Saturday, June 20, 2009

Military Intelligence

As I write, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of mainly young Iranians are deciding whether or not to risk going out into the streets. There is little someone like myself can add regarding the poignancy of their decision. Yet one thing seems obvious: a generation of Iranians has been changed by these rallies--changed in roughly the opposite way they would have been had Israeli military intelligence got its way, and won American and IDF agreement to an aerial strike on Iranian nuclear facilities earlier this year.

Even in the face of mass protest, not only did Mossad chief Meir Dagan refuse to admit the obvious--that an attack would have caused widespread carnage, put Iran on a war footing, and preempted its twittering liberalism--but he's had the audacity to predict to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee what nobody could possibly know at this point, that the protests will peter out; that, anyway, a Mousavi government would be worse than Ahmadinejad's regime, for it would give Iran's nuclear program a prettier face. ("To hell with those students; the PowerPoint is done.")

Still, it is not military planners like Dagan who seem reprehensible to me. It is the politicians and writers who channel them. We pay people like Dagan to sum the weapons of potential enemies and come up with ways to foil them. (The only reason we'll be able to live with a nuclear Iran, should this become necessary, is because military planners will have figured out how to position Israel's own nuclear deterrent.) And Dagan's main job is to think like a "made man," turning worst case contingencies into scenarios, and scenarios into "predictions." Mossad people say they also look at motive, not just capability. But who doesn't know how easily military people assume that capability translates into motive, much the way economists assume big money translates into investment. Motive? We are not talking about James Joyce here.

On the other hand, nothing seems more irresponsible to me than politicians and political analysts who lack the poise to stand up to military intelligence when important policy decisions are taking shape; politicians so eager to prove that they are not still trusting children that they remain forever sophomoric, defining the world as a test of wills, fearing (as Orwell did in "Shooting an Elephant") looking like a fool; writers so eager to prove that they are not just brainy wimps that they hang out with, and flaunt being respected by, officers.

So before the moment passes, we should give thanks that, owing (among other things) to McCain's defeat, this was one attack that never took place--and now never will, since it is obvious, even to the mullahs, I suspect, how the regime can simply be waited out, much the way Communist regimes were waited out; how they have lost the young.

And before the next moment of crisis, we should not fail to note some of the most irresponsible journalism of the last couple of years: Benny Morris' call for a limited nuclear strike last July, and, more recently, Jeffery Goldberg's implied endorsement of some kind of attack. (Both were given enormous space in, of all places, the New York Times op-ed section, so the editors should probably be remembered, too.) And who can forget Haaretz's Arie Shavit, who is silent about Iran this week, but is already taking credit instead for Netanyhu's policy of a demilitarized Palestine?

This accounting may seem small of me, but the celebrity culture being what it is, the periodic violence of extremists being what it is--and the fears summoned by ordinary neurosis being what they are--these writers will no doubt hang on nicely, cultivating their reputation for toughness (though Goldberg, to his credit, is repulsed by Dagan's statements, and seems to have come around to the idea that warning against the reckless use of force is not the same as weakness). Anyway, there is often credit for talking tough, while warning against violence is thankless. Just not at this moment, surely, and not in this case.