How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Iran and Love the Bomb

If I was a “serious” foreign policy thinker, there’s no way I could write this post. After all, I wouldn’t be taken seriously, and if you’re a serious foreign affairs type, your job requirement is to be taken seriously. Otherwise, the whole illusion of omniscient expertise you’ve spent your life crafting could start to unravel. Better to stay on the safe side, where all the “incentives” are, and take a serious position that confirms your seriousness. (Ask Les Gelb about that.)

All serious persons think that Iran should not have nuclear weapons. And if I was this kind of  figure, I would agree. I would then pretend I’m a nuclear weapons expert, and dazzle you with my command of things like “uranium enrichment facilities” and “fissile materials” and the like. I would go on to give the impression that I’ve spent good chunks of time in Iran without saying so (because of course I haven’t), had intimate knowledge of the motives of the Persian regime(Persians, not Arabs!) and that I had a keen eye for planning large scale military operations, tossing around phrases like “long range tactical missile strikes.” But, as we’ve already established, I’m not going to do any of that. I’m going to take a rather un-serious position.

Do I think Iran should have nuclear weapons? Probably not. In general, it seems like the proliferation of nuclear weapons are a bad idea.

If I was in Iran’s shoes, would I want a nuke? Yes, most certainly, as it would prevent my country from being invaded. (Hate to point this out, but we’ve taken over one country to the east of Iran, and one country to the west of Iran…So they have reasons to be a little nervous, as we’ve kind of surrounded them…)

But do I really care if Iran gets a nuke? Nope, and neither should you.

Why? Because I don’t think Iran would ever use them. If Iran did use them, it would be the end of Iran. Iran, in the memorable words of then candidate Hillary Clinton, would be “obliterated.”

I don’t think Iran wants to be obliterated.  Nation states usually shy away from being totally suicidal.

There it is, my argument is that simple.

I came to this conclusion after reading Evan Bayh et al’s statement about the “catastrophic consquences”  that Iran would face if they actually got a nuke. The statement said: “We must leave no doubt that we are prepared to do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s nuclear breakout.”

Really? We’re willing to go to war over this? This seems a rather crazed position to take.

I guess the idea is that if Iran got a nuke, they would attack Israel with it, or hand it over, Saddam-style, to terrorists. Hmmm.

A couple of things, all very uninformed. 

A) Wouldn’t attacking Israel with a nuclear weapon also destroy the Palestininians? I mean, it’s a pretty small country, and I would think that any nuclear fallout would be a pretty nasty for the folks in the West Bank and Gaza. Because if Iran did attack Israel, they’d have to really blow the shit out of everything. Otherwise, Israel, with their nukes, would quickly go to destroy Iran. Does Iran want to destroy Palestine? I doubt it… B) That reminds me, if Israel was nuked, they would certainly respond with nukes of their own…So again, using a nuclear weapon is a death sentence for Tehran. C) If Iran did use a nuclear weapon on Israel, we would certainly use a nuclear weapon on Iran. D) I’m big fan of Israel, and one thing I know, is that Israel is pretty good at defending itself.

I’m not making a comprhensive case here. I’m just filing my suspicions under “common sense.” 

Glenn Greenwald points out the similiarties between how the media/political establishment is acting now and how they acted in the run up to Iraq.  One other big lesson we can draw is the failure to ask the profoundly simple questions. It’s a cultural thing. Journalists start interviewing think tank types, political leaders, unnamed officials, academics, all with a stake in pushing a certain narrative. Lots of smart people, talking convincingly to themselves and reading the Atlantic and the New Yorker. “Group think,” as Slate’s Jacob Weisberg called it. Everyone wants to show how smart and nuanced they are, how much inside dope they got. It’s a game of one upmanship to see who can best describe the emperor’s clothes. This means that there are a bunch of  questions that are so simple and straightforward that they just don’t get asked. Mainly, questions directed at the fundamental assumptions of our media/foreign policy/political types, on whatever issue. These aren’t considered serious questions. The simple questions have the potential to undermine the dominant media narrative, and where’s the fun in that?

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About michaelhastings

Journalist
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7 Responses to How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Iran and Love the Bomb

  1. cgwalt says:

    I could not agree more. If Pakistan why not Iran?

  2. Mr. Hastings,

    I think you are missing the key point here. Like many people, you are laboring under the misapprehension that to “use” is a nuclear weapon is the same as to “detonate” a nuclear weapon. If I were to purchase a revolver and then go out into the street and point this gun at people and say “your money or your life”, most people would give me their money. In this scenario, I have “used” my revolver without actually firing (or detonating) any bullets. The same is true for nuclear weapons, they can used without being fired. The North Koreans have shown over the last several years how this can be done effectively, if rather crudely. During the Cold War, both the US and the USSR repeated used nuclear weapons, although not one was detonated in anger. They can be effectively used as threats and blackmail and to counter threats and blackmail. This is what the people in Washington do not want. Like you, they do not believe that Iran would ever detonate a nuclear weapon but they fear that Iran will use them, if the have them.

    • Michael Hastings says:

      I see your point, but I guess I’m not too worried about the blackmail aspect, either. What good is a threat if you can’t go through with it?

      • Mr. Hastings,

        I would refer you back to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The US was able to force the USSR to remove missiles from Cuba using the threat of nuclear weapons. None were detonated but they were used effectively nonetheless. The buzz word at the time was “brinkmanship”.

        Right now the any nuclear power (e.g. the US or Israel to choose two a random) could threaten Iran with Secretary Clinton’s obliteration to which Iran cannot respond. With nuclear weapons, at the end of ballistic missiles, Iran has a response. It also seriously alters the balance of power between Iran and its Arab, Turkish, & other neighbors.

        This is to say nothing of the enormous political and ideological gains Iran gets playing this trump among the people of the Middle East who are generally hostile to the US-Isreali alliance. They would be only force in the Middle East who could claim to be able to stand up to the Faranji.

      • Michael Hastings says:

        Again, I’m not disagreeing with you. But having nuclear weapons pointed at you from off the coast off Florida is much different than having a country pointing weapons at your allies eight thousand miles away.

        And I don’t buy into the “alter the power balance” thing. So what? Pakistan, NK, India, the Saudis, the Israelis, the Russians, the Chinese all have nuclear weapons, no? I don’t think Iran is that much more evil or deranged or problematic than a couple of those nations…

  3. Neal Ungerleider says:

    If only it was really about Iran getting the bomb and the whole US republican discourse about the “nuclear mullahs.” The real fear is that a nuclear-armed Iran would drastically alter the balance of power in the region… and create a regional arms race in return. Iran having nuclear weapons is the geopolitical equivalent of a perfect poker hand; by using the ever present threat of nukes, Saudi Arabia, Egypt & Turkey will face serious internal challenges – and most of the smaller Persian Gulf states will likely be drawn into Iran’s orbit.

    For most of the regimes in the region, they’d prefer a superpower located two oceans away to a regional hegemon located just across the Gulf. Can’t blame them.

    • Michael Hastings says:

      Neal, thanks for stopping by. I suppose I’m not too worried about altering the balance of power in the Middle East. (Off the point: hasn’t our whole project of the last 8 years in Iraq and Afghanistan been specifically to alter the balance of power there?) The nuclear arms race in the ME…Well, the Saudis have nukes, the Israelis have nukes. Would Iran getting them be such a big deal? We could learn to live with it pretty quickly, espeically when the alternative is another war to stop them possibly getting nuclear weapons?

      Perhaps by altering the balance of power we mean “leveling” the balance of power and why would that be bad? The Saudis and the Egyptians probably deserve to face some serious internal challenges, no?

      I just don’t get how nukes are threat if you know you can’t really use them–sure, you can show them off, push some folks around, but the main use is a deterent against invasion…

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