Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 23, 2008
By: Kevin Drum

NATIONAL SUICIDE....Would Iran be willing to risk extinction by attacking Israel? Jeffrey Goldberg says anyone who doubts it should read Amnon Rubinstein's column in the Jerusalem Post this week about "the tendency among Islamists toward national suicide":

The first case is that of Saddam Hussein, who in 2003 could have avoided war and conquest....The second case is that of Yasser Arafat in 2000....The third case is that of the Taliban [after 9/11].

....In all three cases, the conclusion is plain: prolonged war, death, destruction and national suicide are preferable to peaceful solutions of conflicts....These cases, while unprecedented in the annals of history, should not be that surprising. If you glorify individual suicide, if death is the key to a happy afterlife, if war itself is sanctified, why not extend these ideas from the individual to the collective?

Lord knows that these were all stupid and ultimately destructive positions, as is Hamas's continued shelling of Israeli towns (the main subject of Rubinstein's column). But unprecedented in the annals of history? Isn't it just the opposite? I'd say that every culture in the history of mankind has examples of both individuals and countries that would rather fight to the death than surrender. Sometimes this is admirable, sometimes it's stupid, but it's not uncommon. So why try to pretend that this is some kind of mysterious attribute unique to Muslim culture?

Answer: because Rubinstein wants to convince us that "Israel, as well as the West, should be prepared for a long, irrational and costly war, unlike any other fought in the past." Since this requires a uniquely irrational enemy, one must be created. And one has.

UPDATE: Robert Farley adds that things that look like national suicide in retrospect rarely look that way at the start. That's true too. The impulse to stand up to a powerful foe is usually driven by pride, by a mistaken belief in eventual victory, or by a belief that your powerful foe will crush you utterly if you don't fight back, not by a desire for suicide.

Kevin Drum 10:59 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (79)

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"prolonged war, death, destruction and national suicide are preferable to peaceful solutions of conflicts"

Could say the same thing of Israel.

Posted by: Everyman on May 23, 2008 at 11:04 AM | PERMALINK

Quick! Get that country The Change You Deserve.TM

Posted by: absent observer on May 23, 2008 at 11:05 AM | PERMALINK

Masada, anyone?

Posted by: tbogg on May 23, 2008 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK

*Boggles* Unprecedented? Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't Israelis hold up the mass suicide at Masada as proud cultural moment? It's not exactly equivalent to the incidents Goldberg cites, but it is an example of a group preferring self-extermination to capitulation.

Posted by: Andrew Wyatt on May 23, 2008 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Masada.

Posted by: bart on May 23, 2008 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Masada, anyone?

The Alamo?

Posted by: Stefan on May 23, 2008 at 11:08 AM | PERMALINK

Um. Masada?

Posted by: Donald A. Coffin on May 23, 2008 at 11:10 AM | PERMALINK

....In all three cases, the conclusion is plain: prolonged war, death, destruction and national suicide are preferable to peaceful solutions of conflicts....These cases, while unprecedented in the annals of history, should not be that surprising.

"Unprecedented in the annal of history"? Fucking moron. That is a uniquely stupid, stupid thing to write. Western history is replete with heroic stories of countries preferring to go down fighting rather than surrender.

Posted by: Stefan on May 23, 2008 at 11:11 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin quotes Rubinstein: "Israel, as well as the West, should be prepared for a long, irrational and costly war, unlike any other fought in the past."

The war for control of the world's dwindling supplies of high-quality, cheaply extractable oil -- which will be focused on the Middle East, since that's where the world's last, biggest, best reserves of high-quality, cheaply extractable oil happen to be -- will indeed be long, irrational and costly.

That's why petro-dinosaur politicians like Cheney, Bush and McCain are prepared to send any number of young working class Americans to their deaths in Iraq, and to murder any number of innocent Iraqi civilians, for as long as it takes to secure US corporate-military control of Iraq's vast and largely untapped oil reserves.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on May 23, 2008 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

I see this point has already been made: What about Masada, Jeffrey Goldberg? Duhhh.

Posted by: Anon on May 23, 2008 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

....In all three cases, the conclusion is plain: prolonged war, death, destruction and national suicide are preferable to peaceful solutions of conflicts....These cases, while unprecedented in the annals of history, should not be that surprising. If you glorify individual suicide, if death is the key to a happy afterlife, if war itself is sanctified, why not extend these ideas from the individual to the collective?

Pickett's Charge at Gettysburg?

This does not remind me one bit of the South's veneration of their pointless, destructive, treasonous Civil War. No, no, not at all....

Posted by: Stefan on May 23, 2008 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

I worry that this talk of national suicide is establishing the framework for genocide. It is not a large step from "they are all implacable enemies, who seek death attacking soldiers and non-combatants" to "kill 'em all."

Posted by: eric on May 23, 2008 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

"The first case is that of Saddam Hussein, who in 2003 could have avoided war and conquest"

Yeah, if only he had let the inspectors in...

Oh, yeah.

Posted by: John McCain: More of the Same on May 23, 2008 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Sigh.

Would it be possible to get our warmongers together with their warmongers at the Olympics or something where they could do an authentic gladiator battle to the death? I for one would finally spring for pay-per-view and pay big bucks to watch it.

I know, I know, I'm dreaming. Our warmongers are fat old white men who'd faint at the sight of a feint. I don't even really know who their warmongers are.

Posted by: Tripp on May 23, 2008 at 11:15 AM | PERMALINK

Calling Saddam and Arafat islamists kinda shows you how little he knows and nothing following that should be taken seriously.

Posted by: Mike in Denmark on May 23, 2008 at 11:18 AM | PERMALINK

It is really stunning how so many people just need, at the expense of remotely rational thought, a giant enemy, unlike any other.

War -- the force that gives life meaning.

Posted by: John McCain: More of the Same on May 23, 2008 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Wow, four "Masada" comments simultaneously. How about "the Warsaw ghetto," too?

Posted by: Donald A. Coffin on May 23, 2008 at 11:20 AM | PERMALINK

How stupid can you get.

Saddam in 2003, Arafat in 2000, the Taliban in 2001, all had particular and distinguishable facts supporting their refusal to give in. Saddam couldn't afford to lose face w/ Iran and overestimated his armed forces. Arafat misjudged Israeli determination and was more interested in his TV image than his people's welfare. The Taliban were a renegade force of occupiers anyway & had little to lose by returning to the hills (compared to Saddam or Arafat, or Iran's mullahs).

None of them was faced with anything remotely resembling the nuclear annihilation of their countries and populations.

As Daniel Solove pointed out re: torture, the first step to inhumane treatment is arguing that your victims aren't really human, but irrational beasts.

Since the Nazis did exactly that to the Jews, one would've imagined today's Jews would be a TRIFLE more sensitive about doing the same damn thing.

Oh well. The Jews, like the Iranians, are human, all-too-human.

Posted by: Anderson on May 23, 2008 at 11:22 AM | PERMALINK

There is a difference between deliberate suicide & accidental suicide. The three cases are hardly clear-cut:

Saddam Hussein tried to avoid war and conquest, acceding to U.S. and international demands until Bush's final ultimatum

Yasser Arafat in 2000 and every other year believed that he was playing the hand Palestine was dealt

The Taliban were with us before they were against us [after 9/11]. If you ask them today, they might say that their strategic retreat was hardly suicidal.

If Israel and the United States are serious about examining the subject of national suicide, they might profit from a little introspection.

Posted by: Boolaboola on May 23, 2008 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

OK, I was thinking Masada too, but how about http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jotapata?

Posted by: Jon FD on May 23, 2008 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

There are several basic factual errors in the JP article which undermine the thesis that "Arab-Muslim regimes irrationally sacrificing their very existence, overriding their instinct of self-preservation, to fight the perceived enemy to the bitter end"

1. Saddam Hussein was not an Islamist.

2. Saddam did make an accounting of his weapons and let the inspectors in where ever they wanted.

3. Yasser Arafat did not ignite the Second Intifada. In fact making a deal with Ehud Barak likely would have been suicide.

4. It's not clear that the Taliban had the ability to give up bin Laden. See here. In fact there were talks to hand over bin Laden even though it would have been political suicide for the Taliban government.

5. The Taliban are not Arab.

The world is sometimes a more complicated place than ax grinders make it out to be.

Posted by: BL on May 23, 2008 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

glorify individual suicide

I recall watching a made for TV movie glorifying the mass suicide of Israelites at Masada.

Posted by: Brojo on May 23, 2008 at 11:36 AM | PERMALINK

With the exception of the Taliban, the examples are poor. Saddam H., however vile etc..., was not an Islamist and he very much believed in his own political survival: hardly suicidal. Yasser A. was much the same. These guys may be a lot of things but to conflate every horrible muslim leader with the Islamists is simply inaccurate- furthermore, to imply that 'Islamists' are inherently 'suicidal' is also wrong. That being said, I also think that such simplistic branding of muslim leaders will get us in more trouble with Iran.

Posted by: Dan on May 23, 2008 at 11:37 AM | PERMALINK

So why try to pretend that this is some kind of mysterious attribute unique to Muslim culture?

Why be honest when deception works so well?

Posted by: PeakVT on May 23, 2008 at 11:39 AM | PERMALINK

There was nothing Saddam could do to avoid war. Bush/Cheney were intent on it. I remember them saying that even if Saddam had left the country, we would still have to go in and occupy Iraq to "restore order."

Posted by: Speed on May 23, 2008 at 11:40 AM | PERMALINK

Its almost as if no one saw 300.

Posted by: Phil on May 23, 2008 at 11:41 AM | PERMALINK

"Saddam Hussein, who in 2003 could have avoided war and conquest..."

That's just wrong. If we didn't know then, we certainly know now that Bush was hellbent on occupying Iraq, and there was absolutely nothing Hussein could have done to prevent it.

Glad to see a number of folks made this point in comments; I'm surprised you didn't mention anything in your original post Kevin.

Posted by: David Bailey on May 23, 2008 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Imagine a situation today, when the US is threatened by a vastly superior enemy. What would Americans think of submission?

Posted by: Jörgen in Germany on May 23, 2008 at 11:52 AM | PERMALINK

this is the problem with ignorant rubes like the author of this piece.

People everywhere want to live in peace and fight only when they feel backed into a corner. The people in the middle east want us to LEAVE THEM THE HELL ALONE and all we do is agitate them.

Ask some serviceman returning from Iraq how many Halliburton and blackwater contractors they have discovered actually instigating shit, posing as arabs and attacking civilians.

I believe the answer would absolutely scare the living shit out of you.

Not saying there aren't radical factions there -- there are EVERYWHERE. But arabs in general, whether Sunni or Shia (how many of you know what the difference is?????) love their kids, want happy peaceful, productive lives and would leave everyone else in the world alone if they weren't constantly being interfered with.

READ the history of U.S. interference with sovereign nations everywhere around the world...Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is a good starting point, to learn why they really hate us!

Better yet, if you can, take a trip around the world and get a REAL perspective and not just the shit and images, made up stories, embellishments and spin you get from the teevee. It's quite an eye opener, believe me.

Posted by: on May 23, 2008 at 11:55 AM | PERMALINK

For all nationalists the enemy is always subhuman. The enemy does not abide by human norms and therefore can be treated as something less than human. This means that the enemy does not deserve to be treated as a human. This devaluation opens a moral space for the suspension of rights, ethnic cleansing, the remorseless killing of civilian populations, death camps and genocide.

The nationalists here are happen to be hardline Zionists trying to convince Americans that their enemies are America’s enemies. Americans interested in keeping the oil flowing are happy to make common cause with them.

Posted by: bellumregio on May 23, 2008 at 11:58 AM | PERMALINK

I hope "Arab/Muslim regimes" is not from the article. Iranians, of course, aren't Arabs.

The whole thing is ridiculous. There's nothing in the history of the Iranian regime to show the slightest interest in military conquest. They want nuclear weapons for the same reason half the world does, to forestall the U.S. from attacking them.

Posted by: gyrfalcon on May 23, 2008 at 11:59 AM | PERMALINK

MASADA. I didn't see anyone else type it in all caps.

Posted by: Other Mike on May 23, 2008 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

This is a stupid discussion.

Iran knows that it need only wait a few more months before a new administration comes in. While I think McCain would be much of the same as Bush, lots of his saber-rattling is calculated to make sure the 30% dead enders are still on board just as is his pandering to the "religious" right( which includes the American Likkudniks). Both are now part of the base, and with all the pendulum people (the overwhelming majority of Americans voters who have no real political philosophy) swinging back toward the center, McCain needs to make sure he's got the crazies on board.

Even if McCain wins, the Dems will control both houses of congress, probably with larger majorities, and while this may not get us out of Iraq as quickly as I'd like, it will insure that we won't be invading Iraq.

More important, Obama is likely to win and we will be entering a better era of American foreign relations.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 23, 2008 at 12:08 PM | PERMALINK

Saddam would have committed internal suicide to admit no WMDs and we know it.

STFU, Goldberg.

Stop linking to his drivel, Kevin.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on May 23, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

What about Masada being two millenia ago?

Posted by: alice on May 23, 2008 at 12:11 PM | PERMALINK

Other Mike, I didn't type it in all caps, but when I posted about this column this morning, I did bold it and make it a link to the "Virtual Jewish History" Masada page.

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on May 23, 2008 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

What about Masada being two millenia ago?

What about the fact that members of the IDF take their oath there and part of that oath is a pledge that "Masada will never fall again"?

Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State on May 23, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

What would Americans think of submission?

Nations with nuclear weapons will no longer accept unconditional defeat, as war losing nations have in the past. Nuclear weapons allow a losing nation to commit mass murder suicide. Rather than just being obliterated by conquerors, nuclear armed nations can destroy both themselves and their antagonists at the same time if defeat is imminent.

No nuclear armed nation will allow itself to be conquered without destroying itself, its neighbors and its enemies with its nuclear weapons. The US would launch an earth destroying fleet of ICBM's if it had to submit to a superior force, and all other nations with nuclear arms would, too, including Israel. Nuclear nations are all North Koreans now.

Posted by: Brojo on May 23, 2008 at 12:16 PM | PERMALINK

"Calling Saddam and Arafat islamists kinda shows you how little he knows and nothing following that should be taken seriously."

Unfortunately, it shows how much he knows. It shows that he knows it's easier, once you've created a category of enemy, if as many adversaries as possible fit into that category.

It's easier because then your readers don't even have to think in order to find their prejudices supported.

It's easier because you get to reuse editorial.

And above all, it's easier because then you don't have to admit your support for a costly, barbaric war for the control of energy resources.

Posted by: Michael Houghton on May 23, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

I stopped reading after "The first case is that of Saddam..." Anyone who thinks that Saddam Hussein was a suicidal Islamist is either deeply dishonest, lamentably ignorant, or irredeemably stupid (note - these aren't mutually exclusive categories, of course).

Gee, you'd almost think that there were a bunch of people running around with way too much influence and sway who really truly believe that all of the brown people "over there" think and act pretty much identically, for identical reasons - except for the Jewish brown people, that is.

They all be CAWAAAAYYYZZZEEE!

Posted by: Joe Bleau on May 23, 2008 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

What's idiotic about Goldberg's argument is that neither Saddam nor Arafat were Islamists -- duh!

Posted by: Nils on May 23, 2008 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Wait, Saddam could have avoided war in 2003? How? The Bushies were determined to invade and nothing was going to deter them. Even had Saddam fled the country, the Bushies would have made excuses to invade.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on May 23, 2008 at 12:33 PM | PERMALINK

What about Masada being two millenia ago?What about the fact that members of the IDF take their oath there and part of that oath is a pledge that "Masada will never fazll again"? Posted by: Blue Girl, Red State

First of all, even Jewish/Israeli scholars can't quite agree on what actually happened at Masada (remember, this is "history" written by some of the same people that claim their forefathers talked to burning bushes and parted a big lake). Second, the IDF is the group that fought to a stalemate with the material impoverished Hezbollah and was, by all accounts, not too committed to the fight to begin with. In short, it isn't 1967 anymore.

Posted by: Jeff II on May 23, 2008 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

So that leaves Afghanistan and Palestine. However reactionary people may think the Iranian Revolutionary Council is, I don't think even the hardest core wingnuts would compare them to the Taliban. And Yasser Arafat was doomed either way. If he went the diplomacy route, he would have been destroyed by Fatah. The only choice that made sense politically was to engage with Israel. He would become a martyr to his people.

Not to mention, in both cases, Iran has far more to lose than either Afghanistan and Palestine, or Lebanon for that matter. As Kevin posits, this is a very flawed premise, and one we should expect to hear continually from wingnuts.

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on May 23, 2008 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

BL on May 23, 2008 at 11:33 AM wrote: “Yasser Arafat did not ignite the Second Intifada. In fact making a deal with Ehud Barak likely would have been suicide.”

Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak were attending a peace conference, remember? The whole point of the conference was to work out an agreement under which the Palestinians would have self-rule in a Palestinian state and end the campaign of violence against Israel. If, as BL suggests, making such a deal would likely have been suicide for Arafat then, first, Arafat, knowing that he was engage in peace talks that had a significant chance of actually generating a workable agreement, should have been preparing his people in advance, saying, “there is some hope that we may be able to convince our enemies to agree to what we have been publicly demanding — our own Palestinian state at peace with them — and if they capitulate to our position, we will make peace with them.” Second, after the talks were more successful than he expected, Arafat could have said something like “I did not expect we would get this far so quickly. I need to return home to my people and build consensus before making a counter-offer.”

BL, If you really believe that for Arafat, “making a deal with Ehud Barak likely would have been suicide,” then it would seem that you also believe that the Palestinians will never agree to accept a two-state solution, living side-by-side in peace with Israel, and both sides are condemned to intifada forever. Perhaps I am a romantic fool, but I believe that one day, the Palestinians and Israel will agree to a two-state solution, living side-by-side in peace.

Posted by: Joel Rubinstein on May 23, 2008 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

I love political blogs. In the past, letters to the editor would have been published a week later. Now, the guy's ideas are shreded within hours. Wonder-ful.

Posted by: Bob M on May 23, 2008 at 12:54 PM | PERMALINK

"Answer: because Rubinstein wants to convince us that "Israel, as well as the West, should be prepared for a long, irrational and costly war, unlike any other fought in the past." Since this requires a uniquely irrational enemy, one must be created."

This seems wrong. Long, irrational and costly wars aren't unprecedented at all. In fact they have a long and storied history all over the world. So there is no need to create a uniquely irrational enemy to posit the possibility of a long, irrational and costly war. You could just suppose an enemy like many other enemies in the history of the world.

Posted by: Sebastian Holsclaw on May 23, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Jeepers. Who even knew that Saddam was an Islamist?

Oh, and about this being unique to Islamic cultures?

"Gotterdamerung, baby!"

-- Adolf "Hussein" Hitler.

Posted by: thersites on May 23, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

Other Mike: I didn't see anyone else type it in all caps.

My web browser has this wonderful feature that allows me to search a page for a word or phrase before I say that I didn't see it anywhere.

Posted by: smartass on May 23, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Little Big Horn?

Posted by: royalblue_tom on May 23, 2008 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

We should just work with reality here. Iranians are clearly insane. We should encourage them to open up electronic retail outlets in the United States, because their prices would likewise be insane. The Crazy Eddie franchise might still be available for purchase.

But you know the Israeli wouldn't go for that, because it would put Iran in direct competition with 42nd Street Photo.

Hey, maybe I, too, can write a column for The Jerusalem Post.

Posted by: inkadu on May 23, 2008 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Masada will never fall again" is rather different from "we will commit national suicide, don't you think, blue girl? After all, as the motto indicates, Masada fell the first time.

Posted by: on May 23, 2008 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Americans my age played a lot of war when children, killing lots of imaginary Japs, Krauts and Koreans. During that play, true, red blooded American children were always the first to volunteer for suicide missions. Now that W. Bush has engaged us in a new war, I see American children once again enjoying wartime playfulness, sacrificing themselves as imaginary warriors on new suicide missions against the Islamic boogeymen their parents so thoughtfully created for them.

Posted by: Brojo on May 23, 2008 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

If I take the following phrase from above:

I'd say that every culture in the history of mankind has examples of both individuals and countries that would rather fight to the death than surrender.

...why did my mind immediately leap to seeing this as a description of a certain Democratic presidential candidate?

Posted by: dweb on May 23, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

fight to the death

I could be wrong, but a pay-per-view special of any fight to the death match would enjoy spectacular ratings in America.

Posted by: Brojo on May 23, 2008 at 2:34 PM | PERMALINK

i can't be the ONLY person here who remembers that Saddam Hussein *did* release a report on his weapons more or less saying he had none, right? Was he supposed to hang himself with one of Poppy's ties in order to avoid war?

Posted by: doctor acula on May 23, 2008 at 2:41 PM | PERMALINK

There is another popular suicide myth in America and Europe; the willing sacrifice early Roman Christians made of their lives rather than renounce their faith.

Posted by: Brojo on May 23, 2008 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

Brojo,

No doubt the rating would be sky high, as long as people could sign on in private. Everyone would watch it, few would admit it.

Undoubtedly Americans love them some violence, but what we really crave is self-righteous violence - the guilt-free kind. Self-righteous anger is da bomb. So you'd need to script the battle like they do fight scenes in movies and wrestling.

The "bad guy" has to start out ahead, hurting the "good guy." That way when the "good guy" goes ballistic on the "bad guy" we can love it with no guilt. Sometimes I wish we could just be honest and say we love seeing someone getting the snot beat out of him.

Posted by: Tripp on May 23, 2008 at 2:48 PM | PERMALINK

Self-righteous anger is da bomb.

Couldn't have said it better myself.

-- Dr. Strangelove

Posted by: thersites on May 23, 2008 at 2:50 PM | PERMALINK


If Iran attacks Israel and the US attempts to "obliterate" Iran in response, the only country that will be "risking extinction" is the United States.

The US is bordering on irrelevancy now, except in Baghdad where we're merely hated.

Posted by: FFFFFFFF on May 23, 2008 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't MASADA almost an anagram for SADDAM? Conclusion: Yes, history does repeat itself as farce.

Posted by: bobbyp on May 23, 2008 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Self-righteous anger is da bomb.

Those early Roman Christians might not be able to recognize Americans as fellow believers.

Posted by: Brojo on May 23, 2008 at 3:43 PM | PERMALINK

if death is the key to a happy afterlife

I'd say death is pretty much the pre-condition to any kind of afterlife, happy or not.

Posted by: Stefan on May 23, 2008 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

Wait, Saddam could have avoided war in 2003? How? The Bushies were determined to invade and nothing was going to deter them. Even had Saddam fled the country, the Bushies would have made excuses to invade.

Goddamn right. One would have thought not actually having WMDs (which the inspectors were on the verge of establishing conclusively when Bush gave the green light to invade) would have been the best way to avoid war. But that didn't help Saddam or the other million other dead Iraqis one bit.

Posted by: kth on May 23, 2008 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

stop the drivel in the bud.

Israel has the fourth best armed forces in world! (Jane's)

200 nuclear bombs --can go by land ,sea or air

the latest in jet fighters

Iranian suiciders want to go up against this?

All this talk gets Bush/Olmert fingers closer to pulling their hair triggers.

"Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran," McCain sings. Hopefully he will sing it in his padded cell!

Posted by: Dr Wu, I'm just an ordinary guy on May 23, 2008 at 4:32 PM | PERMALINK

"The first case is that of Saddam Hussein, who in 2003 could have avoided war and conquest...."

I call BS. Saddam offered to leave Iraq if given a safe haven (can you say "Saudi Arabia"?) and allowed to take his $2 billion with him. The War Preznit turned him down.

Posted by: Cal Gal on May 23, 2008 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

The second Masada already happened.

See Bar Kokhba and the second Jewish rebellion ending with the with the seige of Betar. This was the event that led to the Diaspora.

Posted by: natural cynic on May 23, 2008 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

These are very poor examples. For example, saying that Saddam Hussein could have avoided the 2003 invasion is assinine. He did everything he could to avoid the invasion -- he let the UN inspectors in to do their job. Bush was the one who attacked despite the fact that Hussein did what was demanded of him, for the obvious reason that Bush was intent on attacking and removing him regardless of what Hussein did or the UN inspectors found.
Also, how did Arafat commit national suicide?
And the Taliban is reforming and will probably once again control Afghanistan some day, thanks to Bush's catastrophic decision to invade Iraq and not finish the Taliban (and Bin Laden) off.
In sum, none of these three examples support the author's thesis.

Posted by: Dave G on May 23, 2008 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

Has Saddam's reported offer to walk away from Iraq if he could take $1 billion been debunked, or is that considered suicidal behavior now?

Posted by: T-t-t-trepanning on May 23, 2008 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

What about the Japanese during WWII? To take one famous example, the Battle of Saipan, where the entire garrison committed suicide in an obviously futile last charge, then thousands of civilians jumped off a cliff to avoid "capture" by American forces?

Mind you, the treatment of Japanese POWs by Allied troops in WWII tends to get edited out of the history books...

Posted by: Robert Merkel on May 23, 2008 at 6:05 PM | PERMALINK

Belgium refusing passage to an overwhelmingly superior German army invading France? Twice? (For that matter, though less well known in this country, Yugoslavia refusing passage to Hitler to go bail out Mussolini). And Japan was pretty touch-and-go there at the end.

Posted by: Enlightened Layperson on May 23, 2008 at 6:27 PM | PERMALINK

This line is just so much horseshit. What country, and what political party in that country, celebrates the spirit of Masada, after all?

Rubinstein misses another possibility that's much closer to the real picture anyway, imho, which is that Islamic thinkers, like the Catholic Church, thinks very long-term. Generations and centuries rather than minutes and hours.

In only half a generation Saddam's "irrational national suicide" may well have ended up precipitating our very own US national suicide, thanks to george bush.

So spare me the horseshit, Rubinstein.

Posted by: Altoid on May 23, 2008 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK
The first case is that of Saddam Hussein, who in 2003 could have avoided war and conquest

Sure, all he would have had to do is give up the WMD that he didn't have, and the U.S. wouldn't have invaded.

Posted by: cmdicely on May 23, 2008 at 6:48 PM | PERMALINK

The U.S. is committing national suicide. 82% of the people who feel we're on the wrong track are on the right track.

Posted by: Luther on May 23, 2008 at 7:52 PM | PERMALINK

Excellent analysis, Kevin. Enough with this problem creation, and manipulation of discourse, and good job of calling a spade a spade.

Posted by: Boorring on May 23, 2008 at 8:59 PM | PERMALINK

So spot on! But what about Malaysia, Pakistan, Morocco, Brunei and the other nations that are equally Islamist as Arafat's PLO and Saddam's Iraq? The world is more fraught with danger than even Mssrs. Rubenstein and Goldberg realize.

And then that they neglect the tendency also plainly evident among Christianists towards national suicide. Who among us can forget the suicidal actions of Serbia or Germany or Napoleonic France? And so given Canada's position as a coreligionist nation, the question has also got to be asked, "Would Canada be willing to risk extinction by attacking the U.S."? And would Mr. Obama really be so naive as to talk with the Canadian P.M.?

Posted by: snicker-snack on May 23, 2008 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK

In America we honor people who sacrifice themselves in order to save others. The behavior is also a favorite of children playing war. What red blooded American boy has not leaped upon a pantomime grenade and saved his comrades in arms?

Posted by: Brojo on May 24, 2008 at 12:34 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm. Bunch of shortsighted nonsense IMO. First the Taliban was hardly unified behind bin Laden. Quite the contrary. Many senior Taliban officials wanted binny out. His "bring jihad to the world" position didn't quite jive with the whole "let's have an Islamic state here" method. Mullah Omar disagreed and so there it went.

That aside, were the Iranian's so hell bent on national suicide why waste the time and effort to build a nuclear weapon? Why not simply engage American forces in Iraq in a full force cross border attack?

I think too many give too much credence to the real power of Ahma-notreallyincharge-ajad.

Posted by: Soob on May 26, 2008 at 8:16 PM | PERMALINK

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