Sunday, April 09, 2006

Would You Support Nuclear War for "Regime Change"?

I don't comment much on this blog about U.S. policy other than some that concerns science. I'm going to make a small detour into territory that I usually prefer not to tread. The reason is two-fold. As you can tell by reading this blog, I've been spending quite a bit of time recently over at Dean's World. Dean has an excellent blog that really sets you thinking. In this particular case, Dean got me considering some issues concerning U.S. foreign policy where he and I definitely diverge a bit. I'll go into that a bit further down in this post. The second (and primary) reason is that after reading this article that was posted today from the current issue of The New Yorker, I felt compelled to comment. The article was offered to me by one of my most knowledgeable friends on matters political - Big Al. He sent it in an email to me entitled, "Scary". After reading it, I replied to him with:

"On the one hand, I know that if they are using "tough diplomacy" they would choose certain credible publications to drop stories like this in to try to shake up Iran and bring them to their knees. On the other hand, Bush and pals are so trigger happy, out of touch, and reluctant to use negotiations in the past that this seems VERY credible. Especially since Bush has exactly 33 months of presidency to do whatever he wants without having to worry about getting re-elected. And he IS a true believer and thinks he's doing god's work. Yeah. We'll nuke 'em. Never thought I'd say that in an off-hand way but REALLY MEAN IT. As you say, "Scary".

Dean and I kind of parted ways during the following discussion from his post entitled, "Shocking The Pessimists". The article should be read, but was basically a well-worded defense of our "successes" in Iraq that aren't very well recorded by the press corps and certainly not reflective of how a lot of people feel about the war in Iraq. In the comments, I said:

"I don't disagree that we won the war, and are winning in our ultimate goals for Iraq. I just don't agree that it is how we should be fighting against terrorism. Due to the disagreement with our friends, allies, semi-allies and people who don't like us all that much, but might otherwise have leant a hand, I think we are pretty much on our own in the battle against terrorism. If we focus on killing terrorists and not trying to set whole countries (and regions) on to the democratic path, we would have better chance in accomplishing what really needs to be done."

Dean questioned me:

"We have an awful lot of friends who are helping us, John, but I have to ask: which friends aren't helping that you would expect WOULD help if we'd left Saddam in power? And do you really think we'd be safer if he were still there? Do you really think our prestige would be higher if he were?"

To which I replied:

"1. It's more of a gut feeling than specific countries. I know I'm on shaky ground here. I think a lot of our friends disagree with what we are continuing to do and it would effect their willingness to help in future conflicts.

2. No. I don't think we would be safer. This is one of the problems of summing up my point in a few sentences. OK, I was ALL FOR TAKING OUT SADDAM. My problem is in fighting a war in which you attempt to take control of another country and install democratic values. Remember the first night of the war when Saddam got a tomahawk missile down his throat? That's the kind of war on terrorism I want. And I'm not just talking about lobbing missiles. I'm talking about a covert war (for the most part) with specific terrorist targets, utilizing among other things, technology, intelligence, Special Forces. And Saddam was a legitimate target of that - to my way of thinking.

3. Depends on how you define prestige. More people admire us, perhaps. More people hate us or, at least, have a higher neg opinion. We are feared somewhat more by "the bad guys", but I also think they believe (correctly) that Bush is somewhat of a different character than whoever will be in charge next time. My bottom line is that I don't believe the war on Islamic terrorism is like any other traditional war we have ever fought in our country's history. Baseball calls for a bat. Tennis calls for a racquet."

In a personal aside to Dean, I added:

"If you are concerned about my feelings towards helping other countries become democratic, I'll only say that had there been no terrorist attack on the US then we WOULDN'T be fighting in Iraq to help them become democratic. Further, you would NEVER get an American consensus for fighting a war if it was presented to the public as a war to help others become democratic. I would certainly be one of those very deeply opposed. The war is against terrorists, specifically Islamic terrorists. They don't come from any one country. No one country is run on the principle of terrorism nor do the majority of any country's people support terrorism. So why make it "about countries"? You are rightly suspicious of "who stands to gain financially from the war on HIV". Don't you have a little of your suspicious nature left for 'who stands to gain financially from a war in Iraq'? "

After reading the recent article in the New Yorker, I saw a new post over at Dean's that was glorifying the day that Saddam's statue was torn down in the streets of Baghdad. Is it just me, or was this the only moment of the war that just about everyone feels good about? Anyway, having read the New Yorker article, I couldn't resist this comment:

"How long until we're tearing down statues of the Ayatollah Khomeini, in Tehran? Take a look at this rather scary and not so shocking article from the New Yorker.

"This kind of ties back with the discussion we were having earlier on your post "Shocking the Pessimists". This part of the article refers to our relationships with our allies -

"The Europeans are rattled, however, by their growing perception that President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney believe a bombing campaign will be needed, and that their real goal is regime change. “Everyone is on the same page about the Iranian bomb, but the United States wants regime change,” a European diplomatic adviser told me. He added, “The Europeans have a role to play as long as they don’t have to choose between going along with the Russians and the Chinese or going along with Washington on something they don’t want. Their policy is to keep the Americans engaged in something the Europeans can live with. It may be untenable.”

“The Brits think this is a very bad idea,” Flynt Leverett, a former National Security Council staff member who is now a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, told me, “but they’re really worried we’re going to do it.” The European diplomatic adviser acknowledged that the British Foreign Office was aware of war planning in Washington but that, “short of a smoking gun, it’s going to be very difficult to line up the Europeans on Iran.” He said that the British “are jumpy about the Americans going full bore on the Iranians, with no compromise.” And... Any American bombing attack, [former Bush Ass't Sec. of State]Richard Armitage told me, would have to consider the following questions: “What will happen in the other Islamic countries? What ability does Iran have to reach us and touch us globally—that is, terrorism? Will Syria and Lebanon up the pressure on Israel? What does the attack do to our already diminished international standing? [my emphasis] And what does this mean for Russia, China, and the U.N. Security Council?”

"And I ask... Is this really Bush's idea of a "war on terror"? As you read the article, keep thinking about these words - 'Regime change'."

How about YOU? If the Bush administration had come to you and said, "we really don't know if Iraq possesses WMD's, in fact the best intelligence shows they probably don't, but we want to invade the country, depose Saddam and install democratic reforms. This is how we will fight the war on terrorism". That would have at least been a fairly honest appraisal of our position leading to the invasion. Would you have still supported the war? What if they come to you now and say, "We know Iran is working on nuclear power. We don't have absolute evidence of weapons development, they haven't been actively engaged in known terrorist activities that we are fighting against but they (the Revolutionary Guards) do have some past and present links to terror and we want to unseat them, install democratic reform in our fight against terrorism. And by the way, it may require tactical nuclear weapons" Would you support that war? And this assumes the "fairly honest appraisal" without bringing up the possible underlying issues of our government's desire to secure Middle East oil fields.

Yes, Al... Scary.


Dean Esmay said...

I left this as a comment on my own site, I reprint it here:

Hi John. I love your blog and I love your stones for taking on difficult and unpopular issues, but:

I got $50 right here that says that we don't nuke Tehran any time between now and January 2009--i.e. between now and the inauguration of the next President of the United States, be he (she?) Democrat or Republican. Whichever, the eville Rove/Cheney/Bush monster will leave office, and there will be no U.S.-sponsored nuclear fallout in Tehran by that date. Want to take my bet?

I hate to be such a jerk about it, but: Sy Hersh is a bottom-feeder who peddles America-hating "stories" by hanging around bars inside the D.C. beltway looking for third-level losers who work at the Pentagon and/or the State Department who will buy him whisky and validate whatever nutjob conspiracy theories he wants to peddle. The idiots who run "journals" like The Nation and The New Yorker, or shallow "news" shows like Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show," happily lap up his beer-soaked bullsh*t, especially if a Republican administration happens to be in office. It plays into the paranoia of their more fevered fans, after all.

To be clear, I'm not slamming this loser Hersh because he's a lefty. I'll happily slap the losers of the right too, like the twits at The American Spectator back in the 1990s who told us that Bill Clinton was a mass-murderer and a serial rapist.

No? You think I'm wrong? Here's $50. Take my money. There will be no nuclear strike on Iran between now and January 2009. You put your faith in a loser like Sy Hersch, I put my faith on the basic goodness of the USA.

Meantime, we liberated Iraq from fascist tyranny. A few whining Iraqi Sunnis, a minority of them who aren't much different from white South Africans who hated to see the Darkies put into power, hate the whole thing. Excuse me if my heart doesn't bleed much for them.

Dean Esmay said...

Oh and I'll add this:

I would applaud WILDLY if we were to invade Iran. So far as I'm concerned, we SHOULD invade. The vile, oppressive regime in Tehran is an embarrassment to anyone who cares about human rights. Especially anyone who cares about the rights of women and religioius minorities. The regime there makes me sick: they hate their women, they hate Jews, they hate Christians, and they hate anyone who believes in liberalism. I can imagine nothing more wonderful than sending the 101st airborn into Tehran and killing those vile monster bastards who oppress the Iranian people.

I wish Bush had the stones to invade and destroy those oppressive bastards.

That said, I don't think it'll happen. As much as I wish for it. I merely respect my wager to the question of nuking Tehran.

We won't nuke them. That's my bet. Sy Hersh is full of crap. Take me up on it?

John Evo said...

$50? You’re THAT POSITIVE, Dean? Hell, I wouldn’t want to win the bet anyway, because of what the consequences to the world would be. But also, I wouldn’t want to cause financial hardship over at one of my favorite blogs!

I think the odds are against the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Unless I think the odds are 51-49 of something happening then I'm not foolish enough to bet on it. Somehow it feels kind of sick wagering on nuclear war anyway! But I'm concerned that there have been ongoing discussions at the highest levels where the topic is even broached! Let alone that there is a contingent PUSHING FOR IT.

I don't know Hersh. I guess he could be as bad as you say. I tend to doubt it. Every time anyone from the left or right is particularly loudly and effectively outspoken for their side, the opposition tends to over-state how horrible they are. Unless you think he is fabricating these things he brings out in the article (statements made by conservatives, the notion that some folks have threatened to resign over the issue, the statements by officials of other countries and their belief about what is going on) then I would just stick to critiquing the POSITION of the article itself.

And the article doesn't claim that we WILL nuke them - just that it's being discussed and that it could happen if people don’t come out forcefully against it.

Based on the article, I would take a $50 bet that we take military action against Iran. Again, we MIGHT NOT, but I think it's gotten to the point where it's more than a 50/50 proposition. Iran isn't going to give up their nuclear program (I don't think) therefore Bush will act, and it's not like him to start with negotiations and move to sanctions and then move to military action. His idea of diplomacy is to posture rather menacingly, and if it doesn't work - 101st Airborne in the streets of Tehran.

There are a number of countries that I have the same "inner reaction" to as you do with Iran. In fact, Iran is ONE OF THOSE that I have that “gut feeling” about. But I don't think we should go to around the world going to war over the internal behaviors of their leaderships or over my gut feelings (or Bush’s). You may applaud wildly and certainly some would. Most Americans would be against that, and for good reasons. Until we, as humans, can start moving towards a way of interacting and solving differences without resorting to violence, then violence will always be first reaction for some people. I hate to sound like a screaming liberal here, but even they have a point sometimes. Unfortunately, we have come to a technological state where this would inevitably lead to our total destruction at some point. We no longer live in a world where, if you get uncontrollably angry you fire off a barrage of 12” shot. Maybe Iran will NOT be the first place that nukes will be deployed since Japan in 1945. But if we continue to approach our problems with this mind-set, then it becomes indisputable that it will happen down the line.

John Evo said...

By the way, Dean... you probably are already aware but our mutual friend Harvey Bialy has an excellent post (you may disagree) over at Rockwell. I'll just quote a closing paragraph -

"The Bush administration perverted what might have been a legitimate "war on terrorism" into a misguided, wasteful and dangerous invasion and occupation very much like the "war on AIDS," which should have been part of the "war on drugs" in the US and a "war on poverty" in Africa, became turned into a war on HIV, to the exclusive benefit of a variety of vested interests at the expense of the truth."

If interested, you can read the whole thing here:

Stuart Morris said...

A couple of points about the Nukes used on Iran scenario.

The first being that the military usually comes up with a number of wargaming scenarios, and it would be foolish to exclude use of nuclear weapons in any of those, so Hersh's appraisal is probably correct, but moot.

Secondly, one might want to think about the reasons for Iran developing a weapons program, and why the US might not want them to proceed. Of the Middle Eastern nations that hate the US, Iran is the largest and wealthiest. When dealing with hostile nations, the most effective foreign policy tool available is threat of military action. If Iran develops nuclear weapons with defensive capability, that foreign policy tool evaporates, and there aren't many others available with Iran. Therefore in order to maintain a level of political control in the region, which would be benificial at a time when other economies like China's and India's require the resources there, it is essential that the US deal with the threat of Iran developing these weapons, and it needs to do so before they eiither develop the weapons, or before Democrats take the Whitehouse. After either of those, it's too late, Pandora's box has been opened.

Lastly and conversely, this US administration has a large incentive to actually use tactical nuclear weapons in this case, I believe. It would send a pretty clear message to other medium-sized countries with large oil revenues thinking of also developing nukes (and I suspect that they're all wanting nukes at this point) that nuclear weapons will be employed if necessary to stop them. That's a hell of a message, and a hell of an incentive to not do so. It's also a clear message to those supporting Iran and its weapons program (coughChinacough).

Besides, the US military is pretty busy these days with some other projects they have on the go, and nukes are cheap and effective.

Hope I'm wrong, but if I were you, I'd take that bet from Dean. There are several other reasons why their use would not be benefical, but I think the odds are high that they might be used. Besides, it wouldn't be nuclear war, it would be the use of small tactical bunker-buster nukes, with high underground destructive capability, and low fallout. Their use could be defended by the adminsitration as being the only sure way of taking out Iran's hardened underground facilities.

John Evo said...

D-P-U, that's kind of scary but I mostly agree with you. Not that I agree that it SHOULD BE the course we follow, but that it's probably the course that is, at least, contemplated.

To be fair to the Bush administration, they have denied the essence of the New Yorker article as "wild speculation" and you can read the full text here.

On the other hand, if you do read the FULL text, you will find this:

Bush defends first-strike policy

Bush has said Iran may pose the greatest challenge to the United States of any other country in the world. And while he has stressed that diplomacy is always preferable, he has defended his administration’s strike-first policy against terrorists and other enemies.

“The threat from Iran is, of course, their stated objective to destroy our strong ally Israel,” the president said last month in Cleveland. “That’s a threat, a serious threat. It’s a threat to world peace; it’s a threat, in essence, to a strong alliance. I made it clear, I’ll make it clear again, that we will use military might to protect our ally.”

Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Mark Ballesteros would not comment Sunday on reports of military planning for Iran. “The U.S. military never comments on contingency planning,” he said.

Stuart Morris said...

On the other hand, leaking the possibility of nuke use in attacking Iran might make an eventual attack with conventional weapons look downright responsible and measured, so who knows?

mikeca said...

Sy Hersh’s story is almost entirely based on anonymous sources so it is hard to judge what ax they have to grind. Some people, like Dean, seem to think they are Bush haters who are trying to discredit the administration. I have also heard suggestions that they are neocons who are leaking this story to prevent any kind of a negotiated settlement. This story makes it almost impossible for the Iranian leaders to agree to anything without looking like they caved into American bullying. The thinking goes that by leaking this story, they sabotage any possibility of a negotiated settlement, while positioning Bush administration where it will look weak if they do not follow through and bomb Iran.

John Evo said...

Those are interesting possibilities that kind of counter what I was saying - that perhaps it was "dropped in" to the press so that Iran could see the possibilities without actually having been threatened (thus giving them the opportunity to gracefully stop their nuke work without looking like caving in).

I will disagree with you on the "almost entirely based on anonymous sources". While some of the information was on background, there were a number of sources quoted by name - both domestic and international.

Still, I can see where certain hard-liners might like to paint Iran into a corner.

Al said...

John, it is not necessary to take that $50 bet. I have made my bets regarding this administration by moving my investments into Canadian oil sand and mineral stocks (including gold) and have made a hell of a lot more than $50. Rummy the Dummy and the incompetant commander the chimp have minted me some coin.

I also crack up when these armchair soldiers and wanna-be neocons talk about invading still another country. Yeah, and Iraq worked out so well for them also. What branch of the service are they enlisting for? Of course, the chimp got us into 2 shooting wars in a world where Iran is a potential threat (I always felt a stronger case could be made for an Iranian connection to Al Queda than Iraq), N. Korea is always dangerous, and Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are just an Al Queda inspired coup away from requiring our attention. What has the chimp and Rummy done to build up our troop strength in the past 4-1/2 years. We don't have enough to properly secure Iraq and Afghanistan and now he want a 3rd war. Of course, he wants to use nukes because he was too fucking lazy to add the 300,000 to 500,000 troops we need to properly meet our current obligations and potential future threats. So what do you do when your are too lazy to build up our troop strength and lack the honesty to level with the American people of the need to do this by possibly reinstating the draft? You take the easy way out and nuke them. Never mind that by doing so, you make it inevitable that someone at some time will nuke the US. Of course, some rightard will say that 4-1/2 years is not enough time to build up our army. To that, I suggest they read a basic textbook on how the US military went from being undersized on Dec. 7, 1941 and less than 4 years later, whipped both Hitler and Japan. Of course, we had a real president then, not some chimp imposter.

John Evo said...

Obviously you hold Bush in high esteem!

Anyway, it looks like Iran was not the least bit intimidated by the news that came out this past weekend. In fact, they are now bragging about their eminent success with nuclear power and basically thumbing their nose at a potential military threat from the U.S. See this -

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