The Iran nukes debate

I haven’t blogged, as yet, about the issue of Iran’s nukes (and possibly U.S. use of nukes against Iran). Mainly, this is because I’m not enough of an expert on the issues involved to have an informed opinion; but also because the issue is so fraught with complexities, dangers, and unknowns that I’m frankly glad I don’t have to have an opinion.

Jeff Goldstein thinks that it’s insane not to see a potentially nuclear missile-wielding Iran and its crazy-talking president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an imminent threat that requires the strongest possible response. Jim Henley thinks it’s insane to see Iran as an a serious threat to our security and to respond with saber-rattling, let alone military action.

What do I think? I believe that in the present circumstances, with the mess on our hands in Iraq, with American politics a house more bitterly divided than at any point in at least my memory, it would be insanity to launch a strike against Iran based simply on the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. (That’s leaving aside the moral debate about preemptive strikes.) If there really are, as Seymour Hersch reports, people in the Bush Administration who believe that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government,” that’s … shall we say, not very reality-based. (By the way, the mess next door in Iraq is not going to be very inspirational to any disaffected Iranians who might have welcomed U.S. intervention.)

At the same time, I don’t think the threat a nuclear-armed Iran could pose to the U.S., to Europe, and to Israel can be casually discounted. Ahmadinejad really isn’t helping matters by saying things like these, about Israel being “headed for annihilation” and being “eliminated by one storm.” I’m not as convinced as Jeff Goldstein that Ahmadinejad means every word he says — as opposed to spouting extreme rhetoric for his constituents — and that he’s a crazed fanatic who will gladly give his life in the cause of a nuclear jihad. (I still have fairly fresh memories of the days of the Cold War, when, for all my anti-Communist convictions, I couldn’t help being amused by the earnest belief of many American conservatives that the Soviet Union was run by fanatics drirven by Marxist faith in the inevitability of communism’s global victory — rather than by a bunch of sclerotic bureaucrats very attached to their power and their lives of luxury.) Nonetheless, the evidence of his fanaticism does merit serious attention. There are some legitimate questions about how much power Ahmadinejad really has in Iraq and how much damage he would be able to do; and it is also worth noting that so far, the mullahs’ Iran has not started wars of aggression. But there is still the question of what, in this situation, constitutes acceptable risk.

It won’t do, as Henley does in one of his comments on his thread, to deride those concerned about the threat of a nuclear Iran as “a bunch of scared little girls, starting at shadows” and “Annie Hall demanding that Alvie Singer kill every spider in the world before it can bite her.” (It is also telling that Henley takes possible nuclear saber-rattling by the Bush Administration very seriously but downplays and minimizes the significance of Ahmadinejad’s belligerent talk.) Insane or not, the regime in Iran is an extremist regime that supports terrorism. Such a regime with its hands on nuclear weapons is no shadow and no spider.

I’m certainly not advocating war, or offering any prescription. I think this is a problem that requires concerted international action. I don’t think there is any threat so imminent as to rush to judgment. But I do think there ought to be a middle ground between hysteria and hiding one’s head in the sand.

14 Comments

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14 responses to “The Iran nukes debate

  1. Anonymous

    I think this is the first time I’ve agreed (almost) completely with you, Cathy. But, being a contrary bastard by nature, I did catch one (parenthesized) point;

    “It is also telling that Henley takes possible nuclear saber-rattling by the Bush Administration very seriously but downplays and minimizes the significance of Ahmadinejad’s belligerent talk”

    The difference – the US has nukes, and remains the only country to have ever used them in anger. From what I have read, Iran is still at least several years away from having one.

    I don’t know how to assess Ahmadinejad’s ranting, but recent history should make us very nervous about the US Administration’s intentions.

    Rob G

  2. doug

    Ahmadinejad is a threat — but a more canny one than people may realize.

    Analysts believe Ahmadinejad will announce “a ‘temporary suspension’ of uranium enrichment as a ‘confidence building measure’” before the U.N. Security Council’s “deadline” for Iran to stop its uranium enrichment program.

    Ahmadinejad certainly believes what he says — but also knows how to rally his constituency and play world politics.

  3. Dean

    I wonder at the game that Iran is playing, and whether Ahmadinejad isn’t crazy like a fox. He seems to be doing everything he can to provoke a military response from either Israel or the US. You have to ask yourself why he would be doing that.

    And you have to realize (I hope) that if Iran wants the US to bomb them (which seems certain to me), then bombing them is probably the last thing the US should be doing. So far, Iran has been playing the US (and the EU) for fools, but what is the goal? Domination of eastern Iraq? Shia solidarity? Expansion of the Islamic republic, the mullahtocracy? Maybe all of the above.

  4. protein wisdom

    I don’t really know that a military response from either the US or Israel is the correct response. I’ve written several posts, in fact, confessing that I have no idea what our best option is.

    However, I think it is silly for the US EVER to take anything off the table — and “saber-rattling” is a bit different from noting that we will not stand by and allow one of our allies to be “wiped off the map.”

    I also think that an Iran run by mullahs and armed with nukes (and no one seems to know just how close they are; some believe they are 10 years away, others say 6 months) that proclaims its intentions needs to be taken seriously.

    And the world simply can’t afford to get too clever by half and bet that Iran won’t throw, say, 1 million martyrs to the cause, if they can get away with destroying Israel. Are they trying to bait us into an attack? I don’t know. And I don’t know what that would accomplish, either. My own guess is they are simply doing whatever they can to problematize the situation for us while they buy time to complete the nuclear weapons program.

    Are we looking at another Cuban Misssile Crisis looming? I don’t know. But the calculus, while quite complex, has to err on the side of taking the Iranian threats seriously.

    That doesn’t necessarily mean a military strike; but it can’t rule it out, either.

    How that’s accomplished — whether we first try isolating Iran economically, or whether we engage in strategic strikes meant to bottleneck the nuclear program — is just one of the issues that face us.

  5. Tom Hilton

    This is a pretty reasonable assessment. My only quibble is that I don’t think Henley is unreasonable to take Bush’s sabre-rattling seriously, given that the administration is making exactly the same denials they made before Iraq.

    As for Mr. Goldstein…well, I don’t think it’s silly to take options off the table if they’re absolutely guaranteed to make things catastrophically worse; such is the case with bombing Iran.

  6. Revenant

    The difference – the US has nukes, and remains the only country to have ever used them in anger.

    We didn’t “use them in anger”, we used them in a war, to END that war, against the people who started that war.

    It also makes no logical sense to use that fact to infer that the United States is somehow more likely than Iran to use nuclear weapons — the people who ordered the use of nukes in 1945 are long-dead and belonged to the opposing political party. You might as well look at what Iran is likely to do by examining the policies of the late Shah.

  7. Muslim Unity

    Yes, if USA uses a nuclear bomb it will become even more hated and would be vulnerable to further attacks from various groups.

  8. Rob

    “In anger” = “at war”. You know, as distinct from a tragic accident. Common usage, I believe.

    “It also makes no logical sense to use that fact to infer that the United States is somehow more likely than Iran to use nuclear weapons…”

    You’re right. Truman had a hell of a lot more sense and decency than Bush. Can’t really infer anything. That’s what’s so scary.

    By the way, I didn’t realize that the Republicans were opposed to the atomic strikes in ’45.

    Rob G

  9. Revenant

    “In anger” = “at war”.

    So if I yell at somebody who cuts me off in traffic, I’m declaring war on him?

    You know, as distinct from a tragic accident. Common usage, I believe.

    Common usage among people who, out of ignorance, assume that hate is the driving factor in war. We didn’t nuke Japan because we were mad at them; we nuked them in order to avoid having to invade them.

    You’re right. Truman had a hell of a lot more sense and decency than Bush.

    You’re welcome to your opinion, but you’ve no rational basis for it.

    the way, I didn’t realize that the Republicans were opposed to the atomic strikes in ’45.

    The Republicans weren’t asked their opinion on the atomic strikes, as the administration had kept the atmoic program a secret from the American people. Food for thought for those who fret about Bush administration “secrecy”.

  10. Rob

    Revenant,

    Why do you ridiculously equate anger with hate, yet bridle at it’s commonly-used idiomatic (and, I think, quite reasonable) use as a metaphor for war? Try googling the simple phrase “fired a shot in anger”.

    You often use the words “rational” and “logic”, yet you are trying to compare the secrecy of the Manhattan Project to something like Cheney stonewalling over the National Energy Policy (there are many other examples). Your reason and logic are highly selective.

    Rob G

  11. Revenant

    Try googling the simple phrase “fired a shot in anger”.

    The term “fired a shot in anger” is, indeed, a common metaphor in English. “Using nuclear weapons in anger” is not, nor is “in anger” a general metaphor for “in war”, so I suggest you stop moving the goalposts. :)

    you are trying to compare the secrecy of the Manhattan Project to something like Cheney stonewalling over the National Energy Policy

    Setting aside your redefinition of “stonewalling” to mean “refusing to tell Congress things it has no legal right or legitimate reason to know” and the fact that I never mentioned Cheney or the pseudo-scandal over the NEP, what’s so absurd about the parallel? What legitimate purpose was served by keeping the fact that we were attempting to develop an atomic bomb a secret from the American people? It did nothing to improve American security and denied the public (and most of the government) any role in deciding whether the use of nuclear weapons was a good idea or not.

    The Bush Administration informed top Democrats of its surveillance of suspected Al Qaeda operatives even though the operation would be rendered near-useless in the event Al Qaeda found out about it. FDR and Truman kept the Bomb a secret, even after it was developed and functional, and even though there was nothing Germany or Japan could have done about it at that point.

  12. Rob

    It may be that “used in anger”, or “(verb of your choice) in anger” is primarily a British and Australian usage. So let’s leave this linguistic curiosity aside, already.

    If you want to continue with the more substantive stuff, I suggest we do it by email. If you want, I *think* I’m prepared to put my address in a comment. The possibility of Michelle Malkin getting hold of it is a bit daunting, though ;)

    Rob G

  13. Jason H. Bowden

    Ahmadinejad means what he says. He believes he has been appointed by Allah to lead the final jihad against the infidels to bring about the return of this mystical and messianic 12th Imam character, who disappeared in the 900s.

    Ahmadinejad has also been meeting with leading terrorists in the region, Syrian officials, and Hamas. I suspect the game plan is the detonate a nuclear bomb in Tel Aviv and let Hamas and Syria cleanse Jerusalem and so forth of the remaining infidel population. Israel may exercise its Samson option against Iran, but as Rafsanjani said, a nuclear war with the west will have “acceptable losses.”

    I would have bombed Iran’s nuclear program last summer. No nukes for suicidal Mullahs. Period.

  14. Anonymous

    Its a dire shame that we surround ourselves with probabilities regarding iran instead of facing facts israel has nukes and shouldnt have bush went into iraq with a foundation of claims based on lies! no one country has violated more un resolutions than israel fact! so then why do we concentrate on rubbish ahmedinejad may talk some rubbish but the have never inveaded a foreign country unlike ourrighteous leaders blair and bush please people be real! regards

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