We are glad to have received Jeffrey Gedmin's permission to print the original English version of his article in WELT, Was wäre wenn....?
WHAT IF... ?
Teheran and the Bomb
Column in "Die Welt" (26.04.2006)
By Jeffrey Gedmin
A couple years ago British historian Andrew Roberts published a volume
of essays in counterfactual history, also known as "what if" history. Some
of this stuff seems extravagant, I admit, like speculating how things would
have been different had Nazi Germany won the Second World War. I find
more stimulating the comparatively discreet questions, like what would have
happened had the Brighton bombing succeeded in killing Margaret
In 1982 IRA terrorists murdered five people by exploding two large bombs at
the Grand Hotel in the English seaside city of Brighton. Thatcher, whose
bathroom was shredded by the explosion, narrowly escaped uninjured. Had
Thatcher died that night, Michael Heseltine might have become Prime
Minister. Imagine: no Thatcher revolution, no transformation of the British
economy, no key ally for Ronald Reagan, nobody to tell George Bush
senior in 1991 not to go "wobbly" after Iraq invaded Kuwait.
Some see counterfactual history as a useless parlour game. Others
lament itssuperficial read of events, as it tends to underestimate social
processes and other "historical forces." I tend to appreciate, though, the role
of key personalities, good (and bad) ideas and sometimes sheer serendipity in
shaping the course of things.
I recall in the 1980s in the GDR being with a friend in Ilmenau, whose
mother gazed out the kitchen window and told of how after the World War
II American troops came and sat on one side of the hill, Soviet troops on
the other. She wondered aloud, with evident melancholy, how her own life
might have been different had the Red Army left days later and the Americans
instead had stayed.
I've got my own counterfactual history of Iraq. It starts with 1991.
Imagine Saddam had possessed nuclear weapons. He was closer to
getting the bomb than we had imagined before to the first Gulf War. I
suspect Kuwait would have become the 19th province of Iraq and the oil fields of
Saudi Arabia might belong to Baghdad today. I have my own thoughts about
the last four years as well. Only a fool would deny that we Americans have
made grave mistakes and that the security situation in the Iraq is extremely
serious. I find it ridiculous, though, to see the smug anti-war crowd
crow that all would have been fine had Bush and Blair only left Saddam alone.
Imagine we had left Saddam in power and he had broken free of feeble UN
sanctions (and he would have); imagine he had reconstituted his chemical and
biological weapons programs. He had the infrastructure, clandestine
laboratories and the rest, all still in place. Imagine he had started active
collaboration with Al Qaeda. Documents discovered in Baghdad confirm that
Iraqi intelligence had indeed been in conversation with Osama bin Laden's
And if we fail to stop Iran from getting the bomb? The President of Iran
says he wants to create an "Islamic Superpower," wipe Israel off the
map, provoke a "Clash of Civilizations," deploy 40,000 suicide bombers for
global jihad, inspire millions of muslim "ghazis" (holy raiders) and follow
his "Hidden Imam," the true Sovereign of the World, into glorious death.
I know what history--and counterfactual history-I want when this
current chapter is finished.