Thursday, November 08, 2007

New Slang

Justin Logan is certainly right about the prevalence, and debate stultifying effect, of the infamous Hitler analogy as wielded in all its ahistorical glory by the salesmen of various and sundry wars. But a new inflammatory turn of phrase has been making guest appearances in the speeches and statements of White House officials - including and especially the President himself. The new verbal trigger is "World War III."

A few weeks back, Bush first warned of this type of global conflagration in the context of Iran (he also ushered in another shift in rhetoric centered around "knowledge" related to - rather than actual possession of - nuclear weapons):

But this -- we got a leader in Iran who has announced that he wants to destroy Israel. So I've told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them from have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon.

William Arkin catches Bush at it again yesterday in Germany:

"[T]his is a country that has defied the IAEA -- in other words, didn't disclose all their program -- have said they want to destroy Israel. If you want to see World War III, you know, a way to do that is to attack Israel with a nuclear weapon. And so I said, now is the time to move."

How exactly would an Iranian attack on Israel trigger World War III? It's never fully explained - or even hinted at. Nor does Bush account for the myriad other, more probable scenarios from which a world war could spring from the instability in Iraq, outward.

Iran is neither powerful enough, nor does it have the number of dedicated - or even close - allies necessary to arrange the magnitude of front required to rise to the level of "World War." I'm reminded of Fareed Zakaria's recent attempt to inject a dose of sanity as an antidote to Norman Podhoretz's tirade about the Hitler-esque threat posed by an Iran intent on...well, taking over the world:

Iran has an economy the size of Finland's and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century.... Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?"

And yet President Bush would have us believe that as isolated and middling a nation as Iran would be able to muster the forces necessary to wage world war? The country that barely fought Saddam's Iraq to a decade long standstill? Not a chance, and the people that evoke World War III and Hitler know this. Instead of trying to engage the issue on its merits, however, they make a play for debate-ending scare tactics designed to gin up emotional, irrational responses from the populace.

The Arkin link comes from Blaktiki Hounshell, who also links to a rather interesting Barbara Slavin piece on the Bush administration's diplomatic bumbling vis-a-vis Iran. Highly recommended.

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