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January 17, 2006

We're MAD Tough

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Folks on this site and elsewhere have been thinking about what Democrats should say if negotiations fail and Iran proceeds toward getting nuclear weapons.  As I see it, there are three major desiderata here. We want to (1) Keep the Bush Administration from engaging in stupid slaughter that strengthens the hand of the forces we like least within Iran, (2) Enunciate a strategy that actually works, so we can use it when we're running things, and (3) Sound non-wussy to your average semi-militaristic American voter, so Bush doesn't beat us up with this issue in 2006. 

Lots of grave talk about Mutually Assured Destruction would help us accomplish all of these goals.  It shows why Iranian nukes don't necessarily justify military action -- nobody is crazy enough to face the consequences of a nuclear attack on America or one of its allies.  Nuclear deterrence will be part of anybody's foreign policy.  And when you describe a counterfactual situation where you're willing to destroy millions of people with the most horrific weapons in the history of mankind, nobody will think you're too chicken to use military force in defense of America.

January 17, 2006 in Iran | Permalink


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Meh. How do we answer the "but they're just CR-azy" claims? Personally I think the most exteme elements of Ahmadinejad's rhetoric are mostly for domestic consumption, but this looks very much like a redux of the whole "Smoking gun-Mushroom cloud" meme.

Posted by: Pooh | Jan 17, 2006 12:58:29 AM

This is, perhaps, one of the worst parts of the war in Iraq. Iraq was not attacked because it possessed WMDs, but if it HAD possessed WMDs, it would have been safer from attack. Let's say you're one of the remaining two of the three members of the Axis of Evil: what are your incentives?

Posted by: Julian Elson | Jan 17, 2006 1:08:47 AM

"He has some crazy views. But he's not crazy enough to want everyone in Iran to die, or to see every holy site in his country reduced to ashes and glass."

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jan 17, 2006 1:09:19 AM

I agree with Pooh. Ahmadinejad is apparently as demagogic and buffoonish as Bush. Neocons et al will compare him to suicide bombers and insist that he'd love to trade destruction of Iran for destruction of Israel. It will take strong, vivid language to make containment sound convincing, maybe some cool maps and graphics showing all our bases and fleets surrounding Iran.

Posted by: Gary Sugar | Jan 17, 2006 1:25:21 AM

States don't generally behave like individual fanatics, ready to commit suicide for the sake of the cause. A state is its own cause; it makes no sense for it to 'commit suicide'.

I haven't researched the matter, but I'd have to say the set of instances where a nation-state willingly and knowingly subjected itself to annihilation is pretty goddamn small, if not empty.

Maybe this is too subtle of an argument for numbskull voters; I don't know. People lived for generations with the idea of MAD vis-a-vis the USSR, but the public perception of the 'commies' was that they were rational, calculating, etc., whereas the perception of Islamic fundamentalists is that they are irrational, random, suicidal, etc.

But still, Neil's strategy is the best course, because it's actually correct, and I don't think it would be THAT difficult to persuade people of that.

Posted by: Dadahead | Jan 17, 2006 1:37:51 AM

So the best option, according to you, if I understand it correctly, is to accept a nuclear Iran and hope MAD works.

So you guys are willing to risk the safety of the world on the Iranian's acting rationally. Just sit back, let them get the bomb, and then rely on the fact that they aren't crazy enough to start something they can't win.

How can you be sure Ahmadinejad's not that crazy? If the extremist talk is for 'domestic consumption', doesn't that say something about the Iranians? And isn't it a little wrong to believe they are going to act the same way you would act - that they think the same way you do? Despite what they say?

In the early '80s, Sting wrote a song called "The Russians" - it was on Dream of the Blue Turtles, his debut solo album. It was a beautiful piece, about the cold war and the conflict between Reagan and Kruschev. The chorus had a line: "I hope the Russians love their children too".

I've thought a lot about that line over the past 5 years. Sure, I'm positive muslims love their children as much as we love ours. But you can't ignore the number of suicide attacks in Israel, Iraq and now Afghanistan (not to mention 9/11, London and Madrid). You also can't ignore the glorification of suicide bombers, jihad and martyrdom that's all over the Muslim world.

So I'm not sure that relying on Islamic sensibilities to not press the button is that smart an idea. Perhaps if they do have the bomb, it's the only way to go. But until they have it, I think it would be prudent to do everything we can reasonably do to stop them from getting it.

Posted by: Nathan | Jan 17, 2006 6:07:31 AM

Would Iran be detered from using nukes by MAD? Perhaps. Although history has taught us that people who want to kill a lot of Jews are often serious about it, and will go to great lengths to accomplish that goal.

Even if Iran didn't seriously intend to destroy Israel, there is a descent chance that they will convince Israel that they have that intention by mistake, prompting a pre-emptive Israeli nuclear strike. There were a few times during the cold war when that came close to happening. We got lucky during the cold war, and no one made a terrible mistake, but even if Iran is rational, such a mistake could occur.

There is also of course the possibility that Iran might use nukes as a sheild to allow for conventional expansion. That would not be a desirable outcome either.

I find it disturbing though that those commenting here, are so quick to give up and accept Iran having nukes. The greatest concern that you seem to have is not that Iranian nukes will exist, but that you will lose ground in 2006. I would happily trade major Republican losses in the coming election for a non-nuclear Iran. I would trade losing the house and the Senate and the Presidency in 2008 for that outcome. I find is sad that you seem to not share that view.

Posted by: Dave Justus | Jan 17, 2006 7:56:31 AM

So the best option, according to you, if I understand it correctly, is to accept a nuclear Iran and hope MAD works.

That's their answer....arm our potential enemies.


Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 17, 2006 10:35:30 AM

Maybe it's because she doesn't believe in blowing her own horn that hard that Global Citizen hasn't mentioned her own post. She lived in Iran and has posted informed impressions on her home blog, Blue Girl, Red State.

Posted by: opit | Jan 17, 2006 11:14:53 AM

The other half of the plan, guys is to not further inflame anti-American passions in Iran by bombing stuff. If Iran becomes a stable and less frightening country two decades from now, it's no problem for them to have the bomb.

Anyone contemplating military action against Iran is basically giving up on this side of the plan. A policy of bombing Iran whenever they do something we don't like guarantees you an Iran that hates America forever.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jan 17, 2006 11:21:23 AM

Yahoo has been sending a journalist named Kevin Sites around to all sorts of crazy places in the world. He's been in Iran lately -- you can see his latest posts here.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jan 17, 2006 11:38:15 AM

Actually, I don't think that military action against Iran now would guarantee an Iran that hates America forever.

I think the world has been so poisoned against President Bush that, once he leaves power in 3 years, we'd be able to deal with them diplomatically again.

That's not to say that I think we should use military action - I personally doubt that it would be effective. Maybe set them back one year. But I just don't know.

Posted by: Nathan | Jan 17, 2006 1:45:06 PM

Well, one use of military action won't do that, Nathan. The worry is more that one use will get Iran angry at us so diplomacy will fail in the next crisis we have, and we'll have to go military again. And again.

The only permanent solution to the Iran problem is to have that country change into a country that respects human rights and is at peace with America. That's what liberals are playing for, in the end.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jan 17, 2006 2:26:21 PM

Of the oil exporting states that are at peace with America, some (the European ones) do respect human rights; but the rest (non-European) are US puppet dictatorships that don't respect human rights; and our government couldn't care less.

Of the oil exporting states that aren't at peace with America, some, like Venezuela, do respect human rights. But our government wants regime change for another puppet dictatorship anyway.

Posted by: Gary Sugar | Jan 17, 2006 2:39:59 PM

I think some of the objections here are from people who are opposed, on principle, to anything Dems argue, so the point isn't to win them over. But I think this is _part_ of a strong argument for a more middle of the road voter. One of the things it lets you do, I think, is to emphasize that we really have no effective way of preventing Iran from getting nukes - and that this is largely Bush's fault. Bush has had 5 years to deal with Iran diplomatically; he has failed. He's wasting our army in Iraq, so it can't be used where we may need it more: a failure. And his "nation-building" in Iraq has actually increased Iran's regional power: a staggering failure.

"So, what's the Dems plan?"

Well, Wolf, we're sorry that Bush has fucked things up so massively. We still have a few (weak) diplomatic options, but it's important that we be honest with the American people: we can't "just take out their nukes" militarily. It would probably fail logistically, and would only increase Islamic hatred for America. What Iran needs to understand is that we can be your best friend or your worst enemy. And if Iranian nukes every found their way to an American ally, that would be the end of Iran as a habitable land. The Taliban learned the consequences of harming Americans (a war Democrats almost unanimously supported, BTW); I hope Ahmadinejad learned that lesson, as well.

Posted by: JRoth | Jan 17, 2006 5:10:52 PM

One of the things it lets you do, I think, is to emphasize that we really have no effective way of preventing Iran from getting nukes - and that this is largely Bush's fault. Bush has had 5 years to deal with Iran diplomatically; he has failed.

Iran Nuclear Milestones


The Risk Report
Volume 6 Number 4 (July-August 2000)

1967: Start-up of the U.S.-supplied 5-megawatt research reactor at Tehran University.

1970: Iran signs the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

1974: Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) is established.

1979: German construction of the Bushehr reactors is suspended because of the Islamic revolution.

1980: Iraq invades Iran and triggers a war that lasts eight years.

1987-88: Bushehr reactors are heavily damaged by Iraqi bombing raids.

1990: Iran signs a ten-year nuclear cooperation agreement with China.

1992: After a week-long inspection in Iran, an IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) team finds no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapon program.

1993: The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) says Iran is 8-10 years away from acquiring nuclear weapons and says foreign assistance will be critical to the effort.

1994: Iran signs a contract with China's National Nuclear Corporation for the supply of two 300-megawatt power reactors and continues to shop for a heavy water research reactor.

1995: President Clinton issues an executive order imposing an economic embargo on Iran, barring trade, investment and the purchase of Iranian oil by U.S. companies.

1995: Iran signs a contract with Russia to complete one of the Bushehr reactors and tries to buy a uranium enrichment plant.

January 1997: China cancels plans to build a nuclear power plant in Iran.

January 1997: 200 Russian engineers lay the groundwork for the construction of a light-water VVER-1000 reactor in Bushehr.

February 1997: President Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani says Iran is not interested in developing a nuclear bomb or chemical/biological weapons.

August 1997: The IAEA finds no evidence of clandestine or undeclared military nuclear activity at research reactors in Bonab and Ramsar in northern Iran.

February 1998: American pressure forces Turboatom, a Ukrainian manufacturer of steam turbines, to abandon its $45 million deal to supply turbines to Bushehr.

April 1998: Russia proposes to build a research reactor in Iran using 20% enriched uranium.

October 1998: Western intelligence is reported to believe that the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI) is mounting an effort to procure equipment for laser enrichment of nuclear materials.

February 1999: The United States imposes sanctions on ten Russian entities for alleged sales of nuclear and missile technology to Iran.

April 1999: The Izhorskiye Zavod machine-building company of St. Petersburg begins production of equipment for the primary circuit at Bushehr, including the reactor vessel, steam generator casing, and internals.

October 1999: Iran threatens to withhold further nuclear contracts from Russia for failing to complete the Bushehr plant in time.

January 2000: The CIA speculates that Iran might be able to make a nuclear weapon. The finding isn't apparently based on reliable evidence, but on the fact that it is unable to track Iran's covert efforts to acquire nuclear materials and technology on the international black market.

January 2000: Iran announces that it is no longer working with China on nuclear projects.

February 2000: The U.S. Senate approves legislation that would impose sanctions on entities assisting Iran's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs.

February 2000: Russia's Ministry of Atomic Energy acknowledges that the Bushehr project is running 18 months behind schedule.

April 2000: The Czech government, under pressure from the United States, bans companies from supplying parts to Bushehr. The ZVVZ Milevsko company had planned to provide Bushehr with air conditioning equipment.

June 2000: Russia's deputy minister for atomic energy says the Bushehr plant will be completed in 2002. Russia is expected to earn $1 billion from the project.

August 2000: In its report on worldwide proliferation, the CIA says Iran sought nuclear-related equipment, material, and technical expertise from a variety of sources, especially in Russia, during the second half of 1999, and that Russian entities continued to interact with Iranian research centers on various activities.

And what about Presnit Clinton?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 17, 2006 5:35:24 PM

The solution to Iran has been worked out. Iran is afraid, and with good reason. They are backed into a corner. Their entire way of life is under the global corporate microscope.

The solution is that Russia pipes processed nuke material to them which can't be used for weapons. This can be done FREE OF CHARGE. Yes, we will be buying them out, just like we have bought out North Korea for the past 10 to 15 years.

If Iran doesn't go for this, then the world will see that their intentions are not good. Thus, the entire world community will be involved in a situation much more like Afganistan than Iraq. Global sanctions followed by surgical strikes and eventually all out war with the UN.

Posted by: anony | Jan 17, 2006 8:59:56 PM

also, playing MAD with Iran would truly be mad. That is not an option.

Posted by: anony | Jan 17, 2006 9:02:34 PM

Jeebus Farking Cripes, will you pathetic, gutless, worthless Republicans EVER take responsibility for your own actions? For five years, you have had absolute control over all 3 branches of government (excepting a brief, ineffectual Senate interregnum). Your president considers himself above all Constitutional restrictions and Congressional statutes. But anytime anything goes wrong, you're desperate to blame the Clenis.

Look, if the situation in Iran in 2000 was untenable, then Bush should have run on it: "The Clinton-Gore admin. has allowed Iran to get to the point where, no matter what I do in the next 5 years, Iran will get the bomb. That's right, folks - there's nothing I can do to stop them. NO matter what. Even if, for some reason, I get a 90% approval rating, a pliable Congress, and the sympathy of the entire civilized world behind me, Iran will get the bomb in 2006 or 2007."

I don't recall him saying that. Do you?

Party of personal responsibility my ass. You people make me ashamed to share a country with such spineless children.

Posted by: JRoth | Jan 17, 2006 9:31:53 PM

Hot damn!

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Jan 17, 2006 10:57:22 PM

My point was the ol' song "GET BUSH" is not entirely appropriate. Clinton also watched for EIGHT YEARS. It's much easier to change the course early in the game. However, like many other issues, Clinton kicked the can down the road so he would not have to deal with the tough issues.

However, now certainly *IS* the time to deal with them and I am glad Bush is there instead of a wimpy Democrat like ALGORE, the "French" American.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 18, 2006 9:06:13 AM

I might also add that people right here that claim to be Democrats are actually that Iran become a nuclear power.

How do you apologize for that?

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 18, 2006 9:07:49 AM

Um, Fred, do you want to apologize for not writing a simple English sentence? I have no idea what you're trying to say at 6:07.

At 6:06 you pretty much confirmed my assessment of you as a child. As Washington and Lafayette would remind you, "French" is not an insult in this country. Indeed, if you and your idiot president had listened to the French, you would have known before March '03 that Hussein represented essentially zero threat to the United States of America. Instead, like the petulant children you are, you called them Freedom fries and wasted our blood, treasure, and reputation creating an Iranian client state and al Qaeda training ground where before we had an enemy to both that was no threat to us. Meanwhile, maybe March '03 would have been a decent time to deal with a tough issue, such as Iranian nukes. Instead, Bush kicked the can down the road. After all, Iran would have been a much harder invasion. And Bush wanted a "cakewalk." Of course, to our everlasting sorrow, we didn't get one in Iraq, either. When do you apologize for that?

Posted by: JRoth | Jan 18, 2006 10:13:28 AM

...you pretty much confirmed my assessment of you as a child.

Just imagine how much I care.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Jan 18, 2006 11:47:26 AM

Ahmadinejad is apparently as demagogic and buffoonish as Bush.


Excuse my cynicism here, but this sounds awfully like the usual propaganda that comes out whenever the West wants to beat the war drum. Remember those awful Iraqis throwing babies out of incubators? Remember those tens of thousands of mass graves in Kosovo, downgraded quietly to thousands after the event?

Iran has some very good reasons for wanting nuclear weapons, not least of which is to deter the US. I suggest that we consider the level of evidence given to demonstrate that Ahmadinejad is crazy. I also suggest that we consider the minor point that Ahmadinejad is an elected official who started his term in 2005 - not a dictator, not a thug who murdered his way to power, not someone who will equate losing power with death.

If you take a read of his bio, you'll see that the one-dimensional portrait of him on these blogs seems very very wrong. He's anti-American and pro-Islam - but he has a PhD in engineering, a hostory as a mayor mixing populatr measures with religious conservatism, and he doesn't look like an ego maniac.

Posted by: Phoenician in a time of Romans | Jan 19, 2006 12:26:45 AM

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