Responses on Iranian nukes and what to do about them

Readers try to straighten me out.

In addition to reminding me about the difference between Aesop and Prokofiev, a number of readers told me I was utterly and completely wrong about what’s going on in Iran and what to do about it.

It’s not unusual, of course, for me to be utterly and completely wrong, or for my readers to bring my errors to my attention.

What is unusual is that several of them made arguments and offered facts that seemed cogent even to me, and that all of them were polite.

I’m no expert, and they could well be right. So in lieu of a comments section, I’m posting some of their emails.

Since none of them asked to be identified by name, I’m taking the cautious approach of quoting them anonymously. (If you’re quoted below and want to be named, please let me know.)

For future reference: I will feel free to quote (anonymously) any comment I get by email, unless you tell me not to.

Comment #1

On the Iranian nukes, we’ve seen this movie before *and* it seems pretty clear what the outcome is scripted to be: Israeli strikes ala Osirak. They supposedly have already been given the new bombers, the new bombs, and the coordinates.

This is not a choice between the distasteful and the catastrophic; it’s a choice between the catastrophic and the catastrophic. And that would be so even if we did the bombing rather than the Israelis.

There is a bigger game here than who in the world has nukes, at least as far as this country is concerned. It is how the rest of the world can gang up to discipline the US because its voters were so stupid as to elect bush to a second term.

In this larger, inescapable context, if we or our surrogates actually do such a thing, we will be considered an irretrievably outlaw nation– even if Powell is right and the Iranians were in fact developing nukes.

We are unbelievably vulnerable economically (the only language we understand anyway, as far as they’re concerned), and you can see the beginnings of a quarantine now in the dollar’s fall. The Russians are cozying up very effectively to the French and the Germans and making nice with the Chinese, and the Mexicans and Canadians are working to bypass us. The Euro is becoming an effective alternative currency. One of the last major steps is detachment of the yuan from the dollar, something the Chinese are moving toward– at our own urging.

Once that happens, we’re essentially toast no matter how much military hardware we have. There is no way on God’s green earth for us to earn enough foreign currency to sustain our economy once the dollar loses its favored position.

People say they can’t do that because they need us as a market too much. Those countries aren’t market-based in the same way we are, and they aren’t dedicated to economic growth the way we are. More specifically, it was my contention back in 2002 that the Europeans, if they decided we were rogue, would endure any amount of pain in the short term to bring us to heel. I still think so.

They don’t want to, and they’ll proceed slowly and at a distance, unless we do something totally incendiary like going after Iran. Then all bets are off. That’s why it’s a catastrophe either way if Powell is right. If he’s not, then we have an avoidable catastrophe. We should at the very least have something vanishingly close to certainty before we risk that kind of suffocation.

And about the draft: don’t underestimate what Rove et. al. are actually willing to do and to think about. I don’t doubt that they’d be willing to completely militarize the country through whatever scenario comes about. These guys are *not* politics as usual, but it’s even deeper. They don’t believe in constitutional politics, period. They’ve shown it all along– a significant part of a constitutional system is its customary practice; they’ve trampled custom like a discarded twinkie. Don’t underestimate them, please.

Comment #2

Putting aside that David Kay is in the “horselaugh” camp with Kevin

Drum on Powell’s particular statement, with what army do we deal with any

legit threat anywhere? Even if everyone was on board? And with the

proven monumental incompetence of THIS administration?

Yes, what do we do if the report is true?

Please allow me to suggest ONE “thing more impractical than letting

one’s enemies arm themselves.”

That would be to let a genuine embecile megalomaniac lead us into

apocalyptic annihilation.

We’ve already survived the Cold War, a case wherein our enemies had

nukes and the means to obliterate the world. Because we had a policy of

“mutual assured destruction.”

And now we arguably have enemies less rational. Or perhaps they are

enemies who are rational, but in the sense that they are dedicated to

self-destruction in calculated service to their religious ideology.

If we were to try to fight another war now, given the cards on the

current table, we would lose. It’s that simple. Think “Stalingrad.”

This is exactly the scenario of The Little Boy Who Falsely Cried

“Wolf!” The price of the big false alarm is that we have been left unprepared

to contend with the genuine threat.

The answer is to devise a truly thoughtful diplomatic arrangement to

prevent a holocaust, which might well be described as “choosing between

the disastrous and the unpalatable.” “Mutual assured destruction” was as

unpalatable as they come, but it allowed us to survive pretty much in

one piece.

The Bush administration has one solitary goal: to try and prove George

Bush’s dick is bigger than everyone else’s. Alas, it simply is not, and

way too many people have already died on the alter of Bush’s vanity. He

is like a one-trick pony, incapable of operating in any way other than

stupid and self-destructive. (I defy anyone to identify a single case

otherwise, so far in his term of office. And by “self-destructive” I

mean policy harmful to the US citizenry at large.)

If anyone were to launch a nuclear attack against us, we would of

course have to try and fight back. As best as we could. But the imperative

now is to buy time, to try and rebuild our fighting capacity that Bush

has so thoroughly destroyed.

Diplomacy would surely be “unpalatable.” Folks would surely try and

make comparisons to Neville Chamberlain conceding to Hitler. And during

the Cold War, there were those who insisted their preference “better dead

than Red.” Most sane people, however, recognize the law of diminishing

returns in the “better dead” philosophy. And the sane ones who do agree

with it apply the decison-making process narrowly to themselves, in

terms of suicide, and wouldn’t take out everyone else along with ’em.

Better to live, so as to be able to fight another day. And so buying

days becomes the primary goal.

Comment # 3

Without disputing your larger point — the possibility that Iran really is nuclear arming itself — I think you misread the situation.

With reference to your two supposed cross-currents:

1. “For one thing, confronting Iran will probably make the situation in Iraq much, much worse, since it would probably get Sistani strongly committed against us and whoever our remaining friends in Iraq might be.”

This may be true. But there is no evidence that such a cross-current

actually exists in the Bush administration. I believe this is a mistake. Time and again the Bush administration has benefited from having its boldness and audacity underestimated. That is what you are doing. And what track record does the administration have in avoiding decisions that make the situation in Iraq much, much worse?

2. For another, the source of the latest leak is a group that we have already called “terrorist,” and which the Europeans, as part of the latest deal, agreed to crack down on . No doubt the People’s Mujaheddin does use terror, and I’m sympathetic with the notion that terror, like torture, is never justified. But I’m worried that the “war on terror” slogan might have penetrated too deeply into some of the small brains now fouling up our foreign policy, and that, in the

Iranian case as in the Russian case, they will opt to stand with the government-in-being against insurgents as long as the government proclaims its hostility to “terrorism,” no matter how terroristic its own policies might be.

As I understand it, this simply misreads the situation. which is in fact almost diametrically the opposite of what you describe. The so-called neocons are supportive of the MEK, and in fact have been pushing to have them removed from the terrorist list. (I’m pretty sure the State Department has been resistant. I suspect that will change.)

Laura Rozen has been on this case. It is just wrong to worry that those fouling up our foreign policy stand with the government against the MEK just because they hear the word terrorism. The MEK is part of the coalition of groups the AEI folks and presumably their allies in the administration support.

None of this says, strictly speaking, that Iran is not to worry about, of course. But you have to have a clear assessment of the situation. Frankly, I have no idea what Powell was doing this week — except perhaps getting info out there when it was not yet bolstered by other info, so that it would appear thin.

As for practical possibilites with Iran, there are three that seem most likely to me: 1)we are ramping up the rationale in advance of airstrikes; 2)we declare victory in Iraq after the elections, scale back our troop commitment and get them rested and ready for Iran; 3)we are in the midst of the U.S. publicly and decisively declaring its Iran policy, which is one of great hostility, in the hopes of sending an encouraging and decisive message of support to those who are potential Iranian regime changers. One of the neocon claims has been that

Iranian dissidents, students and so on who are potentially in a position to lead the larger population toward peaceful regime change lack and need a decisive declaration of support from the U.S.

Comment #4

By just how much do we outgun even a nuclear-armed Iran? Or Pakistan?

Or China? Or even Russia?

What is the likelihood Tehran would calculate that they could initiate a nuclear attack against us and not have us find out?

What is the likelihood that they would calculate that our response to such an attack would be not be so fearsome they’d launch it anyway?

What is the likelihood they would entrust Hezbollah with any of their scarce nuclear weapons? (Whereas an impoverished, desperate North Korea …..)

Deterrence against certain actions–notably firing off nuclear weapons–by other states remains overwhelmingly effective. We have lived with an Islamic bomb since 1987 (the year Pakistan is said to have acquired the ability to carry out a nuclear explosion), and can live with another.

(Yes, Pakistani regimes have been less inclined to sponsor terrorism than have Iranian. But even religious fanatics, if they are to survive, must confront facts.)

You might recall that if Iranian leaders had not already decided to proceed as rapidly as possible to acquire nuclear weapons, they certainly must have done so after the leader of the United States located them on an axis of evil January 29, 2002. What more could he have done to have set them on that course?

(Aside, of course, from invading neighboring Iraq. The message of that invastion was received not just next door but everywhere around the

world: The U.S. is a little wild and crazy, and there’s only one way to guard

against its ministrations.

Can’t say the war hasn’t accomplished anything.

Arguments like yours and Pollock’s are likely to prevail. But this war

is little better advised the previous one.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com