Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Goldberg Variations

For the past couple of weeks, Jeffrey Goldberg has been telling or implying to everyone who will listen, from NPR to Stephen Colbert, that it would be a misreading of his Atlantic article to assume he himself favored an attack on Iran--or at least an attack "now." He has also been insisting, what no reader of the article would easily conclude, that the Obama administration has been handling Iran just about right. All he did was report what Israeli leaders were thinking, and draw out the consequences.

It is clear that Goldberg is spinning, but never mind. What journalist has not tried to both say something sensational and pretend to have been responsible, or keep his dinner party invitations coming from all sides of a public debate, or genuinely regret not having written what seemed obvious to say only after the damn thing was in print? Goldberg's piece was indeed interesting only insofar as it reflected what his Israeli interlocutors were saying. As Colbert once famously said, this is what journalists do: leaders decide, and journalists "type those decisions down."

The problem, that is, is with what Israeli leaders are thinking, not with what their insider journalists are spreading. There is a logic here, which needs to be engaged. Reza Aslan and I attempt to engage it in this short article, published in today's International Herald Tribune (the Global Edition of The New York Times). The key issue, which doesn't get quite enough attention, is the curiously seductive and fatuous notion that an Iranian bomb provides a "nuclear umbrella" for jihadists.


Potter said...

I remember brinksmanship. This is it again- a risky game of chicken played by Israeli leaders who are, insanely, more reluctant to risk for peace.

Excellent article.

Metternich said...

"Most plausibly, Iran wants a nuclear weapon for much the same reason Israel developed one: as an ultimate hedge against invasion by superior conventional forces".

This makes no sense. Saddam is still dead; the only enemies Iran has, are those created by its nuclear weapons program. There is no enemy that has been waiting around for thirty years to attack, so when they do, they can be deterred by Iran's nukes. Many Arabs and Arab states have tried, and are trying, to destroy Israel. Iran has a similar view. Israel's defense needs are nothing like those of Iran.

If Iran were worried about defense they would not have been yelling "Death to America" for all these decades. It isn't something you do if you are worried.

Iran cannot close the Strait of Hormuz unless it has nuclear weapons. Iran's navy can be destroyed in less than a week by the US Air Force. Any massive Iranian ground attack anywhere would be met by cluster bombs and other anti-infantry weapons. Iran could not win such a conflict. Unless it has nuclear weapons.

Iran has no defensive needs for nuclear weapons, so they are offensive. There are two offensive campaigns that Iran could launch with nuclear weapons:

1) Iran could hit Israel.

2) Iran could intimidate the Arab oil states into a united anti-western oil cartel that would stick. This would enable Iran to become a World Power based on oil, to pressure the US and Europe. They might also form a new Caliphate with the Supreme Leader at the head.

Or Iran could do both. A hit on Israel is an excellent prelude to intimidating the Arab oil states.

And quit treating them as if they are normal people. Normals are not:
- Supporting Hamas and Hezbollah to destroy Israel, while doing nothing for the Arabs in the UN camps.
- Trying to convince Germany and Israel the holocaust did not occur.
- Shouting "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" for 30 years.
- Invading the US Embassy (an act of war).
- Building ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons without being able to refine gasoline.
- Loose talk about "Wiping Israel of the map" or "off the pages of time"...

If Iran's leaders put priority on their survival, they would do none of these things.

Potter said...

"Iran could not win such a conflict. Unless it has nuclear weapons".

Wow- and wow about the following reasoning by Metternich. You completely leave out consequences and you completely forget threats against Iran coming principally from the US ( go back in time too) the UN and Western allies as well as threats from Israel in this Iranophobic phase. These are threat from nuclear countries. As well you leave out the Shiite Sunni divide in your scenario. You buy into the Iranian leader's sabre rattling and ignore all the other factors.. and finally you assume that Iran will commit suicide until the end where you allow that if Irans wants to survive they will do none of this. Thus you have canceled out your own reasoning... unless you assume Iran IS suicidal.

Metternich said...

Iran has been doing that list of things. If they were primarily interested in their own survival, they wouldn't have been doing that. So we conclude Iran has strong suicidal/martyrdom tendencies. No self-negation. Just self-reinforcement.

All the consequences will be worse if Iran gets nuclear weapons, and especially if Iran has the missiles to deliver nuclear warheads.

If Iran were under threat from the US, Iran would have been attacked by now. Iran invaded the US embassy in 1979. Reagan and two Bushes have been President, and no attack. So they think US aggressiveness is increased under Obama?

All the hostility towards Iran is from Iran's nuclear weapons development, embassy-invading, and hate speech.

I have included the Shiite Sunni divide in my analysis. I suggest that the only "Rational" component of Iran's planning is to conquer the Middle East oil fields to dominate the Sunni Arabs, and much of the rest of the world, as well.

Potter said...

This analysis depends on narrow and partial information, and, like some in Iranian and Israeli leadership alike, conclusions drawn from a certain perception. It is ( going to be) a damn shame for everyone, including Israel or especially Israel so focussed on Iran if it neglects the conflict at home.

To me it does seem that Iran is interested in it's own survival.

You should perhaps go back in your Iranian history to WW2 occupation and after (for Iranian oil) the installation of the Shah. (With the revolution the autocracy became a republic, not a bad thing in and of itself.)

The US embassy was invaded by students during the revolution- not without cause for all the US meddling.

Don't forget the US helped Iraq, in the brutal Iran/Iraq war.

During the Iraq wars ( 1990 -present), Iran was sort of neutral and benefitting, BUT the fact of our invasions, our willingness to invade- regardless of cause( which they may or may not agree with) including our invasion of Afghanistan, has not been lost on Iran.

It may be, contrary to what you say, that in fact any attack on Iran would unite natural foes or divisions in the Muslim word.

Iran, by the way still says it wants nuclear capability for peaceful purposes. You don't have to believe that- but it does have that right and there are ways ( apparently) of knowing how close they are to nuclear warhead capability.

I think it's about time that Israel comes clean and forthright about it's own nuclear warheads. The Iranian leadership keeps pointing to this exception. That Israel ( and by extension the US can) threaten Iran but Iran cannot defend itself ( other than through support of terrorism) seems to them an imbalance that they need to rectify.

Metternich said...

The US should not treat Israel and Iran the same way. Israel has been a loyal and steadfast supporter of the US, despite differences. The Iranian Revolution has been a consistent hater of the US, despite common interests.

Whatever is bothering the Iranians about their history with the US, one would think that invading the US Embassy (an act of war) would have gotten it out of their system. And one would think that a smarter and more diplomatic approach would be safer and give Iran more room to maneuver. Adding official holocaust denial to the mix does not make things better; they are either crazy or want us to think they are crazy. Either, way they are dangerous.

Iranian nuclear weapons do not help it much against the US, in fact their long-range missile program has been cut back. Iranian nuclear weapons are a grave threat to the Arab states and to Israel. Bush and Obama are involved to protect these Middle Eastern countries. Iran's long range weapons are merely long range plans.

If you doubt that nuclear weapons are the game plan, do a web search for the Sajil and Sajil-2 missile series. Also the Shahab missile series. They are clearly surface-to-surface missiles that have no strategic value without a WMD. They may also want nuclear power for electricity, or something.

It's been 65 years since WWII, and if China and South Korea can co-exist peacefully with Japan, the Iran can do the same with the US.

Potter said...

they are either crazy or want us to think they are crazy. Either, way they are dangerous.

I think from the other side Israel and the US look the same, crazy, irrational, and aggressive, responding out of proportion to resistance, their defensive to the West's encroachments. Israel lately has cultivated it's "mad dog" image ( the 2006 Lebanon war and Operation Cast Lead 2008-9). The US of course had also spectacularly, but not only, with “shock and awe”.

Iranian nuclear weapons are a grave threat to the Arab states and to Israel.

That situation would not hold. There will be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. Arab states would not want Persian hegemony and certainly not a Shiite one. I can’t imagine that they would allow it.

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