« Clinton Campaign Threatens "Open Civil War" | Main | Gary Farber Presents: Open Thread »

May 23, 2008

Comments

Rubinstein's is one of the most impressively stupid theses I've seen in a while.

If Iran used say 4 large nuclear devices (2 in the Tel Aviv metropolitan and 2 in the Haifa metropolitan area) they could immediately kill or subject to a not-so-lingering death probably 1/3 of the population of Israel.

Why are we assuming that would be 'national suicide'? It is unlikely that Israel could kill a comparable 1/3 of the population in its dying strike even if it is true that they have 200 nuclear weapons that could all be immediately sent to Iran in response. Iran is a much larger country than Israel and much more spread out than Israel.

And after the dying strike, Israel wouldn't be much of a consideration after a nuclear attack. So where is the 'suicide'? Would the UN commit retaliatory genocide? I don't know, but I wouldn't personally put that chance at over 10-20%--certainly well within the Arafat/Taliban level of potential miscalculation.

So all we need to do is posit levels of miscalculation that we see all the time in history. Hitler attacking Russia and the UK at the same time and thinking that the US couldn't do much. The Muslim Brotherhood thinking that Syria wouldn't indiscriminately shell a city if they took over. Saddam thinking that taking Kuwait would be fine with everyone. Rome thinking that the barbarians could never make it as far as the city. And that is just off the top of my head, I'm sure a historian could come up with hundreds of examples.

The problem is that by focusing on Rubinstein's argument, you are being misled by his silliness. You don't really need uniquely suicidal people to make incredibly disasterous mistakes that can cost millions of lives. All you need is gambling leaders to miscalculate--something that happens at least once a decade.

So all we need to do is posit levels of miscalculation that we see all the time in history

we also need to posit a desire for wanton genocide and the unprovoked slaughter of millions that Iran hasn't yet exhibited.

oh sure, they might develop such a desire tomorrow, or Tuesday, if they want to take a long weekend. but so might France.

and who cares how many nukes Israel itself has ? does Iran actually think the US wouldn't come to Israel's defense, in such a situation ?

If Iran used say 4 large nuclear devices (2 in the Tel Aviv metropolitan and 2 in the Haifa metropolitan area) they could immediately kill or subject to a not-so-lingering death probably 1/3 of the population of Israel

And how would Iran do that?

Why are we assuming that would be 'national suicide'? It is unlikely that Israel could kill a comparable 1/3 of the population in its dying strike even if it is true that they have 200 nuclear weapons that could all be immediately sent to Iran in response.

Large country, true, but several dense population centers. Also: we assume this because the US would add to Israel's arsenal and response time.

See, ie, the Democratic candidates for POTUS. Not to mention, um, McCain! This could be made even more explicit so as to remove any lingering doubt.

You don't really need uniquely suicidal people to make incredibly disasterous mistakes that can cost millions of lives. All you need is gambling leaders to miscalculate--something that happens at least once a decade.

Also: something that's never happened, ever, when you add the key variable. Nuclear weapons.

We've lived with such leaders for decades. Soviet Union. China. North Korea. India. Pakistan.

There's a good reason: leaders realize the scope and magnitude of the stakes when you're talking nukes. Even if it were only 100 nukes from Israel, that's an enormous, staggering price to pay. Bye bye Tehran. Qom. And elsewhere.

Why are we assuming that would be 'national suicide'? It is unlikely that Israel could kill a comparable 1/3 of the population in its dying strike even if it is true that they have 200 nuclear weapons that could all be immediately sent to Iran in response. Iran is a much larger country than Israel and much more spread out than Israel.

Israel has secondary strike capability through its bomber fleet and is believed to have tertiary strike capability via a small number of submarines.

The top 20 cities in Iran have a total population of well over 20 million people, which is about one third of Iran's population. In a nuclear attack, civilians don't just die from the bomb blast -- they also die from the secondary effects. If you knocked out Iran's major cities and eliminated refinery capacity and desalination, a lot more people could die. People can't live without potable water and without refined gas, they can't travel very far. After a nuclear assault, it is unlikely that other nations (or even groups within Iran) could coordinate relief efforts needed to bring water and later food to the remaining civilians. The end result would be a lot of secondary deaths not caused directly by the blasts.

Then again, I suppose that if Japan could grow enough food to feed its civilian population and army while magically generating oil, rubber, and electricity without access to the sea during the closing days of WWII, Iran can do the same.

Well, to make it short and simple, since Rubinstein is apparently monumentally stupid:

Under the scenario the neocons present, what would trigger Iran's suicide attempt would be a large scale nuclear attack on a country know to be an ally of the world's lone superpower. How this is analagous to a government refusing to submit to the demands of that superpower to permit an invasion (Iraq) or to usurp its internal politics (Afghanistan, the Palestinans) is beyond me.

Good post, Eric, but it would be even lovelier to not have to scroll all the way down to confirm who wrote it.

I'd also like to point everyone to the fact that Joe Biden is quite right.

"Why are we assuming that would be 'national suicide'? It is unlikely that Israel could kill a comparable 1/3 of the population in its dying strike even if it is true that they have 200 nuclear weapons that could all be immediately sent to Iran in response. Iran is a much larger country than Israel and much more spread out than Israel."

I'd like a lot more than suspicion before I invest much belief in the notion that many national leaders, including of Iran, would more or less shrug at the notion of 100+ nuclear weapons being detonated at will on their territory by an enemy. I don't think the question of whether that counts as "suicide" or not is terribly interesting.

And Iran was perfectly willing to settle for peace with Iraq after eight years of war: why weren't they willing to suffer more casualties, and keep fighting, then, if they're so indifferent to the lives of their citizens?

And have you noticed that that All Powerful President, and the Majlis, are democratically elected, albeit, of course, within a very narrow range of what makes a candidate acceptable? Do you think many Iranian politicians would get many votes again after 100 nukes were dropped on Iran? Or is their desire to...do whatever it is we're supposed to be so panicked about so powerful that they won't care, but somehow they're just biding their time until the Time Is Right?

And even if that's so, do we have reason to think we can't induce them to keep thinking that The Time Isn't Right Yet?

If not, can you explain why?

Please show your work. Pencils down in 30 minutes. Thanks.

On religion and guns:

2:99 Disbelievers are evil people.

“Rotting corpse.”

10:6 And I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them; for I have mercy upon them: and they shall be as though I had not cast them off: for I am the LORD their God, and will hear them.

4:101 The disbelievers are an open enemy to you.

“Wiped off the map.” Ahmedinejad is an engineer.

13:8 And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith the LORD, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein.

9:5 Slay the disbelievers wherever you find them.

“Wiped off the map.” Ahmedinejad is an engineer who drives an old station wagon.

14:12 And this shall be the plague wherewith the LORD will smite all the people that have fought against Jerusalem; Their flesh shall consume away while they stand upon their feet, and their eyes shall consume away in their holes, and their tongue shall consume away in their mouth.

Most victims of modern weaponry would not fall to the shock wave and heat, they would fall to the radiation plume. The alpha, beta, neuton, and gamma fields would literally ‘rot’ them. They wouldn’t feel it until they started vomiting.

Yeah Gary, the old dog sometimes forgets its new tricks.

And Iran was perfectly willing to settle for peace with Iraq after eight years of war: why weren't they willing to suffer more casualties, and keep fighting, then, if they're so indifferent to the lives of their citizens?

This is an excellent point.

I'd like a lot more than suspicion before I invest much belief in the notion that many national leaders, including of Iran, would more or less shrug at the notion of 100+ nuclear weapons being detonated at will on their territory by an enemy. I don't think the question of whether that counts as "suicide" or not is terribly interesting.

Also excellent in terms of pointitude.

Bric Oven (can I call you that?), what took you so long?

I figured you'd easily grab on of the top three comments. This post is in your wheel house, so to speak.

De nada Eric. I’d pay more attention to Peak Oil though. Parasitic belief systems have a way of taking care of themselves when times get tight. Sorry for the delay, I’ve been tending my garden.

De nada Eric. I’d pay more attention to Peak Oil though. Parasitic belief systems have a way of taking care of themselves when times get tight. Sorry for the delay, I’ve been tending my garden.

"I'd like a lot more than suspicion before I invest much belief in the notion that many national leaders, including of Iran, would more or less shrug at the notion of 100+ nuclear weapons being detonated at will on their territory by an enemy."

And I'd think no one would be stupid enough to try to take on Russia and the UK at the same time, but it happened. You'd think no one would have been stupid enough to bother with WWI but it happened too. You'd think China gambling on the "War to Resist America in Korea" with the belief that the US wouldn't use nuclear weapons wouldn't have happened either. But it did, and historians tell us that we almost used nuclear weapons. (Gamble paid off that time but gamble made nonetheless). You'd think that Saddam wouldn't have gambled that he could get away with taking Kuwait, but he did. You would think that Castro wouldn't tell the USSR that he was willing to sacrifice Cuba over nuclear missiles, but apparently he did. You might not think that JFK would risk immediate nuclear war over the long term threat of missiles in Cuba, but he did.

There has been a lot of gambling, much of it involving nuclear risk. The relatively blithe assumption that the international taboo against the use of nuclear weapons will continue unchallenged forever seems rather unjustified.

I'm not arguing that this means anything specific about how we should act with respect to Iran. I believe we should attempt to engage Iran.

Rubinstein is wrong that Iran has a special suicidal bent. But you are wrong to buy into his frame that a suicidal bent is the only thing that could lead to the nuclear destruction of Israel if nuclear weapons were found in Iran or other places in the Middle East.

(Also if the bombs arrived in a fashion other than by missile, what level of deniability would let Iran off the hook?)

Would you advocate the destruction of Iran if we could show that it was 60-70% likely that the fissile material came from them? Psuedo-deniable nuclear attacks seem like a fruitful area for risk taking leaders in the future.

Or to quote 'moderate' former President of Iran Rafsanjani 2 and 1/2 months after 9/11: "If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality."

Now this statement is not the direct threat that some right-wing commenters seem to think. Perhaps he only means that Israel would have to submit to the will of the Islamic world, not that it would actually suffer nuclear destruction. But it is rather striking, especially only 2 and 1/2 months after 9/11 and at a time when the US had already invaded Afghanistan.

After the defeat of the Trung sisters, Vietnam fought a 960 year insurrection against their Chinese overlords. The didn't just give up after 900 years of failure. That's about as suicidal as it gets. But guess what? They eventually won. And then they went on to defeat everyone else who tried to take their land. If Muslims have half the fight in them that the Vietnamese have, we'll be fighting them for a very long time.

"The relatively blithe assumption that the international taboo against the use of nuclear weapons will continue unchallenged forever seems rather unjustified."

I don't disagree, and that's why I do not, in fact, object to negotiations and pressure to attempt to prevent or delay as long as possible Iran achieving nuclear weapons.

I simply believing in not being unduly alarmist, just as I believe in not being complacent. There's a middle ground available here.

"But you are wrong to buy into his frame that a suicidal bent is the only thing that could lead to the nuclear destruction of Israel if nuclear weapons were found in Iran or other places in the Middle East."

And yet I don't, and I've said no such thing. Please don't assume. Thanks.

"If Muslims have half the fight in them that the Vietnamese have, we'll be fighting them for a very long time."

I have Muslim friends, and acquaintances, and have had many Muslim neighbors, and as it happens, none of them have fought with me yet.

Have you had many fights with Muslims in America, yourself? If not, why do you lump all Muslims together as someone to "fight"? Should all worshippers of a particular religion be treated as homogenous? Is that what you're saying? Or what?

Would you stand behind your statements if you filled in the name of another world religion? Or is Islam particularly different, and there's reason to believe that, in fact, all or most Muslims are just biding their time until they can slit everyone else's throat if we haven't all converted?

If so, your evidence for that claim would be?

I have Muslim friends, and acquaintances, and have had many Muslim neighbors, and as it happens, none of them have fought with me yet.

You are obviously lying. The Muslims hate all Jews and cannot control their homicidal rage upon encountering one, even if it brings about their own death. If you had really encountered a Muslim, they would have killed you dead.

Whoah, hold on there Gary Farber. I did not mean that as an offense to Muslims or to imply that we should be fighting them. I have many Muslim friends in many countries, and I respect them and their religion deeply. My point was that if we chose to fight them, they will fight back. And they will have good reason for doing so. A wise course of action would be to find common ground rather than fight an eternal war against people who really aren't our enemies.

Turbulence, please tell me you're joking there.

If Iran used say 4 large nuclear devices (2 in the Tel Aviv metropolitan and 2 in the Haifa metropolitan area) they could immediately kill or subject to a not-so-lingering death probably 1/3 of the population of Israel.

And if they had a space station orbiting Alderian they could crush the Rebel Alliance with one swift stroke. Billions of voices would cry out, and be silenced.

Btw, after reading those three examples - Saddam's Iraq, Arafat's Palestine, and Taliban Afghanistan - am I the only one who can't get the sound of an abusive husband beating his unfaithful wife out of my head?

"Bitch had it coming to her" seems to be the explanation for the robust beatings we deliver these countries. "Maybe if I beat her first, she won't be such a whore" seems to be the logic behind future plans of action.

From the domestic side of things, I can't help but think that beating your wife is not the best way to keep her faithful to you. Likewise, invading and bombing unfriendly neighbors doesn't seem to be the best way to discourage their support of anti-American terrorism.

If I didn't know better, I'd think all this saber-rattling - and eventual saber-stabbing - was some attempt to perpetuate continued hostility in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.

"You are obviously lying. The Muslims hate all Jews and cannot control their homicidal rage upon encountering one, even if it brings about their own death. If you had really encountered a Muslim, they would have killed you dead."

I'm actually one of those crypto-Muslim Jews. It goes with being a communist terrorsymp liberal. I was kinda honored when my some of my terrorsymping was revealed, to be sure.

"I did not mean that as an offense to Muslims or to imply that we should be fighting them. I have many Muslim friends in many countries, and I respect them and their religion deeply."

Thanks for clarifying.

"And if they had a space station orbiting Alderian"

Alderaan. It's important if you're buying a ticket, because Alderian shuts up after 5 p.m., and is a really boring planet; you don't want to go there by mistake.

"My point was that if we chose to fight them, they will fight back."

Who is the "they" you are referring to, then?

Also if the bombs arrived in a fashion other than by missile, what level of deniability would let Iran off the hook?

I'm not too worried about the thought of smuggling four nuclear weapons into Israel. Do you know how hard that would be? Further, there are ways of tracing it back fairly easily.

The relatively blithe assumption that the international taboo against the use of nuclear weapons will continue unchallenged forever seems rather unjustified.

It's not that they're "taboo" because people think it's poor form or immoral to use them. The reluctance to use them has to do with their awesome destructive capacity, and the likelihood of retaliation with said awesome destructive capacity.

If we're afraid that Iran is going to misjudge our willingness to turn Iran into a sheet of glass if it strikes Israel with nukes.

There. No miscalculations. Certainty.

strictly speaking, you can't buy a ticket to Alderaan. Alderaan doesn't exist anymore. any reputable ticket agent should know this and tell you.

don't buy tickets in Mos Isley.

Um, I left out a crucial step in that formula. That being: Stating, as HRC did, that we'll respond in kind.

"Thanks for clarifying."

Thanks for accepting my clarification.

"If we're afraid that Iran is going to misjudge our willingness to turn Iran into a sheet of glass if it strikes Israel with nukes.

...

Um, I left out a crucial step in that formula. That being: Stating, as HRC did, that we'll respond in kind."

So to be clear, you are advocating some sort of system where we promise to commit counter-genocide? I'm not sure I could credibly commit to that, and I'm fairly hard-nosed conservative. I mean it is one thing to say that of course we reduce Iran to a nuclear wasteland if they used nuclear weapons and another thing to actually do it.

Do you believe we would do it?

More to the point, do you believe we should do it?

"strictly speaking, you can't buy a ticket to Alderaan. Alderaan doesn't exist anymore. any reputable ticket agent should know this and tell you."

It was "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....", to be clear.

"don't buy tickets in Mos Isley."

Or Mos Eisley. But you can get a cheap smuggling rate there, if you meet a ship-owner down enough on their luck, I hear.

So how about an Indiana Jones open thread? In fact, now that blog-owners seem to be paying some attention to the blog per se again, how about always having an open thread in the "current posts" slot on the right sidebar? Or at least one going over every weekend, starting Friday mornings?

Reasonable suggestion? Not? Eric, if you're reading? Seen Crystal Skull yet? Can we beg an open thread from you, if we ask pretty pretty pretty please?

Me, I quite liked it, but don't want to start chatting about it in the middle of an inappropriate thread, or where people won't know to look for an Indiana Jones discussion. I did put a few brief comments here, but hardly anyone reads my blog these days, let alone comments. And I haven't gotten around to writing more about it yet.

"Who is the "they" you are referring to, then?"

Now that's an interesting question. I have no answer to it. The Muslim world is more diverse than the Christian world (although less diverse than the Hindu world). There really is no "they" there. That is the precise reason why I don't believe there is some kind of "Muslim Menace." Many in our country want to fight this elusive menace, and I strongly disagree with that sentiment. In my experience, Muslims are just regular people. I'd say "like you or me", but I'm not really regular- maybe you are. In the end, it is very important for us to understand that Islam is essentially an idea with many interpretations. And ideas cannot be fought on the battleground of warfare. I personally don't buy into Muslim philosophy. but I have no conflict with those that do.

Do you believe we would do it?

You mentioned an international "taboo" before about using nuclear weapons, but what you did not mention was that we are the only nation to have violated that taboo. If we make it clear to Iran that we would retaliate, then we would indeed.

More to the point, do you believe we should do it?

If avoiding war with Iran, and avoiding an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel, requires us to make such a threat, then we should be prepared to follow through. Keep in mind, we would essentially be mopping up after the Israeli nukes worked their magic. There might not be much left for us to do that fallout and infrastructure devastation wouldn't have taken care of on its own.

But if it means avoiding nuclear confrontation to make such MAD type bargains, then yes, we must contemplate our end of the equation.

Here's the good news though: It won't come to that.

a desire for wanton genocide and the unprovoked slaughter of millions that Iran hasn't yet exhibited.
oh sure, they might develop such a desire tomorrow, or Tuesday, if they want to take a long weekend. but so might France.

Iran's leaders -- both Khameini and Ahmadinejad -- have more than once expressed exactly that desire. When did France call for another country to be wiped off the map, or called for its "annihilation and destruction"? (See http://www.meforum.org/article/806#_ftnref23 for examples.) I missed it.

Perhaps you assume Iran is just sounding off? Iran was and remains the major sponsor (along with Syria)of Hezbollah and has already supplied it with missiles designed for use against large targets (cities). http://www.defensetech.org/archives/002582.html In other words, Iran is ALREADY attacking Israel by proxy.

I have heard that Iran would not dare give Hezbollah (or some other terrorist group) nukes to put in the missiles (or just put in a car for a suicide bombing), because they could too easily be traced back to Iran. Maybe, maybe not. I don't know how reliable nuclear 'fingerprinting' is, or how easily fooled. Iran is pretty big and rich, they have a lot of resources to put into muddying the waters. At the very least, let's admit Iran has the motive and means, and lacks at most the opportunity.

I hardly ever trigger Godwin's Law, but I must remind you that we have seen threats of "vernichtung" against Jews ignored before just because they sounded too terrible to be real. Turned out, Hitler meant exactly what he said. Why not this time?

"You mentioned an international "taboo" before about using nuclear weapons, but what you did not mention was that we are the only nation to have violated that taboo."

Actually I think it could be argued that no one has violated the taboo--because the taboo came about in response to nuclear bombing of Japan.

Damn. I visit here, see people casually talking about the relative harmlessness of limited nuclear war, and felt it was my duty to post this link--

climate effects of a regional nuclear war

(PDF file, btw). I suppose this would be of no concern to the crazed Muslim miscalculators, but the rest of us should know.

Back to lurk mode.

"Iran's leaders -- both Khameini"

Once again, there is no such guy. You want Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Ali Khamenei. Ali Khamenei. Ali Khamenei. Ali Khamenei.

Grand Âyatollâh Seyyed ‘Alî Hosaynî Khâmene’î, if you prefer. Pronunciation.">http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6b/Seyyed_Ali_Hosseini_Khamenei.ogg">Pronunciation.

Not to be confused with Grand Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini, the former Supreme Leader.

Who this "Khameini" guy is that people keep writing about, and how he got so popular, I have no idea.

See also, it's "Gandhi," not "Ghandi," "Tolkien," not "Tolkein," "Asimov," not "Azimov," "Ursula Le Guin," not "Leguin," and so on, for some other well-known non-existent people.

Also if the bombs arrived in a fashion other than by missile, what level of deniability would let Iran off the hook?

Well, given that the US invaded Iraq in 'response' to an attack on the US that Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with, then I don't think deniability is the key issue here. If a really serious attack was made on Israel, I'm sure the US administration has a whole series of countries it'd want to punish, regardless of their actual guilt.

And the Iranian leadership have, I'm sure learned the other lesson of Gulf War II: that the US has the military power and the political determination/dementedness to invade, destroy the army of and depose the government of pretty much any smaller country they want to. (They can't control the country subsequently, but there's not a lot of Saddamist resistance left in Iraq).

"a desire for wanton genocide and the unprovoked slaughter of millions that Iran hasn't yet exhibited.
oh sure, they might develop such a desire tomorrow, or Tuesday, if they want to take a long weekend. but so might France.

Iran's leaders -- both Khameini and Ahmadinejad -- have more than once expressed exactly that desire. When did France call for another country to be wiped off the map, or called for its "annihilation and destruction"? (See http://www.meforum.org/article/806#_ftnref23 for examples.)"

This turns out not to be the case. Your cite reads (in the middle of the piece; it might have been better to quote it, since not everyone reads as fast as I do, and will patiently read the whole article to find the relevant quote):

"On December 31, 1999, before tens of thousands at a Jerusalem Day rally in Tehran, Iranian supreme leader ‘Ali Khamene'i declared, "There is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Zionist state."[23] "
It should be needless to point out that annihlation of a state is a threat to wipe out a political entity, not to kill anyone. That many people might be intended to be killed in the course of annihlating a state is certainly a possible reading of that statement, but to claim that it is the only reading is simply untrue.

It's a threatening statement, and not to be ignored, but it is not identical to a threat to commit genocide, as I'm sure you can see now that this has been pointed out to you.

It's rather important to read meanings carefully, and make necessary distinctions, in such critical matters, and not to misread or misrepresent statements, I suggest.

Let's discuss Iran's threat to the political entity of the Jewish state, but let's not cite non-existent threats of genocide until we have a cite to a statement that actually calls for genocide, perhaps?

Also, if you have to reach back nearly ten years for a quote, its relevance begins to be questionable, I suggest. Perhaps we should stick to threats made in the past five years of a given moment?

Glad to know the spelling is the important part. Who said anything about Asimov, Le Guin, or Tolkein? Let's not even mention Dostoyevsky, or as they seem to prefer these days, Dostoievski.

But if it will make you happy, I'll try to remember that the homicidal loon's name is Khamenei, so nobody will get him confused with some other leader of Iran.

Sebastian: Do you believe we would do it?

Irrespective of my feelings on the matter: yes, I believe that if Iran launched a nuclear assault on Israel, the US would launch a nuclear retaliation on Israel's behalf.

trilobite: I hardly ever trigger Godwin's Law, but I must remind you that we have seen threats of "vernichtung" against Jews ignored before just because they sounded too terrible to be real. Turned out, Hitler meant exactly what he said. Why not this time?

Because the Iranians lack credibility?

More specifically: there was a broad-based pattern of virulent German antisemitism for at least fifty years before Hitler, with a track record of extremist violence demonstrating the seriousness of the threat. The Nazis were also demonstrably expansionistic, as witness... well, pretty much the entire 1930s.* While Iranian saber-rattling has been quite impressive -- not particularly difficult for religious foes of a theocracy -- I haven't seen anything in Iran remotely resembling either a) the relentless expansionism of the Nazis or b) the actual, practical Judenhass of the Freikorps (or, later, the Einsatzgruppe or the Todtenkopfverbund), as opposed to c) the general brutality of the armed forces of a moderately despotic regime.

Now, if you can produce evidence showing that Iran has done something truly terrible on the relevant scale of terror to warrant additional concern, I'm all ears. Otherwise, I'm sorry, it just sounds like bluster to me, the bog-standard vituperations prattled forth by every jingoistic regime including, well, the GOP.

[I mean, seriously, if you took American rhetoric at face value... yikes.]

* I'll even spot you the notion that the Final Solution was what Hitler always had in mind, which is itself a highly contentious proposition. IIRC, "vernichtung" wasn't even used until 1939 so it's not like the writing had been on the wall where everyone had missed it; and even then it's not clear at what point the Nazis stopped speaking figuratively.

Gary, "annihilate" does not to me suggest something like "delegitimize," or "persuade to stand down." I mean, how do you imagine annihilation of the state entity taking place without killing a very large number of its people? Especially since most of them are in its army reserves? Not to mention that it is common parlance in English, and I believe in other languages as well, to use the name of the state and its people interchangeably. People talk about "the British" wanting or saying x, when what they mean is that some spokesman for the British government said it. This may strike you as insufficiently meticulous, but few people have trouble understanding the usage.

To the extent that there is ambiguity, I think the burden of proof is on those who want to show that the natural meaning is not correct. But if you want an argument for why we should read it straightforwardly, I point you to the similar threats made by the speaker's front man, Khamenei.

Of course, those too could be just rhetoric, bluster, hyperbole, mistranslations, or cultural misunderstandings. Anything is possible. If I hold a gun at your head and say "I'm going to shoot you dead now," I could be playing a practical joke. I could be speaking English as a second language and be under the impression that I was using a common splatball idiom. But would these be your first guesses?

re your other quibbles,
a) I did quote it. I don't think the context you added changes the meaning. If you do, then as I said, I'd be glad to hear why you think your interpretation is better.
b) re patience, the "find" function is your friend.

"When did France call for another country to be wiped off the map"

Gary Farber does a good job of explaining this, but he leaves out an important issue. The "wiped of the map" translation was a mistranslation (from the AP, as I recall). The correct translation is "erased from the pages of time." "Wiped off the map" implies genocide, while "erased from the pages of time" implies the destruction of a political entity, not a people. Iran certainly would like to see the Likud based government in Israel eradicated. But I see no evidence that they want to kill anyone in the process.

"Who said anything about Asimov, Le Guin, or Tolkein?"

Tolkien.

"Glad to know the spelling is the important part. "

Whom are you responding to that said that?

"But if it will make you happy, I'll try to remember that the homicidal loon's name is Khamenei"

Whom do you have in mind that he has killed? Not that I feel terribly compelled to defend him from the charge, but I think clarity in terms is useful.

"I mean, how do you imagine annihilation of the state entity taking place without killing a very large number of its people?"

Possibly. Possibly not. Both have historically happened.

"Not to mention that it is common parlance in English, and I believe in other languages as well, to use the name of the state and its people interchangeably."

Since the statement was in Persian, I'm unclear as to the relevance.

"But if you want an argument for why we should read it straightforwardly, I point you to the similar threats made by the speaker's front man, Khamenei."

I don't quite understand this sentence, I'm afraid.

Anarch, expansionism is irrelevant -- the Nazis could have been nonexpansionist and still genocidal to the reach of their ability. Iran need not be expansionist to attack one country. It already does attack that country.

As for figurative versus literal meanings, I am not reassured by your reminder that what may have begun as mere bluster later become policy. Either way, bad outcome.

Precisely because it is hard to tell when bluster is just bluster, and because saying things tends to commit one, there are certain forms of bluster most people will not use when they are heads of state. That's the scary part.

I grant that Iran has not been quite as relentlessly antisemitic as Germany in the 1930s, so far. OTOH, Germany's antisemitism is clearer in hindsight than it was to anybody at the time. There are no pefect parallels -- for example, Germany was not arming a proxy fighting force to attack Jews in another country. Iran is. Does this show the exact same level of threat as the racial cleansing laws of the 1930s, or a little more or a little less? I don't care, I just note that the combination makes it look like more than mere bluster.

"But I see no evidence that they want to kill anyone in the process."

I should clarify that. The 'want' part is critical. Iran is obviously supporting Hezbollah, which does kill people. But we have seen many times in history that it is sometimes necessary to kill people to achieve justice. Our own existence in the US is based on killing people to achieve what we perceive as justice. Hezbollah is really no different. They have political goals, not religious ones. Iran supports them because they really do have legitimate goals. They do not support Hezbollah out of an irrational hatred of Jews. They do not want Jews to be killed, but they understand that Jews will be killed to get what they want.

"Iran certainly would like to see the Likud based government in Israel eradicated."

Sorry, the what?

Likud:

However, after ruling the country for most of the 1980s, the party has won only one Knesset election since 1992, though its candidate, Benjamin Netanyahu, did win the popular vote for Prime Minister in 1996. After a big win in the 2003 elections, a major split in 2005 saw Likud leader Ariel Sharon leave to form the new Kadima party, with Likud slumping to fourth place in elections the following year.
Fourth place. And the folks who were elected in 2003 largely left to form Kadima. The wing of the Likud party that was formerly in power, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, hasn't been in power since 1992. It might be useful to notice this. Similarly, we shouldn't refer to the "Clinton-based U.S. administration" by now, either.

Iran's leaders -- both Khameini and Ahmadinejad -- have more than once expressed exactly that desire. When did France call for another country to be wiped off the map, or called for its "annihilation and destruction"? (See http://www.meforum.org/article/806#_ftnref23 for examples.) I missed it.

Would you mind providing some quotes in a comment because I don't see any relevant quotes in that article except the ten year old one that Gary commented on and this one:

The use of an atomic bomb against Israel would totally destroy Israel, while [the same] against the Islamic world would only cause damage. Such a scenario is not inconceivable."

I don't see what's wrong with this statement. One could turn it around and say that a nuclear attack could totally destroy Iran but the same against the Jewish world would only cause damage. After all, many many Jews don't live in Israel. Both of those statements seem true for some definition of "damage". But neither statement expresses an intent to attack anyone: these are conditional statements.

I'm sorry, but I don't see any evidence that the Iranian leadership has expressed the desires to which you attribute them.

Just to be clear: you're citing a document from the Middle East forum, which is Daniel Pipes' think tank. Do you think that Mr Pipes is a reputable and honest scholar? Also, the author of the piece you cite is associated with a think tank started by Frank Gaffney. This think tank has publicly called for George Bush to become, and I'm not making this up, President for life. Furthermore, it has advocated for the systematic elimination of all Arabs in Iraq and subsequent repopulating of Iraq with Americans. The specific quote I'm thinking of is:

If President Bush copied Julius Caesar by ordering his army to empty Iraq of Arabs and repopulate the country with Americans, he would achieve immediate results: popularity with his military; enrichment of America by converting an Arabian Iraq into an American Iraq (therefore turning it from a liability to an asset); and boost American prestige while terrifying American enemies.

Do you feel than organizations that publicly call for Bush to be made dictator for life and for the systematic elimination of 25 million Arabs can contribute something of value to the discussion? Do you believe that we should purge Iraq of all Arabs?

Perhaps you assume Iran is just sounding off? Iran was and remains the major sponsor (along with Syria)of Hezbollah and has already supplied it with missiles designed for use against large targets (cities). http://www.defensetech.org/archives/002582.html In other words, Iran is ALREADY attacking Israel by proxy.

These super amazing weapons that Iran has provided to Hezbollah: where they fired? Say, for example, during the 2006 War? If these weapons were not fired while Israel was invading Lebanon and destroying infrastructure like crazy, when exactly would they be fired?

I'm not comfortable with the phrasing "designed for use against large targets (cities)" since that implies that these are powerful weapons that can kill many thousands of people. They can't. We're talking about a 600 kg warhead, and while that's not nothing, it is not a nuclear bomb and it not a daisy cutter either. Destroying a building or even a city block is very different from destroying a city.

Have you considered the possibility that Hezbollah might be a group based on authentic Lebanese nationalism as opposed to Iran's puppet? That Hezbollah might have some legitimate disputes with Israel, especially after defending against an Israeli invasion? Do you consider it irrational to seek deterrent weapons after one has been invaded by a far more powerful neighbor?

Tolkien
Fine, Gary, you win the spelling bee.

Whom are you responding to that said that?

Was it unclear to whom I responded? When I wrote that particular response, you had posted a longish, rather heated post on spelling, and nothing on substance. Your slightly more substantive next post had appeared by the time I posted.

]and I believe in other languages as well

Since the statement was in Persian

At least don't quibble with something I already addressed.

Both have historically happened

Translation is always difficult. But at least in English, "annihilate" has a considerably more violent and completist connotation than "end." Which state would you normally refer to as having been "annihilated" without considerable loss of life?

Whom do you have in mind that he has killed

"Homicidal" can refer to intent as well as to accomplishment, and that was my meaning. It is interesting that you can see fine shades of meaning in "annihilate," but only one meaning to that word. One might almost suspect that you are bending over backwards to give the benefit of the doubt in one case, but determined to put the worst light on the other.

I don't quite understand this sentence, I'm afraid.

I'm sorry to hear it. Which word is too difficult?

"This think tank has publicly called for George Bush to become, and I'm not making this up, President for life."

That's not precisely true. You're referring to Philip Atkinson. See here. Gaffney's Center for Security Policy didn't stand by the piece, however.

Links and cites are good when making such assertions, so we can all fact-check.

"These super amazing weapons that Iran has provided to Hezbollah: where they fired? Say, for example, during the 2006 War? If these weapons were not fired while Israel was invading Lebanon and destroying infrastructure like crazy, when exactly would they be fired?"

I long ago concluded that the Israeli attack was strategically stupid and counter-productive, as well as criticizable on a variety of other levels, including humanitarian, proportionality, and that there should be a full investigation of possible war crimes by both sides.

However, you're slightly reversing cause and effect here:

The conflict began when Hezbollah militants fired rockets at Israeli border towns as a diversion for an anti-tank missile attack on two armored Humvees patrolling the Israeli side of the border fence.[20] Of the seven Israeli soldiers in the two jeeps, two were wounded, three were killed, and two were captured and taken to Lebanon.[20] Five more were killed in a failed Israeli rescue attempt. Israel responded with massive airstrikes and artillery fire on targets in Lebanon, which damaged Lebanese civilian infrastructure, including Beirut's Rafic Hariri International Airport which Israel alleged that Hezbollah used to import weapons, an air and naval blockade,[21] and a ground invasion of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah then launched more rockets into northern Israel and engaged the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in guerrilla warfare from hardened positions.[22]
While I disagree with the scale and many other elements of the Israeli response, it's not as if Israel just up and started attacking targets on Lebanese soil spontaneously, as you appear to be implying.

"We're talking about a 600 kg warhead, and while that's not nothing, it is not a nuclear bomb and it not a daisy cutter either. Destroying a building or even a city block is very different from destroying a city."

Also important is that their guidance is barely existence, so it's complete potluck where they land, and so many landed harmlessly, and a number, oh, good shooting, killed Israeli Arabs, including children.

"Have you considered the possibility that Hezbollah might be a group based on authentic Lebanese nationalism"

Whoa, that's quite a gloss. "Authentic Lebanese nationalism" arguably covers all sides in the past Lebanese civil war(s) and the current situation. Hezbollah hardly represents all or most of Lebanon's citizens or polity or faction, and painting them solely as victims is more than questionable, to put it mildly.

This doesn't let Israel off the hook, but let's not turn up the contrast here too high; there's a lot of grey on both sides, rather than black and white.

"It should be needless to point out that annihlation of a state is a threat to wipe out a political entity, not to kill anyone."

There is parsing and there is overliteralism. Since Iran currently supports and supported at the time of the quote various organizations that actually kill Israelis an a very regular basis, the "not to kill anyone" reading is a bit on the ridiculous side.

"he "wiped of the map" translation was a mistranslation (from the AP, as I recall). The correct translation is "erased from the pages of time." "Wiped off the map" implies genocide, while "erased from the pages of time" implies the destruction of a political entity, not a people."

"Erased from the pages of time" doesn't imply the destruction of the political entity any less than "wiped off the map". If anything the implication of total destruction seems stronger in "erased from the pages of time" since it seems to imply that there will be so little trace left that the history books don't even record it. That seems rather unlikely if the people are still alive.

"'Homicidal' can refer to intent as well as to accomplishment, and that was my meaning. It is interesting that you can see fine shades of meaning in 'annihilate,' but only one meaning to that word."

I made no claims whatever about "homicidal" having only one meaning.

Whom are you accusing Khamenei of wishing to murder, in support of your assertion that he wishes to murder what, all Israeli Jews? I trust you're familiar with the fallacy of begging the question. You can't assume the homicidal nature of Khamenei in order to demonstrate the homicidal nature of Khamenei.

"OTOH, Germany's antisemitism is clearer in hindsight than it was to anybody at the time."

I'm unclear what you have in mind here: could you clarify a bit, perhaps?

"I'm sorry to hear it. Which word is too difficult?"

The reference to Khamenei as a front man for himself is what I don't follow: did you intend to refer to someone else at some point?

"But if you want an argument for why we should read it straightforwardly, I point you to the similar threats made by the speaker's front man, Khamenei.""

I'm unclear how the speaker, Ali Khamenei, whose statement we were discussing, is a "front man" for himself: can you clarify, please?

And I'd like to keep this discussion as friendly as possible, myself.

That's not precisely true. You're referring to Philip Atkinson. See here. Gaffney's Center for Security Policy didn't stand by the piece, however.

Yes, they recanted after the fact. Which doesn't change the fact that they called for the elimination of Iraqi Arabs. Who among us hasn't made a minor editorial oversight and inadvertently called for the elimination of millions of people? Who among us is not closely affiliated with writers who long to make Bush a god-emperor?

However, you're slightly reversing cause and effect here:

I don't understand what you're saying. I never claimed that Israel invaded Lebanon without provocation or without any reason. My point was that, regardless of how the war started, once Lebanese civilian infrastructure starting getting pounded, one would expect that Hezbollah would have retaliated by striking Israeli infrastructure. Yes, Hezbollah did fire short range rockets at Northern Israel, however, the article that trilobite linked to addressed the issue of Hezbollah firing longer range rockets at southern Israel. As far as I know, no such strikes were made during the war. I'd like to hear trilobite's thoughts on what that is. After all, if Hezbollah is capable of striking southern Israel, why didn't they do so during the war?

I think the history lesson would have b

Also important is that their guidance is barely existence, so it's complete potluck where they land, and so many landed harmlessly, and a number, oh, good shooting, killed Israeli Arabs, including children.

Certainly. Then again, precision guided munitions tend to kill large numbers of innocents when used in urban environments as well. What's your point here? I think that Hezbollah is a bad organization that does terrible things, including killing innocent civilians.

I think it important to be clear about the relative power of these weapons. We've already launched one pointless war based in part on a failure to understand the limits of our adversary's military capabilities. Unfortunately, deliberate misunderstandings of this sort seem to be an area that the Middle East Forum specializes in.

Whoa, that's quite a gloss. "Authentic Lebanese nationalism" arguably covers all sides in the past Lebanese civil war(s) and the current situation. Hezbollah hardly represents all or most of Lebanon's citizens or polity or faction, and painting them solely as victims is more than questionable, to put it mildly.

Yes, there are other groups that also represent authentic Lebanese nationalism. But portraying any of them as Iranian puppets who serve no purpose other than to act on Tehran's orders and lend plausible deniability is absurd. I never claimed that Hezbollah is entitled to speak on behalf of all, or even many Lebanese. But its origins are far more tightly rooted in Lebanon and its associated conflicts than they are in Tehran. They are clearly not a victim and I never claimed they were. Nevertheless, they were defending against an invasion. Regardless of what motivated that invasion, they still had rational concerns regarding territorial defense.

This doesn't let Israel off the hook, but let's not turn up the contrast here too high; there's a lot of grey on both sides, rather than black and white.

Where specifically did I say that suggests that I've turned up the contrast too high?

Turbulence, I'm not talking about Hezbollah's motives, I'm talking about Iran's.

I'm not comfortable with the phrasing...
You may be uncomfortable with the phrasing, but I'm uncomfortable with large missiles in the hands of a terrorist group. Are you? And actually, destroying an apartment complex or two will kill thousands. If that citation is correct, those particular weapons have a large blast radius, a long range, and are not very accurate. I.e., you fire them into cities, not at, say, a small army outpost or a helicopter. If I implied more, it was unintentional.

And it's not as though those were the only weapons Iran ever gave Hezbollah.

I bear no brief for Pipes, who is an idiot, it was just the first link google came up with for those particular Khamenei quotations. IIRC, the quotations are correct, but if they're wrong, please say so. Either way, the forum in which they sat is irrelevant.

Yes, I have considered the possibility that Hezbollah has legitimate gripes. I have also considered the possibility that they committed unnecessary murders instead of accepting a peace. Have you?

I don't see where I implied Hezbollah is a puppet. Our friends the contras also had their own reasons for murdering. But when we armed them, we used their goals for our own ends. Same here.

fostert, I see what you mean about the translation (a cite would have been helpful, but I found it on my own), but it still sounds pretty bloodthirsty, especially when placed as a slogan on the heads of ballistic missiles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahmoud_Ahmadinejad_and_Israel#Interpretation_of_speech_as_call_for_genocide

Let's put it this way, Gary, turbulence, anarch, and fostert: if "annihilate," "wipe out," and "erase" do not indicate an interest in mass murder, what would? You can explain away any word, any combination of words, if you apply sufficient ingenuity, but why work so hard to do so?

fostert: I don't really care if Iran's interest in helping kill many Israelis is based on irrational hatred, realpolitik, or astrology, I just want to know if there's a reason to think they'll stop short of using nuclear weapons if they think they can get away with doing so. Because, as Sebastian said, thinking they can get away with it is the sort of fundamental and stupid miscalculation jingoistic regimes have made throughout history.

Can we get back to substance? If Iran (or some overzealous person in the Iranian military) gives missiles to a terrorist group, how sure would we be after the fact that it was an Iranian bomb? How reliable is that technology, can it be fooled? Anyone know?

And I'd like to keep this discussion as friendly as possible, myself.

Endless picking at trivial points and quibbling over the uncertainty inherent in any factual statement does not perfectly advance that end. But I'll ramp it down. "Front man" in the sense that, as we get reminded here regularly, he is not the real power in Iran, more of a spokesman and figurehead.

BTW, I didn't use calling him homicidal to prove he was homicidal, I pointed to his statements and those of his country's spokesman for that. I called him homicidal to emphasize that the spelling of his name is not the aspect of his nature upon which I prefer to focus.

Also important is that their guidance is barely existence, so it's complete potluck where they land, and so many landed harmlessly, and a number, oh, good shooting, killed Israeli Arabs, including children.

Certainly. Then again, precision guided munitions tend to kill large numbers of innocents when used in urban environments as well. What's your point here?

You appear to be reluctant to be agreed with.

My point was that I agreed with you, and was pointing out that not only were the weapon yields of even Hezbollah's best missiles low, but that they also couldn't even hit much of anything intentionally. Thus their lethality, and threat, isn't remotely what it could be, at least for now and a while.

Gary, re german antisemitism being more obvious in hindsight, I meant the depth and practical effect of German antisemitism. Everyone knew Hitler didn't like Jews, few saw or were williing to admit the pattern of escalating harm to Jews culminating in genocide. Similarly, it is perhaps too easy for some here to dismiss as mere bluster and happenstance a pattern of repeated existential threats combined with the arming of active enemies.

"But I'll ramp it down. 'Front man' in the sense that, as we get reminded here regularly, he is not the real power in Iran, more of a spokesman and figurehead."

Khamenei is? Says who?

Are you confusing Khamenei with Ahmadinejad?

We're discussing Khamenei'statement that you cited. Then you said that he was just a front man for Khamenei, which doesn't seem to make any sense, and thus my request for clarification. Now you're saying that "we get reminded here regularly, he is not the real power in Iran, more of a spokesman and figurehead," when that's never been said of Khamenei, but of Ahmadinejad, whose hasn't come up in this set of exchanges so far.

"I called him homicidal to emphasize that the spelling of his name is not the aspect of his nature upon which I prefer to focus."

The spelling isn't particularly important, but knowing who the heck you're talking about is.

Seb and trilobite,

Would you mind explaining if you think the following is a fair summary of your position?

The Iranian regime is hellbent on destroying Israel, even if the cost of doing so is the destruction of major Iranian cities or Iranian society. There are three pieces of evidence that demonstrate this to be the case:

1. Iran supports Hezbollah. The primary reason for Iranian financial assistance to Hezbollah is the Iranian regime's desire to eliminate Israel. We know this because X.

2. Ten years ago, Ali Khamenei said something in Farsi that could be translated as "There is only one solution to the Middle East problem, namely the annihilation and destruction of the Zionist state".

3. Ahmadinejad said something in Farsi that Juan Cole describes as:

Whatever this quotation from a decades-old speech of Khomeini may have meant, Ahmadinejad did not say that "Israel must be wiped off the map" with the implication that phrase has of Nazi-style extermination of a people. He said that the occupation regime over Jerusalem must be erased from the page of time.

Again, Ariel Sharon erased the occupation regime over Gaza from the page of time.

Would you say that's a fair rendition of your point? If not, can you explain where I'm misunderstanding you?

No.

And I'm reluctant to engage with you because of your history.

@trib
Yes, I have considered the possibility that Hezbollah has legitimate gripes. I have also considered the possibility that they committed unnecessary murders instead of accepting a peace. Have you?

Accepting a peace under what terms?

I don't see where I implied Hezbollah is a puppet. Our friends the contras also had their own reasons for murdering. But when we armed them, we used their goals for our own ends. Same here.

Yes. And no. The Contra's goals were very simply the destruction of the Sandinista government. This was, not to put too fine a point on it, their raison d'être. Supporting them in any way shape or form was supporting this goal. Care to tell us what Hizbollah's raison d'être is?

I don't really care if Iran's interest in helping kill many Israelis is based on irrational hatred, realpolitik, or astrology, I just want to know if there's a reason to think they'll stop short of using nuclear weapons if they think they can get away with doing so.

So, let's see, you're saying that you think that if Iran can get nukes, they'll ignore the possible consequences and immediately slip one to their not-puppets that (per you) just so happen to dance on Iranian strings. But totally aren't puppets. So, um... if you're seriously considering them as independent actors and not wholly subordinate proxies... why aren't you considering the strategic incentives and disincentives for Hizbollah? If Israel is hit with a few planted nukes, their retaliatory capabilities will almost certainly remain intact; planted devices would likely hit population centers, not military sites. I for one am willing to credit as serious Israel's "madman" nuclear posture, and would personally expect any and all "usual suspects" to take retaliatory strikes from a severely wounded Israel. This is not rocket science, and by pretending it's not evident you're either discrediting Lebanese reasoning capabilities or betraying your concession that Hizbollah is an independent agent as disingenuous.

Gary, re your 7:58, I see where we went off the rails: I said Khamenei when I meant to say Ahmadinejad. In context I think who I actually meant was pretty clear (i.e, a person already referred to, other than Khamenei and in some sense representing him, and who made similar threats), but I apologize for the confusion.

Anarch, expansionism is irrelevant -- the Nazis could have been nonexpansionist and still genocidal to the reach of their ability.

"The reach of their ability" misses the point, though. Nazi ideology demanded the destruction of the entire Jewish race, not just one enclave of Jews. As soon as you start delimiting the scope of Iran's ambitions, you invalidate the comparison to the Nazis.

Iran need not be expansionist to attack one country. It already does attack that country.

I'm fairly sure that's not quite right. It's engaged in a low-level proxy war with that country, which isn't the same thing (especially for these purposes). And that continues to be crucially distinct from the Holocaust in other ways: I've never seen anyone argue that Iran plans to a) invade a sovereign nation in order to b) extirpate/eliminate/annihilate its citizens. I've also never seen anything -- outside of the more sensationalist American press, particularly of the right-wing variety -- to suggest that Iran is seriously considering all-out warfare, let alone all-out empire, in the Middle East, nor that they're demented enough to nuke Israel and believe that they can get away with it.

I mean, I think it's inarguable that Iran wants influence over the Middle East. Big deal; if we're so pure, let's relinquish our influence over the Americas. Right. They want to humble, and quite possibly even destroy, the state of Israel. Beyond that, though... I just don't see them getting to genocidal levels. I really, really don't; and what's more, I don't understand how one could possibly think that genocide is even remotely possible here.

Let's put it this way, Gary, turbulence, anarch, and fostert: if "annihilate," "wipe out," and "erase" do not indicate an interest in mass murder, what would?

Strawparty of four, your table is waiting.

[And I've already answered that question above but: actions, not words, are what I would regard as dispositive. I've seen big words; I've yet to see actions.]

Seb to Turb: "And I'm reluctant to engage with you because of your history."

Last I looked, you were setting an example for others of courteousness by calling me an "$#^*@" three times (which I took to be calling me an "*sshole"), and you've not, to my knowledge, subsequently apologized for that, so it's possible you're equally reluctant to engage me, but please do take me as asking the same query as Turbulence put to you, which I think is a fair and reasonable one.

I'd suggest responding according to people's content, rather than to what you think you anticipate them saying, or what they have said in a moment of anger in the past, just as I try to do to you and many folks who are generally reasonable, but sometimes in a bad mood or particularly irritated (just as I often am), but it's up to you.

trilobite: "...but I apologize for the confusion."

No problem.

I'm probably going off the internet for most or all of the rest of the evening, and much of the holiday weekend, very shortly.

I just don't see them getting to genocidal levels. I really, really don't; and what's more, I don't understand how one could possibly think that genocide is even remotely possible here.

I know you really really don't. But you have not said why. Call it "strawman" argument all you want, the question remains, why are you so serenely sure the statements should not be taken at face value?

Genocide is always irrational, in some sense, yet countries do it, because the victim group is in the way, or provides a convenient scapegoat, or lashing out at them proves devotion to an ideology favored by the masses, or whatever. Iran's leadership seems consistent and sincere in its belief that Israel, the "little Satan" is abominable, and removing it would greatly please many of its own people and its allies. So why not nuke Tel Aviv, if they have a nuke, if they think they can plausibly deny involvement and won't get attacked in return?

Okay, you want actions not words. What possible action? Arming Hezbollah isn't enough, why? Iran isn't going to attack with conventional forces directly, they don't have access and too many armies broke their teeth on that stone already. So what do you have in mind?

BTW, I never said we were so pure. This is not about "who is more evil." We are not a good counterexample, we DID commit genocide (ask any Native American) and DID use atomic bombs.

Or Mos Eisley.

hmmm. i even double-checked my spelling Google before posting. i guess mine is common-enough mistake (200K hits) that Google doesn't even bother suggesting a correction.

we DID commit genocide (ask any Native American)

I tend to think that this is a better explanation of why we should discount stronger expressions of doom and destruction from groups that are weaker than us. Smaller groups often move into stronger rhetoric in order to gin up courage, convince people that the imbalance of power is not overwhelming. The flap over Rev. Wright's comments show that people who feel they have been historically wronged will resort to stronger rhetoric than the majority group tolerates. Of course, when some member of the majority group suggests something akin to eliminationist rhetoric, it is argued that those speakers are not representative.

Furthermore, the arming Hezbollah can be balanced with arming Sadaam or supporting the Saudis in one view over where Turb is whereas these seem to be irrelevant to the opposing one that Trib seems to have. As I said, I'm more sympathetic to Turb's postion, as Iran has basically an unbroken string of complaints against the US, stretching back to Savak in the late 50's, and to ignore that history when looking that something like the arming of Hezbollah is problematic.

Call it "strawman" argument all you want, the question remains, why are you so serenely sure the statements should not be taken at face value?

Because those sorts of statements should never be taken at face value without corroboration. They're too useful as rhetoric, and too infrequent as prediction, to be used in that way.

If you don't believe me, btw, look at the US. How much eliminationist rhetoric is uttered on the national stage every day? [National stage, btw, not on the floors of Congress -- and yes, I realize there is a difference.] How much of that will actually translate into genocide, or even mass slaughter? Multiply that across every tinpot dictator, every jingoistic blowhard, every zealous would-be jihad, and you'll see what I'm getting at.

Or, if you'd like the question reflected back at you: given all the eliminationist rhetoric in the world today, why are you letting this particular incident get your knickers in a twist?

So why not nuke Tel Aviv, if they have a nuke, if they think they can plausibly deny involvement and won't get attacked in return?

Because I'm fairly sure they're not nuts enough to think they can do that. Israel's going to have counterstrike capability and you can be damn sure the US is going to be looking for someone to blame; you'd have to be a lunatic to think you could, in fact, "plausibly deny involvement", let alone "won't get attacked in return". [Although, do you really think anyone in the Middle East thinks the former has a damn thing to do with the latter?] I'm not particularly sanguine at the thought of Iran with nukes, but neither am I sanguine about India, Pakistan or -- especially after that whole "tactical nuke" debacle -- the United States possessing them either.

a long, irrational and costly war, unlike any other fought in the past.

Actually, all wars are costly, most are irrational, and many have been long.

You may be uncomfortable with the phrasing, but I'm uncomfortable with large missiles in the hands of a terrorist group. Are you?

Not particularly. First, we're not talking about a large missile; a large missile would be something like the Titan II which can push a 3700 kg payload much farther than any Iranian missile. That's a factor of six larger. I'm not terribly thrilled at the prospect of Israeli civilians in southern Israel dying in missile attacks but first, you haven't provided any evidence that Hezbollah has these weapons, and secondly, Israeli civilian deaths trouble me no more than other civilian deaths. I'd prefer that no government in the middle east had access to bombs and missiles that could kill civilians, but I don't see why Hezbollah having this weapon is any worse in and of itself than Israel having F-16s loaded down with 900 kg bombs. Israel actually has bombed civilians using those weapons, whereas your speculation about what Hezbollah might do with weapons that it may or may not have is...speculative.

And actually, destroying an apartment complex or two will kill thousands. If that citation is correct, those particular weapons have a large blast radius, a long range, and are not very accurate. I.e., you fire them into cities, not at, say, a small army outpost or a helicopter. If I implied more, it was unintentional.

I agree that these weapons are clearly not designed for effective use against military targets; they're designed to knock out a bunch of civilians in a populated area.

And it's not as though those were the only weapons Iran ever gave Hezbollah.

You write as if it has been proven that Iran has given these weapons to Hezbollah. I don't see why we should believe that. You've provided one cite to an article that cites Israeli government sources during the 2006 War with Lebanon. I'm skeptical about unverified claims made by governments about their adversaries while conducting a war against those adversaries. It might be true, but the cite you gave is mighty poor evidence IMHO. Governments lie, and governments at war engage in information operations and the dissemination of rank propaganda.

The reality is that small arms are extremely plentiful. If Iran wasn't supply Hezbollah, Hezbollah would be getting its weapons from alternative sources.

I bear no brief for Pipes, who is an idiot, it was just the first link google came up with for those particular Khamenei quotations. IIRC, the quotations are correct, but if they're wrong, please say so. Either way, the forum in which they sat is irrelevant.

If we were talking about quotes made by an American politician, I'd agree with you that the forum is irrelevant. But we're talking about an Iranian politician speaking Farsi to an Iranian audience referencing old texts of which we have a poor understanding. In this case, context and interpretation matter a great deal. I don't trust Pipes to either have the competence to translate correctly or to have the intellectual honesty to present the material fairly. If you had cited Juan Cole, your argument would have fallen apart because he disagrees with the ME Forum interpretation. There are credible middle eastern experts, but you cited a hack. What matters is what the Iranian leaders said: reading a bad or twisted translation doesn't help us determine that.

Yes, I have considered the possibility that Hezbollah has legitimate gripes. I have also considered the possibility that they committed unnecessary murders instead of accepting a peace. Have you?

I've more than considered that. I'm certain that Hezbollah has committed many, many murders of innocent people. I'm pretty sure that a bunch of those can not even be remotely connected to their stated goals.

I don't understand the bit about "accepting a peace". Hezbollah has clearly rejected some peace offers, but I don't think that is meaningful in and of itself. For example, I'm sure they could broker a peace agreement with Israel whereby all Hezbollah fighters would commit suicide tomorrow. Peace in and of itself isn't terribly useful. What matters is a just peace. I haven't seen any evidence that Hezbollah walked away from a credible offer of a just peace with Israel. If you could describe one, that would be helpful. I'm not asking for a link or a cite, just some keywords so I can figure out what events you're talking about.

As I and several other people have pointed out already, all the stuff about 'deniability' is a red herring. The USA invaded Iraq without evidence, let alone proof of their involvement with attacks on the US (in fact with clear evidence it wasn't them). If Israel suffered a serious attack, they and the US would bomb the usual suspects.

So the question is as Eric raised it: are the Iranian leadership so committed to eliminating Israel that they're prepared to destroy themselves? And the evidence for that is precisely zero. For example, if you look at Iranian foreign policy actions (as opposed to rhetoric), it looks pretty pragmatic. They are not invading other countries (as Saddam did), but supporting proxies to try and gain more influence within other countries in the region. That is the same kind of thing (on a much smaller scale) that the US was doing in the Cold War. It may be nasty, but it's not insane.

Similarly, the grossly anti-semitic rhetoric of some Iranian leaders is not matched by practice. The position of Iranian Jews isn't brillant, but they're not being systematically persecuted.

Those who believe that Iran *cannot* be allowed nuclear weapons under any circumstances (as oppose to those of us who rather they didn't get them, but aren't prepapred to attack them preemtively to prevent this), have to answer the question: why have other nuclear powers like Russia, China, India and Pakistan, often with equally hostile rhetoric, historically been contained, but Iran cannot be? All we get is statements about Ahmadinejad's taste in cars, or random bits of Islamic theology, and it's deeply unconvincing.

The above example of Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union being "obvious" natinal suicide does not fly. Most strategists both inside and outside of Germany assumed that it would be a cakewalk because Russia proved far weaker in WW1 than expected and Stalin had just killed off about anybody of military worth. There are even serious historians that think that Hitler could have triumphed, if he had not treated the non-Russians in the Soviet Union as Untermenschen but had come as a liberator (at least before the end of the war). So, it would count as a miscalculation but not an irrational one.

I have a simple prerequisite for taking arguments about Iran's deep and fundamental danger seriously. It's this:

Start at home. Show me that, ideally, you condemned the Iran-Contra maneuvers at the time as being as serious as espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union. Failing that, show me that you support fresh legal action, if possible, against all the principals of the Reagan administration's secret coddling and arming of Iran. Failing that, show me that you support the removal from any position of influence with regard to Middle East policy of all the principals, that you have done your part to make them as much pariahs as Prof. Churchill or Rev. Sharpton.

I will listen to people who've done anything to show that they regard the nation's security as more important than the Reagan cult. But if, for instance, you claim to be serious about the US' risk from Iran and you insist that Michael Ledeen is something other than the moral brother of Julius Rosenberg, then I have no time for you. You're more interested in your faction than the nation.

I think one major objection against interpreting rhetoric like "wiping of the map" as some sort of physical threat (in the shape of a nuclear attack or some such) is that it doesn't make that much sense in the wider context of Iran's rhetoric regarding Israel-Palestine and some other comments. Ahamadinejad has reportedly predicted that Israel will be wiped out "just like the Soviet Union" for example, and turning Israel into nuclear wasteland will also destroy the homes of the Palestinian refugees.
Another point that may be worth to consider is that both Ahmadinejad and Khamenei have clearly stated their "solution" for the "problem" of Israel: by holding a referendum.

I think one major objection against interpreting rhetoric like "wiping of the map" as some sort of physical threat (in the shape of a nuclear attack or some such) is that it doesn't make that much sense in the wider context of Iran's rhetoric regarding Israel-Palestine and some other comments. Ahamadinejad has reportedly predicted that Israel will be wiped out "just like the Soviet Union" for example, and turning Israel into nuclear wasteland will also destroy the homes of the Palestinian refugees.
Another point that may be worth to consider is that both Ahmadinejad and Khamenei have clearly stated their "solution" for the "problem" of Israel: by holding a referendum.

It's also worth pointing out that as soon as the outcry arose about Ahmadinejad's "removed from the page of history" comment, Khamenei publicly stated that "the Islamic Republic has never threatened and will never threaten any country."

"Last I looked, you were setting an example for others of courteousness by calling me an "$#^*@" three times (which I took to be calling me an "*sshole"), and you've not, to my knowledge, subsequently apologized for that, so it's possible you're equally reluctant to engage me"

Well Gary, I've sent you an email on the issue. You can either respond there, or here I don't mind which but other people may feel burdened one way or the other.

As for Turbulence, he starts off completely on the wrong foot with "hellbent on destroying Israel" when I haven't offered an opinion on percentage of likelyhood, and he compounds it by insisting repeatedly that I'm relying on old quotes when the actual quote I used was from December 2001, 2 and a half months after 9/11, and thus very much recent history. If I hadn't mentioned the date of the quote, that mistake might not look misleading. But I did in fact mention the date of the quote, so it just looks to me like Turbulence is setting up another round of argument that I'm not making. So if he wants to come up with something that is a close approximation of what I said so that I can clarify small bits where I think he is misunderstanding, so be it. But I'm not giving him the benefit of the doubt on that anymore, so unless he can get close and actually engage with what I have said, I'm not going to bother.

I see magistra said, far better, what I was trying to say so: what she said.

I really don't see Iran using nukes on any country, including Israel. It'd effectively start a nuclear war, and pretty much doom the entire Middle East to oblivion.

Yeah, they're extremists, but again, as already stated, their foreign actions aren't broadcasting any plans of self-sacrafice.

If the problems with Iran happen again, then let's just send in Mr. Blix again (check out this upcoming interview with Mr. Blix btw, it's about the WMD search in Iraq). But it really depends on who's president in November. I can see McCain invading Iraq, but not Obama (or Clinton).

What is ironic is that the point of Rubinstein's argument is to induce the US to make that colossally stupid decision to attack Iran because it might be close to developing nukes -- all because they might be stupid enough to use them against Israel.

I guess if we did attack Iran, then Sebastian would be right. About once a decade someone does make a numskull decision to start a war. I would just hate that it be the US with the 2 for 2 record over the last two decades.

Looking at the comments so far, I believe I have a sense of why the participants are entirely talking past each other. We have two fundamentally different viewpoints here. People do not accept each other's fundamental assumptions. I want to describe those assumptions. Then I want to make a proposal for US government action that perhaps many could agree with despite their different starting places.

-----
Group I:

We have an obligation to do the right thing. So we must look at the situation objectively and try to get the facts.

The facts are that iran has not staged a war of aggression or pre-emptive in the history of their government. They have not done anything particularly overt to express their emnity to us, not counting a few incidents like the US embassy in iran during Carter's time, after we had firmly supported the Shah and his secret police and they won iran anyway.

It would be wrong for us to do something dramatically evil against iran when they have not done anything overt yet. Evil actions which are on the table for us to do (though no one in this thread mentions them) include various acts of war which we might hope could stay a limited war. (Like, we destroy X, Y, and Z in iran and then go home, and we tell the iranians "We got what we wanted and the war's over now" and they agree that the war's over and they try to be nicer to us in the future so we won't do it again.) Possible actions also might include approving an israeli first strike on iran which might need to be a limited nuclear strike.

Again, it would be wrong for us to do these evil things except in retaliation for worse evils that we know for sure have occurred.
-----

-----
Group A:

Iran is israel's implacable enemy. Therefore iran is the USA's implacable enemy. They want to destroy israel and they want to destroy us. If they get nuclear weapons they will use them.

It would be wrong to wait until after iran nukes israel. Then israel would be nuked. We must not take that chance. We must do whatever it takes for israel to survive.

If we wait for evidence it will be too late. It's stupid to try to be reasonable and fair with your implacable enemy. They aren't being reasonable or fair with us. They intend to destroy us if they possibly can.

To sum up, we must do whatever it takes to remove iran as a threat, before they dop something we cannot accept. If we wait for proof it will be too late.
-----

There is no possible way to reconcile these viewpoints. They are fundamentally different. It's the difference between a spectator in the stands and a player in the game. The spectator can choose to hope for a fair game that's played well according to clear rules. The player wants to win and is busy doing his best to win.

Here is a proposal. It is not that we do nothing while iran develops nuclear weapons. It is not that we start a war with iran intending to destroy their nuclear capability plus whatever else we must do to get them to sue for peace.

What if a US president made an announcement something like this.

"I have given serious thought to nuclear proliferation. The more nations that get nuclear weapons, the larger the chance that these weapons will be used. And it is time for the United States of America to do something about this. So I have chosen the middle east and surroundings for a test case. If any nation attacks any of the following nations with nuclear weapons, the United States will retaliate.

"The nations are, egypt, israel, iran, iraq, jordan, lebanon, libya, syria, and turkey."

"Anyone who attacks any of these nations with nuclear weapons will face us. Also, if any of these nations attack any other nation with nuclear weapons, we will retaliate. Starting today, none of these nations has any valid reason to have nuclear weapons.

"I have not discussed this with the russians or the chinese or anyone, and I'm open to suggestions about ways to improve it. Particularly I'm open to participation by other major nuclear powers."

Would this be a good thing or a bad thing? Suppose first that there is no nuclear attack in the middle east. Would such an announcement be a good thing in that case? Would it increase the probability that there will be a nuclear attack?

"I have given serious thought to nuclear proliferation. The more nations that get nuclear weapons, the larger the chance that these weapons will be used. And it is time for the United States of America to do something about this. [...]"

I see four fundamental problems with this.

First, it rots the fig-leaf of a bludgeon that the US is trying to beat Iran with, in that it might drive a stake through the heart of the staggering, wounded NPT. The US committed to "doing something about this" four decades ago. It has proceeded to, in rather bad faith, use this commitment as leverage to enforce non-proliferation in rival states while ignoring it in allies and (rather damningly) itself. The stance proposed would essentially declare the US to be viewing the NPT as an utterly dead letter.

Second, it'd never fly politically. Period. The pro-Israeli lobby is not weak, and declaring that we'd nuke them if they chose to first-strike someone would be met with pitchforks and torches. And the claim (rightly) wouldn't be viewed as credible abroad for just this reason. Any suggestion by any pol that they'd nuke plucky, besieged underdog Israel, let alone an attempt to follow through, would be suicide, political and quite possibly literal.

Third (and IMO most damningly) it doesn't really address the impasse you cite. The second group would still view this as a hollow gesture, too little too late at best, and would not change their stance vis à vis "suicidal" Iran. The first group, if it found this stance credible and disliked the NPT framework, might accept it... but probably wouldn't. The main problem is that it doesn't address the issue of whether Iran is to be allowed to develop nuclear technologies (civilian and/or military) without facing pre-emptive military intervention. It essentially pretends the debate doesn't exist, and hopes that Iran will decide it doesn't need military ones in light of its wholly incredible promise.

Fourth, it does nothing to address perceived strategic imbalances, especially since its claims are not credible. Israel can reasonably assume that in practice its threat doesn't actually apply to them, and I doubt we could convince the world (and particularly other states involved) otherwise. Hence, they could have an extra promise of retaliation plus the option to first-strike if they saw a "need". This actually strengthens their strategic stance. And if we're talking about defusing a feeling of need for nukes, well, um... the US affirming its "right" to nuke whoever it pleases isn't going to be viewed by, say, Iran as, well, reassuring...

Nombrilisme, thank you for that reasoned critique!

I think your ideas have some merit, and I somewhat disagree with some of them.

1. NPT is dead. It makes no sense to delay a workable plan in the hope that we can somehow revive NNPT. It's dead, Jim. Every nation that is not currently developing nuclear weapons is choosing not do do so for reasons that are independent of NPT. This doesn't say that my proposal is a good one, only that NPT is not an alternative proposal. If we want to discuss workable alternatives, we should ignore NPT.

2. Certainly the israeli lobby would react with screams and moans and threats and so on. But we can simply repeat over and over that we know israel would never do a nuclear first strike. We trust them not to do that. So there is no possibility that we would have to nuke israel. Similarly, if someone else stages a nuclear attack on israel and we perform an adequate retaliation, israel will not need to retaliate themselves and so trigger a US strike on israel. The people who say that israel is the sort of nation that our pledge would require us to attack, are no friends to israel. OF COURSE israel is not the sort of pariah nation that would attack others with nuclear weapons. If they were we would nuke them, but of course they are not.

This argument would not be accepted by people who believe that israel may and should stage a nuclear first strike. Those people will stay quiet or they will seriously weaken their US support.

3. Iran needs civilian nuclear technology. The argument that they have so much oil they should just burn it to supply all their energy needs is, I hope, utterly discredited by now. The alternative argument that iran is israel's implacable enemy and therefore the USA's implacable enemy and therefore they should not be allowed to have an economy remains. But this is an argument that's hard to express clearly because it sounds so inhuman. How much difference is there between forbidding a nation the technology they need to maintain their population size, versus genocide?

If iranians don't believe we'd nuke israel for attacking them and they try to build their own deterrent, that costs them money they can't afford. But there's no big harm provide israel doesn't actually attack. And of course provided iran doesn't attack. (But they'd surely believe that half of the promise.) Would we attack india for nuking iran? Well, put it this way. If israel or india threatens to nuke iran and we don't say we'd retaliate, then the promise is broken at that point. And if we do say we would, then the iranian diplomats can pretend they believe us and the nuclear threats are much weakened.

4. If it happens that russia backs us up -- if russia also claims they will attack any middle-east nation that does a nuclear attack, and retaliate against any nation that nukes a middle-east nation, wouldn't that go a long way to disrupt israeli complacency? If they do a first strike and we have agreed ahead of time in public that russia can nuke them back, will they feel they can depend on us to stop russia?

And if we can get it clear that israeli nukes are worthless to israel -- retaliation will come to whoever nukes them, and they will lose by a first strike -- then the next obvious step is to persuade them to give up those nukes. They would resist, but it is an argument they cannot win. Argue that they need to strike first? Argue that they don't believe our guarantee? Within 10 years israel will claim they have dismantled their nukes.

You point out about our "right" to nuke whoever we please. We have maintained that "right" since WWII. More, we have consciously followed the tactic of persuading our enemies that we are crazy enough to start a war that kills everybody on the planet over a bargaining point that anyone else would negotiate. As far as I know the last time we did that was 1973, when we threatened to blow up the whole world to save israel's bacon. The USSR sensibly backed down. For most of our post-WWII history our various anticommunist allies were "under our nuclear umbrella". We claimed that if the bad guys nuked them we would retaliate. And our defendees didn't completely believe it. But nobody nuked them to test it, so those doubts were never truly addressed. This is not particularly new.

Are nukes good for israel? Imagine that things had worked out so that israel nuked egypt in 1973, as they threatened to. Say that 50 million egyptians died. What are the chances that there would be an israel today? I say it's unlikely.

I say israel does not benefit from nukes. They do not benefit by using them. They do not benefit by threatening to use them. They don't benefit by agonizing whether their enemies are developing them. Israel would be far better off if the middle-east was a nuke-free zone. And we can create that provided the russians and the chinese (and maybe the indians) go along.

NPT is dead.

This is just bad hyperbole. If it was dead, then the AQ Khan nuclear technology bazaar would be holding garage sales for old designs for centrifuges. Nukes and the technology would be an item of exchange between allies. The entire world would be armed with the stuff, with plenty of untraceable weapons floating about.

NPT's health has suffered a lot in recent years, but maintaining the structure that still exists is very useful.

I'm not a proliferation wonk, but I have always thought that a lot about NPT could be fixed just by having some external, and trustworthy/trusted, supply mechanism for nuclear fuel -- something that would allow completely verifiable checks on how much went in, how much came out, and whether any had been diverted.

The big problem is countries saying: we need to develop our own enrichment capabilities. It's hard to distinguish clearly between civilian and military enrichment, so once a country does that, difficulties inevitably ensue, if that country is not trusted. (E.g., Iran vs. Sweden.) We need to provide a mechanism for completely satisfying countries' need for nuclear fuel that does not involve their developing uranium enrichment capabilities. Thus, a guaranteed source of nuclear fuel provided by countries that already have those capabilities.

DMBeaster, NPT is a very effective way to prevent nations from getting nukes who don't want to get nukes in the first place. It is moderately effective as political theater for us to embarrass our chosen enemies in the media. And of course it has been an effective way for our spies to get GPS addresses for potential bombing sites of all kinds. It's still useful in some limited ways.

But as a good-faith agreement among sovereign nations that hope to encourage nonproliferation, it is dead and buried.

NNPT can only be spoken of with utter cynicism at this point, there's nothing else left of it. A little gristle left for the maggots, that's all.

NPT is dead. [...] Every nation that is not currently developing nuclear weapons is choosing not do do so for reasons that are independent of NPT.

I'd concur with DMB on this. "Dead" is definitely hyperbole. Fissionable materials aren't freely traded. Civil nuclear technology is generally internationally accessible and not a tightly guarded national secret. Most of the framework arising from the treaty is intact. Article VI is generally ignored, however. And that's bleeding it to death. That the "non-discriminatory basis" cited in article V is not in fact present is another niggling wound. But the treaty is, for the moment, still alive. No need to kill it simply because it's more convenient to precipitously pursue plans outside of it.

Similarly, if someone else stages a nuclear attack on israel and we perform an adequate retaliation, israel will not need to retaliate themselves and so trigger a US strike on israel.
[...]
If israel or india threatens to nuke iran and we don't say we'd retaliate, then the promise is broken at that point. And if we do say we would, then the iranian diplomats can pretend they believe us and the nuclear threats are much weakened.

This is a critical point. And only half of it is being considered, I think. Our credibility in making the claim to serve as a regional arbiter of nuclear retaliation rests on two propositions, and we're really only examining one here. First, we need to be willing to retaliate upon any aggressor against any designated victim, regardless of either party's ties to us. Second, and perhaps more importantly, we need to be willing to retaliate upon any aggressor against any designated victim, regardless of cost to us. It's easy for us to talk about laying out a large countervalue retaliation on a nuclear Iran that has mustered 6 or 8 warheads and planted or launched every last one against Israel. What about Israel flattening Tehran with just one of its arsenal? India? China? Are we willing to risk LA or New York for Tehran? What if it's not Tehran, but Qom? Arak?

This is a very non-trivial question. Can we convince the rest of the world that we will be willing to risk millions of our own citizens to retaliate against a nuclear strike between third-party belligerents, regardless of who the aggressors and victims were? I find it much more credible in terms of public opinion to imagine the US flattening New Delhi as retaliation for Tel Aviv than for Tehran. I think US public opinion, though probably hostile to doing either (as imagined wholly divorced of context, natch), but it would be far more probably that it could be brought around for the former rather than the latter.

This should not at all be minimized. We need to believe that subsequent administrations would be as willing to pursue such risks as whatever administration first put the policy into place. We'd have to convince all potential victims and aggressors of this. And I don't see how we could. If the aggressor can make a moderately credible threat of a counter-counter-strike, can we actually trust the arbiter to follow through? Without bias?

Historically, we've not been able to convince even some allies of such things. In reading non-proliferation literature, I've encountered discussion of Japan's decision to eschew militarized nukes as not only stemming from the "sentimental" basis of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but also from a practical strategic calculus that they couldn't credibly believe that the US would sacrifice New York to retaliate for Tokyo (whereas they would credit them doing so for, say, London), thus suggesting that it'd be more prudent to not go nuclear in order to make them a less likely first-strike target. If a would-be victim cannot believe that the US (or any other arbiter) would unconditionally risk partial or total nuclear destruction to retaliate on their behalf, this whole notion collapses in a thrice.

Are nukes good for israel? [...] I say israel does not benefit from nukes. They do not benefit by using them. They do not benefit by threatening to use them. They don't benefit by agonizing whether their enemies are developing them.

This isn't really how this works though. Israel doesn't benefit from using them or threatening to use them. They benefit from being able to use them or threaten to use them. Everyone knows they have them. This means excluding even their conventional forces, any serious direct military confrontation with them by a non-nuclear state is off the table. This is the rationale behind their professed "madman" nuclear posture. Having a substantial nuclear arsenal and a credible menacing reputation allows you to use the threat of a threat to operate with a greater strategic freedom. This is the same as the observation that a reliable SDI system effectively increases a nuclear power's offensive nuclear capabilities as much if not more than their defensive capabilities. Israel does benefit from having a nuclear stockpile, and to say otherwise is somewhat hard to swallow.

Hilzoy, the problems with trusted fuel supply are largely technical. It isn't my field either. I'll say the main things I've seen about it, and maybe someone who knows more will explain better. He might disagree with me.

Reactor fuel has gotten the same sort of efficiencies that gasoline for automobiles has -- careful mixtures and additives to enhance performance. It's based on U235 which is still very expensive to get, and reactor fuel is enriched with enough U235 to work but not enough to explode. As the fuel is used, the U235 gets used up but it is replaced with plutonium created from the U238 that's also present. So the fuel lasts longer as the plutonium also gets used.

Used fuel can be reprocessed. Remove the excess plutonium and add more U235 and U238. But there are other impurities including other uranium isotopes that result in fuel that's much more radioactive and harder to handle. So reprocessing is limited. After being reprocessed perhaps once, the spent fuel is stored for an indefinite time.

Plutonium is considerably easier to purify than U235. We could run reactors on plutonium, and use U238 to make more plutonium. Reprocess the uranium to remove everything but the plutonium and the new fuel would be pretty much like the old fuel. (The waste uranium would get increasingly hot but that wouldn't have to be a problem.) Plutonium reactors are potentially far cheaper than uranium reactors, but they suffer the serious problem that plutonium from reactors can be used for bombs without as much expensive reprocessing. And it's very very poisonous so it could make "dirty bombs" that simply contaminate the surroundings with plutonium.

A nation that has a plutonium reactor doesn't need to enrich U235 at all. Enriching U235 is what they do when they don't have anybody to give them plutonium and they have to do it all from scratch, the hard expensive way. If you have a plutonium reactor you can make all the plutonium you want from depleted uranium, if you can get depleted uranium. Regular uranium is OK too.

Other approaches can also work. India has made thorium reactors that can make plutonium from U238. Thorium reactors might turn out to be relatively cheap to run too. You don't have to enrich thorium before you use it, but you need a neutron source.

The approach we try to foist off on other nations -- expensive uranium fuel with strictly limited recycling -- is not particularly economic. Its one big virtue is that the fuel cycle can be controlled. It's hard to divert the fuel to make bombs. It is not particularly good in any other way.

Now imagine you're an iranian engineer and you understand all this. The USA proposes that you mine uranium and sell it to them (or to russia etc). They purify the uranium and enrich it for U235 and sell it back to you. You use it. Then you pay them to take the spent fuel away. They perhaps recycle it once and sell it back to you again. You use it and pay them to take the spent fuel away again.

And if the nation that does you this service at any time doesn't like your government's negotiating stance on any issue, they can stop selling you fuel and your electric power network has to shut down.

And the reason you're supposed to go along with this -- the only reason -- is that we are afraid if you build a profitable system yourself that you might make weapons with it, and we don't want you to. We leak reports to our own media that say we are studying plans to nuke you because that's the only way we can be sure to destroy your ability to make nuclear fuel.

The USA desperately needs cheap energy. But we limit our research on cheap nuclear energy and proceed only with expensive nuclear energy, because we do not want reactors that promote proliferation. We want to stop proliferation more than we want cheap energy.

And anybody whose priorities are reversed gets treated as our enemy.

So a guranteed fuel system has first the fundamental technical flaws that it is inherently expensive when the alternatives are cheap. And second it has the geopolitical flaw that as soon as a significant enemy arises they *will* disrupt transport of the fuel. The USA is the premier such enemy, we *will* disrupt transport of nuclear fuel to our enemies of the moment, we will call it "sanctions" and we will say they deserve it and if only they weren't such warmongers we wouldn't need to do it.

Why would any nation we don't trust put up with that? Unless they were ready to unconditionally surrender....

Nombrilisme, again you make some good points, things that one doesn't have to be insane to believe. I tend to disagree somewhat but A reasonable person could agree with you.

"Fissionable materials aren't freely traded. Civil nuclear technology is generally internationally accessible and not a tightly guarded national secret. Most of the framework arising from the treaty is intact."

There's an old joke about a man who does some special twitchy ritual that he claims keeps tigers away. "But there are no tigers here!" "See? It works!" I claim that these benefits are not primarily due to NPT. But I can't prove they aren't. You could perhaps be right.

And there's a saying about municipal zoning, that claims zoning works fine until you need it and then it usually fails. When you want to keep your eccentric neighbor from painting his house purple, you can stop him. When somebody with significant money wants to get a variance and do whatever-the-hell they want to do that your zoning was supposed to forbid, they will probably get their variance. I think NPT is like that. As long as a nation that has signed the NPT does not want nuclear weapons, the NPT will stop them from building nuclear weapons. As soon as they do choose to, the NPT will fail to stop them and the USA will face the choice whether to take strenuous measures to stop them or else let it happen.

Note that in the history of the treaty only one nation -- North Korea -- has ever bothered to withdraw from it, though any nation can withdraw on 6 months notice.


"I find it much more credible in terms of public opinion to imagine the US flattening New Delhi as retaliation for Tel Aviv than for Tehran."

Do you actually see india nuking either israel or iran? I don't. Nor do I see russia nuking either nation. Nor china. It isn't going to happen. Nobody who has a significant deterrent against the USA is going to nuke a middle-east nation. Nor are middle-east nations going to nuke each other. The problem is that middle-east nations don't want to depend on each other's good will, and so they can't display too much good will of their own. If they had even six years of the middle east as a nuclear-free zone, they might very likely find they prefer it that way.

And also, russia and/or china might back up our threat. If you aren't sure we'd take action, would you be ready to bet that none of the three would?


"This is the rationale behind their professed "madman" nuclear posture. Having a substantial nuclear arsenal and a credible menacing reputation allows you to use the threat of a threat to operate with a greater strategic freedom."

Do you believe that israel truly benefits from this freedom? Consider japan's choice not to become a nuclear power because they didn't want to become a first-strike target. But arab nations want nukes because they *are* first-strike targets, and they need a deterrent. Israel's madman policy is precisely what gives them the prospect of nuclear enemies.

Well, but what if israel someday becomes inferior in conventional military force. Then their nukes will be all that keeps them from having to negotiate from a position of weakness. But on the other hand, I claim that the nukes are one of the factors that have kept them from looking for negotiated solutions to their problems before they get weak. When you have to *depend* on the threat of a threat of nukes, you're in a sorry state already.

Nuclear weapons on average are good for only one thing -- deterring others from using nukes on you. And mostly people threaten nukes because they're bluffing with a madman stance. The first nation that actually carries out such a threat will be in serious trouble.

So I say that nukes are kind of like angel dust -- they make you feel strong and invulnerable, they encourage you to get into confrontations and make threats, but they don't actually improve your security. Do you disagree? Do you think israel is actually better off with nukes, or do they just *feel* like they're better off?

"Don't they have hotels in Afghanistan?"

Um, if you think that U.S. troops in Afghanistan (or Iraq) are conveniently a reasonable drive away from hotels safe for American personnel, you might be using an awful lot of Afghanistan's primary export. I'd suggest doing a bit of reading on the conditions most troops are bivouacked in.

Try this, and see if can find the word "hotel" mentioned anywhere.

Happy Memorial Day.

Sorry, that last comment should have gone here. Damned Mac version of Firefox keeps crashing on the ObWi software, even when I avoid clicking on the names on the "Recent Comments" list.

This has never happened with the Windows version. (Moreover, lots of Firefox add-ons "aren't available" for the Mac.)

(Sorry for the goofy chronology, but it makes mores sense in terms of building up my response.)

Nuclear weapons on average are good for only one thing -- deterring others from using nukes on you.

Well, yes, one thing only, but the above is too narrow. They're good for deterring against direct destruction of a government by external actors - be it by nuclear or conventional means.

So I say that nukes are kind of like angel dust -- they make you feel strong and invulnerable, they encourage you to get into confrontations and make threats, but they don't actually improve your security. Do you disagree? Do you think israel is actually better off with nukes, or do they just *feel* like they're better off?

I generally agree. I'm not a fan of proliferation. Here's the problem though - it's not the likes of me you have to convince. The reason that I generally agree but do not wholeheartedly agree is that, as you describe above, if a nation has conventional weakness and is purely defensive in stance, nukes are useful in improving their security. There are generally better ways of achieving the same (or better) measure of security that don't encourage proliferation, but they tend to rely on external actors. If a nation feels threatened and/or hypernationalist, they're much less likely to rely on the good will of others.

The problem is that middle-east nations don't want to depend on each other's good will, and so they can't display too much good will of their own. If they had even six years of the middle east as a nuclear-free zone, they might very likely find they prefer it that way.

This is exactly the problem. This is also why the US is not a credible arbiter in the manner proposed. In the last six years, the US has publicly discussed nuclear first strikes against Iraq and Iran, two of the nations now proposed to be put under the American nuclear umbrella. Iraq's regime has changed, so it could feel less menaced and more trusting. But if you were in Iran, would you feel safe basing a portion of your national security upon the good will shown by one of the states (in fact, I would assert the primary state) a potential deterrent would be meant to serve against?

This is, again, the major problem I see with the plan you propose: finding a credible unbiased arbiter. The US cannot possibly fulfill that role, even after a regime change. Our credibility with the actors in the region is too compromised. Even were we to unilaterally make the statement, it would have the credibility of the anti-tiger charm...

(Oops, forgot to tie what I'm saying here about relying on, e.g., the US for a nuclear umbrella to what you were (quite nicely) saying about relying on the US for civilian reactor fuel. Consider this an abbreviated knot.)

Thanks, J Thomas, for some very interesting points. FWIW, I personally don't think Iran is in practice our implacable enemy. Iran has been very rational in its dealings with us (a lot more than we have with them), and I suspect that if we stopped rattling sabers around them so much they would be more amenable to diplomacy. I don't even think they are necessarily Israel's implacable enemy -- as described in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran-Israel_relations, the two countries have some common interests and trade, and have been more friendly in the past. I think their current leadership is very hostile towards Israel, whether for sincere religious reasons, because Israel is a convenient scapegoat and whipping dog, or a combination of the two.

I'm afraid I agree with Nombrilisme that a threat such as you propose would be received as a credible threat against Iran, not against Israel. I don't have a better suggestion -- but magistra may be right that MAD will work anyway.

magistra, you ask why a nuclear Iran is more frightening than a nuclear Pakistan. 1) We can't prevent a nuclear Pakistan, that ship has sailed, so it's irrelevant. 2) Who says it's not scary? You say MAD has worked against Pakistan; I say a few years during which there was no major war is not much of a test case. 3) Personally, I care more about threats against Israel than against India because, very simply and selfishly, I'm Jewish, not Indian. 4) A limited nuclear strike on India would be less effective against the nation as a whole than two well-placed terrorist nukes in Israel, because India is Very Large. (5)The perpetrator would be more identifiable, which makes the threat of retaliation more credible.

Which brings us to your point that the US and Israel would bomb Iran no matter who appeared to have nuked Tel Aviv. That is actually reassuring -- I agree with you that Iran is a very rational actor. If the threat of retaliation is credible, MAD will work. Hopefully, Iran shares your assessment of Israel's doctrine. If so, Israel's arsenal should dissuade Iran, even if Iran has nuclear weapons.

Too many "ifs" in there for my comfort. I wish I saw a way to avoid Iranian nukes, lest some Iranian equivalent to George W. Bush ten years hence decide to ignore the risk of retaliation. But I don't think a first strike is justified just on the off chance of that level of stupidity.

One interesting think your analysis shows: Israel alone has enough nukes for MAD with Iran. It is carrying the big stick; we can afford to speak softly. Diplomacy remains the better answer for getting Iran to back off its nuclear aspirations.

"This is, again, the major problem I see with the plan you propose: finding a credible unbiased arbiter."

Robert Heinlein pointed out the problem in 1947.

Regrettably, coming up with a trustworthy independent Space Patrol isn't a realistic solution, and neither, at present, is any kind of world government.

Back in reality, there was the Baruch Plan, and the Acheson-Lilienthal proposals. A lot of people are unaware of how serious those proposals were, however briefly, at a time when thinking about atomic power was new, and not yet locked into any given direction.

It's a tragedy that there wasn't more success, though it may never have been possible at the time.

But maybe it could have been. (Say, if Stalin had had a heart attack in early 1945, perhaps.)

However, the idea of achieving a limited-only-to-control-of-nuclear-weapons organization, along the lines of a far more powerful IAEA doesn't seem to me an idea that is completely exhausted of all ultimate potential.

But I don't see a time coming any time very soon when the U.S. government will be willing to surrender control of their nuclear deterrent, and neither will I hold my breath for long waiting for Russia, France, and China to go along, even if India and Pakistan and Israel and North Korea could be brought to do so.

But maybe some decades from now, or in another generation, when we have more seriously immediate worries to contend with.

Nombrilisme, you make some good points that again I do not completely agree with.

"...if a nation has conventional weakness and is purely defensive in stance, nukes are useful in improving their security."

This is precarious. It could be argued that a conventionally-weak nation that relies on nukes to avoid losing, is risking nuclear destruction instead. Not so much that they're truly more secure, as that they've raised the stakes. I don't know whether that's true. There are few examples of it in action to work with, and none where the end was a nuclear war.

Did the USSR keep us from attacking their conventionally-weak forces by the threat of nukes? No, we had no intention of attacking them anyway and we officially believed they were very strong. China? Would russia or the USA have attacked china without their nukes? Pakistan? Would india have invaded pakistan and deposed their government? Israel? South africa? France? Britain? We have a large handful of conventionally-weak nations with nukes that haven't been invaded. What we lack are the control group, the nations that had nukes and gave them up and then got invaded. Does iraq count? I don't think so. Libya and south africa have given up their nuclear programs and have not been attacked yet.

"But if you were in Iran, would you feel safe basing a portion of your national security upon the good will shown by one of the states (in fact, I would assert the primary state) a potential deterrent would be meant to serve against?"

Of course not. But I would take seriously the official US promise to retaliate after an iranian attack.

Similarly with israel. If russia and/or china backed up our pledge to nuke israel after an israeli first strike, that would go a long way toward deterring israeli threats of a first strike. Even a US pledge would do some good that way. It's a tool for iranian diplomats even when they don't believe it, if they pretend to believe it. Perhaps I'm giving israelis too much credit -- I believe they want to act crazy as a bargaining tool, and that they aren't actually crazy. If they actually do a first strike then I'll be embarrassed to be wrong about that.


Nuclear weapons are expensive at first. Once all the infrastructure is built so you can make a few new ones each year and refurbish the old ones, and once your reactors are making more plutonium than you have any use for, then they're individually kind of cheap. (ICBMs are still expensive though.) For nations that are bootstrapping a civilian energy program, nuclear weapons are very expensive -- the resources they put into weapons are taken away from their civilian program. The slowdown in development is a drag.

So, say that iran builds twelve nukes. A fine deterrent against israel. Not something they want to actually use. They have a perfect excuse not to use them, to hold them entirely as a deterrent. They can say they have a dozen nukes and secretly recycle them for fuel, or say they have a dozen nukes and build two dozen. It hurts no one but them.

Say israel has 200 nukes or 2000, and they say they are doubling the number. Maybe they actually double the number or keep it the same or get rid of them. They have a fine reason not to use them. If they decide to trust us to protect them (with us giving them strong incentives to do so) then fine! If they hold onto them and bill us for them, nothing has really changed -- except they have a fine excuse not to threaten to use them.

People talk like they have more choices when they have nukes. But I see them get stuck with bad choices. Israel can attack syria and iran etc every time they think their enemies are trying to build nukes. Sometimes it might take a nuclear strike to stop arab nukes. It's risky to let them build nukes and risky to attack them. Staying on top is harder than living without nukes.

But it does no good for israel to get rid of their nukes because they can't trust their enemies not to build nukes and treat them the way they treated others. The Golden Rule and all that.

To the extent that the various actors don't want to be in their fix, they can pretend to believe us and get out of it. If they like it in that briar patch they might actually start a nuclear war and trust us not to nuke them -- but if they'd do that, wouldn't they also do it without our promise? Then we wind up facing a hard choice, and maybe the various people who don't trust us already, get evidence not to trust us. In the context of a nuclear war that seems to me like a fairly minor thing.

You argue in favor of the status quo because people might not trust our resolve to lead them out of the trap. But I say we have little to lose.

The most serious downside you've suggested comes when a major nuclear power chooses to nuke somebody we don't much like, like iran.

-----
MNP: We're going to nuke iran. Don't interfere.

USA: We can't let you do that. If you nuke iran we'll retaliate.

MNP: OK, Mr. Wiseguy, we nuke you too.

USA: No! Go ahead and nuke anybody else you want, just don't nuke us!
-----

But what major nuclear power do you see wanting to nuke iran, apart from us? I just don't see it. Russia? China? India? Britain? France? Our special relationship with israel?

-----
Israel: We're going to nuke iran.

USA: Come discuss it with us, we won't approve it unless there's no adequate alternative.

Israel: Never mind your namby-pamby objections, we're going to nuke iran.

USA: You're going to need to explain carefully if you want our UN veto.

Israel: Back us up or we'll nuke you too.
-----

There's something subtly wrong about this scenario.


I don't see the risks of my plan as comparable to the risks of the status quo. Of course the world is such an uncertain place that reasonable people could disagree.

In discussing nukes, North Korea has come up and this article about Christopher Hill's role was quite interesting

"One interesting think your analysis shows: Israel alone has enough nukes for MAD with Iran."

Since only vague allusions have been made, and there's no reason to not be detailed and specific, let me point out to people Israel's Type 800 Dolphin class submarines, and has been much reported all over:

[...] An article published by the Los Angeles Times in mid-October 2003, indicated that Israel had successfully modified American-supplied Harpoon cruise missiles for use with nuclear warheads on its submarines. The process would have involved reducing the size of the warheads to fit inside the missiles as well as altering the guidance systems so as to be able to hit land-based targets, but would enable Israel to deliver nuclear weapons from the sea virtually unimpedded. The claim was however disputed by Israeli and others who questioned the ability of the Harpoon missile to carry a nuclear payload.
More. This is a second strike capability. More.
[...] Israel is already believed to have that ability in the form of the Jericho-1 and Jericho-2 nuclear-capable ballistic missiles, which are buried so far underground they would survive a nuclear strike, he said.
More.

If people make the effort to google for five minutes, they can bring specific knowledge, however superficial, to the table, rather than having to unnecessarily rely on vague generalities.

More. In 1999. More.

-----
Israel: We're going to nuke iran.

USA: Come discuss it with us, we won't approve it unless there's no adequate alternative.

Israel: Never mind your namby-pamby objections, we're going to nuke iran.

USA: You're going to need to explain carefully if you want our UN veto.

Israel: Back us up or we'll nuke you too.
-----

This is a credible scenario right up to the last line, I agree. But. It's not the scenario you propose.

-----
Israel: We're going to nuke Iran.

USA: Come discuss it with us, we won't approve it unless there's no adequate alternative.

Israel: Never mind your namby-pamby objections, we're going to nuke Iran.

USA: If you nuke Iran we'll nuke you.

Israel: If you nuke us we'll nuke you too.
-----

The place where this falls apart is the second-to-last line, for the same reason your scenario falls apart on the last line. The last line here makes perfect sense and is wholly credible. And even if we change "USA" to, say, "Russia" (thus making the second-to-last line more believable), the final line would still be there. At which point we have to have faith that Russia will be willing to risk Moscow to avenge Tehran.

You're proposing MAD between an unbiased uninvolved arbiter (or a group of theoretically balanced biased uninvolved arbiters). The problem is that as soon as they arbitrate, they become involved. And at that point the MAD math to to follow through on the third-party retaliation is very comparable to the MAD math of making a first strike. The whole point of MAD is stacking the deck against this math coming up "yes".

I'm not advocating the status quo. I'm arguing against what I see as an unworkable alternative to the status quo that would, to my eye, impose a situation very much like the status quo at best. I.e., an unworkable alternative. If we want to talk unworkable alternatives, I'd like to see the NPT nuclear states start making serious moves to fulfilling their treaty obligations, while simultaneously imposing total diplomatic and economic sanctions on all four of the non-signatories until such time as they each publicly disarm, sign, and submit to IAEA verification. At this point the nuclear states would step up disarmament while the international community as a whole would rigidly police verification. This unworkable alternative would, at best, eliminate proliferation.

Mind, my scenario wouldn't work because nuclear states wouldn't go for it. The end result would almost certainly be the status quo ante. Which, alas, from everything I've seen would like as not be the outcome of your proposal as well.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad