There are two kinds of people in the world: Those who think the zany Tim Burton movie Mars Attacks! is incredibly stupid, and those who laugh their heads off through the whole thing. I’m in category #2.
The best thing about Mars Attacks! is the clueless president played by Jack Nicholson, his pretentious foreign policy advisor, played by Pierce Brosnan, and his gung-ho military advisor, played by Rod Steiger, debating what to do about the Martian invaders.
Puffing on a long pipe, Brosnan’s character advises the president that the world will laud him if he greets the Martians as friends. The First Lady isn’t convinced:
First Lady: I’m not allowing that thing in my house.
President Dale: Sweetie, we may have to. The people expect me to meet with them.
First Lady: Well they’re not going to eat off the Van Buren china.
The leader of the Martians arrives and delivers a speech that is translated as “We come in peace! We come in peace!” At almost the same moment, the Martians start firing powerful ray guns that kill everyone. But the Brosnan character is undeterred, continuing to press the president to offer peace, saying the Martians need to be understood. Repeatedly, the Martians say things like “Don’t run from us! We are your friends,” which always turns out to be a trick.
This op-ed from today’s Wall Street Journal reminded me of Mars Attacks! Even though it’s serious, it makes the diplomatic maneuverings around Iran’s nuclear plans seem just as laughably futile as Jack Nicholson’s attempts to mollify the Martians. The essay’s author, Michael Rubin, says that as the West tries to negotiate a deal to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, keep in mind that Iran has a tendency to lie rather brazenly. His article documents a number of Iranian switcheroos since the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979:
In 1986, former U.S. national security advisor Robert McFarlane’s traveled to Tehran. While the Iran-Contra Affair is remembered today for the Reagan administration’s attempts to circumvent Congressional prohibition of funding of the Nicaraguan resistance, it also illustrates the inadvisability of trusting Tehran. President Reagan sought to win the release of American hostages in Lebanon but, as soon as Washington compensated Tehran for its bad behavior, its militias accelerated hostage seizure. Diplomatic enticement–bribery by another name–backfired. But diplomacy is not just about incentives; it is also about trust. What could have been just a failed initiative turned to scandal when, on the seventh anniversary of the embassy seizure, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, today the chairman of the Expediency Council, broke a pledge of secrecy and revealed the meetings to the international press.
Iranian authorities showed diplomatic duplicity once again after Khomeini issued a declaration calling for author Salman Rushdie’s death. Four months before Khomeini’s death, then-president Khamenei demanded that Mr. Rushdie apologize in exchange for cancellation of a religious edict ordering his murder. Mr. Rushdie apologized, but the Iranian government nevertheless kept the bounty in place. President Khamenei was insincere, his diplomacy was a tactic. By winning an apology, he confirmed Mr. Rushdie’s guilt.
Would such a religious group be okay with lying? Indeed they would, according to Rubin:
During his long exile in Najaf, Khomeini endorsed taqiya, religiously sanctioned dissembling. From his perspective and that of his followers, the ends justify the means. Hence, Khomeini saw nothing wrong when he told the Guardian newspaper, just months before his return to Iran, “I don’t want to have the power of government in my hand; I am not interested in personal power.” Tehran may still conduct diplomacy to fish for incentive and reward but, at its core, Iranian diplomacy is insincere. The Iranian leadership will say anything and do anything to buy the time necessary to acquire nuclear capability.
Throughout the Western diplomatic community, there is a strong yearning to change Iran’s course diplomatically. No one wants more war in the Middle East. The fear we should have, however, is that we might be lulled into a false sense of security by such an agreement. If we sign one, we shouldn’t kid ourselves. Whatever we gain from a deal with Iran will be very temporary, and must be monitored just as closely as if the agreement didn’t exist.
Part of the joke of Mars Attacks! is the hopelessness of Earth’s situation. Nothing can really stop the Martians’ gleeful killing spree. The general who rages at “Intellectuals! Liberals! Peacemongers! Idiots!” and wants to bomb the invaders’ spaceships is, in the end, no more effective against the Martians than is the naive Brosnan. The Martians are just too powerful. Their only vulnerability? It is discovered by accident that Slim Whitman music makes their heads explode.
Oh well, there’s only so much foreign policy guidance you can expect from a Tim Burton movie.