Doctor Science Knows

Monday, August 16, 2010

Israel and Iran, Part 1

The Atlantic is having discussions all week about Jeffrey Goldberg's article on whether Israel will attack Iran for nuclear effrontery. I will update this post with my comments as I make them.


Robin Wright wrote A Long Way From the Point of No Return With Iran. I commented:


Any polity's decision to go to war (or drastic military action) follows what I call the "Clausewitz-O'Neill Principle".

Clausewitz said, "War is the continuation of politics."

Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local."

Clausewitz-O'Neill states: "Wars are a continuation of domestic politics: they are begun for domestic reasons, because they are perceived as the solution to a domestic political issue."

I'll go further and bring in Freud (I hate that): war is often[1] a projection onto an external enemy of internal domestic conflicts, which are thereby repressed. Just as with Freudian repression-projection, though, fighting an outside enemy is more of a distraction than a solution to your inside problems.

Goldberg's article is extremely useful because it implicitly acknowledges Clausewitz-O'Neill. Whether Israel attacks Iran or not will be driven most strongly by Israeli domestic politics, not by some objective measure of the threat.

Goldberg is so far inside Israel psychologically that he doesn't appear to see how limited his analysis of Iran is. Again, Clausewitz-O'Neill predicts that Iranian leaders will do things for their own domestic political reasons. In order for those of us who are neither Iranian nor Israeli to predict what will happen, we need detailed info on what things seem like to the powers in Iran. Goldberg didn't include those kind of sources, but Ms. Wright's sweeping generalizations here don't help. Her CV suggests that she may know what she's talking about, but she isn't *showing* it.


[1] Not always -- sometimes the domestic problem is "we want more stuff", and war is just how you get it. Looting is usually considered an ignoble reason for war, but at least it's honest.


[from an Israeli commenter]
I think I can sum up the Israeli side of domestic politics. It is this: the Israeli voters tell the government, do whatever is needed to keep us safe.


But what counts as "safe"? As someone around here was saying (comments on Ambinder, maybe?), it is much more unsafe to be a Jew in Israel than a Jew in the US ... or in Germany. You might well be safer (=less likely to be blown up on a bus) living next to a Palestinian state, or in a secular, non-Zionist state large enough that Jews, Muslims, Christians, and atheists *had* to work together, because no one group was dominant.

War is not safety. Peace is not insecurity.




[same Israeli]
The non-Zionist Palestine was tried already, the Jews of Hebron were slaughtered on one day in 1929.
That counts as "tried"?!? In recent years, the Jewish population of Germany has been booming, synagogues are being established and rabbis are being ordained again. People change, and cultures change even more as generations pass away. Letting something that happened in 1929 determine your relationship to your neighbors is refusing to learn.
lacking peace, the other sensible way is not to try to save on defense spending.
My experience living in a country that also refuses to save on defense spending is that the bigger your hammer, the more everything looks like a nail. The more money you spend on defense, the less willing you'll be to put up with the slow, fitful, unmanly process of getting along with people.
Not being a target of nuclear Jihad would be a good start
It's an open secret that the way Israel discourages nuclear Jihad is by already having a bunch of nukes.


I brought in Jewish immigration to Germany not to imply that you could move there, but to point out that events in 1929 don't have to determine what is feasible in 2010. The fact that a non-Zionist Palestine was "tried" in the 20s means little or nothing about whether a secular, non-Zionist state could succeed today.
The last time an Israeli civilian was lynched by Palestinians was just a few years ago.
I am an American. My country could not hold together at all if people couldn't co-exist with potential lynchers. It isn't easy or comfortable or always safe for groups that really hate each other to live under the same political roof, but it *can* be done. It's the difference between a large family where people yell and scream and maybe even hit each other (not good!), and one where they actually kill each other (much worse!).


Patrick Clawson wrote How Much Brinksmanship Will Israel Tolerate?. I commented:


I introduced the "Clausewitz-O'Neill Principle" over at Wright's post, and I'll say it again here:

"War is the continuation of politics" + "All politics is local" = "Wars are a continuation of domestic politics: they are begun for domestic reasons, because they are perceived as the solution to a domestic political issue."

Here is a perfect example:
Israel will act when it perceives a turning point has been reached, even though there is no air of international crisis. In other words, the "forcing event" which precipitates Israeli action is their perception of risk.
Risk to what? The physical security of other Israelis, or the security in power of current leaders?

Saying that "Iran has to be careful not to cross Israel's red line" is making Iran responsible for Israeli domestic politics. Yet to my mind Goldberg makes clear that Israel's internal dynamics are what is driving the confrontation, that's where the energy is coming from. Whether (or when) Israel strikes will depend on whether it seems useful to whoever's in change at the time -- and there are significant elements within Israel pushing in either direction.

The lack of cogent analysis of Iranian politics in his article and elsewhere on this site so far demonstrates IMHO that the problem is not with what Iran is or isn't doing. Whether Iran develops nuclear energy and/or weapons is also going to be driven by domestic politics -- but we haven't seen anything on this site about that.


Elliot Abrams wrote Obama Bombing Iran? Don't Be Surprised. My comment:


I've been pushing the Clausewitz-O'Neill Principle all over this discussion, and here comes Elliot Abrams, Distinguished Warmonger, to illustrate it exactly.
Clausewitz said, "War is the continuation of politics."

Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local."

Clausewitz-O'Neill states: "Wars are a continuation of domestic politics: they are begun for domestic reasons, because they are perceived as the solution to a domestic political issue."
Abrams, as an experienced and successful warmonger, has a thorough grasp of Clausewitz-O'Neill. He knows that the way to promote a war is to present it as the solution to a domestic political problem, and that's what he's doing right here.

The problem, as he frames it, is: the Democrats are facing election problems because they are perceived as weak and submissive. The time-honored way to look strong and dominant? Viagra! War! That's why George H.W.Bush won re-election so easily, of course, after Persian Gulf I.

The value of Abrams' advice is worse than nil, and I won't engage with it further. But his post can be saved as a textbook example of the Clausewitz-O'Neill Principle. I may be the first person to explicitly formulate Clausewitz-O'Neill, but clearly the principle has been grasped -- and used -- by politicians and warmongers for millennia.


Karim Sadjadpour, whose piece is slated to go up later in the week, got pretty ticked at Abrams and posted Attacking Iran: The Last Thing the U.S. Administration Wants to Do. I commented:


Whoops, my original comment disappeared -- probably due to the Urban Dictionary link.

In other words, Sadjadpour is saying that Abrams is what kids these days call a concern troll:
In an argument (usually a political debate), a concern troll is someone who is on one side of the discussion, but pretends to be a supporter of the other side with "concerns".
After all, why should we doubt the advice offered Obama by such a staunch Republican? This is what bipartisanship looks like!


On the Monday Round-Up, I commented:



I call the last step that Ezra didn't take the Clausewitz-O'Neill Principle, and I've been pushing it all over this discussion.
Clausewitz said, "War is the continuation of politics."

Tip O'Neill said, "All politics is local."

Clausewitz-O'Neill states: "Wars are a continuation of domestic politics: they are begun for domestic reasons, because they are perceived as the solution to a domestic political issue."
This is *precisely* what Ezra is talking about with regard to Israel, as you show here. I actually think Goldberg's article did a pretty good job of showing how Clausewitz-O'Neill is driving Israel's policy toward Iran, though he was not self-reflective enough to say it straight out.

Similarly, though, I do not see the US policy toward either Israel or Iran to be really driven by the realities there, or even
because the US recognizes that is in its strategic interest to ensure that Israel maintains overwhelming military superiority.
Many Americans do not feel as though Israel is a truly foreign, external country -- Goldberg himself is an excellent example, but so is Sarah Palin. The American idea of Israel (largely formed by religion, of course) is a domestic issue, almost without regard to the Israel in the real world.


"Domestic politics" might not be the best way to put it -- "interests that are local to the warmongers" might be better.

I'm talking about things like: the military elite wishing to increase its influence and prestige within the body politic. The desire to offer Lebensraum, a "free" frontier, or just plain loot to elements of the population you want to keep on your side. In feudal societies, the aristocrats may feel as though they are local to aristocrats in other countries, and may use war as tool for personal revenge.
most wars generally start out unpopular or become unpopular if they go on too long
Wars invariably are popular at first with *some* domestic group, or they wouldn't ever get started. They might not be popular with the general population, but they have to have the backing and appear to serve the interests of some powerful constituency. If you throw a war and nobody comes, it's not a war.

Clausewitz-O'Neill explains why wars start, but not why they continue -- I suspect we are excessively patient with force as a solution because of the terrible sunk costs. As the bodies pile up, the ability to recognize that you're doing the wrong thing seems to shrivel in the people who are most responsible.


the decision-making process in the US national security establishment, which I believe is based on an assessment of the US strategic interest in preventing Israel from using or threatening to use its nuclear weapons. It is noteworthy the massive US military support for Israel really began after the '73 war. Eisenhower was not particularly supportive of Israel, castigating Israel for its actions during the Suez War. Johnson started to shift US policy in a more pro-Israel direction, but even as of the time of the '67 war, Israel's primary military supplier was France, not the US.
That is a very interesting take which I have not heard argued in public. I would like to believe it, because I would like to believe that the US national security establishment is that objective (even Machiavellian) about US strategic interests.

However, I don't believe it. I had no inside, specialized, or expert knowledge, yet it was blindingly obvious to me from the get-go that the Iraq War was morally wrong, illegal (as in "war crime"), and would undermine US interests. If the national security establishment could not see that -- or could not act on it -- then why should I assume that they are capable of anything Machiavellian? Why has Israel's nuclear arsenal *never* been a front-burner public issue in the US, if it's a lynchpin of our Middle-Eastern grand strategy? I'd *love* it if you could tell me why I'm wrong.

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