Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Oh for Pete's sake

Thanks, Jay. You've roused me from my torpor.

Muravchik's op-ed is sort of a greatest hits anthology of dumb reasons to bomb Iran RIGHT NOW. They can't be contained. They might give the bomb to terrorists. They might use it to attack Israel. The mad mullahs dream of creating a caliphate stetching from Spain to Indonesia. And so on. That, from Iran's perspective, the development of a nuclear deterrent might be an entirely rational response to American policy over the last few years is entirely ignored.

Look at it this way. First, Bush and his idiot speechwriter David Frum lump three entirely different (evil, I will grant) regimes into one "Axis of Evil." They then proceed to invade the least powerfully armed of the three, deposing its regime, while being far more circumspect in dealing with the one "Axis" member that has nukes. The prospect of attacking Iran, as Muravchik's op-ed demonstrates, is a constant theme in American politican discourse. So you have a powerful country, making threats against your regime, that hitherto has only been deterred by the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal. In this context, is it any surprise at all that the Iranians are developing a bomb?

The notion that the enemy du jour is an undeterrable madman is one with a long and idiotic history on the American right: The Soviets, the Chinese Communists, Saddam Hussein and now Ahmaninejad have all been held up, at one point or another, as examples of people in whom a healthy dose of self-preservation had been left out entirely. Because let's be clear about something: If Iran launches a nuclear strike against either Israel or the United States, it is committing national suicide, and everyone knows this. Iran's government, as Iran hawks never failed to mention when the relatively moderate Khatami was President, is split between the President and the Supreme Religious leader, who ultimately calls the shots. But now that a suitably alarming guy is President of Iran, you'd think from reading the hysterical "Bomb Iran Now!" stuff that the guy was the unchallengeable dictator of the country.

Also, I am willing to bet my eye-teeth that no nuclear power will ever give a nuclear weapon to an independent terrorist group. It is entirely imaginable that terrorists will succeed in stealing what they need to make a bomb, and for that reason urgent attention is needed in both Russia and Pakistan. But the idea that a state will just hand over the most powerful weaponry in the world to people they don't control is laughable. So when we talk about a threat from a nuclear Iran, we are talking, again, about a traceable strike. Which, as noted above, would be suicidal.

And here again is another of the manifest stupidities in Muravchik's article. In his own estimation bombing Iran in the manner he suggests "would not end Iran's nuclear program, but it would certainly delay it." Wonderful. We're going to kill an unquantified number of people, anger much of the Muslim world, make Iraq even more of a hellhole for both the Americans fighting there and Iraqis in general and provide the Iranian regime with even more evidence that the only worthwhile deterrent is a nuclear bomb in the service of...slowing down the program. This is, to be charitable, insane. For one thing, this assumes that Muravchik is right about the bombing having a significant effect-it probably would but we can't be sure. For another, this course of action would remove any restraints on the Iranians sponsoring non-nuclear terrorism against the United States and whatever other Western countries were stupid enough to sign up for this. It is extremely hard to believe that the Americans would invade Iran at this point-they're lost in Iraq, and Iraq genuinely was a cakewalk compared to what an invasion of Iran would be. There is no good outcome from bombing Iran, even by the hawks' own reckoning-though they don't seem to realize this.

Finally, the op-ed is staggering in its historical ignorance. Credit must be given, I suppose, for Muravchik's refusal to indulge in the Munich analogy: Hitler is mentioned, but only in passing, and the year is 1933 rather than 1938. By ignorant history-averse wingnut standards, this is restraint that should be applauded.

Unfortunately, Muravchik passes up on Munich only to indulge in a Churchillian fantasy that is if anything even more stupid. "After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, a single member of Britain's Cabinet, Winston Churchill, appealed for robust military intervention to crush the new regime," Muravchik tells us. Unfortunately, he says, "His colleagues weighed the costs — the loss of soldiers, international derision, revenge by Lenin — and rejected the idea." Shame, shame! Pusillanimous limeys in their frock coats and top hats, ignoring the Red peril. Why didn't they send troops to Russia to fight for, um, the restoration of the Romanov dynasty or perhaps the installation of a pro-Western strongman?

Except that, as any student of Russian history (ahem) could tell you, they did. The British occupied Arkhangelsk. The Americans sent 15,000 troops. The Czech legion fought its way along the length of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The Japanese fought extensively in the east. It was not through lack of Western aid that the Whites lost the Russian Civil War. Also, it should be remembered that the Civil War came hard on the heels of the First World War, and that an all out assault on Soviet Russia, in addition to being an inherently Herculean task, would in all likelihood have been impossible. You might just as well ask why the Americans and Brits and Canadians didn't carry on through Germany at the end of the Second World War and attack the Red Army.

So there you have it. In its strategic blindness, air of barely contained hysteria and staggering misreading of history, Muravchik's op-ed might be very well placed to serve as an exemplar of all hawkish thought on Iran. The United States listened to guys like this onece already recently. For all of our sakes, let's hope they don't get fooled again.


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