Commentary magazine wants us to believe that Iran is the new Nazi Germany, its president Ahmadinejad is Hitler reborn. The questions worth asking are: how realistic is Commentary in assessing threats? What is their track record like?
Let’s take the way-back machine and read Hilton Kramer’s essay “The Importance of Sidney Hook” which ran in the August 1987 issue of Commentary. Near the end of the essay, Kramer compares the Soviet Union under Stalin with Gorbachev’s regime:
The world has changed, but has it really changed for the better as far as the power and influence of democracy are concerned? Are we less endangered now than we were then? Communism was then clearly and correctly perceived to be a worldwide threat to the survival of democratic institutions, but it actually controlled the fate of far fewer inhabitants of the globe than it does today. Under Stalin, both the military power of the Soviet Union and its vast espionage apparatus were seen to constitute a danger to every non-Communist society in the world – yet Gorbachev commands a far greater war machine than any Stalin ever had at his disposal, and if recent revelations are any guide, a no less effective espionage network. By every significant measure, the Soviet Union is a far more formidable adversary today than it was forty years ago, and one of the things that makes it more formidable is its unbroken record of conquest in the intervening years. It already enjoys an unchallenged hegemony in more parts of the world than it did forty years ago, and the momentum of its drive to seek further conquests shows no sign of abatement.
So there you have it: in 1987, Gorbachev was more dangerous than Stalin. Kramer’s vision of geopolitics was, of course, breathtakingly unhinged from reality. In the actual universe that we inhabit, Gorbachev had already initiated a reform program that would, in a little over two years after Kramer’s essay was published, lead to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Warsaw Pact, and the unmaking of the Soviet Empire. In 1999, Kramer reprinted this essay in a collection entitled Twilight of the Intellectuals but, with an appropriately Cold War willingness to rewrite history, excised the passage quoted above. (With that charming lack of shame and self-awareness that marks all his writing, Kramer spent a few pages in Twilight of the Intellectuals attacking writers like Susan Sontag for supressing embarrassing essays they wrote while younger.)
It is fair to say that Commentary has a long history of threat inflation. The magazine lives in a universe where the year is always 1938, each new enemy is Hitler come back to life and any effort at diplomacy is a reenactment of Munich. No grown up should take this view of the world seriously.