Doctor Science Knows

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Iran and Israel at the Atlantic, Day 8

Reuel Marc Gerecht came back with A Cold-War Lesson: Be Ready and Willing to Go to the Brink With Iran.
I will just underscore one fact of the Cold War that must be transferable to any scenario where we imagine the Americans and the Israelis countering the supreme leader and his terrorism-loving Guards, who will de facto control Iran's nuclear weaponry. The United States and/or Israel must be prepared to go to the brink -- to conventionally and covertly counter the Islamic Republic's aggression, and to credibly threaten nuclear war -- in order to maintain the peace. The Cold War was hot and very bloody.

my comments:

I have to agree with the commenters above -- this truly sounds like frothing madness, not serious policy.

Much of the argument for a strike is based on "the Iranian leaders are crazy!" -- but really, Gerecht sounds crazy, too.

Again, I really wonder what is going on inside the American security/policy culture. Is this kind of thinking not recognized as insane? Or did The Atlantic deliberately pick wackos to be the "strike Iran" proponents in this debate, to make their side look bad?

In other words: why is Gerecht considered a Very Serious Person? Who in the security/policy culture is agreeing with him?

SpiffmanSpace wrote:
His point is that if Iran is NOT prevented from achieving nuclear weapons capability, THEN inescapably a nuclear standoff will develop in the Middle East. And that along with that nuclear standoff will be all the real risks of nuclear war that were associated with the Cold War. (And for a variety of reasons I have spelled out elsewhere, a Middle East nuclear balance will be far less stable than that during Cold War.)

He is not advocating nuclear war. Rather, he is describing the situation we wish to avoid.

Now, do I think he could have made this point more clearly ? Yes, I do.

OK, I can see how I misread him -- he's saying, *if* Iran has the Bomb *then* the US and/or Israel would have to practice nuclear brinkmanship. The subjunctive, Reuel! Learn to use it!

However, Gerecht doesn't really explain to me why, if Iran's nukes would force Israel and the US to make difficult decisions and play a dangerous game, Israel's nukes have no effect on Iran's present-day decision-making. Is it because, in Gerecht's opinion, the Iranian leadership knows that Israel would never make an unprovoked nuclear attack, and the Iranians would feel no such scruples? Even though they'd be destroyed in retaliation?

I'm missing a step in his argument.

Now that Spiffman has clarified Mr. Gerecht's rhetoric, I can address some of the other points in his post.

Since Mr. Gerecht himself has brought in the little matter of "wars liberals are reluctant to start", I will point out that he was one of the hawks promoting the Iraq war. When he says we wimps
always try to put off military confrontations even when their leaders know that diplomacy has a near-zero chance of solving the dangers before them. They inevitably preempt themselves with the worst-case scenarios associated with military action, while reassuring themselves with the solace that comes with preserving the status quo.
-- he is overlooking that the actual results of the Iraq War have been much too close to a worst-case scenario. To refresh your memory:

- at least 100,000 dead, uncounted numbers wounded or crippled physically and pschologically
- millions of refugees
- war ongoing
- money wasted, priceless heritage looted or ruined
- terrorists encouraged
- anti-Muslim bigotry surging in the US

All the evidence indicates that Mr. Gerecht is dangerously bad at weighing either the downsides of war or the benefits of peace.

Furthermore, when he talks about Revolutionary Guards as "the wickedest of the wicked" and "terrorism-loving," bent on campaigns of rape, torture and murder, I guess he doesn't realize that someone who helped Blackwater as much as he did (at least indirectly) is in no position to accuse other people of supporting wickedness, rape, torture, and murder.

Marc Lynch replied with The Burden of Proof for Declaring a Failure of Diplomacy.
Gerecht's argument ultimately comes down to a premature dismissal of other options and to the hope that if the U.S. or Israel hits Iran hard, the situation might look a little better when the dust settles. If Iraq has taught us anything at all, though, it's that the situation could just as easily look a lot worse. The Bush administration's invasion of Iraq is the clearest case available of a liberal democracy violating Gerecht's axiom about the preference to defer going to war -- and the invasion led to disaster.

I commented:

But the costs and risks of military action are sufficiently high that the burden of proof for declaring diplomacy a failure must be accordingly demanding
I must note that in Mr. Gerecht's experience the risks of military action are *not* particularly high. Though he promoted the Iraq War, he seems to felt no consequences from its failure: he is still considered a serious and thoughtful person, worthy of taking part in this discussion. He did not predict, acknowledge, or learn from the costs of that war; why should we pay attention to his predictions about the costs of another one?

I also do not think I agree with your mutual assessment of
liberal democracies' tendency to avoid tough decisions and push decisions to go to war down the road.
I do not see the Spanish-American War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or the Iraq War as ones the US was particularly reluctant to enter. On the contrary, in my experience the tough decision that our system tends to avoid is the one that *ends* a war, that admits failure. In a democracy, the sunk costs of war are so monstrous that once we start we *cannot* seem to finish, because admitting that it was a bad idea is intolerable to leaders and populace alike.

Not to mention that IMHO "pushing decisions to go to war down the road" is a *good* thing, because it buys years of peace that are worth living in. To Gerecht, peace seems always to be the twin of appeasement, a time-out at best between the wars where the real work of history takes place. To most human beings, though, peace is an active good: we little people may not get to make history, but at least we get to *live*.

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