Never more apt than the first week of January is the Talmud’s view that only fools prophesy after the destruction of the Second Temple some 2,000 years ago.
For during the first week of January, we hear what’s going to happen in the next 12 months. It’s oracular.
For example, in the Jan. 2, 2018 edition of the Wall Street Journal, we are given a month-by-month account of what will happen around the world.
Take March, 2018. Venezuela’s president will stand for reelection and Russia’s Vladimir Putin will be reelected. In August, Greece could exit the bailout regime it’s been under since 2010.
On the domestic side, be assured that in March the federal government will run out of money, and in April the Environmental Protection Agency will keep or scrap the Obama administration’s standards on vehicle emissions.
I am happy to see that “Israel” does not show up on either the domestic or the world list. The best indication of good news from Israel is no news. Mostly, though, I couldn’t help but notice that in the very same issue of the newspaper, on the reverse of the very same page, an essay appears under the title, “Iran’s Theocracy Is on the Brink.” “Iran” also does not show up in the Journal’s predictions. Yet here we are: Iran is the chief news item as 2017 moves into 2018. Events have a way of upending the most perceptive prognosticators.
I would love to believe that Iran’s theocracy is in danger. It would be, if it were a democracy. Then again, if it were a democracy, the Western world would have little or nothing to fear from Iran in the first place, and neither would Iran’s own people. It is not Iran’s people who wish to foment terrorism and war in the Middle East and around the world. It is not Iran’s people who believe that Shiite Islam is worth making millions die for, or give up their religion for. Among the slogans popular in Iran today cited by the Journal is this:
“No to Gaza, not Lebanon! Our life only for Iran!”
Dictatorships do not go quietly in the night. Dictators kill their own people, if need be. Dictators keep track. Dictators knock on the door in the middle of the night and take people away. While it is true that sometimes the groundswell of grassroots opposition is so deep that dictators are toppled from below, usually there is an organized opposition to help things along.
This is where the US can come in. For once, President Trump’s tweets are right, as they call out Iran’s ruling oppressors. Trump has rejected the perspective of Obama that appeasing the Iranian leadership with a nuclear deal will moderate Iran’s behavior and empower the moderate wing of Iran’s leadership. Trump sees that there is no such moderate wing and Iran has hardly moderated its behavior.
• Iran, still propping up the murderous Assad in Syria? Check.
• Iran, still developing long range missiles? Check.
• Iran, still prioritizing terrorism abroad — such as armaments for Hezbollah — over economic welfare at home? Check.
Trump stands with the people of Iran, not with its warmongering leadership. This is as it should be.
His words might embolden and even sustain the protesters. I would love to think this could be enough. I hope that what I am about to write will be outdated by the time it appears — that I am pessimistic about the ultimate power of popular protest to overthrow Iran’s theocracy. The lugubrious fact is that Iran’s protesters have no troops. As Stalin once famously said of the Pope, “How many divisions does he have?”
One thing remains clear. Economic sanctions work. The protests are driven by Iran’s economic suffering. The populace is tired of the nation’s funds going for armaments, especially outside Iran.
Dictatorships do ultimately fail. It took a little more than 70 years for Communism to fail. It took 12 years for the Third Reich to fail. Even the tsars, who held on to power for much longer, were ultimately turned out. In the last few months alone Africa has turned out of office a couple of its long-serving dictators (though many remain). The arc of history is clear.
It is toward democracy, not dictatorship, whether theocratic or otherwise.
The infinitely sad corollary is that so many people — sometimes millions — have to die before the dictatorships fail. In our time, witness Syria. That is why the American president’s moral support of Iran’s protesters, as well as economic sanctions against Iran and perhaps even more direct support for the protesters, are ultimately a favor to both Iran and its intended victims outside its borders, Jewish or otherwise.
But we can no more predict the timing here than the Journal’s predictions on the other side of the page foolishly try to defy the Talmud’s warning about prophets and fools.
Rabbi Hillel Goldberg may be reached at email@example.com.
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