Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 20, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

DETERRENCE....Andy McCarthy is unhappy with Barack Obama's opinion of Iran:

The Soviet Union was a superpower unlikely to attack us because retaliation would have been certain and massive. Iran may be comparatively puny, but the chance that the mullahs will actually use the weapons once they have them is geometrically greater.

....Ahmadinejad and his cohort are apocalyptic jihadi revolutionaries. Shouldn't what they believe be analyzed and factored in as we try to assess the threat that they pose? Or would that offend moderates too much? It seems awfully silly to compare them to the Soviet Union when, with the latter, we had a deterrence policy — Mutually Assured Destruction — that was explicitly based not only on the size of the enemy arsenal but on whether, given his motivations, he was likely to act.

Dismissing a potentially nuclear-armed Iran as "puny" probably wasn't a smart move by Obama, but I nonetheless continue to be amazed at the rose-colored glasses that so many conservatives use these days when they talk about the old Soviet Union. Back in the day they sure didn't think the Soviets were rational. They didn't think much of MAD either, a term initially invented by conservatives as a term of ridicule. And communism was very much considered an apocalyptic, expansionist ideology that would never rest until the West was buried. The Andy McCarthy of this post would have been considered a wide-eyed naif by any serious conservative of 30 years ago.

I dunno. I guess they have to do this because it's the only way they can make Iran look like it's the worst threat ever in history. But as dangerous and destabilizing as a nuclear Iran would be, there's simply no reason to think that Shiite theology makes them undeterrable. They've never acted suicidal in the past, and it's unlikely they will in the future. Obama has that exactly right.

Kevin Drum 1:48 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (81)

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He doesn't seem to understand what MAD is either...

Posted by: gfw on May 20, 2008 at 2:06 AM | PERMALINK

I sure hope Kevin is right in his assessment of Iran. because it looks like nobody is going to stop them from developing a nuclear arsenal. Even Bush, despite his big talk, is doing nothing to stop them.

My guess, like Kevin's, is that Iran wouldn't dare to attack the US. I'm not so sure they might not attack Israel, though. If Obama were President, would fear of US reprisal be enough to deter an attack on Israel? Who knows?

Posted by: David on May 20, 2008 at 2:18 AM | PERMALINK

What does "geometrically greater" mean, anyway? I think this shows the level of intellect on display.

Posted by: DCA on May 20, 2008 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK

What a stupid post. First Kevin dusts Obama's idiotic comment under the rug, then criticizes Andy McCarthy for not holding the identical views of the Soviet Union some imaginary conservative of 30 years ago. Perhaps a direct attack from Iran might be deterrable. But what if they slip a nuke to Hamas, it goes off in Israel, Iran loudly condemns the attack, protests that "oh no it wasn't us!", while we're kinda sure but not 100% sure that it came from them. Are we going to nuke Iran then? At least Obama is confident that the threat is "tiny". Maybe we should send him over to play kissy-face with Ahmadinejad to make doubly sure it never becomes reality.

Posted by: Brad on May 20, 2008 at 2:32 AM | PERMALINK

Iran is the most rational actor described in the above post. If the last 40 years have taught us anything with respect to America's approach to conflict, it is that we excel at trying to kick the asses of small, poorly armed backward nations, but are rapidly emasculated in the presence of an actual deterrent force.

Iraq had no WMDs, was contained, and posed no threat, ... and was promptly attacked by these pussies.

Bush has effectively demonstrated why becoming nuclear is about the only option left to Iran. The Bush-fellaters don't see this of course, but when given the option to kill muslims, they usually don't ask too many questions.

Posted by: on May 20, 2008 at 2:43 AM | PERMALINK

China is the biggest and most permanent future threat (or at best competitor) for the US. Every one else including Iran IS puny, simply in the minor leagues.

Look at the Chinese quake response for a taste of the future. China is still quite poor as of yet, but this is a country that is motivated, strongly nationalistic, united in crisis, and intensely human. When I watched the news clip today of the air sirens and car horns going off while thousands of average Chinese stood out on the streets for the three minutes of silence, I had shed a tear myself. Those sirens were the cries of a nation through each and every individual. This is the first time in Chinese history where Chinese life was honored in this way, and it will change China's national fabric forever.

The NYT yesterday tried to compare China with Gorbachev Russia. That comparison couldn't be further from the truth. The entire quake response has shown that China's power doesn't come from the state, but is wholly organic and driven on the individual level.

Posted by: Jonathan on May 20, 2008 at 3:20 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you are too ignorant and too blinded by partisanship to be able to comment safely on issues such as this.

Are you really really stupid enough to think that Iran don't know all of this as well?

Too blinkered to think just for ten seconds about the ways in which those weapons could be used which would _avoid_ retaliation against Iran?

Posted by: a on May 20, 2008 at 3:22 AM | PERMALINK

The Republican policy has always been "just to be sure, let's kill 'em all".

This policy of destruction is the basis for their claim they are "strong on defense". In fact, they are strong on OFFENSE. Remember, it was John McCain who said he wouldn't mind staying in Iraq 100 years. He isn't particularly concerned things might change in that time. He isn't concerned it's all been a big mistake (or evil plot by Bushies) and we should correct it.

Nope, Republicans are lunatics when it comes to these foreign policy fear-and-war-mongering situations.

Posted by: MarkH on May 20, 2008 at 3:29 AM | PERMALINK

Now which country has a history of actually using weapons of mass destruction? And which country has plenty of apocalyptic religious nutters in the party that holds the presidency? And which country is so "rational" that it has just thrown 3 trillion dollars away on a completely destructive war with no end? The Iranians would be laughing hysterically at this pathetic nonsense that comes out of the American media were it not for the fact that they are still threatened with being bombed out of existence by the US.

Posted by: wab on May 20, 2008 at 3:30 AM | PERMALINK

Ahmadinejad and his cohort are apocalyptic jihadi revolutionaries

Who is this mysterious Ahmadenijad cohort? Does he secretly wield power? Cause Ahmadenijad sure as shit doesn't. And that's ignoring the fact that most of what Ahmadenijad proposes (outside the fantastical translations of the right wing) is positively mild compared to the frothings of piss-pants like Mr. McCarthy.

What is it with you guys? Why don't your stupid people realize how stupid they are? Instead they get to submit their stupid blatherings to publications (and there most amazingly are published).

Posted by: snicker-snack on May 20, 2008 at 3:30 AM | PERMALINK

brad, you want to talk about stupid, try airbrushing what conservatives actually thought about the soviet union 30 years into something you want to call "imaginary."

and then, just when we're thinking about stupid, along comes a with some completely incoherent blather.

what is amusing about all this is that the "iran is the worstest problem ever" people are the very same people who a mere 5-6 years ago assured us that "saddam is the worstest problem ever." they never, ever learn anything that doesn't come out of a comic book or a hollywood screen.

Posted by: howard on May 20, 2008 at 3:48 AM | PERMALINK

...or that doesn't cost a trillion dollars to "solve" (as in, make worse).

Posted by: Kenji on May 20, 2008 at 4:14 AM | PERMALINK

Iran would be a lot scarier if a nut like Ahmadeinejad actually, you know, held some sort of foreign policy or military power.

Our national dialog would be a more productive if we were to discuss and take into account the motivations of Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his inner circle instead of worrying about that clown Ahmadeinejad.

Posted by: Mac on May 20, 2008 at 4:27 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, only twelve comments and two of them from bedwetters.

Iran doesn't have any nukes and the real power in the country, the Supreme Jurisprudent, has issued a fatwa against them.

Time to find something else to be afraid of, guys.

Posted by: bad Jim on May 20, 2008 at 4:31 AM | PERMALINK

As Mac noted, assuming Ahmadeinejad has Commander-in-chief status is just one example of people's ignorance about Iran. Iran has plenty of enemies close by, each of whom would do all they could to prevent Iran's development of nuclear weapons.

Israel, alone, could handle the task, as it has previously. And most of the Arab states would feel threatened, so a nuclear Iran won't happen, even if we don't do a thing.

Sure, it's in our nation's interest to prevent nuclear development there, but if we really want Iran to go further, no longer arming Hezbollah and Syria, that's going to take real negotiation. We have decades of evidence that sabre-rattling simply doesn't work.

And as I recall, after 9-11, it's been alleged by some of our intel guys that Iran offered to give up all its nuclear development and Bush refused the offer. If that can be verified, that leads to the questions: Why? Is there something else Bush is really after?

Certainly: oil. But playing the nuke card is Bush's favorite game. Hype the threat; they've done it for years. It keeps our defense industries and oil industry humming, and 40% of the nation is always going to back all of it, no matter how many lies are proven.

Posted by: Kevin Hayden on May 20, 2008 at 5:21 AM | PERMALINK

Another reason Iran is unlikely to deploy nukes (it does not have, but if it did acquire them) against Israel is that such an attack will inevitably kill close to as many Palestinians (and many Lebanese and Jordanians are also likely to suffer). It's a very small and mixed neighborhood - which is part of the problem - and nukes would affect all of it. Iran is not going to be the author of a Palestinian holocaust exept perhaps in a desparate spasm of self-defence.

Posted by: J.Muller on May 20, 2008 at 5:39 AM | PERMALINK

over the past few weeks there have been a number of irresponsible threats of using our nukes against Iran, should they launch one at Israel.

We seen to have forgotten that the Israelis have a substantial nuclear arsenal of their own, and given their belicose history, wouldn't hesitate to use it.

Posted by: DAY on May 20, 2008 at 5:52 AM | PERMALINK

The reason the right is hysterical about the possibility of Iranian nukes is not that Iran isn't deterable, but that we are deterable, and if Iran has nukes, we will be deterred from kicking the shit out of them if it ever appears to us casually desirable to do so.

Posted by: rea on May 20, 2008 at 6:35 AM | PERMALINK

Neither Khamenei nor Rafsanjani is an "apocalyptic jihadi revolutionary". Khamenei is a shrewd veteran politician; Rafsanjani is wily plutocrat. They are mullahs for the same reason most members of the U.S. Senate are lawyers -- not out of any interest in actually practicing law/religion, but simply because in their country that's the ticket to political power.

Ahmadinejad is a loon, but he doesn't run the country. He is a player and he does have some power, but his power comes from his base, not from his office. Every time Iran gets in a saber-rattling match with America, Ahmadinejad's base is strengthened. That's why he likes these charades just as much as Bush does.

Posted by: mdl on May 20, 2008 at 6:36 AM | PERMALINK

Thank you mdl -- for reminding everyone that to totalize the entire Iranian leadership as apocalyptic revolutionaries gets us nowhere. It is the cheap and easy way out and allows the United States to avoid thinking about this problem in any useful way.

If you can dismiss your adversaries as nutters of one kind or another you can rationalize not having to develop a real strategy for dealing with them. Iranians? Nuts, just nuke 'em. Al Qaeda? Fanatics all, just hunt down and kill. In neither case is there any consideration of the level of individuals' commitment to the ideology in question and the use of intelligence to undermine the threat. In part this is because our intelligence apparatus, long oriented towards the USSR and then underdeveloped in the 90s to assess new threats doesn't have the capacity for the most part to deal with the Middle East.

As they say -- when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. And yes, it is amazing that people forget that only a few short decades ago, we did think that the Soviet Union was the worst threat ever. People hoped MAD would work but didn't really trust it and it is only in hindsight that the stalemate it created appears to have been inpenetrable.

Of course we are dealing with folks who even know what 'appeasement' really was, so to expect them to know history is expecting way too much.

Posted by: clarice on May 20, 2008 at 6:50 AM | PERMALINK

They've never acted suicidal in the past- Is this the same Iran that sent kids with plastic keys to clear minefields in the Iran Iraq war. The same Iran that preaches Jihad. I don't think that word means what you think it means.

Posted by: dcc on May 20, 2008 at 6:55 AM | PERMALINK

"But as dangerous and destabilizing as a nuclear Iran would be, there's simply no reason to think that Shiite theology makes them undeterrable."

Oh really? Are you such an expert on Shiite philosophy that makes this true? What you, and Obama, are trying to sell the American people is a complete underestimation of the Iranian threat.

Posted by: SteveIL on May 20, 2008 at 7:07 AM | PERMALINK

Check this: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1210668683139&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull

Posted by: hollywood on May 20, 2008 at 7:10 AM | PERMALINK

mdl has some solid analysis. But there's a point missing. Ahmadinejad will lose the next election and that will happen in the summer of 2009. Whoever is elected in our election will face a lame duck president in Iran. And the president in Iran is pretty much the third most powerful person anyway. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei is in full control of the military, and Rafsanjani is in full control of the economy and the selection of the next Supreme Leader. Ahmedinejad will be very irrelevant soon. But if we want to negotiate, the only person to start with is Rafsanjani. He can eliminate Khamenei and replace him if he wants to. But he won't do it unless he has to. The Iranians are already very skeptical of Rafsanjani, so he has to step lightly. But he runs Iran in the end, so we would be wise to talk to him. And he's a greedy bastard, so we have some leverage if we are willing to pay him off. He'll go along with anything as long as he gets his cut. We should play that angle.

Posted by: fostert on May 20, 2008 at 7:29 AM | PERMALINK

The creation of such a paranoidal situation can only mean the right-wing is seeking to justify an attack on Iran. This will establish yet another war and the country needs a firm, experienced military leader to get us through. If the American people allow themselves to be manipulated again they deserve John McCain.

Posted by: Milt on May 20, 2008 at 7:53 AM | PERMALINK

Aaaissghggggghhhhh! They're all nutters!!!! The only way to stop Iran is to isolate all 70 million of these suicidal religious zealots in padded cells and and watch them like hawks to make sure they don't make shivs out of plastic forks and hide them in their keisters**. Pretending they will behave like other humans according to natural laws of "self preservation" is short sighted and by no means parsimonious. If Obama meets with them, I suggest he require that they receive cavity searches and get tied to posts before he enters the room. Diplomacy is OK but safety comes first.

**Important Note: This kind of statement and the invasion of nearby countries under false scare-mongering pretenses is in no way likely to encourage Iran to build defensive nuclear weapons. It's the Democrat Congress's fault.

Posted by: wingnut on May 20, 2008 at 8:03 AM | PERMALINK
Israel, alone, could handle the task, as it has previously.

No they can't. Iran's nuclear facilities are buried deep underground, and are fairly widely distributed.

As I understand it, there are only two ways to destroy them. The first involves directly over them and dropping bunker-busters from a great height - not using cruise missiles to do the job remotely. This involves flying strike fighters a very long way, much of it over Iranian airspace. Even though Iran's air defence capabilities are pretty rudimentary, the fact that the Israeli planes would be so far from home would give them fairly limited abilities to manoeuver. The Iranians wouldn't actually have to fire a shot; just chasing after the Israeli planes would run them out of fuel. And remember, Israel, unlike the USA, doesn't have any stealth planes.

Furthermore, the mission would require refuelling tankers either over Iraq, Turkey, or Saudi Arabia. While the Saudi Air Force is reknowned as a paper tiger, even they should be capable of taking out a refuelling tanker lumbering through their territory. Turkey would definitely be able to do so. As for Iraq, we all know who controls their airspace...

The long and the short of it is that such an Israeli conventional strike on Iran will have to be done with American cooperation anyway.

So what's this other option? The ultimate pre-emptive strike. But the Israelis aren't that silly; they know perfectly well that such a strike would be signing their own long-term death warrant as a nation.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on May 20, 2008 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

"Ahmadinejad and his cohort are apocalyptic jihadi revolutionaries."

This circles back to the original question of whether it's wise to engage Iran diplomatically. The point being, if Bush hadn't cut them off, Ahmadinejad might not have been elected in the first place.

Posted by: Grumpy on May 20, 2008 at 8:24 AM | PERMALINK

The real issue is the lack of cohesive leadership among our enemies. It is simply a technical problem that ArmaDinerJacket is not necessarily the head of Iran, power is so diffuse.

Even Hamas has a diffuse leadership, and they are in civil war with Fatah.

Perhaps the only enemy with solid leadership would be Hezzbolah in Lebanon.

This is a handicap, though a technical one, for Obama's plan. But, McCain is wining the debate.

Posted by: Matt on May 20, 2008 at 8:37 AM | PERMALINK

"geometrically greater" ?

do we assume McCarty is into big-O notation, and is using a synonym for "exponential": O(c^n) ?

or do we assume he's using "geometric" to mean "by a simple factor": O(n) ?

or do we assume he means it's simply greater by a constant: O(1) ?

or do we assume that since none of that makes much sense when applied to a single data point, that McCarthy just picked something that sounded impressive?

Posted by: cleek on May 20, 2008 at 8:46 AM | PERMALINK
The Soviet Union was a superpower unlikely to attack us because retaliation would have been certain and massive. Iran may be comparatively puny, but the chance that the mullahs will actually use the weapons once they have them is geometrically greater.

Huh. Usually in these kinds of hyperbolic screeds, you get "exponentially" misused instead of "geometrically"; in any case, neither the certainty nor the massiveness of retaliation is any less with Iran than with the USSR. Sure, Ahminedjad overtly espouses an apocalyptic, revolutionary, conflict-oriented ideology, so did the leaders of the Soviet Union in their adherence to a form of Communist ideology which saw a violent struggle for survival in which either Capitalism or Communism must be erased utterly from the world as inevitable. Sure, Iran may sponsor some terrorist groups, and so the Right pretends that the threat of them giving nukes to terrorists is greater than that which was posed by the Soviet Union; but the Soviet Union sponsored more terrorists — and, unlike Iran, supported numerous terrorist groups that were active in Western countries. But no power has much to gain by taking the power it has over terrorist groups that it sponsors and turning it into power those groups have over it by supplying them with nuclear weapons. So, in other words, there is no reason to believe that Iran even as big of a nuclear threat as the USSR, much less a "geometrically" (whatever that means in this case) greater one.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 20, 2008 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

It was unwise as a political matter for Obama to use the term "puny", whether or not it is an accurate statement. It will cost him some votes in November.

Israel has enough nuclear weapons to deter a nuclear attack from Iran. Even if Iran developed nuclear weapons and was able to slip in a bomb surreptitiously, it is doubtful that Israel wouldn't assume the attack came from Iran and wipe out huge chunks of Iran. One has to assume that the Iranian leadership is unusually irrational to think they would try such a thing. As many others have pointed out, there isn't sufficient evidence to show that the leadership in Iran is that irrational.

There is plenty of evidence to indicate the the leadership of North Korea has been quite a bit more irrational than the leaders of Iran and yet even they have not tried what "some" seem to think they Iranians are almost sure to do if they acquire nuclear weapons (which I think they probably will, eventually).

Actually, I believe the bigger threat from Iran gaining nuclear weapons is that all its neighbors - not just Israel - will feel very threatened and feel that they also need to acquire such weapons.

Posted by: TK on May 20, 2008 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

Obama used the term "puny" because Iran is, comparatively, puny. He needs not cater to the fear McCain is trying to stoke, and must stoke if he is to win.

Obama wins by telling Americans that they have to stop being afraid and have some perspective. That would not have and did not resonate in the immediate post-9/11 period, but while McCains' chances rely on that mindset, Obama's chances rely on what happened AFTER 9/11 - the war in Iraq, launched for the exact same reasons that conservatives want to launch this new war (Iraq was the Biggest Threat Evah, run by the New Hitler, and we couldn't permit the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud, etc.)

The conservatives who want this war do everything they can to prvent you from thinking. Because if you did think, you'd question whether an entire nation would act so irrationally as to ensure its own utter destruction. Iran, even IF it gets the bomb, gets one shot and one shot only at Israel, before it's completely oblitered in return.

So, does Iran want nukes in order to act as one big suicide bomber? Or does it want nukes, first, to detain an attack by either the United States or Israel; and second, to improve its relative power, it's relative position, in the Middle East?

Conservative assum and insist Iran cannot be trusted to act rationally. I think they act rationally as states almost always do. The liberals who believe that could be wrong, of course, and that could lead to tragedy. But, the American public has since learned that conservatives who believe the former can ALSO be wrong. Which HAS led to tragedy.

Posted by: gsmart on May 20, 2008 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

Does anyone else think "David" is Charlie? Hi, Chalrie, you're still an idiot under any other name.

Are conservatives reallly going to argue that Iran is more dnagerous than the USSR? Really?? Bring it on!

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on May 20, 2008 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

The real threat is that Iran will give a nuke to a terrorist group, denounce the attack, and have plausible deniability. No one here has addressed that. Kudos to Brad.

Posted by: Everett on May 20, 2008 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

For a fascinating glimpse into the mindset and gaming scenarios engaged in at the time of the Cold War, this is a pretty interesting summary. From The New Yorker

Posted by: The Critic on May 20, 2008 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Wingnut math: threat of country that may never have nukes or missiles > threat of country with enough nukes and missiles to destroy the entire world. They are well past 2 + 2 = 5; it's now more like 2 + 2 = infinity (and beyond!).

Posted by: calling all toasters on May 20, 2008 at 10:13 AM | PERMALINK


Plausible deniability won't be enough to prevent Iran's destruction if terrorists detonate a nuke in Israel.

Posted by: Tom S on May 20, 2008 at 10:17 AM | PERMALINK

Dismissing a potentially nuclear-armed Iran as "puny" probably wasn't a smart move by Obama,

Kevin - you silly man - I hope you're listening closely (what are the odds?) Dismissing Iran as "puny" was exactly the right thing for Obama to do. Mouthing pablum about Iran's relative moderation historically will not cut through the noise. To call Iran 'puny' is to both insult them - which the American public, frankly, wants - and an emotional signal that attacking them would be stupid - that they are beneath attacking, unworthy of the missile casings.

That's exactly the message Obama needs to send. He can't allow himself to be painted as naive and *friendly* to Iran. He needs to paint them as powerless incompetents.

So shut up a minute and rethink.

The real threat is that Iran will give a nuke to a terrorist group, denounce the attack, and have plausible deniability.

No, it's not. Have you noticed that we've figured out the people who undertook the 9/11 attacks by now? Given our intelligence and surveillance capabilities in the world, there *is* NO such thing as plausible deniability. And the Iranians know it.

This is not guesswork. Nukes leave clear backtrails. There's nothing surrepeitious about them - and that's not even *getting into* the very substantial engineering challenge needed to make them portable to any realistically concealable extent - one that took the USSR decades after creating its first nuke.


Posted by: glasnost on May 20, 2008 at 10:18 AM | PERMALINK

Not sure when it happened, but distinctly remember a conclave which was held involving many of the key military and political leaders from both Russia and the US, well after the end of the cold war.

The striking finding of their discussions with each other about the key events of that era was how deeply wrong each side was in its views of the actions and the motives of the other side.

How easy it was to assign the "enemy" motives for actions and to believe that each was capable of heinous acts. And in so believing, how easy it was for them to rationalize their own actions and believe their own propaganda.

Both sides were groping in the dark and acting on the basis of paranoia and sweeping generalities.

Posted by: dweb on May 20, 2008 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

It is a bad way for Senator Obama to characterize it, particularly for a guy who has a major perceived weakness in foreign affairs to contend with.

Posted by: Pat on May 20, 2008 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

I missed Obama using the word "puny." Googling it just brought up this collumn and references to it (such as this post). Can somebody give me a quote?

Posted by: godoggo on May 20, 2008 at 10:21 AM | PERMALINK

Grumpy at 8:24: if Bush hadn't cut them off, Ahmadinejad might not have been elected in the first place

That can't be repeated enough times. It's continuously forgotten.

It's a sad constant in history that "our" fanatics and "their" fanatics each need the other to justify their own existence. It's just who "they" are that changes over time. Their need to drag the rest of us into the pit with them remains the same, damn them.

Posted by: thersites on May 20, 2008 at 10:23 AM | PERMALINK

>"a nut like Ahmadeinejad "

Why would you say he is a 'nut case'? Accurate translations of his speeches reveal that he is simply [mostly] telling it like it is.

After all, he's not the one talking about building a 'Third Temple' and resurrecting a biblical-era empire.

American media: 'Israel must be wiped off the map'

'For there to be peace in the Mideast Israel must be removed from the map'

Ahmadeinejad's statement is rational and truthful... on both a policical and moral level.

If Americans actually knew the history of Zionism and what it really means they would not support Israel.

Maybe I need to retract that, we are talking about a nation that [sort of] elected GW Bush... twice.

Posted by: Buford on May 20, 2008 at 10:33 AM | PERMALINK

Tom S, Glasnost,

If a nuke went off in Israel tomorrow, we would not know whether it came from Iran, Pakistan, or North Korea.

If you think that a nuclear Iran could somehow be dealt with and deterrred, then you certainly stand alone. Even France now concedes that the difficulties would be too great.

Posted by: Everett on May 20, 2008 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

A far as Buford, I doubt Israel is going to leave the map. For Arabs, the other reason for Arab wars is the results of the Islamic invasion of Persia. People fail to account that both Persia and Israel were invaded by Arabs, and both cultures are fighting back. Nations hold 1,000 year old grudges against Islamic Arabs.

We still have suspicions of them going back 200 years before the latest installation of Israel.

Buford is simply stupid or biased, probably stupid, if he thinks that only the Jews are pissed at Islamic Arabs.

Posted by: Matt on May 20, 2008 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

the chance that the mullahs will actually use the weapons once they have them is geometrically greater.

I am SO tired of this silly argument. There is absolutely no evidence that the mullahs have a suicidal deathwish any more than anyone else. There is not one shred of evidence that destruction of Iran is not a deterrent.

Ahmadinejad and his cohort are apocalyptic jihadi revolutionaries

Kinda like all Christians...

Posted by: ckelly on May 20, 2008 at 10:52 AM | PERMALINK

If a nuke went off in Israel tomorrow, we would not know whether it came from Iran, Pakistan, or North Korea.

It couldn't have come from Iran...THEY DON'T HAVE ANY.

Posted by: ckelly on May 20, 2008 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK

Rational assessment of risk is sorely lacking among some here.

The real threat is that Iran will give a nuke to a terrorist group, denounce the attack, and have plausible deniability.

I'd like some historical examples of countries giving away fully-functioning nuclear weapons to non-state actors before I purchase one of your pairs of brown river safety pants.

Posted by: uri on May 20, 2008 at 11:01 AM | PERMALINK

I'm amused that the latest scenario is that somehow, some way, Iran is the biggest world threat because of the possibility that they could -- even though they are not currently -- develop a nuclear weapon, and that they weapon could get smuggled into israel and set off, and then we wouldn't know that they actually did it. And that's supposed to get our blood pumping in paranoia.

Kids, you read too many Tom Clancy books. Doesn't make you an expert or qualified to pontificate on the issue.

Posted by: Tyro on May 20, 2008 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps Cheney plans to SELL the Iranians a bomb and that's why all the fear mongering. WE sold chemical weapons to the Iraqis, after all.

Posted by: Mike Meyer on May 20, 2008 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

I think Obama's statement was both risky and brilliant politically, and I expect him to stick to his guns. Why?

Because, in the absence of any credible near term threat to either Israel or the U.S. from Iran, if McCain's major talking point through November is "the Democrats aren't taking our need to go to war with Iran seriously" it will ensure his defeat at the polls. I suspect most Americans really don't give a shit about Iran right now. They care about rising prices, stagnant wages, and the continuing waste of blood and money in Iraq, a debacle that they are not likely to want to repeat any time soon.

Please let the Iran issue be front and center for McCain. Polls might initially show the majority of Americans supporting his view of Iran as an imminent danger, but that view simply cannot last for several months. I honestly believe we've gotten well past the point where the attacks of 9/11 can be used to create a sense of fear or uncertainty around the enemy of the week.

If there is another terrorist attack in the U.S., then all bets are off. But given that McCain is claiming there will be NO new attacks on U.S. soil during his presidency and asserts that Bush's policies are the primary reason we haven't seen one since 2001, I'm not sure an attack would necessarily benefit McCain anyway.

Posted by: lobbygow on May 20, 2008 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

US Embassy in Tehran hostage and took no action in response

What do you mean by "no action?"

Posted by: lobbygow on May 20, 2008 at 11:48 AM | PERMALINK

US Embassy in Tehran hostage and took no action in response

I thought that Reagan agreed to sell arns to terrorists and to encourage kidnappings of Americans in Lebanon?

Didn't Reagan agree to house 200 marines in an unprotected hotel as part of the agreement?

Posted by: Matt on May 20, 2008 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Perhaps a direct attack from Iran might be deterrable. But what if they slip a nuke to Hamas, it goes off in Israel, Iran loudly condemns the attack, protests that "oh no it wasn't us!", while we're kinda sure but not 100% sure that it came from them. Are we going to nuke Iran then?

No, but Israel is. Or have you forgotten that Israel is a nuclear armed power that has promised its neighbors that it will savagely retaliate with an overwhelming and not too discriminating nuclear response to any nuclear attack on its own territory?

Posted by: Stefan on May 20, 2008 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

So can someone explain to me why Clinton's policy of assured destruction upon the offensive use of nuclear weapons by Iran was deserving of all the scorn it received? I personally thought it was pretty good policy. I assume there is little we can do to stop Iran from getting a nuke unless we want war, and I dont think anyone wants war. Historically, those with nukes are pretty paralyzed in using them if their adversary (or its allies) also have nukes. Mutual assured destruction kept the peace in the Cold War. Assuming you are right, and the Shi'a are rational actors who will react rationally to real threats, then pinning them down now with a threat of complete destruction by the US as well as Israel if Iran uses nukes on an offensive basis seems like a smart move. Let them get a nuke and be just as paralyzed in its non-use as the rest of the world.

Anyway I thought her policy deserved more consideration and sensible discussion than the snark it drew from the pundits and media and from Obama surrogates. Or is everything she ever says about anything to be soundly rejected because ... well ...because thats the way everyone wants to view anything she says?

Posted by: Jammer on May 20, 2008 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

The real threat is that Iran will give a nuke to a terrorist group, denounce the attack, and have plausible deniability. No one here has addressed that. Kudos to Brad.

Well, that would be a real threat if Iran actually had, you know, any real nuclear weapons to give to anyone. But it doesn't, so it ranks on the same level of threat as Iran secretly handing out unicorns.

But speaking of countries that do have small, portable nuclear weapons and aren't afraid to use them, isn't there a threat that the US will give a nuke to a terrorist group, denounce the attack, and have plausible deniability?

Posted by: Stefan on May 20, 2008 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

If a nuke went off in Israel tomorrow, we would not know whether it came from Iran, Pakistan, or North Korea.

Actuall, we could be pretty sure it didn't come from Iran SINCE IRAN DOESN'T HAVE NUCLEAR WEAPONS.

But even given that, the Israelis would probably nuke Iran back just to be on the safe side.

Posted by: Stefan on May 20, 2008 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

Considering how many times false positives nearly led to Armageddon, MAD is something of a myth. In fact, it was one such incident that led to the famous "Reagan shift," which led to greater arms control.

Once again, McCain is showing that he knows sweet fuck all about defense. I guess he's spent too much time bragging about being a prisoner to pay attention much.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on May 20, 2008 at 12:07 PM | PERMALINK

Perhaps a direct attack from Iran might be deterrable. But what if they slip a nuke to Hamas ...

What nuke, dumbass?

... it goes off in Israel, Iran loudly condemns the attack, protests that "oh no it wasn't us!"

The origins of nuclear devices can be determined from their fallout, dumbass.

But rest assured, your cowardice is safe within your ignorance. You will remain reliably easy to frighten, largely because you're incapable of doing any better.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on May 20, 2008 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

Ever since 1979 when Jimminy Carter allowed fanatics to take Americans employed at the US Embassy in Tehran hostage and took no action in response, Iran has gone from bad to worse.

I guess it depends on what the definition of "no action" is. Certainly, it can't include this, or this, or this.

MHR, is truly dumb enough to be a Republican.

Posted by: Grand Moff Texan on May 20, 2008 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

Apocalyptic counter-revolutionaries rule America.

Clinton's policy of assured destruction upon the offensive use of nuclear weapons by Iran was deserving of all the scorn it received? I personally thought it was pretty good policy.

If Israel attacked Iran with nuclear weapons, would you think assuring Israel's destruction would be deserved? Israel wants to prevent Iran from being armed with nukes so that Israel can destroy Iran at its leisure. If Iran obtains nuclear weapons, then Israel's plans for Iran's annihilation become paralyzed.

Logic cuts both ways. If Iran attacking Israel with nukes is wrong, then Israel attacking Iran with nukes is also wrong. Only one of these countries has nuclear weapons at this time. Sen. Clinton has not expressed a desire to annihilate Israel if it nukes Iran because of political consideration for the votes of mass murderers, like you, who have no compunction to killing Moslems.

Posted by: Brojo on May 20, 2008 at 12:46 PM | PERMALINK

It's kind of amazing that everybody, but everybody ignores the fact that Russia STILL has THOUSANDS of nuclear missiles all capable of destroying cities in the US?
But we're supposed to be terrified of one or two potential nukes without delivery systems.
The Republicans want to scare us into acquiescence by the dreadful prospect an atomic bomb or two in the hands of Iran. But how about the economically desperate, politically unstable nation to the north of Iran still chock full of rabidly anti-American people? With the actual, immediate, current capability of destroying the United States completely?
The fact that they're trembling about Islamists but blithely dismissive of Russia makes them that curious creature, the selective bedwetter.

Posted by: on May 20, 2008 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

From Salon:

Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria -- no raving lefty -- wrote, "When the relatively moderate Mohammed Khatami was elected president in Iran, American conservatives pointed out that he was just a figurehead. Real power, they said (correctly), especially control of the military and police, was wielded by the unelected 'Supreme Leader,' Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Now that Ahmadinejad is president, they claim his finger is on the button."

Besides, Bush more or less got Ahmadinejad elected over Khatami. Iran under Khatami helped us against the Taliban in 2002 and pursued detente with us in 2003. Bush's rejection convinced the Iranians (and Khamenei) that Khatami's approach wasn't going to work. Hence the more belicose Ahmedinejad.

Posted by: on May 20, 2008 at 1:30 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, left my name off the above post.

Posted by: broken on May 20, 2008 at 1:31 PM | PERMALINK

Oh, for Pete's sake, or FSM or whatever.

We're talking about human beings who live in an area which, despite its rich history, is not all that large geographically. Any country or terrorist group or whatever setting off a nuke not only kills its "enemies" but also its own people, plus fallout for years to come after that. This bed-wetting assumption that some "other", in this case, Iran, has no rationality has been proven false time and time again.

I've lived long enough now (62 years) to see this terrible "enemy", lacking all rationality, change three times already, and was born close enough to WWII, with parents and others heavily involved and full of stories, to have heard about two more enemies. At least during WWII there was some basis--the Germans and Japanese actually had attacked, and Hitler and his cult were clearly irrational.

And even during the Cold War, Russians had actually taken over a few countries. In retrospect, it looks more like they were protecting their flanks as they saw it, but at the time, which I remember, an existential threat seemed credible from them. And their leaders did actually utter threats. They couldn't keep them, but they uttered them.

I don't expect to convert the fearmongerers because they will always be afraid. But please, if you don't live your life cowering in fear, don't let these folks persuade you that they're right.

Obama is right about this and I hope he sticks to his opinion.

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on May 20, 2008 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

isn't there a threat that the US will give a nuke to a terrorist group, denounce the attack, and have plausible deniability?

Or Russia, or China, or India, or Pakistan, or North Korea, or Israel, or France, or England or EEEEEEEEEEEKKKKKKKKKKK!!!

Posted by: ckelly on May 20, 2008 at 1:39 PM | PERMALINK

MeLoseBrain - I don't know who Charlie is.

I agree with you that Iran is less dangerous than the USSR was. However, I think we should be looking at the absolute level of Iran's threat today, not a comparison to a substantially different past situation.

I think Iran is a major threat, because of their fanaticism, their desire to gain regional power, their nuclear program, and their oil wealth. My impression is that Obama thinks Iran is less of a threat than I do.

Posted by: David on May 20, 2008 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

But how about the economically desperate, politically unstable nation to the north of Iran still chock full of rabidly anti-American people?

And how about the nuclear armed, economically desperate, politically unstable nation to the east of Iran still chock full of rabidly anti-American people that, in addition, is host to Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda?

(That's Pakistan, to the geographically challenged).

Posted by: Stefan on May 20, 2008 at 2:33 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't Israel the holy land to Muslims too? Muslims/Palestinians want Israel back.

Doesn't this fact limit the risk of a nuclear attack on Israel by Iran?

Posted by: jb on May 20, 2008 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

i'm old enough to know that back in the 70's the conservatives who thought russia couldn't be delt with rationally weren't "imaginary."
in the 80's they thought reagan was fooling to deal with russia because they KNEW that communists were incapible of change.

in the 90's, saddam was irrational, now, of course, it's iran. i simply can't accept the idea that iran doesn't understand that if they attacked israel their country would soon be a radioactive parking lot.

Posted by: dj spellchecka on May 20, 2008 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

The wealthiest nation in North America has been the most dangerous nation on earth for the past fifty years. Its people are much more fanatical and murderous than Iran's. Its people have the most capable nuclear arsenal and have treated the rest of the Western Hemisphere as a colony to be abused economically. Now that they need oil, they have used their strength to seize the oil of others. That its citizens think another nation trying to defend itself from them is a threat to their existence, is a testament to the effectiveness of propaganda or their bloodlust.

Posted by: Brojo on May 20, 2008 at 3:21 PM | PERMALINK

I don't get it. The Israeli's have had nuclear weapons for years. This asymetry (the frontline arab/Islamic sides have none) is a major incentive to the Islamic states to develop their own.

Comparing the immature nuclear technology on the arab/islamic with the massive Soviet arsenal of the 80's and stating the risks are equal or greater now is simply political self service rhetoric of the type that got us into Iraq.

Posted by: Cycledoc on May 20, 2008 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

>"Buford is simply stupid or biased, probably stupid, if he thinks that only the Jews are pissed at Islamic Arabs."

Wow... biased or stupid! What a choice! I love it. It's funny, when people are confronted with an unpleasant truth, they usually resort to name-calling.

Rationally speaking, where in my post do I suggest that only Jews are 'pissed' at Islamic Arabs... or even that Jews are 'pissed' at Arabs in general? Fact is, 'pissed' has nothing to do with it.

The problem of Palestine can be defined by examining some simple facts.

Fact #1 is that by definition Israel is chartered around a simple premise: Israel: def: a state specificaly created to be dominated by a single ethnic/religious group.. the Jews. Domination is to encompass racial, cultural and theocratic areas.

Any question about that? It's a simple fact.

To accomplish this the Zionists recognized that non-jewish peoples would have to be expelled from Palestine.

Indeed they were, driven from their homes and herded into refugee camps, they were then denied the right to return to ther lands.

Defined as 'stateless peoples' they watched helplessly as their property was 'distributed' to primarly European... 'settlers'.

Any question about that? Simple fact.

Despite pledges, agreements, conferences and UN resolutions, they continue to see this process happen.

Any question about that? Simple fact.

The Palestinian people, having really nothing left to lose, continue their fight to be allowed the right to return to their homes.

Any question about that? Simple fact.

The Israeli state (by definition) cannot allow that because it will dilute their cultural and racial purity.

Any question about that? Simple fact.

This discrepency of views is the primary source of discord in the Middle East. Anything else is basically a sideshow.

Any question about that? Simple fact.

The facts bring us to the main question to be resolved... where does justice lie in this situation?

Should the USA support an aphartied state devoted to racial and cultural purity at the expense of other inhabitants of the region? [Closest modern analog... aparthied South Africa]

If we want peace shouldn't justice really lie in the the creation of a pluralistic modern state treating all its peoples equally?

I think if the people of the Unites States actually knew the history of Zionism and Israel, they would recognize it for what it is: a horrific injustice perpetrated by a rich and powerful ethnic group upon the poor and weak.

Posted by: Buford on May 20, 2008 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Despite pledges, agreements, conferences and UN resolutions...

What made W. Bush's comment about appeasement to the Knesset so frustrating, is all of the appeasement of the past sixty years has been to Israeli and US aggression.

Posted by: Brojo on May 20, 2008 at 5:20 PM | PERMALINK

I do think it is more likely for Iran to use nukes as part of a theological suicidal move than it was for the Soviets to do so in an ideological suicidal move. It's part of the nature of religion that for all it's attempt, Communism was not.

That said, nothing in Iran's actions has indicated anything like that so forward the Obama way.

Posted by: MNPundit on May 20, 2008 at 5:42 PM | PERMALINK

American politics has a red heifer apocalyptic prophecy component to it that cannot compare to any Middle Eastern theology or ideology. Nor can any Middle Eastern countries' atomic arsenal be compared to America's, yet the fear is of an Islamic fanatic starting a nuclear cataclysm. That fear comes from the unconscious knowledge of which country is the most likely to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack.

Posted by: Brojo on May 20, 2008 at 6:38 PM | PERMALINK

Buford @ 5:10 PM :
Try these facts:
The Jews of the post-WWI era were offered a "Jewish Homeland" in Palestine, originally what is now Israel and Jordan. When King Abdullah (of Lawrence of Arabia fame) was tossed out of Syria by the French, Jordan was split off and given to him to rule as Trans-Jordan, reducing Palestine by half. The Jews, in what remained of Palestine, were not given any special rights, they were not allowed to displace Arabs from their land nor were they given any political power over Arabs.
All land held by Jews in Palestine was purchased from those who owned that land - Arabs. A series of Arab riots broke out in the mid-20's - supposedly because the Jews were overrunning Palestine. At that time there were about 100,000 Jews in the country, as opposed to over a half a million Arabs. Several reports/books support the theory that the riots were whipped up by Arab leaders who, fearing the modernization the Jews were bringing to Palestine, incited their co-religionists against the Jews rather than risk losing their own stranglehold over the Arab population.
Following WWII, Britain gave up its Mandate over Palestine and the UN divided the area into seven areas - three Jewish and three Arab with the city of Jerusalem as a separate entity. All were to be united in one country, something along the lines of the Swiss cantons.
The Jews agreed to the plan; the Arabs rejected it. Syria, the Lebanon, Transjordan, Iraq, Saudia Arabia and Egypt declared war and invaded Palestine. Much of the Arab population fled, many with the encouragement of the invaders or simply following the example set by their "leaders". That atrocities were committed by both sides cannot be argued - but the vast majority of the Arab population was most definitely NOT driven from their homes by the Jews. They simply did not have the military power to both repel the invaders and push out the Arab population simultaneously.
The Arabs, once outside the borders of Palestine, WERE herded into camps - by their fellow Arabs. Palestinians were prevented from leaving the camps or entering any other country by the Arabs who ran the camps. It was the Arab governments who were the ones who sentenced their fellow Moslems to being "herded" into the refugee camps.
Between 1950 and 1960 the Jewish populations of the Middle East and North Africa, many of them established there for centuries, were stripped of their citizenship and property, condemned as "Zionist spies" and forced to flee to Israel where nearly a million Algerian, Tunisian, Moroccan, Egyptian, Syrian, Saudi Arabian, and Iraqi citizens of the Jewish faith were given citizenship. Nothing like this occurred on the Arab side.
Israel could not allow the return of the Arabs who had fled unless peace treaties were signed with those who invaded her. The same reasoning would apply to any organization based on the premise of the destruction of Israel. Without a formal recognition of Israel, which peace treaties would have given in 1949 and recognition of its right to exist would give now, Israel has no way of knowing whether or not the the returnees are simply displaced people returning to their homes or an advance guard for another invasion.
The Arabs refused a chance for a peaceful settlement in 1948. They refused to accept the outcome of the battles of 1948/49. One country, Egypt, faced reality in 1973 - that country's leader paid with his life for doing so.
Throughout the Middle East for the past sixty years, dictators and Kings, to distract their people from corruption, brutality and poverty, have permitted and aided in the demonization of Israel. These leaders, frightened of change and fearful of losing power, have sacrificed their own people as well as the Arabs of Palestine to maintain their authority.
I sympathize with those Arabs displaced by war and hope one day they will recognize who it was who actually brought them to their present deplorable state. And then treat them accordingly.

Posted by: Doug on May 20, 2008 at 7:49 PM | PERMALINK

Hey! Dramatic little Brojo's so disgusted with America he's leaving! Where do we forward your mail, buddy? Make sure you pack a sandwich! Talk to ya!

Posted by: Pat on May 20, 2008 at 10:06 PM | PERMALINK

Don't forget to pack the "red heifer apocalyptic prophecy component!"

Posted by: Pat on May 20, 2008 at 10:08 PM | PERMALINK

Your child was so disgusted with your parental abuse it joined the military....

[Your moderator is disgusted with your never-ending stream of hatred for all who serve. The comments are off on this thread, and comments along the lines of this one will be deleted.]

Posted by: Brojo on May 28, 2008 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK



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