May 21, 2009

The HuffPo's Lonely Planet Foreign Policy

Roger Cohen seems to have invented a genre. At the very least he has imitators. Olivia Sterns just published a piece at the Huffington Post decrying Syria’s “misrepresentation” in the media and arguing that President Barack Obama “embrace” Damascus’s tyrant Bashar Assad as a peace partner because the locals were nice to her when she visited Syria on vacation.

“Often described as a hotbed of anti-Americanism,” she writes, “that eschews ties to the West under Iranian tutelage, in reality that reputation couldn't be further from the truth.” Her evidence that Syria isn’t really a hotbed of anti-Americanism? Assad schedules date nights with his stylish wife, locals in the souks are friendly to tourists, and the police keep visitors safe. All these things are true, but so what? Syria is still Iran’s staunchest ally, a hotbed of anti-Americanism, and a state-sponsor of terrorism and “resistance.”

Sterns lives in London and no doubt knows better than I do that European anti-Americanism is often in your face, rude, and obnoxious. The political is sometimes personal in the West, but that’s rarely the case in the Middle East. Arab hospitality even toward visitors from enemy countries is legendary and the stuff of guidebook clichés, yet Sterns writes as though she is startled to discover that Arabs have manners, that Syria isn’t a Mordor teeming with flesh-eating Orcs.

There’s nothing wrong with writing about personal warmth in Arabic countries. I often color my own dispatches from Lebanon and Iraq with Arab hospitality, but I’m careful to avoid making sweeping assumptions based on little else.

On my last trip to Iraq I visited the Adhamiyah sector of Baghdad. The people living there were just as friendly as the stridently pro-American Kurds in the northern provinces whose only insurgency was waged against Saddam Hussein, but their political views were radically different. U.S. Army soldiers introduced me to a trusted Iraqi informant who told me around 60 percent of his neighbors supported Al Qaeda not long ago. My Iraqi translator, who knows public opinion better than I ever will, said the neighborhood was a Baath Party stronghold when the old regime was in power and that a majority of the people there remain anti-American. Few Iraqis I casually met betrayed even a hint of hostility, and most would have been too polite to reveal it had I asked what they thought of me and my country.

If Sterns wants to write about what Syria's people actually think about America and the peace process, she should ask them and quote them. They might politely conceal their anti-Americanism, but they aren’t at all likely to hide their support for Hezbollah or their hatred for Israel.

Listen to what Lee Smith heard during the 2006 war when he escaped Lebanon to Damascus, where posters of Hezbollah’s Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah were ubiquitous even in Christian areas. “If you think that the U.S. or anyone can offer the Syrian government a deal to abandon its support for Nasrallah and Khaled Meshal,” said a 25-year-old TV producer, “you are crazy, because all Syrians support the resistance.”

“The Arabs are traitors,” another Syrian told him. “All the rest deal with Israel or they signed peace treaties with Israel. The only men in the Middle East worth anything are our President Bashar, Hassan Nasrallah, and Ahmadinejad. The Arab leaders combined aren't worth the shoes of these three brothers.”

Smith had a hard time finding anyone in Syria who opposed Hezbollah’s jihad against Israel. “It is clear,” he concluded, “that the regime and the people are in perfect sync.” His in-depth reporting is strikingly different from that of Sterns and provides real evidence that Syria is part of the problem and not the solution.

Read the rest in Commentary Magazine.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at May 21, 2009 9:44 AM
Comments

Excellent article Mr. Totten, thanks.

Posted by: Ron Snyder Author Profile Page at May 21, 2009 10:09 AM

Oh good grief. The apparatchiks in Damascus get their orders straight from Tehran with a snap to and an "aye sir." When reality is too hard for people, they sometimes make stuff up. It's easier to believe in happy myths than the ugly truth. So goes the HufPo. The bad part is that they aren't ashamed of such poor journalism and opinion / analysis pieces.

Posted by: Herschel Smith Author Profile Page at May 21, 2009 1:13 PM

It's easier to believe in happy myths than the ugly truth.

The truth is pretty unpalatable when it comes to the middle east. I wish it wasn't America's problem to try to deal with. I'd really like to be able to sit on the sidelines like the Europeans are doing. I seriously would.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 21, 2009 3:06 PM

And those AQ operatives infiltrating Iraq through Syrian corridors reflect...what?

With such a large uncritical audience back home, jerked through life, as children can be, by the moment's emotions and impulses, mesmerized by the surface sheen coming off of tightly focused, scripted and teleprompted sound bites, a determined enemy of free thought abroad doesn't have to work nearly as hard.

As they NEVER forget; let the press junkets begin. Please wait for your guide to direct you. This way (only) please...

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 21, 2009 3:25 PM

Craig, why the Europeans? Asians are much wealthier and more important trading, investment and business collaboration partners with the middle east than Europeans.

Why don't you demand that the Chinese stop free riding on the rest of us? China buys more of many different types of natural resources than any other country. China buys more oil from Saudi Arabia than any other country. Chine produces more CO2 and other pollutants than any other country. Why can't we threaten to walk away from the middle east and let the Chinese deal with the fallout?

For that matter, why not demand that India, Japan and South Korea play much bigger roles?

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at May 21, 2009 5:38 PM

This one was confusing. On the one hand, I found that- I admit - article insipid and nauseating. Not even the flimsiest nod to the human rights issues. American audiences require more sophisticated propaganda. This has nothing to do with leftism - Kossack front-pagers would be equally nauseated. It's just this particular fool. Huffington Post takes crowd-sourcing, bottom-up, we'll-take-anything editorialism to an extreme, which is why I don't read it. For every smart piece, there's a piece of complete cr*p. Of course, the model has been a spectacular success at getting hits. Human nature spares no movement or doctrine. Populism sucks. Etc.

On the other hand, strip away a lot of the phony context and the bones of the argument are basically fine. This might as well have been the Syrian Foreign Ministry itself speaking, and the message is: Bribe us, and we'll go away. Let's make a deal. Bring us your tourism dollars. We'll torture any Islamists you find suspicious in secret prisons, we promise.

That's basically the same deal we've made with Egypt. Same deal we made with Libya. Same deal we made with Algeria, Morocco, Bahrain, Jordan and Turkey (only the EU gives a darn about human rights in Turkey). Same deal with made with etc, etc, etc. It's only slightly different from the deal we made with the Iraqi Sunnis, who were much more demonstratably hostile to us personally than Syria.

Sure, we have tried to be a force for human rights, law, etc, no doubt, but at some point after we leave, that becomes the deal. And I don't blame them.
The alternative, of course, is to spend many hundreds of billion dollars a year and blow the hell out of various countries in order to have the opportunity to try to educate them to behave better... maybe.. if whoever's on the ground considers that a priority at the time.

I understand why that's disgusting, but it's the way of the world. Buy them off or kill them off, most things fall under one of those. More people die from the wars than from the police state.

So Mike's counterargument is less offensive, but logically more flawed.


Surely that’s true. You know what else is true? Assad can rein in Hezbollah right now. But he won’t....Sterns thinks the Obama Administration should bring Assad into “the fold” of peace partners because he has the ability to stop terrorizing his neighbors... If Assad ever sincerely wants peace, he can prove it by severing his links with Hezbollah and shutting down the Damascus branch of Hamas. The fact that he won’t is far more telling of his intentions than is the friendliness of everyday Syrians in the market.

What kind of gimpy logic is this? The fact that Assad hasn't done something we want him to do without being bribed means that he's our implacable enemy? No one in the ME does anything we want them to without being bribed. Hell, no one anywhere does anything we want them to without being bribed.

It's all about money and fear. Of course Assad isn't going to do the right thing unless he gets paid. It makes him no better or worse than any Arab country, and most non-Arab countries. You're foolishly conflating the desire to extort us with implacable hostility. And everyone wants to extort us.

We're in no position to force the Syrians to do anything. We can either bribe them, and maybe get their cooperation, or not bribe them and not get it.

My actual preference would be to say the heck with them and try to bribe/pressure Hizballah directly, which has more reedeming aspects than the Syrian state.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 21, 2009 8:03 PM

Craig, why the Europeans?

Because the Arab world + Iran has initiated this conflict with the West, and not with the rest of the world. It's "ours" whether we want it or not. We can try to get others involved if we like, but the Arabs + Iran are trying just as hard to make sure that doesn't happen, and it seems to me like everyone (including other western nations) is plenty willing to let the US* have a go of it alone.

*I suppose I should say: US + Israel.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 21, 2009 8:40 PM

BTW, I'm not really complaining about the Euros sitting it out. I think we are better off without their help for the most part, though it would be nice if they at least stayed out of the way. I'm just envious of the choices they get to make, where the US seems to have none. Even as hard as Obama is looking for some other way to resolve this conflict, in the end its going to be lots of dead people (mostly Arabs) with no end in sight.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 21, 2009 8:42 PM

"no one anywhere does anything we want them to without being bribed. It's all about money and fear."

You and your ilk just don't get it, glasnost. Iraqis aren't now learning to defend their own neighborhoods simply because we pay for their training. They want a better life, for themselves and their future generations, free of AQ terror and Iranian bullies telling them how to live their lives.

That's a condition they're painfully familiar with. When I went back to college around 1990, I met an Iraqi who told me a heartbreaking story about his close friend, a professor at Baghdad University; he and his students were sharing goddamn PENCILS in the classroom...while, outside everyday, they watched statues of Sadaam being erected.

He needed no bribe to want better.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 2:39 AM

Paul is right, Glasnost. You do not get it. I'm going to republish a few paragraphs I wrote from a Ramadi in 2007. If you believe Hezbollah is going to follow the model below any time soon, you need a re-think.

-

“AQI announced the Islamic State of Iraq in a parade downtown on October 15, 2006,” said Captain McGee. “This was their response to Sahawa al Anbar. They were threatened by the tribal movement so they accelerated their attacks against tribal leaders. They ramped up the murder and intimidation. It was basically a hostile fascist takeover of the city."

Sheikh Jassim’s experience was typical.

“Jassim was pissed off because American artillery fire was landing in his area,” Colonel Holmes said. “But he wasn’t pissed off at us. He was pissed off at Al Qaeda because he knew they always shot first and we were just shooting back.”

“He said he would prevent Al Qaeda from firing mortars from his area if we would help him,” Lieutenant Hightower said. “Al Qaeda said they would mess him up if he got in their way. He called their bluff and they seriously fucked him up. They launched a massive attack on his area. All hell broke loose. They set houses on fire. They dragged people through the streets behind pickup trucks. A kid from his area went into town and Al Qaeda kidnapped him, tortured him, and delivered his head to the outpost in a box. The dead kid was only sixteen years old. The Iraqis then sent out even nine year old kids to act as neighborhood watchmen. They painted their faces and everything.”

“Sheikh Jassim came to us after that,” Colonel Holmes told me, “and said I need your help.”

“One night,” Lieutenant Markham said, “after several young people were beheaded by Al Qaeda, the mosques in the city went crazy. The imams screamed jihad from the loudspeakers. We went to the roof of the outpost and braced for a major assault. Our interpreter joined us. Hold on, he said. They aren’t screaming jihad against us. They are screaming jihad against the insurgents."

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 2:58 AM

Glasnost - it's the way of the world. Buy them off or kill them off

False dichotomy, as usual. If you read the article, you'd remember that:

The only reason Hafez Assad shut down his support for terrorism in Turkey is because the Turks threatened war if he refused.

Why was Turkey the only nation that responded rationally to Assad's aggression? Extortion should only 'work' if the extort-er is more powerful (or can convincingly appear to be more powerful) than the extort-ee. Yet punk terrorists and terror-supporting nations consistently violate that simple rule. Why? Because we let them get away with it.

Syria is the weakest link in the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah chain, but it's empowered by the fact that most governments appear to believe your false dichotomy.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 5:52 AM

Craig: "Because the Arab world + Iran has initiated this conflict with the West, and not with the rest of the world. It's "ours" whether we want it or not. We can try to get others involved if we like, but the Arabs + Iran are trying just as hard to make sure that doesn't happen"

1. Iran and the Sunni Arab world are fighting each other. Khamenei has tried hard to reach out to China, India, Japan, Russia and other countries to fight the Sunni Arabs.

2. AQ linked networks have murdered some 20,000 Indian civilians, many Russian civilians, many Chinese civilians in Uighar, thousands of Thai civilians, hundreds of Indonesian civilians, many Philippino civilians; hundreds of Kenyan civilians, thousands of Somali civilians, Tanzanian civilians and many others. AQ linked networks derive substantial support from Sunni Arab extremists.

3. On 9.12.01, the Stans, Iran, Russia, China and India released a joint statement supporting the Northern Alliance against the Taliban (in words and material support.)

Craig, the war against AQ linked networks is their war too. However, they want to free ride and let others fight their enemies for them. Are you willing to let them? Why should America fight alone when America only has a fifth of global income and a fifth of the benefits from global security?

I don't think we should fight Iran "AND" the Salafi extremists simultaneously as you believe. We should focus on the greater threat, the Salafi Takfiri extremists for now.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 10:24 AM

Anand,

You make a good case. AQ has killed people in far more countries than Iran has, and we often forget about their non-Western victims. (Well, you don't, but most of us do.) But you're forgetting one thing. Iran is developing nuclear weapons, and that will change everything.

If Iran gets nuclear weapons, and if several Arab states follow (as they threaten to do), three new horrible scenarios could emerge. An India-Pakistan-style nuclear brinkmanship could emerge between Iran-Israel, Iran-Arabs, or Arabs-Israel. And the Middle East is crazier than India and Pakistan. It could blow up more easily. And then where would we be?

I'm less worried about Iran giving a nuclear weapon to terrorists, but it's a lot more likely than, say, France giving nuclear weapons to terrorists.

And nobody should want a nuclear umbrella over Hamas and Hezbollah.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 11:19 AM

You and your ilk just don't get it, glasnost. Iraqis aren't now learning to defend their own neighborhoods simply because we pay for their training.

You have your anecdotes and I have mine, both taken from the lips of folks who were there in person. I don't actually doubt your anecdotes, but let's just say they're rather easily oversold (how many times have I heard Mike say that Iraq is not exactly on the way to becoming Denmark?) The Anbar Awakening isn't identical to the way we bribe the Egyptian or the Pakistani elite; I didn't say it was. But the point stands that they were killing us by the truckload two years ago and the main element of our reconciliation is money. Do I need to quote David Petraeus's catchphrase, money is ammunition? Do I need to dig up Parameters articles about the discretionary commanders' funds? I mean, who the h*ll are you trying to kid? What exactly do you think the Sons of Iraq are fighting with the Iraqi government about right now? Who gets on the gravy train and who doesn't, that's what. Period.
The difference in Iraq was that they came to hate our enemies more than they hated us, but I don't think that "human rights" is really a big point on their agenda. And when we leave Iraq, the relationship will become exactly like the one the HuffPost is proposing for Syria - we bribe an authoritarian state in exchange for security cooperation.

Meanwhile, you've rather completely ducked my main comparisons, to our policies, which is that Bashar Assad has no reason on earth to do anything for us without being bribed, just like no other Arab dictator, including some of our best buds, does anything for us without being bribed. Qaddafi decided he had no ammo to negotiate hardball and rolled over without us dangling the butter first. Syria has rather more leverage, for reasons that should be obvious.
Sure, if assad was more deeply craving of peace than he is, he would gladly sell out his terrorist allies and come over and be our best bud. That's not exactly what I was implying. I was implying that it's a dumb tautology to imply that someone is unwilling to compromise or take actions favorable to us because they haven't already done so. I mean.. seriously! That's just a blisteringly stupid argument. It's like claiming that the Soviets would never back down from the Cuban Missile Crisis on Day 2 because they hadn't already backed down..that Iran would never withdraw from Iraqi territory in 1987 because they'd have already done so if they wanted to do it...The Kurds would never declare a cease-fire to pursue peace vs. Turkey because they hadn't already done it yet in 1993.. jesus christ, current behavior does not predict future behavior.

Whether he's using Hizballah to get it, or whether it's being handed over without bloodshed, Assad wants money. That's how I boil down the Huff Po post, and I find it entirely plausible that the deal would be delivered as suggested. There may be a good argument that it would never work, but Mike sure hasn't found it.

You're better off simply saying, "Syria's regime is full of merciless sociopaths who are a blot on the world, and I'd rather see Hizballah and Israel go to war again than see us cooperate with the Syrians in any way." Then you're taking a clear and honest stand, although one I don't find responsible because of the people it will kill. But trying to shoot it down on unfeasibility with this kind of weak tea strikes me as a way to avoid having to deal with the real choices.

Extortion should only 'work' if the extort-er is more powerful (or can convincingly appear to be more powerful) than the extort-ee. Yet punk terrorists and terror-supporting nations consistently violate that simple rule. Why? Because we let them get away with it.

False. Extortion works whenever the costs of forcing the extorter to do what you want and the costs of noncooperation are both higher than the costs of paying the extorter off. I don't know what exactly we "let" Syria get away with. We have little faith that random (or, for that matter, targeted) bombing runs would result in improved cooperation (see Hussein, Saddamn). We've already penalized them in most every obvious economic manner we can think of. Exactly what ace in the hole have we refused to drop here?

If you believe Hezbollah is going to follow the model below any time soon, you need a re-think.

Who says I'm thinking of that model, per se? I just dislike the Syrians more, and see them as harder to control, not to mention less interested/required to consider the opinions of ordinary people, relative to Hizballah. Hizballah plays local politics, while the Syrians mostly just use the fist. So I'd bribe Hizballah before I bribed the Syrians.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 2:45 PM

And nobody should want a nuclear umbrella over Hamas and Hezbollah.

I sure don't, but how would this umbrella come about, may I ask? Let's run the script.

Hizballah: With Iran's nukes guaranteeing us, we can now drop rockets on Israel.

Israel: Actually, no. We promise to blow the sh*t out of your country, just like last time.

Iran: We will use our full arsenal to protect our Shia brothers against Israeli aggression!

Israel / US: Sure, and we promise to nuke your country into a glowing bald spot on the planet. (Israel has submarine-launch nukes. There is no first strike).

Hizballah: Calls bluff; rockets, etc.

Israel: proceeds to bomb the sh*t out of Hizballah. (Can you imagine this not happening? I can't. It's even more likely to happen every time now that Iran has nukes).

Iran: various forms of trash talking and brinkmanship: no actual nuclear strikes. Because Iran's elite have no interest in being nuclear bald spots and no plausible way to avoid it.

Now, this isn't 100% certain, but close to it. Every confrontation between two nuclear powers in history has followed roughly this script. The USSR and China, and India and Pakistan, have had these kinds of showdowns amidst actual fighting on a border between respective armies. Same script.

One thing I'm damn sure about is that Israel won't sit back and allow itself to be strafed because of nuclear threats, to any greater extent than its typical historical tolerance.

But since nothing screws up a regime like becoming a main villian of the US, and since trying to stop the Iranians becomes a near-infinite death match

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 2:57 PM

Glasnost,

I don't think either Hezbollah or the Assad regime is bribeable. But if I were forced to try to bribe one or the other, I'd go with Assad. He isn't anywhere near as ideological as Hassan Nasrallah.

Assad's interests all but require him to do what he's doing, but if a huge number of variables changed, he might change that calculation. Meanwhile, no amount of money will convince an ideological zealot like Nasrallah to roll over.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 3:02 PM

Glasnost: Now, this isn't 100% certain, but close to it. Every confrontation between two nuclear powers in history has followed roughly this script.

Yes, you are probably right. That's probably how things would play out. But that isn't good enough.

Last time I was in Iraqi Kurdistan I asked locals if it was safe to drive to Kirkuk. Everyone said "yes" as long as I had some level of armed protection. I did, so I went in a civilian car.

At the same time, they all told me to stay the hell out of Mosul. I asked my driver what would happen if we went to Mosul briefly for lunch and did not stick around. "Hmm," he said and thought about it for a few moments. "Maybe nothing!" was his final answer. That was nowhere good enough, so we did not drive to Mosul. Maybe I'll survive? I need far more reassurance than that.

When you're dealing with life and death calculations, the odds need to be overwhelmingly in favor of life. When you're dealing with the life and death calculations of a nation, of millions of people, the odds need to be even better than that.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 3:10 PM

I just hated to see that kind of dishonest whitewashing on a liberal website. I consider the whitewashing of dictators to be a right-wing trait. To me, a liberal might support bribing, or even reconciling with a bunch of thugs, to prevent widespread loss of life and to create a better environment for eventually pushing a governance agenda.. but never with the kind of amnesia demonstrated by that piece.

These posts are much more balanced and representative of the typical tone over there.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-denselow/obamas-middle-east-balanc_b_206155.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/bill-rammell/we-do-care-about-human-ri_b_186855.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stuart-whatley/understanding-syrian-rapp_b_172489.html

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 3:10 PM

Glasnost: I just hated to see that kind of dishonest whitewashing on a liberal website. I consider the whitewashing of dictators to be a right-wing trait.

That was true if the dictatorship was rightist like Pinochet's. Leftist dictatorships were routinely whitewashed by liberals. Some moronic liberals even today admire the Castro regime.

John Derbyshire, a man I disagree with an enormous amount of the time, did have something smart to say about this years ago: "Wherever there is a jackboot stepping on a human face, there will be a well-heeled Western liberal there to assure us that the face enjoys free health care and a high degree of literacy."

Anyway, almost everyone in America who whitewashes Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Bashar Assad is a liberal.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 3:25 PM

Whomever some Iraqis may have hated in the past or may hate at the moment, they don't hate their kids. Having been kids through the nightmare of Sadaam, they don't need bribes to want better.

Hugo Chavez is a great man, according to Sean Penn. Investors, worldwide, seem to disagree though; the list I saw had Venezuela, Angola and Cuba at the bottom of their preferred investment sites list.

But we're New now; so let's reach out, shall we....

Beyond sad.

However...the U.S. Senate's NIMBY response to an unintended consequence of closing Gitmo (oh, those...) may have forced a sliver of light through the foggy cloud of Hopefulness.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 5:12 PM

Glasnost - Again, why was Turkey the only nation that responded rationally to Assad's aggression? When they threatened to wage war against Syria, Syria backed off. Obviously, they can be intimidated.

Syria is a mob regime, threats do work as long as they're viable and convincing.

Extortion works whenever the costs of forcing the extorter to do what you want and the costs of noncooperation are both higher than the costs of paying the extorter off

If we bribe Assad, we'll wind up in the same situation we have with the Palestinians, where we 'bribe' them to stop being terrorists. They take our money and they keep attacking Israel and the rest of the world knows how gullible we are.

We don't understand the fundamentals of extortion or bribery. If you're going to bribe people to do something, you have to make sure that they do it.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 8:35 PM

Mary,

The example I think of often (being a John Bolton fan) is the charade with Pyongyang. Through how many administrations now? I've lost count.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 9:58 PM

"I just hated to see that kind of dishonest whitewashing on a liberal website. I consider the whitewashing of dictators to be a right-wing trait."

In Bizarro world, maybe. As others have noted, left-wing dictators get an automatic pass. In fact, you don't even have to be left-wing, just fanatically anti-American like Nutjob and then the same people who foam at the mouth about "bigotry" when a state refuses to legalize gay marriage will be more than happy to look the other way at the execution of homosexuals.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 12:57 AM

A point anand made that I think deserves more attention than it gets from the western press is the number of terrorist casualties beyond the Middle East; when last I looked, India's total exceeded anyone else's. The numbers are lower, but Philippino friends have commented on the sense of threat they live with daily from MILF that isn't confined to Mindanao; that at-any-moment tension North Americans have been spared so far.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 1:09 AM

A nice story to relate.

My niece introduced me to her classmate Hara (age 11.) Hara's parents are Iraqis; Hara was born here. The girls came down today to see my collection of mnf-iraq.com photos of Iraqi kids (443 to date; I stop by there every day.) Initially Hara said she had been scared about visiting her parents' homeland.

But as we went through the pictures, and she saw the smiling faces of the kids in the company of coalition troops, the Iraqi Army and Iraqi police, and I listened to her comments, two patterns emerged: a desire to know more and a pride in her heritage; she commented about every display of the national flag.

We talked about the thousands of years of history there, the summer heat with no AC, orphans, the Hajj to Mecca for muslims, and the arabic language ("right-to-left", as she described it.) I burned a disc of the pictures to show her folks; their memories aren't from the better times.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 1:51 AM

When you're dealing with life and death calculations, the odds need to be overwhelmingly in favor of life. When you're dealing with the life and death calculations of a nation, of millions of people, the odds need to be even better than that.

One thing I'd have imagined that you'd have come to realize is that you can kill a very large number of people in a misguided attempt to prevent the hypothetical potential killing of a very large number of people. We went into Iraq because of WMDs, and half a million extra Iraqis ended up dead.

Not to bend your calculations even further, but even if the highly unlikely scenarios, the million-to-one shot, the genuinely mentally deranged to the point of inability to interact even in his own circles Rubicon was crossed and X decided to launch a nuclear weapon at Israel, a million other things would have to go right. Iran's elite would definitely be highly divided - they'd have to keep it secret from their own government. They'd have to hide the launch preparations from us and not get bombed. They'd have to not screw up the actual launch (Iranian launches fail regularly). The untested warhead would have to work. The missile would have to not be shot down.
Etc. Given our current theater posture, the SCUD performance in OIF, etc, I wouldn't give that more than a 10-25% chance of working, even after the >.000001 - >2% chance of it happening in the first place.

We're all agreed on nonviolent methods (or non-overt violent methods) to mess up the nuke program, so the question only involves overt violence. How many thousand Iranians, or ten thousands + XXX? other Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, etc when considering the immediate response, or hundreds of thousands considering a potential pattern of conflict leading to various wars, are you willing to kill in order to further lower the likelihood of a very unlikely event?

Dick Cheney's answer, of course, is the one percent doctrine. A suicide note for the country in the name of saving it. I hope you're smarter than that.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 6:22 AM

Obviously, they can be intimidated.

Syria is a mob regime, threats do work as long as they're viable and convincing.

What viable and convincing threats do we have right now? Why would Syria presume that the US populace is ready to drop another $1 trillion on an invasion right now over an essentially moral crusade? Or are we talking a Desert Fox kind of thing? Israel just did one of those last year. You notice a dramatic Syrian intimidation effect? I didn't, other than the systematic sucking up they've been up to since at least 2005.

Seriously, Mary. Let's be specific here. Turn over the "scare Syria" card that the Bush I/II administration, stocked to its core with Assad-loathers, didn't stumble on. My suggestion is that random intermittent air strikes would not get the job done.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 6:27 AM

That was true if the dictatorship was rightist like Pinochet's. Leftist dictatorships were routinely whitewashed by liberals. Some moronic liberals even today admire the Castro regime.

Yeah, I'm aware of the history... I admit this is more of my ideal version. As I said on a recent post, all political movements make basically the same mistakes.

The key is facts. To ignore the Cuban regime, or the Soviet regime's success in certain areas of social policy is a cognitive error. To ignore the appalling human rights record is also a cognitive error. I don't know many liberals who admire the Castro regime's democracy. They admire the health-care system and usually say something like,
"give the regime credit - for impoverished dictatorship standards, they built a good health care system".

I don't know any, and haven't really heard of many liberals -

Now, this may or may not be true, but if it is, it's rational to recognize it. Similarly, tabling the debate about whether Pinochet brought macroeconomic success to Chile even while being a brutal dictatorship, give him historical credit for it. (that doesn't mean support him... or Castro). Similarly, the South Korean dictators have not gown down in history as reviled in the way the North Korean dictators have. They were both brutal actors, but one built a rich state and one did not.

I've practically arrived at the conservative realist perspective by now. I suppose the point is that we tend to admire dictatorships for their redeeming values, when they appear to have them, on a nonpartisan basis.

I prefer detente, engagement and democratization pressure in that order over violent confrontation, and so do a lot of responsible liberals, but that shouldn't be confused with admiration. The endorsement of extranormal violence or repression to achieve social change is the dividing line between liberalism and radical leftism. Most liberals don't endorse it.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 6:48 AM

and X decided to launch a nuclear weapon at Israel, a million other things would have to go right.

Agree. There is a difference between you and I, however. You are banking on it to go wrong, I am merely hoping for it to go wrong.
Which one of us is right?

Iran's elite would definitely be highly divided - they'd have to keep it secret from their own government.

Which elite? Mullahs who control the country or those who think they are elite?

They'd have to hide the launch preparations from us and not get bombed.

I am not that technically inclined but I think it is possible.

They'd have to not screw up the actual launch (Iranian launches fail regularly).

Its a risk true believer might be willing to take.

The untested warhead would have to work.

Yes, its a risk true believer might be willing to take.

The missile would have to not be shot down.

So, send 1000 identical missiles with only one having nuclear warhead. What will be the odds of shooting it down? And shooting it down over what, Iraq, Jordan, Syria?

Etc. Given our current theater posture, the SCUD performance in OIF, etc,

SCUDs where reaching and heating Israel, what's your point? Are you talking about the need to deliver nuclear weapons with pinpoint accuracy in order for it to be effective?

I wouldn't give that more than a 10-25% chance of working, even after the >.000001 - >2% chance of it happening in the first place.

For my money it is 27% more than I would be comfortable with.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 8:11 AM

glasnost, it seems like you're the one who put forward the assertion that we had to either bribe Syria or attack Syria. Now, you're insisting that attacking is not an option so that leaves us with the bribery route? lol.

Straw man. The US doesn't have to do either one. I doubt you could even make a compelling case that it's in America's interests to do either one. Wanna give it a shot?

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 9:52 AM

Glasnost,

You're assuming that tens or hundreds of thousdands of people would die if Israel strikes Iranian nuclear facilities. It doesn't seem to occur to you that hardly anyone -- or no one at all -- has to die.

Remember that Turkey got Syria to stop supporting the PKK by threatening war -- the only country so far to successfully stop terrorist support from Damascus. The number of people dead from that strategy: zero. They never even fired a shot. That's the ideal scenario here. No shots, no casualties, no bribes. Just peace and quiet.

Israel has killed far more people fending off Syrian terrorism than Turkey ever did, and they haven't succeeded. "Peace through strength" sometimes works, and saves lives.

How many people were killed when Israel struck Syrian and Iraqi nuclear facilities? Five? Pulling off the same job in Iran would be harder, of course, because the facilities are underground, but as far as I know they aren't underneath downtown Tehran.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 11:14 AM

So, send 1000 identical missiles with only one having nuclear warhead. What will be the odds of shooting it down?

This is not even remotely feasible on Iran's part. 10% of that is not remotely feasible. 1% of that is a stretch. It's taken the PRC more than a decade, with five times the budget, to build up that kind of mass strike capability across a distance five times smaller. The > 300 km missiles needed there require much less investment than the setup required for the IRBMs needed to launch on Israel. Furthermore, whatever remote odds they have of getting off an initial strike.. forget about follow-on strikes.
Even the US is not prepared to launch 1000-missile salvos (of the range required). The entire first-strike cold war plans rarely approached those numbers.

In real life, Iran will struggle to manufacture five of these missiles a year.

SCUDs where reaching and heating Israel, what's your point?

That wasn't OIF. That was 1991. In 2003, the US shot down 90%+ of all Scuds fired. And Scuds leave less time to react with antimissile systems than longer-range ballistic missiles.
People that talk about this systematically underestimate the difficulties involved, assuming that we'd be bombing the launch pads within an hour of detecting the first heat plume.

For my money it is 27% more than I would be comfortable with.

You divide the percentages by each other, you don't add them.

You're assuming that tens or hundreds of thousdands of people would die if Israel strikes Iranian nuclear facilities. It doesn't seem to occur to you that hardly anyone -- or no one at all -- has to die.

You're right. I haven't.

http://www.csis.org/media/csis/pubs/090316_israelistrikeiran.pdf

• Any strike on the Bushehr Nuclear Reactor will cause the immediate death of thousands of people
living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds
of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume.

That's Anthony Cordesman. Bushehr is just one of several massive sites. Osirak is in no way comparable; for one thing, that was a non-operational reactor. We have no idea who was killed in the strike on Syria. Iran's facilities are much more dispersed, much more hardened, and frequently not far from civilian areas. And I am factoring in the Iranian reaction. And the reaction to the reaction. And so on. And so forth. Played out over the next decade. Washing your hands of that is convenient for planning, but less convenient for the victims going into early graves.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 1:53 PM

The US doesn't have to do either one. I doubt you could even make a compelling case that it's in America's interests to do either one. Wanna give it a shot?

I'm not actively in favor of bribing Syria; I'm not really against it, either. If you reach detente with either Iran or Hizballah, Syria becomes basically surplus, and those would be my preferred areas of concentration. Of course, if Syria doesn't threaten us by aggression, they threaten us with disintegration. My initial point here is only that the Huff Po's propaganda for bribing Syria ("investing in peace"), would be creating a relationship, for better or for worse, basically the same as most of our other relationships in the region. I'm not a fan of those relationships, but there's a strong case than they're better than long-running asymettric proxy wars.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 2:03 PM

This is not even remotely feasible on Iran's part. 10% of that is not remotely feasible. 1% of that is a stretch. It's taken the PRC more than a decade, with five times the budget, to build up that kind of mass strike capability across a distance five times smaller.

Is this statement of the fact or is this wishful thinking?
Once technology is perfected expensive part is over and nothing will stand in the way of producing great numbers relatively cheaply and relatively quickly.

In 2003, the US shot down 90%+ of all Scuds fired.

So, you say 10% is tolerable, and it is when single missile is enough to do the job? And 90% of what? What was the total number fired and what was the highest number fired at once?

You divide the percentages by each other, you don't add them.

Be it as it may if it comes up with greater than 0% it is too much by that much.

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 2:32 PM

Honestly, I cannot understand this obsession with Syria and it making peace with Israel.
They have peace for 36 years now.
Why try to perfect what's already perfect?

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 2:33 PM

Glasnost,
I enjoy your postings very much; I feel discussion with someone who disagrees with the mainstream (in any forum) without basically different interests, and without living on a fluffy cloud, is a very productive thing. This means we usually narrow down the sources of disagreement to differing views of what is actually present in reality; what a current situation is, and how a system is likely to evolve given certain inputs.

That being said: I disagree

The scenario you presented earlier, with an action by Hezbollah backed by a threat from Iran not deterring Israeli action, due to threat of counterattack, does not sound plausible to me. The implications of this non-plausibility is as significant as the non-plausibility itself.

Hashemi Rafsanjani put it eloquently: Israel is a one-bomb country. That means that if a fanatic decides to launch an attack, he can feel confident that a single successful warhead is all that is needed to accomplish his goal. This fact would not be lost on decision makers throughout the Middle East and World.
First among non-Israel/US, no one wants to back a loosing horse, especially with stakes this high (the other horse isn't around anymore). The lack of "robustness" in the Israel position, the degree of room for error, would be clear.
For the US, it is not certain that the strong support it gives Israel will continue, at least in the same degree, indefinitely. This is huge, seeing as how, given the general world hate of Israel, without the US Israel is pretty much screwed, at the very least as a liberal democracy (maintaining its existence/power while allowing degrees of dissent, and so error room, both domestically and among its neighbors). If you dispute this trend, just look at the rise of Arab advocacy groups in the US, or the psycho/cultural “Europeanization” of much of the US.
Now this decline is not going to be immediate; instead it will be more important on the long-term (~20+ years). However, I think the appreciable long-term consequences of whatever we talk about are far more important that even the few thousand lives that would be lost in any current action.
I’m sure that this value will be contested on various grounds, but I’m not going to discuss it now; however, I’d be happy to continue a post war about it later, though.
Before I continue, I want to address the position that noting the long-term threat that not-peace creates versus the benifits of peace. Since what I’m writing here is looking to climb past two pages in Word, I’ll try to keep this particular paragraph brief. First, peace through strength. Secondly, the inherent long term instability of the Middle East. Third, the primacy of securing against major threats of smaller probability versus reaping less major benefits of larger probability. Mathematically this is the comparative values of, for a given event, n=set of all conditions, Σ sub-j (0→n) (probability of condition j leading to event * probability condition j ), * major-ness event
(Sorry spent all day working on my dissertation)
Getting back to my point: therefore, in the long term, with a decline in the robustness of US support of Israel, it is possible that to some degree the US will not want to back a loosing horse either. This is obviously very bad for Israel. Aside from the obvious, it would act itterativly. Less US support means less chances of counterattack on Iran, which means increased chance of Iranian attack, which means Israel more likely is the loosing horse, which means less US support.
But it would also be bad for the US; loosing a guaranteed bastion of support in the Middle East would compromise the US’s strategic footing in the region (see Israeli deterrence of Syrian action during Black September). Besides this, how will the realpolitik-nics in other allies look at us wavering in support of an central ally? This would not bode well the US’s continued semi-hegemony of the world. And before someone launches into a rant deriding the desirability of hegemony, reflect on the alternatives; primacy of China or the local non-democratic chaos that is most of the rest of the world. This wouldn’t be much of a boon to our liberal do-good goals.
In Israel, even a small threat would be sufficient to effect decisions. The threat of annihilation is pretty heavy, even in relation to a few more conventional rockets from Lebanon. The vulnerability of the Israeli position would be infinitely clear. I’ll discuss the probability of Iranian attack in the next paragraph. But for a given perceived probability: Fine, we know we can nuke Iran back. But how ready are we to take even that tiny risk that they will nuke us? If they succeed, even if we nuke them back, its End Game for us. Would you be willing to take even that (underestimated) .1% chance that your country, most of what you believe in, you, your family, gets erased? Even if that means taking some more pounding from the locals? Besides which, I think that this additional pounding would be terrible for Israeli society. It would encourage extremism in Israel; look at what the rockets from Gaza did for Israeli approval of Cast Lead (separate of the operation’s morality).
Regarding the underestimation of the probability (or perceived probability) of attack:
Iran could soak up a few bombs; someone refresh me on the Iranian politician who said it would be worthy to exchange Tehran for Israel? While this position is surely reviled by most in Iran, it is important to remember that those who call the shots aren’t the educated elite or even the common citizen but instead individuals who believe their actions are undeniably and indisputably sanctioned and directed by God himself, above whom there is no higher authority or goal. I also would like to note that while it has been insightfully pointed out that most of these people are also pragmatists, they are pragmatists on their own terms. It could be worthy to exchange Tehran for Israel because they could still maintain control on their population (an exponential blame the outsider for the smoking crater that once was our capital), allowing them to continue directing the behavior of their populace in the service of God. It could be acceptable to loose control of their populace for now, because in time God will return the people to faith, and in the mean time one a great goal of God will have been fulfilled. I’m not saying this is the Ayatollah’s currently thought out and concluded position, but I would venture that the actual probability of all this is higher than you might initially suggest (aside from perception of this probability).
And how about Iran passing off the nuke to a shady terror group, who is difficult to trace back to Iran? With the legacy of Bush’s WMD fiasco, will there really be the will to attack Iran on less than absolute evidence? Let alone accounting for growth of liberals in a decade or two…
Sorry for making this posting so long. I’ve been a reader/supporter of Michael’s work for a while now, and these ideas have been stewing. Michael, if this post is too long, please let me know, and I’ll try to separate it into individual points.
If you got through it, thanks for reading ☺

Posted by: A-Squared Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 4:01 PM

Chamberlain deja vu: the Left's endless "might not" rationalizations for inaction in the face of growing threats are just pathetically sad---and profoundly dangerous. But then I'm not a New thinker. Interesting how the fewer the references to history's lessons, the more that term "new" shows up. Our teleprompter-in-chief (I respect the presidency, but I won't pretend I respect this lying, narcissistic fool) apparently hasn't noticed the success rate/results from years of "new" dialogues with Iran and North Korea. But when you bring new, why would you? I never thought anyone would out-Carter Carter.

Reality's such a great instructor, but only when lessons are heeded.

Point two: if free health care were enough, or even just a strong inducement, Miami wouldn't be much more than a senior center. I liked Michael's reference to the boot on the throat of the recipient of free---government-administered---healthcare.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 5:40 PM

A,

A lot of your assumptions are incorrect. Israel is not a one-bomb country, for starters. Go on the CSIS website and find Cordesman's analysis of an assumed average Iranian-Israel nuclear exchange. It's Iran that basically ceases to exist, Israel survives. It's not just possible, it's the most likely outcome.

Secondly, this is in no way a trade of "Teheran for Tel Aviv". Israel has air, missile, and sea-launch options, probably with MIRV ability (I have no proof of this, but it's within their technical grasp, no problem), and >100 warheads. Assuming maximum retaliation, which seems pretty damn likely to me, it's Tel Aviv for Iran's top 20 urban and military centers. And that's only the beginning. Some people might live, but the country would cease to exist. Just read the Cordesman analysis: he's a professional, not, no offense, one of the uninformed sacks of lard you find in political, ideological, and media discourse.

Lastly,

The scenario you presented earlier, with an action by Hezbollah backed by a threat from Iran not deterring Israeli action, due to threat of counterattack, does not sound plausible to me

This is your opening assumption, but you pretty much completely fail to provide either evidence or argument related to it. You simply start with the assumption and then go from there. Pray tell, why exactly, given Israel's assessment of the viability of their nation at stake for the exact reasons you suggest, and the holding of the levers of power at all levels by people versed in boiling history out to equal Chamberlain and Hitler, would they refuse? Can you find an example of a nuclear-armed nation refusing to combat aggression from another nuclear armed nation? Did the US back down in Berlin? Did we back down in Cuba? Did India back down in Kargil? Who backed down in the USSR-China fights? Why would this particular conflict, where Israel has even less room to appease overt proxy aggression and survive than some other powers, or at least perceives this to be true - be the first where one nuclear armed nation surrenders to another?

Would you be willing to take even that (underestimated) .1% chance that your country, most of what you believe in, you, your family, gets erased?

We all take that chance, and live with that possibility, every day. Israel's lived with that chance for most of its history. The 1% doctrine will kill Israel faster than an Iranian nuclear capability. If Iran was smart, in the aftermath of an Israeli strike and the aforementioned massive casualties, they would simply milk the court of world opinion for all it was worth and rebuild. They'd be able to make an ironclad argument for their need for deterrence the second time. The mantle of their victimhood would be unimpeachable. They'd probably have the chance to heal their rifts with the Gulf Arabs and get deals from Russia and even Western Europe previously unthinkable as a favor for showing restraint, while Israel would face an outpouring of world hostility. You want to see diminishing US support for Israel? Let them mount a unilateral massive air strike on the Iranian nuclear program.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 7:05 PM

"I have no proof of this"

You should put that on your letterhead, glasnost.

You're a classic.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 7:33 PM

Glastnost, I don't understand your thinking process a lot of the time. You confuse me.

Iran getting nukes is as bad as Pakistan getting nukes. Do you really think Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was a good thing? In 1998, Iran nearly invaded and eliminated the Taliban (because of their anti Shia massacres and their killing Iranian Shia.) They stopped because Pakistan and Pakistan's nuclear arsenal stood behind the Taliban.

Personally, I think the world would have been a lot better off if the Iranians had defeated the Taliban in 1998.

An Iranian nuclear arsenal probably means Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria going nuclear. The prospect of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria going nuclear is a very scary thought.

None of these dictatorships are very stable. Who knows what will happen if their governments fall?

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 22, 2009 11:19 AM

How sure are you that the Pakistani nuclear arsenal will remain under the secure control of the commander in chief of the Pakistani Army?

On Iran, let us try to see the world from Khamenei's perspective. The Shah was popular between 1953 and 1973 because Iran's economy grew very rapidly. Iran's economy contracted sharply between 1973 and 1979 (comparable to the Great Depression in the 1930s.) This is what led to the overthrow of the Shah.

Khamenei knows this history. His biggest priority is to stay in power; and the surest way for him to do this is a prosperous Iranian private sector. Can't he be persuaded to become Iran's Deng Xiaoping? Doesn't America and the rest of the world want Khamenei to become Iran's Deng Xiaoping, and aren't all of us willing to help him be successful in opening up the Iranian economy?

I think that this is what Obama is offering to help Khamenei become. I hope Khamenei chooses this course of action.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at May 23, 2009 11:41 PM

Glasnost,

Can you provide a link to that analysis by Cordesman? I know him, he's good.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 12:28 AM

Anand: I hope Khamenei chooses this course of action.

He won't. He isn't Deng. He's Mao. Surely there are some Deng-like people in the Iranian government, but Khameini isn't one of them.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 12:31 AM

anand,

"Khamenei...His biggest priority is to stay in power; and the surest way for him to do this is a prosperous Iranian private sector...aren't all of us willing to help him be successful in opening up the Iranian economy?"

NO!!! Why would any of us want fanatical thugs to prosper!?! Feed the snake so more offspring grow more deadly? Your innocent but twisted reasoning boggles my mind sometimes, anand.

Think, for example, about what the U.S. and France, to name two, were willing to offer in assistance toward peaceful nuclear energy in Iran---and Iran's response. How many carrots, over how many year-after-years now? Tells us...what?

Right now, I'm worried more about Pakistan than Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and North Korea combined.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 1:04 AM

Mao's a good analogy, Michael.

He isn't Joe Stalin, but Deng's no dream date as Plan B either.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 1:26 AM

Mao's red wave...

A friend, who grew up in Guangzhou, told me about what the family buried when the Cultural Disaster hit. She said a young kid from the army, younger than her, was assigned to be her math instructor. She and the rest of the class felt sorry for him, so they taught him.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 1:34 AM

If Khamenei is Mao that would be good news. Mao formed a de facto alliance with Nixon. Mao's successor opened up the Chinese economy. I hope Khamenei is another Mao.

I don't know if Khamenei can really be worked with; or if cooperation with Iran will have to await Khamenei's successor. But I think Pres Obama is right to try.

Paul, I think highly of Deng. Why don't you? The long term objective of the US should be to empower Iranian civil society and the Iranian private sector. In time these two forces will open up Iran and increase the freedom of the Iranian people.

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 1:43 AM

Deng. Let's see...human rights, Tibet, who publishes, who doesn't, who runs for office, who doesn't, what "internet access" means---and who's is jail and who isn't. But...he's not Kim Jong Il?

Heck, Mussolini got trains to run on time.

You honestly strike me as a good hearted person, anand. But your naivete is stunning---and sadly unsettling, because you're not alone.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 1:59 AM

Deng's pacification program...keep the masses distracted with the latest iThing and they'll forget about what they don't have.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 2:21 AM

Glastnost, I don't understand your thinking process a lot of the time. You confuse me.

Iran getting nukes is as bad as Pakistan getting nukes. Do you really think Pakistan's nuclear arsenal was a good thing?

Anand, you'll have to be more specific in your lack of understanding. But no, I don't think that the Pakistani, nor the Iranian bomb, is a good thing. I just think its badness is overrated and that many cures are worse than the disease. I don't know what I've written that would lead you to think otherwise.

Mike,

Have you read the Cordesman link to the Israeli preventative strike yet that I gave you already?

Here, this Ynet article is a good two-minute summary.

http://www.ynet.co.il/english/articles/0,7340,L-3486011,00.html

Really, the conclusions are extremely sensible when you think about it. Crude North Korea nukes vs. first-world nukes and a missile defense? Obliterative.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 3:15 AM

Paul,

Why shouldn't the Israelis have MIRVs? When I make an educated guess, I clearly label it as such. You want to blame me for not knowing super-classified military secrets? You want to call me out on what, specifically, I'm wrong about, or wrong to consider?

No, you don't. You just want to play-third grader games with my language and make rather vague insinuated insults, because you deal in psuedo-moralist, Fox News dipshittery on the Chamberlainian nature of war, and facts get in the way. Until you can demonstrate that you've done your homework, I will assume that you are a trained monkey with no idea what the fuck you are talking about and no interest in learning. People like you my fuel. Please come again; bring something falsifiable.

He isn't Deng. He's Mao. Surely there are some Deng-like people in the Iranian government, but Khameini isn't one of them.

I fail to see an appropriate comparison when sticking to the facts of observable behavior, as compared to, say, touchy-feely thinking about exactly how friendly the regime is. If you said "Brezhnev", you might have had at least an arguable case. But I'm sure you'll demonstrate that there's real thought behind that statement?

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 3:36 AM

I'm not actively in favor of bribing Syria; I'm not really against it, either. If you reach detente with either Iran or Hizballah, Syria becomes basically surplus, and those would be my preferred areas of concentration.

So you want us to bribe Hezbollah and Iran, is it? I have no idea what you mean by "detente" but its remotely possible that US differences with Iran can be resolved diplomatically. That is not the case with Hezbollah. The US can never come to "terms" with Hezbollah, and one of the things that would have to happen before the US could reach the aforementioned "detente" with Iran would be that Iran would have to throw Hezbollah over the side. Which is unlikely to happen. But to suggest the US can be on decent terms with Iran while it continues to sponsor a terror group that has a long history of victimizing Americans is like suggesting Pakistan could embrace Al Qaida and the US would remain on good terms with Pakistan. What you are suggesting is for the US to surrender in the war on terror. Sorry, but that's asinine and that isn't what Obama promised. He promised to DEFEAT terrorism.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 5:57 AM

Sorry, but that's asinine and that isn't what Obama promised. He promised to DEFEAT terrorism.

I doubt it. Got a quote?

But to suggest the US can be on decent terms with Iran while it continues to sponsor a terror group that has a long history of victimizing Americans is like suggesting Pakistan could embrace Al Qaida and the US would remain on good terms with Pakistan.

Again, I doubt it. Whether you like it or not, Al-Qaeda has a special and unique status in the minds of the American public and elite. We're not reconcilable with Al Qaeda, and part of it is because of the unique damage they did to us. But another part, and you're not wise to ignore it, is the global and sponsorless nature of the movement. Al Qeada commands loyalty among no national or substantial subnational population. Those are the kinds of groups that are eradicated - they tend to be even more ruthless, but also because they're easier to eradicate. Other than Al-Queda, there aren't any groups out there that we can't make peace with, assuming said peace resulted in actual peace.

Hizballah kidnapped some Americans in Lebanon twenty years ago and made some deadly attacks against US targets in the Middle-East at around the same time. It made them a serious threat at the time to US forces in the Middle East, and a legitimate enemy. But things could easily change. They already have, actually. That's why Americans in Lebanon in 2006 were targets of media manipulation instead of kidnapping.

I understand that you have a personal dedication to venegance, or justice, or something in between, but whatever it is, it's something often sold out by nations and movements that decide to bury the hatchet. Those who reject the move to peace.. or even just an absence of war.. are known as the rejectionists. They get a lot of people unecessarily killed. Hizballah contains a lot of rejectionists, out seeking revenge for their dead friends till the world comes to and end or their leaders say otherwise.
Not a good model.

Hizballah could easily move from belligerent posturing with a side of violent confrontation to pure belligerent posturing.. and, over time, probably to the kind of harmless WWE-style rhetoricism of, say, Hugo Chavez, whose anti-Americanism has been bravely limited to weapons purchases and trash talk. Then they could lose an election or two and change their ways almost completely. If you have an alternative happy ending for the Shia of Lebanon, I'm all ears. Most people committed to the infinite unreformability of the movement are also committed to the "Lebanon is fucked" view of Lebanon. It's not a coincidence.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 1:22 PM

Is this statement of the fact or is this wishful thinking?

Why don't you find out for yourself? Go look into the estimate of Iran's total stock of IRBMs and MRBMs. Tell me what you find. If you have even more time on your hands, go a step further and see how many IRBM and MRBM-capable launch sites they have. I can't remember where I saw this, but I'd be very surprised if it was more than five-ten. Launching one thousand MRBM's at once, even if they had 1000 of them, and they don't, and they've been making them for a decade - would be a technical feat of staggering magnitude. I don't think any country on earth has ever done it, although US and Soviet war plans for the Big One might have approached it.

At the peak of its game, with another decade to practice, I would say that Iran would be hard pressed to launch ten MRBM's in an hour. And they wouldn't be likely to get a second hour. I'm not completely confident of the estimate, of course, nor should I be. Maybe I'm overly pessimistic, and the number is twenty. The point is that they are severely pressed, and will be for the forseeable future, to overcome even the missile defense that Israel already has, even to get one or two missiles through (and why would they be the one or two with the warhead?)

Yet another reason why the media is full of dishonest, lazy, threatmongering gasbags. It's really a shame that hardly anyone has bothered to do their homework on this. Why bother, when you can write hysterical bullshit for a fat check, and the audience will lap it up? Why bother to actually run the scenarios realistically? Shooting first and asking questions later is easy Doing the homework is a drag, man. We have a product to sell.

I've actually gotten a lot madder about this by the end of writing about it then I was at the beginning. I'm no better than anyone else; I found that Cordesman analysis for the first time today during this. I had a general sense that the technical challenges to an Iranian strike were underdiscussed and underconsidered, but I didn't get the full extent of it until I began to play it out on this comment section.

Here, Mike. I refound the bloody scenario.

http://www.csis.org/component/option,com_csis_pubs/task,view/id,4172/type,1/

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 1:40 PM

Not to be even more obnoxious than I already am or anything, but it's been a while since I pwned a discussion this thoroughly on here :-D

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 2:24 PM

anand,

Addressing the but-on-the-other-hand side of oppressive regimes, it comes down to that precious, "dangerous" commodity, freedom.

I had a Saudi classmate once, a woman from Jedda. She hated going home; she called it the gold-plated prison. The family males determined every tiny aspect of her life. Might have mentioned this before, but I've never forgotten her saying "If you came to my country you'd feel like you had just landed on the moon---and you're a male."

Gold plating can't substitute.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 5:34 PM

"If you came to my country you'd feel like you had just landed on the moon---and you're a male."

Reminds me of that line in the movie The Kingdom by an FBI agent who was asked by another what Saudi Arabia is like. "It's a little bit like Mars," he said.

I rather like that movie. It and Traitor are the best "war on terror" movies that have come out of Hollywood so far. The rest are pretty much crap.

Posted by: Michael J. Totten Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 5:40 PM

I doubt it. Got a quote?

You didn't listen to his inauguration speech? lol.

Not to be even more obnoxious than I already am or anything, but it's been a while since I pwned a discussion this thoroughly on here :-D

It's interesting you feel that way, since from where I'm sitting it seems like you are making a fool of yourself. Your last batch of comments are so embarrassing I can't even muster up any motivation to reply. Do you realize that are saying there isn't anything inherently WRONG with terrorism? That's not even leftist talk, glasnost. That's pure idiocy.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 10:21 PM

If you have an alternative happy ending for the Shia of Lebanon, I'm all ears.

PS-What kind of person thinks it is America's job to provide a "happy ending" to the Shia of Lebanon, or to anyone else on the planet, glasnost? Isn't that the job of the Shia of Lebanon?

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 24, 2009 10:28 PM

glasnost',

Very detailed and interesting reply. Unfortunately only one thing that looks really important:

(and why would they [Iranian missiles] be the one or two with the warhead?)

Why are you willing to play with people's lives?

Posted by: leo Author Profile Page at May 25, 2009 12:07 AM

"Israel is not a one-bomb country, for starters."

Apparently, not everyone agrees with glasnost:

http://tinyurl.com/qeewdy

Not that I'm trying to "pwn" glasnost or anything. Oh, I forgot, Anthony Cordesman is the Voice of God or something, right?

"Hizballah could easily move from belligerent posturing with a side of violent confrontation to pure belligerent posturing.. and, over time, probably to the kind of harmless WWE-style rhetoricism of, say, Hugo Chavez"

I like glasnost's gold standard here - Hugo Chavez. Now suppose instead of Venezuela, Chavez ran Mexico, and were supporting violent insurgents kidnapping American soldiers ...

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at May 25, 2009 12:22 AM

Reading quotes from "The Kingdom" at IMDB makes me want to check it out. Thanks for the mention, Michael.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 25, 2009 12:42 AM

Gary,

Hugo, having learned how to partner with/pay off FARC, MANY ("harmless"?) deals farther north are possible today.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 25, 2009 1:00 AM

Particularly for such an ambitious entrepreneur whose cash flow has been "fluctuating" recently.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 25, 2009 1:11 AM

Glasnost, if you were the elected president of Columbia, what would you do to persuade Chavez to stop supporting FARC and other parts of the armed Colombian resistance?

What does Chavez do that is objectionable aside from causing trouble in Columbia and sending money to political candidates in other Latin American countries?

Posted by: anand Author Profile Page at May 25, 2009 10:03 AM

"What does Chavez do that is objectionable aside from causing trouble in Columbia and sending money to political candidates in other Latin American countries?"

He persecutes the Jewish community of Venezuela. Of course, to anand that's not "objectionable", it's a point in his favor.

Posted by: Gary Rosen Author Profile Page at May 25, 2009 9:11 PM

Do you realize that are saying there isn't anything inherently WRONG with terrorism?

Of course I don't realize that, because it's what's known as "putting words in my mouth". I made an assessment of US policies in the past and future that had nothing to do with morality. But for the record, I believe that morality demands the prevention of harm via the least harmful - meaning, in this case, violent - methods available.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 26, 2009 6:01 AM

But for the record, I believe that morality demands the prevention of harm via the least harmful - meaning, in this case, violent - methods available.

In Rwanda, the UN aimed for prevention of harm via the least violent methods available. Self defense is often a violent act. Violence isn't always the least moral solution.

Posted by: maryatexitzero Author Profile Page at May 26, 2009 9:10 AM

Of course I don't realize that, because it's what's known as "putting words in my mouth".

If it makes you feel better to justify your opinion that the US should just forget about the mass murder of its citizens by pretending its only a "policy" decision, then that's your business. I didn't put "words in your mouth" - you twist your own words around, for your own purposes. This is what you said:

Hizballah could easily move from belligerent posturing with a side of violent confrontation to pure belligerent posturing.. and, over time, probably to the kind of harmless WWE-style rhetoricism...

Implication being, the US should then forgive and forget. There is to be no justice for the many victims of Hezbollah? That's bullshit and you know it. And it is in fact a statement that there isn't anything inherently wrong with terrorism. You believe that no matter what terrorist do in the past, if they change their behavior that they should be forgiven. That's morally reprehensible.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 26, 2009 11:00 AM

Chavez: having become a pariah to critically thinking investors, he drives a once thriving, diversified economy into the ground. As someone observed about Fidel, he levels out the poverty---but not at his expense. I know it's a hemispheric detour from our ongoing topics, but I can't help reflecting on it, and its tragic, broader implications. Sadness wherever I look, it seems.

Posted by: Paul S. Author Profile Page at May 27, 2009 1:18 AM

Craig, compare and contrast:

Do you realize that are saying there isn't anything inherently WRONG with terrorism?

Implication being, the US should then forgive and forget.

And you accuse ME of twisting MY words around? Exactly how would you classify your current behavior? Would you like to settle on exactly what blasphemy you think I'm committing before you come back?

You believe that no matter what terrorist do in the past, if they change their behavior that they should be forgiven. That's morally reprehensible.

Well, hey, you know, that's the problem with morality, isn't it? What you makes you want to puke is for me all in a day's work. And there's nothing you can do about it. I imagine the feeling is mutual. I will say, though, that I don't know where you're getting your ideas on morality from.. Neitzsche? Ba'al? Rambo? In the Christian value system, forgiveness is always required and never immoral. Period.

But that's really irrelevant. Nation-states operate under different moral frameworks than individuals, which is why they can do things like vaporize Nagasaki. Or, to put it another, states act immorally all the time. The law is the law of the jungle, and that applies, I suppose, to "immoral" acts of peace as well as those of war. Who exactly is going to stop them? My statement wasn't even meant as a recommendation in the first place, which I've been trying to drive through your thick skull for some time now. It was a history / capability assessment.

Posted by: glasnost Author Profile Page at May 27, 2009 3:37 AM

First you deny it and then you admit it but claim its part of the "Christian" value system? lol.

No, buddy. There is no part of the Christian value system that implies people should not be punished for wrongs they have done.

But that's really irrelevant. Nation-states operate under different moral frameworks than individuals, which is why they can do things like vaporize Nagasaki. Or, to put it another, states act immorally all the time.

So what stops us from carpet bombing Southern Lebanon with the B-52 fleet, if not morality? What stops us from ending Iran's nuclear weapon development with a pre-emptive first strike on their weapons facilities with tactical nukes, if not morality?

Sorry, glasnost, I'm not buying it. You advocate that the US should act in an immoral way when it suits your personal preference, but I'm guessing you would be amongst the first to condemn the US for its behavior if it did something you viewed as immoral, if the result was a major ideological setback for you, glasnost.

And just a note: please leave religion out of future discussions with me.

Posted by: programmmer_craig Author Profile Page at May 27, 2009 6:21 AM

Glasnost

I must delaying writing a complete response

But
the idea that proposed threat-counterthreat scenario is unlikely was not my assumption; it was what I spent the article discussing. Try reading for content, not for criticism. If Israel was scared that Iran might actually drop the bomb its actions would be much more restrained.

Oh and baring the Taliban capturing Pakistani nukes, Iranian nukes are much worse. Pakistani nukes haven't caused a regional arms race through the middle east, while Iranian nukes likely would. Pakistan has not threatened to wipe another country off the map, even its arch nemesis India. And Pakistan doesn't deny an epitome of modern genocide enacted on the ancestors of that same country. Pakistan does not have dreams of an empire with goals of regional acendancy. Pakistan does not have proxy armies surrounding its enemies, while building its forces in additional countries (Egypt). Ect. Ect.

Anyway, I hope this article is informative

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/05/27/EDVG17RTV1.DTL

Posted by: A-Squared Author Profile Page at May 28, 2009 2:57 AM

Correction

Iran having nukes is worse that Pakistan assuming the baddies don't get their hands on them in Pakistan
Lately seems like a big assumption
At least Iran's badness is dependable
All this talk of Pakistani nuke development is wigging me out
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/27/AR2009052703706.html?nav=rss_email/components

Posted by: A-Squared Author Profile Page at May 28, 2009 3:03 AM
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