The guru of conventional wisdom

Seeing Fareed Zakaria’s latest Newsweek article on Iran (“Containing a nuclear Iran”) reminds me. The summer 2009 issue of the Israeli magazine Azure carried James Kirchick’s critical review/essay “The guru of conventional wisdom” on Zakaria’s book The Post-American World. (A PDF of Kirchick’s essay can be obtained from Azure by email here.)
As a candidate during the campaign, President Obama was observed carrying Zakaria’s book around at a stop in Bozeman, Montana. After reading Kirchick’s essay, one can easily see why Obama would find Zakaria’s views congenial. Zakaria identifies with Obama, doesn’t think much of his fellow citizens and is unfazed by the prospect of American declne. In his essay on Zakaria Kirchick summarizes Zakaria’s take on Iran in one long paragraph that I have taken in part and broken into two:

According to Zakaria, Iran’s desire to seek nuclear weaponry is an understandable reaction to ex-president Bush, who “repeatedly made clear that he regards the regime in Tehran as illegitimate, wishes to overthrow it, and funds various groups whose aims are similar.” Indeed, in a recent cover story for Newsweek entitled “Everything You think You Know About Iran Is Wrong,” Zakaria’s credulity toward those “terrified” of America got the better of his judgment. He wrote that fears of an Iranian nuclear bomb are overblown, and all the regime wants is a “peaceful civilian program.”
His evidence was the fact that “Senior Iranian officials at every level have repeatedly asserted that they do not intend to build nuclear weapons.” While he takes the Iranian regime at its word, in the very next paragraph he writes, “if Tehran’s aim is to expand its regional influence, it doesn’t need a bomb to do so. Simply having a clear ‘breakout’ capacity–the ability to weaponize within a few months–would allow it to operate with much greater latitude and impunity in the Middle East and Central Asia.” In the process of claiming that critics of the Iranian nuclear program are alarmists, Zakaria essentially admits that their fears are justified.

Kirchick’s essay helps place Zakaria’s current musings on the Iranian nuclear program in the context of his past work.

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