuges enriching uranium spin away while Rohani wishes Barack Obama a “good day.” And the economic sanctions that have recently been imposed on Iran by much of the world are causing the Iranian economy great difficulty and may yet make Tehran conclude that it should abandon the nuclear-weapons project.
It’s these simple facts that Benjamin Netanyahu so eloquently presented to the UN General Assembly. Those suffering from wishful-thinking syndrome were annoyed that the prime minister interfered with the jubilant mood that Rohani’s smiling face had produced. But everybody, and especially the Iranians, are taking Netanyahu’s words seriously.
They know that only two countries – the United States and Israel – have the military capability to strike an effective military blow against the Iranian nuclear-weapons project, and that this capability backs up the economic sanctions and creates the possibility that military action won’t be needed. That is, if the economic sanctions aren’t relieved before the Iranians stop the centrifuges from spinning and move the enriched uranium they have amassed outside their borders. That and not wishful thinking is going to avert the dangers that nuclear weapons in the hands of Khamenei pose to the entire world.