Monday, June 23, 2008

Bigger Wars and A Smaller Recovery

A key facet of the argument that we (and/or Israel) should do everything in our power (read: military strikes) to prevent the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapon rests on the fact that Iran is, supposedly, undeterrable. That is, that Iran's leadership is driven by religious zealotry to such an extent that, once it acquired a nuclear weapon, it would be willing to risk annihilation via nuclear counterstrike in order to launch an attack on Israel. According to this narrative, while nuclear powers such as China, the USSR, India and Pakistan might be deterred from initiating a nuclear exchange by the likelihood of mutual assured destruction, Iran's leadership would be willing to commit "national suicide" in exchange for the pyrrhic satisfaction of destroying the Israeli state.

Despite the boldness and counterintuitive nature of these claims about Iran's ostensibly unique suicidal nature, there is little actual evidence to support this tenuous argument. Iran's current regime has been in power for approximately 30 years and during that time, rather than rushing headlong toward some suicidal destiny, it has displayed a cagey knack for self-preservation. This despite ample opportunity to become a nation of martyrs.

An interesting thing happened on the way to bomb Iran because it's an undeterable, irrational actor hellbent on Israel's, and its own, destruction. John Bolton, who has been urging the Bush administration (and/or Israel) to bomb Iran using any number of justifications ("terrorist" training camps, Iran's interference in Iraq, Iran's nuclear weapons program, just because, etc.), recently sought to assuage fears that Iran could and would retaliate forcefully against US interests in the wake of a US attack on the following grounds (via Think Progress):

Bolton gamed out the fallout from an attack on Iran. He claimed that Iran’s options to retaliate after being attacked are actually “less broad than people think.” He suggested that Iran would not want to escalate a conflict because 1) it still needs to export oil, 2) it would worry about “an even greater response” from Israel, 3) and it would worry about the U.S.’s response.

So let me see if I have this straight: A country that is supposedly so irrational, reckless and religiously fanatical that its leaders would be willing to countenance the end of its very existence (and that of its population) in order to carry out an unprovoked nuclear strike against Israel will be too cautious to retaliate against an actual attack on its country for fear of economic hardship and conventional military counterattacks?

In other words, Bolton is arguing that Iran's leadership is comprised of rational actors with well-honed instincts for self-preservation capable of applying a typical - conservative even - cost-benefit calculus. Except we have to bomb them because the opposite is true. Or something. Faster, please.

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