Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Warmongers always accuse enemies of insanity

What Paul Pillar says.  We can live with a nuclear Iran, because their leaders are evil, not insane:

The simple argument is that Iranian leaders supposedly don’t think like the rest of us: they are religious fanatics who value martyrdom more than life, cannot be counted on to act rationally, and therefore cannot be deterred. On the campaign trail Rick Santorum has been among the most vocal in propounding this notion, asserting that Iran is ruled by the “equivalent of al-Qaeda,” that its “theology teaches” that its objective is to “create a calamity,” that it believes “the afterlife is better than this life,” and that its “principal virtue” is martyrdom. Newt Gingrich speaks in a similar vein about how Iranian leaders are suicidal jihadists, and says “it’s impossible to deter them.” 
The trouble with this image of Iran is that it does not reflect actual Iranian behavior. More than three decades of history demonstrate that the Islamic Republic’s rulers, like most rulers elsewhere, are overwhelmingly concerned with preserving their regime and their power—in this life, not some future one. They are no more likely to let theological imperatives lead them into self-destructive behavior than other leaders whose religious faiths envision an afterlife. Iranian rulers may have a history of valorizing martyrdom—as they did when sending young militiamen to their deaths in near-hopeless attacks during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s—but they have never given any indication of wanting to become martyrs themselves. 

I think Khomenei would've been most likely to be an insane-from-our-perspective fanatic, and he negotiated an end to the Iran-Iraq war because it was in the interest of his regime's continued power.

Of course this doesn't mean evil leaders won't be aggressive or take risks.  Hitler attacked the Soviet Union when he hadn't finished digesting Western and Central Europe.  OTOH, there's no way he would've attacked the USSR if the Soviets already had nukes.  It is possible to reason through how an evil leader thinks.  If Iran gets nukes, and I don't even know how determined they are to get nukes as opposed to nuclear capability, it would be insane to give them to terrorists.

I think warmongers accuse enemies of irrationality to keep the rest of us from using reason ourselves.  If our enemies are insane, our only choice is to overcome them.  We heard the same stuff about Saddam, with no evidence afterwards that he was insane.  I suppose it's not impossible to encounter an insane enemy, but overuse of that argument, and Iranian history, suggests it's unlikely here.


John said...

Consider the map US military bases on either side of Iran at: http://tinyurl.com/88btskx

So, who, exactly is insane: the Iranians who have NO demonstrable nuclear weapons or those who try to convince us that "preventative war" against Iran war is absolutely necessary?

What would we do if Iran had the equivalent density of bases in Canada and Mexico? With our chronic menacing, Iranian leaders might be considered suicidal, if not insane, for failing to seek nuclear weapons.

Our foreign policy is permeated with the outlook of the aforementioned "carrion eaters": we, modern history's premier attackers, ALWAYS portray ourselves as the victims.

The following is a comprehensive listing of US foreign "interventions" for the last century or so.
It stops before Iraq. http://tinyurl.com/5uy93

Does anyone have a similar list for Iran?

John Puma

Thomas said...

From the Iranian perspective they may have more reason to wonder if American leaders are sane or if they need to get nuclear weapons to deter an attack. It no secret that people in the Bush administration had Iran on the list of countries they wanted to invade, had only Afghanistan and Iraq not taken so long to pacify.

Then there are Israel, Pakistan and India that proves that once you get nuclear weapons you are soon forgiven. The world has to go on, businessmen lobby to be able to start up trade and so on.

I'm not sure if the Iranians are planning to get nuclear weapons, but I fear the current aggressive policy with threats and sanctions is just about the best way to convince them to do so.

J Bowers said...

John, that map might well be out of date especially with regards to Iraq. The northern and south-eastern bases are "use of" bases only. Afghan bases are probably mostly preoccupied with other matters, including dealing with Iranian Revolutionary Guard supply excursions and tea at Afghan ministries.

Anonymous said...

The casualties would be horrendous and may include the $US. The economy is unlikely to withstand the shock.

They beat the war drums, but then say if Obama did it it would just be for electoral purposes.

Rabid Doomsaying Little Mouse

bob said...

Bombing will delay but not end Iran's nuclear program. What it really achieves is elevating the commitment of both sides.

Iran will become committed to finishing the project to achieve a "victory" over those who bombed them and those who bombed Iran will be committed to preventing Iran from achieving that victory, or else they lose face for the bombing being a waste.

The inevitable result is more bombings to slow Iran's progress down, which will commit both sides even more. The US will get involved. Even if Israel acts alone on the initial bombing, later on they'll drag the US in bit at a time. Then there's no way of spinning it - if Iran succeeds then the bombing was for nothing and which president would survive that?

Iran has the advantage because all it has to do is rebuild and hide stuff in an entire country. In fact the whole talk of bombing as a solution is ridiculous.

Surely what will happen is the bombing-side is going to get real desperate when it realizes it is near to "losing". Either they try to save face by buying out Iran somehow with a deal, or they go for the "nuclear option" of putting troops on the ground and occupying Iran like Iraq was.

That's the problem for me. Bombing imo leads to inevitably putting troops on the ground and that will be a lot lot worse than Iraq on all variables. So much worse that the only candidates I can see pulling off a stunt like that, who may in fact have no problem ignoring all the above problems and may be in power by then are any of the US republican nominees and the policy loons they will drag into the whitehouse with them, cheered on of course by the fox news demographic.

Anonymous said...

Useful for background understanding:

I'm no expert, but I have heard people claiming that the common school meme that Hitler was totally irrational in attacking the USSR is false. They claim that on the contrary:

a) He was running out of energy for the Western war effort and badly needed to get his hands on their oil and gas.

b) He wanted to attack before they were prepared. Which was militarily sensible.

c) He almost won. So it can't have been that nuts.

There were things that the Nazis fundamentally didn't understand about Russia. But at the time it must have looked pretty strategically sensible.

Maybe it is more comforting to think that someone so deranged in other respects MUST eventually become deranged about military strategy. But that may not be the case.

Anonymous said...

Whether Hitler was rational or not in attacking the Soviet Union, he certainly prepared for it with massive military spending. One would expect any purported Dr Evil to do likewise before embarking on military aggression. Iran's military spending is quite low, both in absolute terms and relative to it's GDP, which strongly suggests that a war of it's own making is definitely not on it's agenda:

Military Spending as percentage of GDP

Oale said...

The world has about 26000 nuclear arms. Assuming they're used against the most populous cities, this would make cities of under 50000 people relatively safe, assuming there's no weapons production or nuclear plant nearby- Of course the nuclear winter coming after a full scale war would make the surviving pretty hard for the living.

Oale said...

The historical detonations in graphical format can be seen here (those that were/are known to the maker of the movie) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9lquok4Pdk

Brian said...

Anon at 7:12 p.m. - I wasn't arguing that Hitler was irrational in attacking the USSR, instead I was just acknowledging a limitation to my argument, that rational evil dictators could be aggressive and take risks.

I think late-war Hitler was irrational in refusing to retreat from the USSR and in prioritizing the Holocaust over the war effort. Whether he was insane by that point is debatable but also irrelevant to deterrence - the die had been cast.

The three best cases I can think of for insane aggressive dictators is Hitler at the end, Mao trying to get Stalin to launch a nuclear war, and Idi Amin attacking Tanzania, but they're not perfect examples and don't overturn the general rule that dictators act rationally to protect their power.

dhogaza said...

"Iran has the advantage because all it has to do is rebuild and hide stuff in an entire country. In fact the whole talk of bombing as a solution is ridiculous."

Actually, two or three weeks ago the NYTime had a piece - either an interview of or op-ed by - a ranking U USAF general talking about the logistics of Israel's bombing Iran.

Wish I'd saved it, because it seems absent (largely) from the debate.

His claim was that the Iranian facilities are so protected (some under 200 ft of bedrock) that Israel would have to fly something like 1,000 sorties to have any effective affect.

And of course they'd have to fly over the Med, it's a long ways away, their fighter-bombers would have to refuel enroute, etc.

The claim is that an effective (not symbolic, which given the political rhetoric means boosting the RW here), isn't really possible.

It was an odd piece to be run rather under the radar (I think it was an op-ed, but there's been no follow-up, etc)

J Bowers said...

Oale -- "Assuming they're used against the most populous cities, this would make cities of under 50000 people relatively safe, assuming there's no weapons production or nuclear plant nearby"

A small air burst over a very large petrochemical complex, and the latter does all the work to create a very large blast radius. I grew up during the Cold War within the blast radius of such a scenario, and everyone was quite aware how little it would take to fry up to half of an entire English county.

Oale said...

Thanks J Bowers for adding in the list of things to avoid during nuclear war... ;-). When I was young, I was living in a city that (as I understood back then) was on the list of both Soviet (defensive strike) and US targets of nuclear arms, and was a bit baffled of the calm attitude toward nuclear arms by the people in the countryside.

John said...

To J Bowers:

I assume all publicly available information regarding the US perpetual war machine cannot be taken as absolutely comprehensive or accurate.

However, I would NOT assume those inaccuracies automatically allow us to expect decreased chances of more frank war.

Not counting ANY bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, there are still bases in at least NINE other countries surrounding Iran, within range of nuclear weapon carrying aircraft.

Whatever the inaccuracies in the particular map I presented, our military build up surrounding Iran has been going on, according to public knowledge, at least since 2001.

Only our abysmally irrational, chronic attitude of victim-aggressor imperialism could manufacture fault with Iran's observing and dealing with our obvious pincer action against it.

John Puma

Anonymous said...

Einstein is purported to have said that "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."

By that definition, who are the insane ones?