Attacking Iran—the analogies

While I normally have the highest intellectual respect for Mark Kleiman, his tentative support for military action in Iran is (as he knows) one position that makes me doubt whether his contact with reality is as solid as he believes.

While I normally have the highest intellectual respect for Mark Kleiman, his tentative support for military action in Iran is (as he knows) one position that makes me doubt whether his contact with reality is as solid as he believes.

Steve Teles is right to ask whether there would be much European support for a military strike against Iran. But he’s mistaken, in my view, to think that this is a difficult question, and mistaken to think that short-term violent reactions that would dwarf the Danish boycott would be the main concern (though there would be such reactions, of course, and they would set several countries aflame for months).

The Europeans would oppose the bombing of Iran (4000 air sorties and all) for the same reason that most Americans eventually would (and almost all Democrats would right away): it would be absolutely batsh*t crazy. I believe in using moderate language in these discussions, which is why the preceding is as moderate as it is.

Is Iran immune to deterrence? Only if its leadership is crazier than Stalin was. The answer to Mark’s question about what would happen if iran nuked Tel Aviv is simple: if it did that, the population of Iran would be reduced to a fraction of its current size within minutes, and Iran knows that. Would Iran like to be Nazi Germany? Irrelevant question: Israel is no Poland and never will be.*

Is it our job to take out Iran’s nuclear program? Only if we assume that we have more national interests at stake than Israel. And what kind of American crisis justifies panic and preemptive bombing when a hostile country threatens to acquire nuclear weapons? Not the kind we had at the height of the Cold War—assuming we were right not to start a real war with the USSR (yes? yes?).

Four thousand bombing sorties against Iran means even more dead and dismembered children than we’ve created in Iraq—which, by the way, is what leads daily news stories on Iraq unless one lives in America—with much less humanitarian excuse given Iran’s relatively soft authoritarianism towards its own citizens and lack of demonstrated (not rhetorical) interest in wars of conquest. It means another several million Muslims worldwide who will live and die with no other goal in life than to kill as many Americans, any Americans, as possible. It means predictably creating legions of uncontrollable cells in lieu of accepting a normal state’s acquisition of the same weapons that its main adversary already has.

America’s fearsome power gives us the illusion that we can use our might to preempt any possible threat in the world. It’s a great comfort—so great that I wouldn’t mind preserving it a little longer. If we bomb Iran, we will see a horrible demonstration of how illusions are lost.

*We shouldn’t assume either that the people actually empowered to launch nukes are identical to Iran’s current, barely-stable President (let alone to whoever might be President in several years when the bombs are actually ready). I remember a story Richard Neustadt used to tell about President Johnson. LBJ recounted a dream in which he decided to push the button, and the military types said “yes sir, Mr. President.” But upon waking, Johnson realized that in real life they’d have said “screw you, Mr. President.” Note that Ahmadinejad can’t even get his nominees to the oil ministry confirmed by Parliament. Hitler did not typically face the same problem.

Author: Andrew Sabl

Andrew Sabl, a political theorist, is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Toronto. He is the author of Ruling Passions: Political Offices and Democratic Ethics and Hume’s Politics: Coordination and Crisis in the History of England, both from Princeton University Press. His research interests include political ethics, liberal and democratic theory, toleration, the work of David Hume, and the realist school of contemporary political thought. He is currently finishing a book for Harvard University Press titled The Uses of Hypocrisy: An Essay on Toleration. He divides his time between Toronto and Brooklyn.

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