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April 18, 2006

Facing Down Iran

Mark Steyn's latest is a must-read. It's about how Iran got where it is today and what it may mean if it does go nuclear. It's rather long but full of historical lessons on what worked, and what didn't (most notably appeasement), in the past and how to apply it to the present situation. He notes, as I have in comments here, that dealing with Islamists is quite different from Communists, as the latter didn't want to die, and was thus less likely to start a nuclear war, but the former may not care, not even Iranian "moderates". If Western powers are kowtowed when Muslim extremists burn buildings, imagine how timid they'll be when those folks have a nuke available to them (marked "from Iran with love"). And, as his history lessons show, this antagonism on the part of Iran didn't suddenly begin when Bush sat down in the Oval Office; they've got a long tradition of it. Steyn is under no delusion that dealing with Iran now will be easy by any stretch of the imagination, but dealing with it later will be nigh well impossible.

This short take doesn't do it the least bit of justice, so I recommend sitting back and taking in the whole thing.

Posted by Doug at April 18, 2006 12:20 PM

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Here is the paragraph that reveals the fundamental ridiculousness of Mark Steyn and how nobody with any sense can take him at all seriously:

Once again, we face a choice between bad and worse options. There can be no “surgical” strike in any meaningful sense: Iran’s clients on the ground will retaliate in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and Europe. Nor should we put much stock in the country’s allegedly “pro-American” youth. This shouldn’t be a touchy-feely nation-building exercise: rehabilitation may be a bonus, but the primary objective should be punishment—and incarceration. It’s up to the Iranian people how nutty a government they want to live with, but extraterritorial nuttiness has to be shown not to pay. That means swift, massive, devastating force that decapitates the regime—but no occupation.
The final sentence is the money quote, of course. He's not explicitly calling for an annihilating nuclear first-strike on Iran, but it's hard to imagine how the regime could be "decapitated without an occupation" any other way.

This is— let's be honest, boys and girls— bugfnck CRAZY.

Posted by: s9 at April 20, 2006 12:34 AM

Steyn doesn't mention nukes specifically, but you assume that and call it "crazy". Yet you and other seem perfectly content with allowing Ahmadinejad and the mullahs behind him to have nukes themselves, even though all of them have said, at one time or another, that they want Israel gone--physically. That's the disconnect.

By the way, don't we have one or two conventional munitions left? Just because you can't imagine something don't mean it isn't so or can't happen. "How" is always the million-dollar question, of course, and I'm not a military expert by any means. Nonetheless, the idea of what Steyn says isn't crazy on it's face simply because you've assigned a method to it on your own.

While I'm commenting, I wanted to note that I listen to the podcast of the radio program "Open Source", a usually liberal look at the issues of the day, and they covered this issue a few days after I wrote this post. Of course, all 3 of their guests were liberals and all three agreed with each other on everything (so much for host Christopher Lydon's billing of his show as a "debate" of the issues), but there was a disconnect among those folks as well that Lydon never noticed.

I believe it was Barry Posen who noted that going into Iran would be a military disaster because of the response. And yet at the same time, he thought that an Iran with nukes would be very easy to contain, since if they tried to use that leverage--that threat--to expand territorially with conventional weapons, we could easily beat them back. Somehow, in his mind Iran was an unbeatable behemoth inside its borders, but a fly easily swatted just outside them. Understanding that the farther from home you are, the more supply and logistic issues you have, that still seemed like a convenient claim to make to try to make the case for living with a nuclear Iran; they're strong when it helps your case, and they're weak when you want them to be.

Another case made was that they'd never give away nukes because they'd be afraid we'd trace it back to them and the world would retaliate. Oh yeah? There's a clear money trail that leads from Iran to dead innocent Israelis and what has the world done about it? In the case of Europe and the UN, it's been to mostly sympathize with the Palestinians who committed those acts of terrorism. Why would Iran think the world would do anything about it? Maybe the world would, but Iran would have no reason to believe so the first time they tried. And the damage would already be done.

These folks discussing the issue just did not connect with reality at all. It's like they think that even though appeasement hasn't worked at all in the 20th century, that in the 21st century maybe it will. This time. Now that's crazy.

Posted by: Doug Payton at April 20, 2006 09:39 AM

p1. For the record, I didn't "assume" he meant to advocate nuking Iran. I specifically said I couldn't imagine what else he could have meant.

p2. Yes, a conventional first-strike is technically possible. It's a very dumb idea, and one could easily make a case that it would be crazy to launch, but it's not the obviously stunningly crazy idea that a nuclear first-strike would be. Steyn doesn't explain how an attack with conventional weapons could result in the "decapitation" of the Iranian regime without also involving an occupation. Neither do you. Yet, you are both arguing for it. How on Earth do you imagine that could be done?

p3. Israel is a nuclear-armed state. One wonders why Israel's own nuclear deterrance isn't enough to keep Iran at bay.

The facts are on the table, Doug— and you are running away from them: there are no good military options for preventing Iran from acquiring the Bomb.. If you insist on arguing otherwise, you should be prepared to explain what you think are those options. Speak up.

Posted by: s9 at April 20, 2006 07:10 PM

I've already said, specifically to you, why Mutually Assured Destruction doesn't work for someone who's not interested in surviving, only killing.

I'm not running away from facts. I'm stating flat out (for the 3rd time in your hearing) that I'm no military planner. I don't know what all is available to the Pentagon. I would imagine covert ops would have to come first, but if you want details...well, I'm not going to say it a 4th time.

What you've run away from is, in the last thread on this I asked you when you would consider negotiations to be not working. You evaded that and said only that right now we should be doing "real" negotiation. So you don't think anything the UN, US or EU is doing is in good faith, that it's not "real"? And even if we do "real" negotiation, I ask again, at what point would you say that it's not going to work?

Remember North Korea, and how out wonderful negotiations went with them. They got a bunch of aid from us, and utterly ignored their end of the bargain. Thank you, President Carter. Did he do "real" negotiation? That worked?

Posted by: Doug Payton at April 20, 2006 08:08 PM

Doug Payton writes: "I've already said, specifically to you, why Mutually Assured Destruction doesn't work for someone who's not interested in surviving, only killing."

That was easily rebutted by observing that you aren't talking about any real constituencies of political power in Iran. You've established that their President is a wingnut, but he's only one man and he doesn't have control of the button yet.

Look, every country has a cadre of people who are so devoted to their national cause that they're willing to die in the process of attacking their enemies. You're insane if you think differently. Yes, even the United States has such a cadre of true believers. That doesn't mean "assured second strike" has no deterrent effect on them.

"So you don't think anything the UN, US or EU is doing is in good faith, that it's not "real"? "

No, I don't.

Posted by: s9 at April 21, 2006 10:17 PM

There is no button yet, so you have no idea who will have control of the button.

And a 3-year-old article about a suppoesd "secret cabal of neocons" doesn't answer my question about today, nor of the UN or the EU, nor even Jimmy Carter. One conspiracy theory doesn't handwave away all that.

Posted by: Doug Payton at April 21, 2006 11:22 PM

Nothing has changed in three years, Doug. That's my point.

Posted by: s9 at April 23, 2006 12:54 AM

I've already said, specifically to you, why Mutually Assured Destruction doesn't work for someone who's not interested in surviving, only killing.

Why would we assume that? Iran certainly acts like a rational entity: it sees the distinction in treatment between Iraq and N. Korea, and pursues its interests in rational fashion. I guess I don't see how running around screeching, "They're all crazy! They're all out to get us!" makes us the rational ones.

Posted by: jpe at April 23, 2006 03:21 PM