Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Calmer Than You Are

According to Matt Yglesias (impersonating Josh Marshall), far too many pundits have been out of their element with respect to Iran - giving in to breezy comparisons to Hitler's Germany and other forms of detached paranoia. The result has been a deja-vu like nightmare of eternal recurrence. The Yglesias abides:

The Iran debate has really become rather surreal. You have the "Islamofascist" locution jumping from the fever swamps of rightwing punditry into the mouth of the President of the United States. You have the Secretary of Defense issuing dire warnings of another Munich. These things are being done by the exact same people who, four years ago, were utterly dismissive of claims that invading Iraq was likely to serve Iranian interests better than American ones. Indeed, you have the exact same people who two years ago were assuring us that it made sense to commit American blood and treasure to fight Sunni insurgents on behalf of Iranian-backed Shiite militias now saying we need to commit more blood and treasure in Iraq to stop . . . Iranian-backed Shiite militias. [...]

...if Iran is preparing to mount a Hitler-style bid for world domination they must be engaged in a big military build-up, right? But there is no such build up. Maybe there's no need for a build-up because the Iranian military is already so vast and mighty? Well, no. Iran has a defense budget of about $6 billion a year.

The United States spends over 50 times more than that. But perhaps comparisons to the USA are misleading. Lets compare our would-be regional hegemon to its neighbors. Well, Israel spends $9.6 billion and Saudi Arabia spends $25.2 billion. Pakistan, immediately adjacent to Iran and nuclear armed, actually has engaged in a recent defense buildup. What kind of quest for hegemony is Iran supposed to be on? [...]

Meanwhile, the freaky and unpredictable Iranian regime has actually been in power for a very long time. Since before I was born. The regime is not only long-entrenched, but quite corrupt. Mightn't this lead you think it's being run by reasonably comfortable men who enjoy the fruits of power, intend to stay in power, and know a thing or two about maintaining their power rather than by irrational lunatics who've been waiting in the wings for 27 years preparing to spring their bid for world domination upon us without first having acquired so much as a single modern tank?

And then there's the small matter that our purported would-be Hitlers in Teheran were trying to reach a comprehensive peace agreement with the United States as recently as 2003. Their proposal was rejected by the Bush administration. [...]

So, here's Iran. Outgunned by its two leading religio-ideological antagonists, Israel and Saudi Arabia, in the region. One immediate neighbor is Pakistan, with a larger population base and a nuclear arsenal. Another immediate neighbor, Afghanistan, is occupied by soldiers under the command of an American president who has spurned peace offers and threatened to overthrow the Iranian government. A second immediate neighbor, Iraq, is occupied by a larger number of soldiers from the same country. The Iranian military's equipment is outdated and essentially incapable of mounting offensive operations. So Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them. Under the circumstances, wouldn't you? Don't you think a little deterrence capability would serve the country well under those circumstances?

...Of course it would be better to find a way to persuade, cajole, whatever Iran out of going nuclear -- the spread of nuclear weapons is, as such, bad for the USA. But there's no need -- absolutely no need -- for this atmosphere of panic and paranoia.

Makes me wax nostalgic about the days when Saddam was supposed to be gearing up for total global conquest. Or was it the Vietnamese army in their canoes poised to row to our distant shores like marauding Vikings of yore? Maybe it was the Nicaraguans teamed up with the Cubans heading up through Mexico...

But seriously, Matt makes a good point about incentives here for Iran's build-up. The Bush administration has provided Iran with an endless stream of reasons why they might view obtaining a nuclear weapon as the utmost imperative, while offering little in the way to dissuade them through either positive or negative inducements. Increasingly, I am becoming convinced that some sort of security guarantee should be put forward in the package of carrots and sticks. It might not be enough at this point, but it's worth a shot. And droning on about the next Hitler sure isn't helping any.

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