We Must Kill Them. We Must Incinerate Them.

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Stanley Kurtz, I hate to say this, but: Jack D. Ripper called. He wants his brain back. This incredibly long excursion into the fever swamps of nuclear eschatology starts with the premise that when Iran (which has "terrorist agents in the United States, with instructions to retaliate against civilian targets in the event of war") goes nuclear, it will push Turkey and Saudi Arabia to go nuclear, and then even the Middle Eastern nations that we recognize and trade with will become deadly enemies, or something. And therefore, of course, we need to preemptively strike Iran.

What if a nuclear missile is launched at the United States from somewhere in a fully nuclearized Middle East, in the middle of a war in which, say, Saudi Arabia and Iran are already lobbing conventional missiles at one another? Would we know who had attacked us?

I have trouble believing that one missile could make the 6000-mile journey from the Middle East to New York City and we 1)wouldn't know where it came from and 2)wouldn't be able to stop it. And is it even a question whether Saudi Arabia or Iran would be more likely to launch an attack? This is like asking "What if a missile is launched at the United States from somewhere in the Korean peninsula? Would we know who had attacked us?"

If you're still in danger of taking Kurtz seriously, take in these two deep thoughts. One:

Given the Soviets' overwhelmingly large nuclear arsenal—capable of
turning the entire United States to dust in the event of a major nuclear exchange—fallout shelters came to seem like a joke.

Two:

…The revitalized George McGovern-Howard Dean wing of the Democratic party cannot survive much past the moment when Iran gets the bomb. As soon as that happens, we're going to plunged into a proliferation crisis and a new Cold War, at least as dangerous as the first Cold War (arguably more so).

Yes, the Soviet Union had the capability to "turn the entire United States to dust," but Middle Eastern states could send one nuke over the ocean, which is far more dangerous.

Some very smart people are actually taking this column seriously. Am I missing something?

NEXT: The Disaster Monopoly

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  1. “2)wouldn’t be able to stop it.”

    Even the latest versions of the anti-missile defense systems are projected to have a less than 50% chance at stopping an incoming missle.

    As I understand it, the most sure method would be to take the thing out on the launchpad, which would, no doubt, result in all sorts of fallout in the foreign policy world.

  2. That link doesn’t really demonstrate Derb taking it very seriously.

  3. I’m working in Kurtz’s scenario. If we’re living in this future world where everybody in the Middle East has ICBMs, I imagine we’re also the posessors of superior missile defense tech.

  4. It’s hard for me to believe anybody would attack us when they know we can retaliate. On the other hand, what about a religious nut like Ahmadinejahn? Would he attack us in order to try to bring about the end of the world and bring his 12th Imam out of hiding, or would cooler heads in Iran prevail?

  5. “The George McGovern – Howard Dean wing of the party…”

    Does anyone remember what got Howard Dean characterized as a pacifist akin to George McGovern?

    As I recall, he said that Iraqi WMDs didn’t constitute a serious enough threat to justify invading that country; that there was no reason to believe that Saddam Hussein was working with Al Qaeda; that the evidence presented by Colin Powell at the UN was unconvincing; that the administration was going to get us into a quagmire; and that the capture of Saddam Hussein would not end the insurgency or reduce attacks on American troops.

    It is funny how, even as these statements have become the conventional wisdom, accepted by landslide majorities of the American public, the excoriation of Howard Dean and others, for the crime of realizing these truths two years before most Americans, continues to define people’s perceptions of what and who is “mainstream.”

  6. I’m not all that confident that the prospect of our retaliation is going to be that great a deterrent. We’re talking about people who in large part think strapping a little C4 to their bodies and blowing up a shop full of people is an act to be be celebrated.

    A few nukes from us is just a few million martyrs to them.

  7. Actually, babies, I’m into that whole peace and love thing. When I get done meditating, I’m gonna preach my message. Instead of suicide bombers, we’ll have suicide lovers.

  8. Islamofascists, appeasement, long hard slog, jihadists, multiculturalism, pacifists, East Coast, Constitution as a suicide pact, long hard slog

    Rearrange these terms in any manner you wish; don’t worry about run-on sentences or the intervening words. You will have generated a response to whatever is in tomorrow’s paper as well as the content of the newest National Review.

  9. Have to agree with kohlrabi, I think Derb was being very tongue-in-cheek here. He’s disagreed with Kurtz many times before. Is good to see Kurtz at least briefly putting aside his paranoia about gay marriage to be paranoid about something else, though.

  10. I don’t quite get the fear that Iran could launch a missle and we somehow would not know where it came from. That doesn’t make any sense. The problem is terrorism. When 9-11 happened, we figured out it was Al Quada and that Afghanistan was harboring them. When the Taliban refused to turn them over, we got U.N. authorization and pounded them. What happens when there is another 9-11 and it turns out that who ever did it was being supported and sheltered by a nuclear armed Iran? Iran then tells the U.S. to pound sand and claims victory. Would the U.S. risk nuclear war to avenge another 9-11? Yeah you can say, they would never nuke us we would destroy them yada yada. But would any of you have wanted to risk a conventional conflict with the Soviety Union during the cold war in the hope that it wouldn’t escalate? I sure wouldn’t have.

    Put aside the 12th Iman crap for a moment. Iran is developing nuclear weapons so it can sponsor terrorism with impunity. They are betting that if confronted with the threat of nuclear war, the U.S. will back down even after repeated terrorist attacks. Granted, I think that is a wrong assumption, but I am so sure they are crazy for thinking it. More importantly, even if they are wrong, the whole thing ends in a nuclear war and the worst mass killing since World War II. That scares the hell out of me. If David Weigal or any of you other geniuses have any ideas on how to deal with a nuclear armed Iran who is sponsoring terrorist attacks against the U.S., I would love to hear them.

  11. The article means the marching orders are given. Hersh’s two stories in the New Yorker seem to make clear that the White House has made the decision. It’s just a question of time, of *when* they attack Iran. We’re just being inured to the idea a few months in advance. OMG! Nuclear Bombs!

    If they can secure the 2000 election and the 2004 election, don’t expect them to mess up the 2006 election. I doubt there will be a Democratic majority in both houses big enough to put up a roadblock on the road to Tehran.

    Plus, the plans to invade Iran have already been drawn up so it would be like a waste not to use them, really.

    And in a shameless piece of ass-kissing I have to say I just started reading Hit and Run about a month or so ago and it’s easily climbed the charts to be one of my favourite sites. The writeups are always hilarious and the political positions you take are measured and sensible. Keep up the good work.

  12. While I don’t like this whole preemptive strike logic that many on the right subscribe to, I do see the basic point that one nuke in the hands of someone who isn’t afraid to use it is worse than scores in the hands of a rational government (rational at least in terms of not embracing nuclear martyrdom).

  13. Does anyone remember what got Howard Dean characterized as a pacifist akin to George McGovern?

    Well, joe, you of all people should know that McGovern, a World War II figher pilot, was hardly a pacifist. But if vowing to pull out of Viet Nam within 90 days of assuming the presidency was enough to make him one in some people’s eyes, then Dean’s desire to pull out of Iraq may as well too.

  14. “Iran will get the bomb, and they will get it soon.

    During the cold war the world was spared the horror of nuclear war by the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. The deterrence was based on each side’s faith in the other’s rational evaluation of the ramifications of launching a nuclear attack. In the Middle East, the question is will M.A.D. work when one side is mad? I don’t think it will.

    I don’t think Iran wants a nuclear weapon to scare anyone. I don’t think Iran wants a nuclear weapon to deter anyone. I think Iran wants a nuclear weapon to kill.”

    More Here.

  15. the political positions you take are measured and sensible. Keep up the good work.

    Perhaps you should follow H&R’s example and quit drinking the Lyndon LaRouche/”Bushitler” crowd’s Kool-Aid.

    You call this measured and sensible??:

    The article means the marching orders are given…the White House has made the decision. It’s just a question of time, of *when* they attack Iran. We’re just being inured to the idea a few months in advance…If they can secure the 2000 election and the 2004 election, don’t expect them to mess up the 2006 election.

    I don’t know what you call it when you suggest a sitting American President and Congress would start nuclear war simply to win mid-term elections, but measured and sensible it ain’t.

  16. Well David, you make some pretty silly claims yourself.

    is it even a question whether Saudi Arabia or Iran would be more likely to launch an attack?

    We’re talking about the Middle East here (so no, it’s nothing like the Korean peninsula) where it is a common tactic to kill your (stronger, more broadly supported) ally and blame it on your enemy.

    I have trouble believing that … we … wouldn’t be able to stop [an ICBM].

    There will never ever be an effective missile defense, for one simple reason. However good our missile defense is, it can be defeated for one one-thousandth the cost to us. So if we throw a Trillion dollars into satellites, seismographs, and smart bullets, a mere Billion dollars worth of balloons, confetti and noisemakers, could slip a nuke right past it all.

  17. I’d second some observations from above:

    1) I’d be surprised if we stopped an incoming missile outside of a test environment.

    2) Knowing where the missile came from and whether to return fire in kind times 1,000 considers two different questions.

    3) Fallout shelters may have seemed like a joke in retrospect, but that doesn’t mean the Soviet Union didn’t present a serious nuclear threat.

    …none of which, of course, means necessarily that we should strike Iran preemptively.

    P.S. Is anyone in journalism land, other than at Th Economist, talking the Bush Administration’s abandonment of nonproliferation (AKA nuclear assistance to India) seriously? …and if not, why not?

  18. Rosen assumes (rightly I believe) that proliferation is unlikely to stop with Iran. Once Iran gets the bomb, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are likely to develop their own nuclear weapons, for self-protection, and so as not to allow Iran to take de facto cultural-political control of the Muslim world. (I think you?ve got to at least add Egypt to this list.) With three, four, or more nuclear states in the Muslim Middle East, what becomes of deterrence?

    Well, I think Kurtz has a point there, there really isn’t any way to stop proliferation. Consider how many countries actually had any serious nuclear capabilities 30 years ago as opposed to today. Now project that 30 years into the future.

    I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusions. It’s inevitable that nuclear arms are going to proliferate, and you can’t keep pre-emptively striking other countries forever. Eventually, everyone and his uncle will have access to nuclear weapons, anyway. Pre-emptively striking Iran may delay that eventuality, but it won’t stop it. Get used to the idea.

  19. Why are you all talking about ICBMs and missile defenses? Nuclear terrorists won’t be using ICBMs to deliver their payload, they’ll be using smugglers, which are basically impossible to stop (just ask the DEA).

  20. Ayn,

    The other day commented on here about how unserious reason has become with regard to terrorism and the middle-east and was poopooed for just complaining about not agreeing with their takes. This post goes down as another Reason shark jump. The president of a fanatical Islamic theocracy has vowed to build nuclear weapons and use them to destroy Israel, bring back the 12 Imam (whoever he was), and dominate the middle east and the Republicans are just playing politics by being concerned about this or suggesting that Iran’s traditional enemies in the area might go nuclear in response. Yeah whatever Dave.

  21. Of course the flies in the ointment are (a) there’s no evidence Ahmadinejad is irrational (or if you think his publicly stated religious beliefs are inherent proof of irrationality, then George W. “God wanted me to be president” Bush must be viewed as equally irrational); (b) even if one makes the assumption Ahmadinejad is insane, he wouldn’t be the one in charge of Iran’s nuclear arsenal anyway (it’s fascinating that the neocons who denounced Khatami as a powerless figurehead now believe that Ahmadinejad, who wasn’t the Iranian religious establishment’s choice for the presidency, is now all-powerful).

  22. SR,

    “there’s no evidence Ahmadinejad is irrational”

    Brilliant! Best post of the day! Especially the part about him merely publicly stating his religious beliefs.

  23. First, like Bob Smith said, if somebody wants to nuke the US it will be delivered by smugglers, not by warhead.

    Second, while I somehow doubt that we can delay proliferation forever, there are examples of countries that halted their nuclear programs. Libya, Iraq, and South Africa all come to mind. Granted, all of those countries faced some unusual circumstances, but all of those circumstances were different, signifying that there’s more than one way to get this done. It may be possible to forestall proliferation for a considerable time, and hope that the world becomes a more liberal, more integrated place in that interval.

    Is it a fantasy? Probably. I don’t see any way that this genie can remain in the bottle for all of eternity. Normally I’m not a big fan of pursuing fantasies, but when the alternative is as awful as a world full of nukes, well, we’ve got nothing to lose by trying. If we’re all screwed anyway, if the genie is destined to escape the bottle, then we might as well go to the mass grave with our honor intact, having at least tried to prevent the inevitable proliferationn of nukes.

    Finally, the one thing we have going for us in the near term is that nuclear technology is expensive stuff that requires a lot of time, money, and manpower to develop. The sorts of people who have those resources at their disposal tend to be the sorts of people who really enjoy their wealth and power. They may give crazy speeches in public, or they may allow a crazy subordinate to give crazy speeches in public, but they must have some sort of intelligence and survival instinct to get to their positions of power.

    Is that a guarantee? No. But it’s something that we at least shouldn’t forget in our fight against the genie.

  24. Mistah Kurtz, he want company

  25. John’s post at 1:18 is excellent. The main concern isn’t that Iran will launch nukes at us or Israel, it is that they will act with impunity to fund terrorism, strike Israel through surrogates, and generally be a fanatical, but untouchable, foe. The doves shoot down the idea of an Iranian nuclear strike and then act as if they’ve won the argument, when that doesn’t even fully engage it.

    And all the talk of deterrence with the Soviet Union ignores the fact that in that case, we had no other choice. They already had the bomb. But had we had an opportunity to premptively keep the USSR from ever gaining nukes, wouldn’t we have done it?

  26. Blah, my first sentence should end with “not by missile.”

  27. SR,

    Why is it insane to build nuclear weapons so you can terrorize you enemies with impunity? I don’t think you have to think Ahmadinejad is insane to think of him as being very dangerous. There is nothing insane about Bin Laden, but I sure wouldn’t want him to have nuclear weapons. I will ask you the same question I asked above that no one answered, what do you do in response to a nuclear armed Iran that is sponsoring terrorism against the U.S. and its allies?

  28. And the time we buy delaying the widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons may be enough for us to develop better detection devices and even, perhaps, defenses. I agree completely with Bob Smith and thoreau about the threat we’re facing–nukes smuggled into the U.S. (or other target nation) or simply put on a boat, sailed into a target harbor, and set off. ICBMs could become a real threat again, but I don’t think that’s what we’re facing in the near-term.

    I also wonder whether continuing advances in physics, materials science, etc. might not make it a lot easier to develop nuclear weapons at some point. After all, science and technology continue to improve at a healthy pace, and the basic method for constructing fission bombs is over fifty years old. Which means that there will be a day when anyone who wants a nuke will be able to make one. We’d better have figured our crap out by then, or we will see mushroom clouds. By “we”, incidentally, I mean the whole species, not the United States.

  29. We’re talking about people who in large part think strapping a little C4 to their bodies and blowing up a shop full of people is an act to be be celebrated.

    Yes. Because 1/100th of 1% of a group of Palestinians living in a cinderblock refugee camp makes a suicidal attack from time to time, every human being in a completely fucking different country must also be suicidally crazy. That’s a brilliant insight. Please continue to enlighten us with your nuanced understanding of Persian culture.

  30. David Weigel is a genius! So what if genocidal, suicidal, terrorist-supporting religious fanatics get nukes?

    What me worry?

  31. C’mon Reasonoids, repeat the mantra after me: “There is no realistic threat posed by Islamic terrorism, and any attempt of this administration to respond militarily is just an excuse to rob of us of our civil liberties and create a police state.” Now let us put our heads back in the sand, or in the bongwater if you prefer.

  32. “Brilliant! Best post of the day! Especially the part about him merely publicly stating his religious beliefs.”

    Do you have evidence to the contrary? I see many, many people in all different sorts of media holding forth that deterrence won’t work against Iran because Ahmadinejad is “insane” (or some variation thereof). I see precious little proof of it. The most commonly cited examples are:

    (A) He denies the Holocaust – while undoubtedly wrong and distasteful, unless you have proof that he actually believes the Holocaust didn’t happen then this would appear to be nothing more than cynical public posturing to his voting base (the same way many American politicians pepper their speeches with religious references, but then don’t actually appear to vote in accordance with those beliefs). Furthermore, why does denying the Holocaust make someone more likely to use nuclear weapons in general? There’s no necessary correlation between those two things. (Stalin hated Jews and believed that there was an anti-Soviet Jewish conspiracy, but he didn’t make any moves toward nuking Israel that I’m aware of.)

    (B) He believes in the imminent return of the 12th Imam – while wacky (assuming, again, that he actually believes it and isn’t cynically playing to voters – IIRC, the vast majority of Iranians belong to the “twelver” sect of Shi’a Islam), I don’t see how this is any worse than George W. Bush and numerous other high-level Republican politicians who openly affiliate themselves with forms of fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity whose central tenets are that “we are living in the end times” and that “the signs of Jesus’s return are everywhere”, etc.

    Any others?

  33. SR,

    He says he would sacrifice “half of Iran” to destroy Israel. That whacky enough for you?

  34. Russell, your post made me smile, which, in this thread, is a real achievement. Give yourself an A for the poetry assignment.

  35. I just can’t keep this straight- are we supposed to hate them because we fear them, or fear them because we hate them?
    Or should we be afraid of them because they might be just like us?

    I continue to believe the education system in this country is in dire need of a major overhaul.

  36. It’s time to break out the crayons and implement
    The Star Wars missile defense system.

  37. P Brooks,

    Perhaps you could enlighten us all with your superior intellect and education and please explain why it is that Iran is not a threat despite considerable evidence to the contrary?

  38. Perhaps you could enlighten us all with your superior intellect and education and please explain why it is that Iran is not a threat despite considerable evidence to the contrary?

    Stopped beating your wife yet, John?

  39. Sorry John, I’m too busy to cater to your hysterical fearmongering. Crawl out from under your bed and go for a walk in the sunshine; I’m afraid you’re not getting enough oxygen hiding under there.

    Just be sure to look both ways when you cross the street.

  40. “Sorry John, I’m too busy to cater to your hysterical fearmongering. Crawl out from under your bed and go for a walk in the sunshine; I’m afraid you’re not getting enough oxygen hiding under there.

    Just be sure to look both ways when you cross the street.”

    Translation, I really don’t know why Iran isn’t a threat, but I just know that it isn’t if for no other reason than admitting so would cause me to question many of my most deeply held prejudices and beliefs. So, since I can’t make a reasoned argument why this is so, I will just throw out some invective and try to be a smart ass and hope the whole thing goes away.

  41. Am I missing something?

    Yes–you are missing the following:

    1. Stanley Kurtz is fucking obsessive maniac deatched from reality. Have you ever followed his gay marraige obsession?

    2. Many people who have been proven so thoroughly wrong in their advocacy of a war on Iraq just can’t face up to it (witness Hitchens last Friday night on with Bill Mahr), and will now advocate even more extreme idiocy to try to make us not believe our own lying eyes.

    3. A lot of people have other agendas (often oil and/or Israel) and will say any other stupid shit to avoid just coming out and saying what really motivates them–so you get this crazed shit. They’d rather sacrifice credibility than show their real hand.

  42. Henry,

    WTF does gay marriage have to do with Iran? While we are talking about not coming out and saying what one’s real agenda is, what the hell is yours?

  43. I said he’s a fucking obsessive maniac detached from reality, which, if you ever read his hysterical loggorhea on gay marriage you’d understand. Apparently you didn’t and you don’t. “Gay marriage” has nothing to do with Iran, dimbulb–but the endless obsession it typifies tells you plenty about SK. Can you understand that, or must mommy chew all your food for you?

  44. Why has this discussion devolved into a Freeper-vs-HuffPost pissing contest?

  45. PL-

    I won’t dare say that nuclear technology will remain infeasible for the amateur for all of eternity (predicting that a technology will be forever infeasible is a good way to embarass one’s self), but I will predict that at least for the next several decades it will remain the sort of thing that only governments and the very wealthy will be able to use:

    1) There’s a huge bottleneck in obtaining sufficient quantities of enriched uranium. That’s not the sort of thing that you can do in your garage. Even if you obtain the ore, you still have to enrich it to get the right isotope. The basic idea of how it’s done has been publicly known for decades, but it requires a large scale industrial effort to actually do.

    2) While lots of technologies have seen drastic reductions in cost and size, it typically happens when there’s a large potential market for the cheaper and smaller version of the technology. There just isn’t a huge market for cheap, table-top uranium enrichment. Technological progress takes time and money and hence happens most reliably when there’s a large reward for whoever figures it out.

    3) Look at other metals: In principle, one could probably process small quantities of ores into useful metal in a garage, but in practice it just isn’t done that way. The task is performed in large industrial facilities because there’s no real reason to have a DIY process.

    Sure, our primitive ancestors must have done a certain amount of small-scale metallurgy, when metals were first discovered. But the task facing them was nowhere near the scope of uranium enrichment.

    So it’s certainly possible that somebody will find a way to make a DIY uranium enrichment kit, but the incentives that motivate most technological progress just aren’t there.

    In all likelihood, any non-state and non-billionaire entity that wants a nuke will do one of the following:

    1) Get it from somebody who does have the large-scale resources. Presumably somebody who wants to see it used, but have the deed done by somebody else so that it can’t be traced to him.

    Fortunately, this is a very risky game for a person who enjoys his money and power. Even if an aging despot on the brink of death decides to go out with a bang, there’s probably an heir-apparent who would enjoy the chance to inherit wealth and power. And he’ll probably do what evil and ambitious heirs apparent have done throughout history, and expedite the transfer of power.

    2) Steal it. This is the scenario that worries me the most. I’m willing to believe that dictators, known to be cunning enough to fend off numerous would-be heirs, are rational enough to not hand over their nukes. But a greedy and/or fanatical and/or just plain nuts guard could still scramble all of the strategic calculations.

    At a recent physics conference, there was a session in which some experts pointed out how concerned they are about security at various reactors.

    Still, despite all of these reassuring facts, and despite the fact that there have been countries that ended their nuclear programs (under various circumstances), I find it hard to believe that the genie will never get out of the bottle. Eventually, one of my reassuring assumptions will be violated. It might not be for decades or even centuries, but it will happen. And while detection technologies will no doubt improve significantly in that time, we’re talking about a device that can do a lot of damage even from a distance.

    I wish I had something more reassuring to say.

  46. “The mere fact that someone talks big is not conclusive evidence that they will behave irrationally when the chips are down.”

    First, Mao was a paranoid lunatic. He was so scary the Soviets were afraid that he was going to start a nuclear war. To say that Ahmadinejad is no worse than Mao is not very reassuring. The world got lucky in the cold war. It may not get lucky this time.

    Further, the problem is terrorism. If Iran sponsored another 9-11 against the U.S. today, I have no doubt they would share the same fate as the Taliban. If Iran has nukes and harbors terrorists, what the U.S. do about it? Once Iran gets nukes they will threaten to use them in self defense. Further, they know that the U.S. will not respond to a non-nuclear attack with nukes. Do you really want to risk nuclear war by confronting Iran? At the same time, how does the U.S. just ignore a 9-11 type attack sponsored by Iran? A nuclear armed Iran creates one hell of a problem. You mention this problem and half the people on this thread call it “fear mongering”. Welcome to the 1930s.

  47. thoreau, I agree that the more likely scenario in the near future is that existing nuclear materials or bombs will somehow move from the “right” hands into the wrong ones.

    I don’t see any immediate technological breakthroughs that will result in “A Nuke in Every Garage”, but I have this sneaking suspicion that some scientific advance will result in a back door opening up to nuclear or thermonuclear weapons development. Maybe there’s another way to start a chain reaction without enriched uranium? Who knows? There’s usually more than one way to skin Schr?dinger’s cat in this universe. Not to mention that some totally new way of killing lots of people might be developed.

    In the end, we need to get some emotional maturity really quickly. Eventually, something’s going to happen if we don’t. I don’t think we can sigh with relief and say we made it just because we managed not to wipe ourselves off the planet during the Cold War. I get particularly scared when I think that there are people out there who’d just love to bring on the Apocalypse–if self preservation ain’t in the mix, then there is no possibility of deterrence.

  48. August 28, 2006

    We Must Kill Them. We Must Incinerate Them.
    Stanley Kurtz, I hate to say this, but: Jack D. Ripper called. He wants his brain back. This incredibly long excursion into the fever swamps of nuclear eschatology starts with the premise that when Iran (which has “terrorist agents in the United States, with instructions to retaliate against civilian targets in the event of war”) goes nuclear, it will push Turkey and Saudi Arabia to go nuclear, and then even the Middle Eastern nations that we recognize and trade with will become deadly enemies, or something. And therefore, of course, we need to preemptively strike Iran.

    What if a nuclear missile is launched at the United States from somewhere in a fully nuclearized Middle East, in the middle of a war in which, say, Saudi Arabia and Iran are already lobbing conventional missiles at one another? Would we know who had attacked us?

    I have trouble believing that one missile could make the 6000-mile journey from the Middle East to New York City and we 1)wouldn’t know where it came from and 2)wouldn’t be able to stop it. And is it even a question whether Saudi Arabia or Iran would be more likely to launch an attack? This is like asking “What if a missile is launched at the United States from somewhere in the Korean peninsula? Would we know who had attacked us?”

    If you’re still in danger of taking Kurtz seriously, take in these two deep thoughts. One:
    Given the Soviets’ overwhelmingly large nuclear arsenal — capable of
    turning the entire United States to dust in the event of a major nuclear exchange — fallout shelters came to seem like a joke.
    Two:
    …The revitalized George McGovern-Howard Dean wing of the Democratic party cannot survive much past the moment when Iran gets the bomb. As soon as that happens, we’re going to plunged into a proliferation crisis and a new Cold War, at least as dangerous as the first Cold War (arguably more so).
    Yes, the Soviet Union had the capability to “turn the entire United States to dust,” but Middle Eastern states could send one nuke over the ocean, which is far more dangerous.
    Some very smart people are actually taking this column seriously. Am I missing something?

    Posted by David Weigel at August 28, 2006 12:23 PM

    Back to Hit & Run Main Page

    Comments
    “2)wouldn’t be able to stop it.”

    Even the latest versions of the anti-missile defense systems are projected to have a less than 50% chance at stopping an incoming missle.

    As I understand it, the most sure method would be to take the thing out on the launchpad, which would, no doubt, result in all sorts of fallout in the foreign policy world.

    Comment by: mediageek at August 28, 2006 12:44 PM

    That link doesn’t really demonstrate Derb taking it very seriously.

    Comment by: kohlrabi at August 28, 2006 12:47 PM

    I’m working in Kurtz’s scenario. If we’re living in this future world where everybody in the Middle East has ICBMs, I imagine we’re also the posessors of superior missile defense tech.

    Comment by: David Weigel at August 28, 2006 12:48 PM

    It’s hard for me to believe anybody would attack us when they know we can retaliate. On the other hand, what about a religious nut like Ahmadinejahn? Would he attack us in order to try to bring about the end of the world and bring his 12th Imam out of hiding, or would cooler heads in Iran prevail?

    Comment by: Herb Schaffler at August 28, 2006 12:53 PM

    “The George McGovern – Howard Dean wing of the party…”

    Does anyone remember what got Howard Dean characterized as a pacifist akin to George McGovern?

    As I recall, he said that Iraqi WMDs didn’t constitute a serious enough threat to justify invading that country; that there was no reason to believe that Saddam Hussein was working with Al Qaeda; that the evidence presented by Colin Powell at the UN was unconvincing; that the administration was going to get us into a quagmire; and that the capture of Saddam Hussein would not end the insurgency or reduce attacks on American troops.

    It is funny how, even as these statements have become the conventional wisdom, accepted by landslide majorities of the American public, the excoriation of Howard Dean and others, for the crime of realizing these truths two years before most Americans, continues to define people’s perceptions of what and who is “mainstream.”

    Comment by: joe at August 28, 2006 01:03 PM

    I’m not all that confident that the prospect of our retaliation is going to be that great a deterrent. We’re talking about people who in large part think strapping a little C4 to their bodies and blowing up a shop full of people is an act to be be celebrated.

    A few nukes from us is just a few million martyrs to them.

    Comment by: Stephen Macklin at August 28, 2006 01:08 PM

    Actually, babies, I’m into that whole peace and love thing. When I get done meditating, I’m gonna preach my message. Instead of suicide bombers, we’ll have suicide lovers.

    Comment by: Twelfth Imam at August 28, 2006 01:10 PM

    Islamofascists, appeasement, long hard slog, jihadists, multiculturalism, pacifists, East Coast, Constitution as a suicide pact, long hard slog

    Rearrange these terms in any manner you wish; don’t worry about run-on sentences or the intervening words. You will have generated a response to whatever is in tomorrow’s paper as well as the content of the newest National Review.

    Comment by: Ashish George at August 28, 2006 01:14 PM

    Have to agree with kohlrabi, I think Derb was being very tongue-in-cheek here. He’s disagreed with Kurtz many times before. Is good to see Kurtz at least briefly putting aside his paranoia about gay marriage to be paranoid about something else, though.

    Comment by: Craig at August 28, 2006 01:15 PM

    I don’t quite get the fear that Iran could launch a missle and we somehow would not know where it came from. That doesn’t make any sense. The problem is terrorism. When 9-11 happened, we figured out it was Al Quada and that Afghanistan was harboring them. When the Taliban refused to turn them over, we got U.N. authorization and pounded them. What happens when there is another 9-11 and it turns out that who ever did it was being supported and sheltered by a nuclear armed Iran? Iran then tells the U.S. to pound sand and claims victory. Would the U.S. risk nuclear war to avenge another 9-11? Yeah you can say, they would never nuke us we would destroy them yada yada. But would any of you have wanted to risk a conventional conflict with the Soviety Union during the cold war in the hope that it wouldn’t escalate? I sure wouldn’t have.

    Put aside the 12th Iman crap for a moment. Iran is developing nuclear weapons so it can sponsor terrorism with impunity. They are betting that if confronted with the threat of nuclear war, the U.S. will back down even after repeated terrorist attacks. Granted, I think that is a wrong assumption, but I am so sure they are crazy for thinking it. More importantly, even if they are wrong, the whole thing ends in a nuclear war and the worst mass killing since World War II. That scares the hell out of me. If David Weigal or any of you other geniuses have any ideas on how to deal with a nuclear armed Iran who is sponsoring terrorist attacks against the U.S., I would love to hear them.

    Comment by: John at August 28, 2006 01:18 PM

    The article means the marching orders are given. Hersh’s two stories in the New Yorker seem to make clear that the White House has made the decision. It’s just a question of time, of *when* they attack Iran. We’re just being inured to the idea a few months in advance. OMG! Nuclear Bombs!

    If they can secure the 2000 election and the 2004 election, don’t expect them to mess up the 2006 election. I doubt there will be a Democratic majority in both houses big enough to put up a roadblock on the road to Tehran.

    Plus, the plans to invade Iran have already been drawn up so it would be like a waste not to use them, really.

    And in a shameless piece of ass-kissing I have to say I just started reading Hit and Run about a month or so ago and it’s easily climbed the charts to be one of my favourite sites. The writeups are always hilarious and the political positions you take are measured and sensible. Keep up the good work.

    Comment by: hostile at August 28, 2006 01:22 PM

    While I don’t like this whole preemptive strike logic that many on the right subscribe to, I do see the basic point that one nuke in the hands of someone who isn’t afraid to use it is worse than scores in the hands of a rational government (rational at least in terms of not embracing nuclear martyrdom).

    Comment by: Todd at August 28, 2006 01:22 PM

    Does anyone remember what got Howard Dean characterized as a pacifist akin to George McGovern?

    Well, joe, you of all people should know that McGovern, a World War II figher pilot, was hardly a pacifist. But if vowing to pull out of Viet Nam within 90 days of assuming the presidency was enough to make him one in some people’s eyes, then Dean’s desire to pull out of Iraq may as well too.

    Comment by: fyodor at August 28, 2006 01:28 PM

    “Iran will get the bomb, and they will get it soon.

    During the cold war the world was spared the horror of nuclear war by the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction. The deterrence was based on each side’s faith in the other’s rational evaluation of the ramifications of launching a nuclear attack. In the Middle East, the question is will M.A.D. work when one side is mad? I don’t think it will.

    I don’t think Iran wants a nuclear weapon to scare anyone. I don’t think Iran wants a nuclear weapon to deter anyone. I think Iran wants a nuclear weapon to kill.”

    More Here.

    Comment by: Stephen Macklin at August 28, 2006 01:30 PM

    the political positions you take are measured and sensible. Keep up the good work.

    Perhaps you should follow H&R’s example and quit drinking the Lyndon LaRouche/”Bushitler” crowd’s Kool-Aid.

    You call this measured and sensible??:

    The article means the marching orders are given…the White House has made the decision. It’s just a question of time, of *when* they attack Iran. We’re just being inured to the idea a few months in advance…If they can secure the 2000 election and the 2004 election, don’t expect them to mess up the 2006 election.

    I don’t know what you call it when you suggest a sitting American President and Congress would start nuclear war simply to win mid-term elections, but measured and sensible it ain’t.

    Comment by: Ayn_Randian at August 28, 2006 01:36 PM

    Well David, you make some pretty silly claims yourself.

    is it even a question whether Saudi Arabia or Iran would be more likely to launch an attack?

    We’re talking about the Middle East here (so no, it’s nothing like the Korean peninsula) where it is a common tactic to kill your (stronger, more broadly supported) ally and blame it on your enemy.

    I have trouble believing that … we … wouldn’t be able to stop [an ICBM].

    There will never ever be an effective missile defense, for one simple reason. However good our missile defense is, it can be defeated for one one-thousandth the cost to us. So if we throw a Trillion dollars into satellites, seismographs, and smart bullets, a mere Billion dollars worth of balloons, confetti and noisemakers, could slip a nuke right past it all.

    Comment by: Warren at August 28, 2006 01:37 PM

    I’d second some observations from above:

    1) I’d be surprised if we stopped an incoming missile outside of a test environment.

    2) Knowing where the missile came from and whether to return fire in kind times 1,000 considers two different questions.

    3) Fallout shelters may have seemed like a joke in retrospect, but that doesn’t mean the Soviet Union didn’t present a serious nuclear threat.

    …none of which, of course, means necessarily that we should strike Iran preemptively.

    P.S. Is anyone in journalism land, other than at Th Economist, talking the Bush Administration’s abandonment of nonproliferation (AKA nuclear assistance to India) seriously? …and if not, why not?

    Comment by: Ken Shultz at August 28, 2006 01:42 PM

    Rosen assumes (rightly I believe) that proliferation is unlikely to stop with Iran. Once Iran gets the bomb, Turkey and Saudi Arabia are likely to develop their own nuclear weapons, for self-protection, and so as not to allow Iran to take de facto cultural-political control of the Muslim world. (I think you?ve got to at least add Egypt to this list.) With three, four, or more nuclear states in the Muslim Middle East, what becomes of deterrence?

    Well, I think Kurtz has a point there, there really isn’t any way to stop proliferation. Consider how many countries actually had any serious nuclear capabilities 30 years ago as opposed to today. Now project that 30 years into the future.

    I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusions. It’s inevitable that nuclear arms are going to proliferate, and you can’t keep pre-emptively striking other countries forever. Eventually, everyone and his uncle will have access to nuclear weapons, anyway. Pre-emptively striking Iran may delay that eventuality, but it won’t stop it. Get used to the idea.

    Comment by: Pig Mannix at August 28, 2006 01:43 PM

    Why are you all talking about ICBMs and missile defenses? Nuclear terrorists won’t be using ICBMs to deliver their payload, they’ll be using smugglers, which are basically impossible to stop (just ask the DEA).

    Comment by: Bob Smith at August 28, 2006 01:45 PM

    Ayn,

    The other day commented on here about how unserious reason has become with regard to terrorism and the middle-east and was poopooed for just complaining about not agreeing with their takes. This post goes down as another Reason shark jump. The president of a fanatical Islamic theocracy has vowed to build nuclear weapons and use them to destroy Israel, bring back the 12 Imam (whoever he was), and dominate the middle east and the Republicans are just playing politics by being concerned about this or suggesting that Iran’s traditional enemies in the area might go nuclear in response. Yeah whatever Dave.

    Comment by: John at August 28, 2006 01:47 PM

    Of course the flies in the ointment are (a) there’s no evidence Ahmadinejad is irrational (or if you think his publicly stated religious beliefs are inherent proof of irrationality, then George W. “God wanted me to be president” Bush must be viewed as equally irrational); (b) even if one makes the assumption Ahmadinejad is insane, he wouldn’t be the one in charge of Iran’s nuclear arsenal anyway (it’s fascinating that the neocons who denounced Khatami as a powerless figurehead now believe that Ahmadinejad, who wasn’t the Iranian religious establishment’s choice for the presidency, is now all-powerful).

    Comment by: SR at August 28, 2006 02:01 PM

    SR,

    “there’s no evidence Ahmadinejad is irrational”

    Brilliant! Best post of the day! Especially the part about him merely publicly stating his religious beliefs.

    Comment by: kohlrabi at August 28, 2006 02:09 PM

    First, like Bob Smith said, if somebody wants to nuke the US it will be delivered by smugglers, not by warhead.

    Second, while I somehow doubt that we can delay proliferation forever, there are examples of countries that halted their nuclear programs. Libya, Iraq, and South Africa all come to mind. Granted, all of those countries faced some unusual circumstances, but all of those circumstances were different, signifying that there’s more than one way to get this done. It may be possible to forestall proliferation for a considerable time, and hope that the world becomes a more liberal, more integrated place in that interval.

    Is it a fantasy? Probably. I don’t see any way that this genie can remain in the bottle for all of eternity. Normally I’m not a big fan of pursuing fantasies, but when the alternative is as awful as a world full of nukes, well, we’ve got nothing to lose by trying. If we’re all screwed anyway, if the genie is destined to escape the bottle, then we might as well go to the mass grave with our honor intact, having at least tried to prevent the inevitable proliferationn of nukes.

    Finally, the one thing we have going for us in the near term is that nuclear technology is expensive stuff that requires a lot of time, money, and manpower to develop. The sorts of people who have those resources at their disposal tend to be the sorts of people who really enjoy their wealth and power. They may give crazy speeches in public, or they may allow a crazy subordinate to give crazy speeches in public, but they must have some sort of intelligence and survival instinct to get to their positions of power.

    Is that a guarantee? No. But it’s something that we at least shouldn’t forget in our fight against the genie.

    Comment by: thoreau at August 28, 2006 02:19 PM

    Mistah Kurtz, he want company

    Comment by: Russell at August 28, 2006 02:20 PM

    John’s post at 1:18 is excellent. The main concern isn’t that Iran will launch nukes at us or Israel, it is that they will act with impunity to fund terrorism, strike Israel through surrogates, and generally be a fanatical, but untouchable, foe. The doves shoot down the idea of an Iranian nuclear strike and then act as if they’ve won the argument, when that doesn’t even fully engage it.

    And all the talk of deterrence with the Soviet Union ignores the fact that in that case, we had no other choice. They already had the bomb. But had we had an opportunity to premptively keep the USSR from ever gaining nukes, wouldn’t we have done it?

    Comment by: DFV at August 28, 2006 02:27 PM

    Blah, my first sentence should end with “not by missile.”

    Comment by: thoreau at August 28, 2006 02:27 PM

    SR,

    Why is it insane to build nuclear weapons so you can terrorize you enemies with impunity? I don’t think you have to think Ahmadinejad is insane to think of him as being very dangerous. There is nothing insane about Bin Laden, but I sure wouldn’t want him to have nuclear weapons. I will ask you the same question I asked above that no one answered, what do you do in response to a nuclear armed Iran that is sponsoring terrorism against the U.S. and its allies?

    Comment by: John at August 28, 2006 02:30 PM

    And the time we buy delaying the widespread proliferation of nuclear weapons may be enough for us to develop better detection devices and even, perhaps, defenses. I agree completely with Bob Smith and thoreau about the threat we’re facing–nukes smuggled into the U.S. (or other target nation) or simply put on a boat, sailed into a target harbor, and set off. ICBMs could become a real threat again, but I don’t think that’s what we’re facing in the near-term.

    I also wonder whether continuing advances in physics, materials science, etc. might not make it a lot easier to develop nuclear weapons at some point. After all, science and technology continue to improve at a healthy pace, and the basic method for constructing fission bombs is over fifty years old. Which means that there will be a day when anyone who wants a nuke will be able to make one. We’d better have figured our crap out by then, or we will see mushroom clouds. By “we”, incidentally, I mean the whole species, not the United States.

    Comment by: Pro Libertate at August 28, 2006 02:32 PM

    We’re talking about people who in large part think strapping a little C4 to their bodies and blowing up a shop full of people is an act to be be celebrated.

    Yes. Because 1/100th of 1% of a group of Palestinians living in a cinderblock refugee camp makes a suicidal attack from time to time, every human being in a completely fucking different country must also be suicidally crazy. That’s a brilliant insight. Please continue to enlighten us with your nuanced understanding of Persian culture.

    A small percentage may be suicide bombers but a very significantly larger percentage celebrates their actions – which is what I wrote.

  49. “At the same time, how does the U.S. just ignore a 9-11 type attack sponsored by Iran?”

    How about, let’s deprive the Iranians of reasons to sponsor a 9-11 type attack? The Iranian government has attempted to make rapprochements with the US government at least a half-dozen times in the past 15 years and has been blown off each occasion. The pissy anti-Iran lobby in the US has been the biggest stumbling block to normalization, not the Iranians. (For example, recall that in 1995 the Iranian government awarded a multi-billion dollar development contract to Conoco, which the Clinton administration and US Congress promptly sabotaged: http://www.mafhoum.com/press3/108E16.htm)

  50. First, Stephen Macklin, please don’t ever again cut and paste the entire thread.

    Second, to Pro Libertate-

    Yep, I worry about the possibility that the genie will eventually escape from the control of rational actors (rational in the sense of able to perceive their self-interests and act accordingly, not in the sense of reasonable or fair-minded). I don’t know what to say. But some have speculated that this might be why there are no radio transmissions from advanced alien civilizations: Eventually, advanced civilizations reach a point where any idiot can destroy civilization (or at least send it back to the stone age), and then the game is over.

    A sobering thought. Fortunately, I think we’re at least several decades away from the point where any idiot can do it, if not centuries. And maybe those decades or centuries will also yield a counter-measure. It seems difficult to believe, given the range of a nuke’s destructive power. But stranger things have come about from science, so who knows?

    Fortunately, I’m

  51. Movie: “Decapitated”

    During the State of the Union address an undetected portable nuke is detonated in the vicinity of the capital building. All major decision making facilities are rendered useless. There was no time for any to move to alternate sites.

    The Colbert Report was the only television program remaining on air. Stephen Colbert calms the nation and insures all that “We Might Be Next”!!!

    No none took him or his news alert seriously. No one was sure about the dark cloud now over DC and “whatever” became the accepted comment. Nine months later the deficit was reduced by 85% with a budget surplus. Additonally, with only the 50 states reporting statictics a decline in national murder rates and increase in SAT scores was noticed. Unsure of the meaning of the dark cloud people new that “whatever” was happening in there must be good.

    Finally the clould cleared, the nation mourned and Stephen Colbert was finally recognized as the idiot that saved America and prevent widespread panic.
    The End

  52. He says he would sacrifice “half of Iran” to destroy Israel. That whacky enough for you?

    Have a citation for that?

  53. The good people of Iran need to take a hard look at Lebanon and ask themselves if they have the right leader in power for their future.

  54. fyodor,

    There may be something out there “straight from the horse’s mouth”, but when I googled “half of Iran”, all I ran across was a number of articles quoting an Israeli who said that about Ahmadinejad. For instance,

    Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, if he ever became the supreme decision maker in his country, would “sacrifice half of Iran for the sake of eliminating Israel,” Giora Eiland, Israel’s former national security adviser, said Thursday.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if that were true, but Ahmadinejad would be a total idiot to say something like that publicly. It would almost guarantee preemptive action by Israel. Here’s a Jerusalem Post article for your reading pleasure.

  55. SR, what “rapprochements?” What is Iran offering and what does the U.S. government find objectionable?

    At some point, some demands will be non-negotiable to one nation or another. What does
    diplomacy suggest then?

    Let’s say that one day in the next decade Iran announces “We have placed five nuclear devices in the United States. We are now going to proceed with exterminating Israel using conventional military weaponry, and, if you interfere,
    the devices will be detonated. To prove we have such devices, we are revealing one such device is in the basement of XYZ building at 44th and Fifth Ave. in New York. If Israel goes nuclear on us, then that is also reason to detonate the remaining four devices.” What would a diplomat suggest?

  56. Fyodor, Pro Libertate,

    Here is a Wiki entry for some of Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric regarding Israel.

  57. would you guys be willing to entertain non-military views on democracy promotion?

    i have some ideas here:

    http://eteraz.wordpress.com/2006/08/27/left-global-cataracts-exemplarism/

    certainly these solutions cannot be applied to iran, but if you read my comments section you’ll see that they need to be applied elsewhere before iran expands its regional dominance.

  58. Here’s a couple of questions:

    Who’s crazier: Kim Jong Il or Ahmadinejad?

    Of those two, which has more power w/in his own country?

    Which already has at least one nuke?

    Do any of you really think that Iran would be more likely to risk being destroyed than NK?

    So why aren’t we discussing NK rather than Iran?

    Now, about the risk of Iran hiding behind the bomb to engage in acts of terrorism:

    They already have Hazbollah and if they wanted they could always create other groups that could act on their behalf while Iran denies that it excerises control, so what advantage would a bomb really get them? We don’t currently do much to them for their acts so what’s really at stake? They already foment trouble for us in Iraq and we do nothing.

    Is what we are really worried about is a nuke being smuggled in? If so then shouldn’t we be focused on 1) Russia’s stockpile, the control of which remains dubious; 2) Pakistan’s arsenal– particularly given that all that separates Pakistan the friend and Pakistan the rabid, Islamic, enemy is one slim bullet; 3) North Korea’s potential to smuggle, sell, or-what-have-you a nuke; 4) China’s arsenal. What do we know about that country’s control over them?

    Finally, there are lots of poor, former memberf of the Soviet Union that have the wherewithal to create at least a dirty bomb (or possibly worse) and some of these places (Turkmenistan anyone?) are run by crazy people. Who wants to bet that none of these places might sell, trade, whatever, some nasty bits of the Genie’s wardrobe.

  59. SR,

    When you say “eliminate the reason for a 9-11” how is that not just saying, grovel to them and give them everything they want?

    It seems to me that this debate boils down to two position. One position says that Iran is a threat and points to their nuclear program and a whole list of statements Ahmadjad has made saying he means the U.S. and Israel a lot of harm. The other side looks at that evidence and says “yeah, but he doesn’t really mean any of it.” To which the first side responds “why not?” And the second side answers “because he couldn’t mean what he says”. That is not very reassuring.

    Look, Hitler meant was he said. Pol Pot meant what he said. Bin Laden meant what he said. Why do we think Ahmadjid doesn’t mean what he says? You can say a lot of things about the guy, most of them bad, but I don’t think there is anyway you can say he is not a very serious fellow.

    What is interesting about this thread is that you could have replayed it, with same monkeees in different trees 10 years ago about Bin Ladin. Bin Ladin in the 1990s anounced that he was declaring a holy war against the United States and that it was lawful to kill any American anywhere. The usual suspects said “no he doesn’t really mean it.” “He is just a crackpot playing to the crowd.” “His real beef is with the Saidi Royal familty not the U.S.” and so fourth. Sure enough Bin Laden meant exactly what he said and we got 9-11.

    How many times do we have to get our asses kicked before we wake up and realize that when someone says they mean us harm, they ussually are not kidding around? The problem this time is that Amhajad is not some rogue living in a cave in Afghanistan. He is in charge of a large and fairly wealthy and advanced country. He has the potential to do us a lot more harm than Bin Ladin ever did. I hope you guys are right and he is just kidding around about all of this. But, I don’t see any evidence that that is true.

  60. Karen:

    The _poetry _ assignment? The horror, the horror- I’m going back up the river to Biafra, where it’s safe.

    But I will leave you with a Cold war Ditty by Mr. Leigh, which Mr.Kurtz , alas somehow seems never to have read:

    Bombs shall dig our sepulchre
    And bigger bombs exume us
    Gaudeamus , igitur
    Juvenes dum sumus

  61. Sorry for the enormous copy and paste error!

    Probably should have previewed that one 😉

  62. John,

    We had plenty of reason to suspect Bin Laden meant business before 9-11, based on actions and not just words.

    Anyway, skimming over the Wikipedia article linked by The Dumb Fish, I see nothing nearly as inflammatory as what you attribute to him or as what Bin Laden said.

  63. Anyway, skimming over the Wikipedia article linked by The Dumb Fish, I see nothing nearly as inflammatory as what you attribute to him or as what Bin Laden said.

    John makes things up all the time. Asking him to cite sources is futile.

  64. Nuclear weapons brings any nation status. They speak for themselves. When is the last time a nuclear nation had it’s borders penetrated by a legitimate force intent on taking that nation?

    How nuclear nations behave is a different story but, for sure, they can behave differently.

  65. Why does everybody want to talk about Ahmadinejad? Khatami had no power and neither does Ahmadinejad. Why? Because they both want to upset the system, but in very different ways.

    The Ayatollahs who run Iran have spent 27 years holding onto power, holding dangerous neighbors at bay (including a neighbor who enjoyed the backing of a superpower), and enjoying a steady flow of oil money. They allow the Iranian people to elect a leader, but that leader is not allowed to upset the system.

    Ahmadinejad may talk like a badass who’s going to take on the world, but the people in charge will not let him upset any balances. They want a nuclear deterrent so they don’t have to fear invasion. They do not want to fight a war against the rest of the world. That would bode ill for their goals of maintaining power at home, establishing themselves as a power in the region, and making money off of oil.

    Presumably they allow Ahmadinejad to talk like a crazy man to (1) whip up the population against foreigners and (2) provide a bad cop and set the expectations low, so that when a more reasonable policy is proferred the world will eagerly bite rather than try to strike a hard bargain.

    Iran is indeed a dangerous player. But it is a far more cunning player than the official spokesman may indicate.

  66. thoreau, Why would the Ayatollah allow Ahmadinejad to potentially draw Israel into a situation (a strike) that could upset the plans for a nuclear deterrent?

  67. Iran is indeed a dangerous player. But it is a far more cunning player than the official spokesman may indicate.

    Yes, I believe you are correct. I think North Korea is playing a similar game, although their mouthpiece also appears to be their fearless leader. What are these “rogue states” really after? I cannot believe that either one of them really wants to bomb the rest of the world or get beat down.

  68. I just want to get post #69 in this thread. At this time I have nothing new to add to the discussion.

  69. If we’re living in this future world where everybody in the Middle East has ICBMs, I imagine we’re also the posessors of superior missile defense tech.

    Although, in recent history our fearless government is doing everything it can to field a system that isn’t ready. But don’t let those details bother you.

    John’s point is right on,

    what do you do in response to a nuclear armed Iran that is sponsoring terrorism against the U.S. and its allies?

    There’s no doubt they could get a way with a hell of a lot more with nukes, than without. But the other interesting question is —

    Suppose Iran lobs an ICBM, and the US blasts it out of the ozone layer (and finishes destroying it just for fun). The question is, now what?

    If your missile defense works, what do you do to a nation that just lobbed a nuke at you?

    Warren,

    There will never ever be an effective missile defense, for one simple reason. However good our missile defense is, it can be defeated for one one-thousandth the cost to us.

    It really sounds like you’ve been reading way too much from the boys over at the Federation of Concerned Scientists, or whoever the hell those lunatics are (sorry, they impressed me so much that I forgot).

    The nay-sayers about missile defense have consistently betrayed a lack of understanding of how the technology works. It’s one whole helluva lot harder to “fake” a real ICBM with a ballon than you might think off hand. They don’t exactly track ICBMs with visible optics, you know.

  70. Barker

    Because 1/100th of 1% of a group of Palestinians living in a cinderblock refugee camp makes a suicidal attack from time to time, every human being in a completely fucking different country must also be suicidally crazy. That’s a brilliant insight.

    The brilliant insight — if you’ve ever had one of those — is the fact that many, many more than 1/100 of 1% of Muslims are not fundamentally opposed to suicide bombings and in fact admire the act, even if they wouldn’t do it themselves.

    Only a lunatic would believe that these people aren’t lunatics. But don’t let that slow you down, because this kind of BS line is, as David said, the probable ultimate death knell for the Democratic party.

    As John said above, they very probably mean what they say, and there is no rational reason to think they don’t.

    You can argue self preservation and similar trope all day, but it changes nothing.

    Why, for example, didn’t self interest prevent Japan (about the size of California, right?) from attacking the US in WWII, against whom they could never hope to keep up industrially in the long haul? And why did Hitler open a two front war?

    Because they were fucking lunatics, that’s why. And btw, they meant what they said. As did bin Laden. Of course, the nay-sayers always say that they didn’t nay-say, after the fact.

  71. To all of you who are essentially arguing that we shouldn’t take the threat from Iran seriously: I preemptively invite you to shut the hell up in the future when you utter the words “Why didn’t (Bush/The US Government/The UN/the EU) do something about this?!”. You can all be like Michael Moore, who strongly argued that we should have done something about the Taliban before 9/11, after 9/11.

    But, you know, Halliburton and stuff. So no need to confront this.

  72. “Why, for example, didn’t self interest prevent Japan (about the size of California, right?) from attacking the US in WWII, against whom they could never hope to keep up industrially in the long haul?”

    Japan knew they could not defeat the US, but they believed if they won enough battles in the beginning, Americans would lose their will to fight. Their purpose in attacking Pearl Harbor was to get the US to stop meddling with their designs on China.

  73. To Weigel and all the other libertarian pollyannas who think Iran isn’t mad enough to push the button and terrorists with nukes are no big deal, I can only say: when a submarine-launched nuclear warhead sprouts a mushroom in New York City or Boston or Washington D.C. or wherever the terrorists think to strike, or when a ground burst from a smuggled-in nuclear warhead sprouts a mushroom in one of these cities AND permanently contaminates them with radioactive dust, I’m going to throw these naive sentiments of yours back in your face.

    That goes for you too, Ronald Bailey: none of those distorted statistics of yours on the probability of dying in a terrorist attack even considered the very real possibility that we’ll wake up someday to find the sun coming up IN one of our major cities. Frankly, if millions die in a nuclear flash and millions more die slowly in utter agony from radiation poisoning and cancer because of you, I’ll be making sure everyone knows that you naive naysayers are to blame, and if they hadn’t listened to you and punched the snooze button after our 9/11 wake up calll, this might not have happened. America got over the deaths of 3,000 of its citizens faster than anyone could have predicted back on 9/12. I don’t think we’ll be recovering from 3,000,000 quick deaths and 3,000,000 slow deaths anywhere near as quickly as that. Chew on THOSE statistics, bean-counters!

  74. Nuthin’ to do but hunker down and wait for the big “I TOLD YOU SO!”

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