Tuesday, January 10, 2006

We should take them at their word

Someone asked me if I was worried about going to Baghdad because of all the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and I said, "No, I have my insurance all paid up and frankly, IEDs are down near the bottom of the list in terms of threat to Baghdad." My interlocutor asked what I meant by that and I said "In the next year, it is much more likely that Iran will get a nuke and use it on Baghdad, because when they do, they will get a two-fer. Destroying the capital of the hated Iraqis and killing 100,000 of the hated Great Satans at the same time."

Iran is developing a nuclear weapon for one reason, to use it. Nowadays, sane countries develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent. The most recent example are the weapons developed by Pakistan and India. Both these countries saw the other as a real threat and worked assiduously to develop nuclear weapons to deter the other from an attack. Each having the weapons was enough to force the other side to peace negotiations, a peace that is holding. Rational countries recognize and welcome peace, even if it is the peace of d├ętente or of mutually assured destruction. Irrational countries, namely Iran, are unmoored from these concerns. These bad actors look at the destruction they can visit on their enemy, and discount the destruction they themselves will experience in return. In the words of Rachel Neuwirth; "Iran, with 70 million people, could absorb and survive any response from Israel while Israel, with only 5.5 million Jews, is vulnerable to devastating losses if only a few of Iran's missiles got through." This is the essence of the problem, Iran can effect the Final Solution at an acceptable cost, so we can be assured they will.

How is it that we know that? We listen to their own words. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran in October call for Israel to be "wiped off the map." The President of the country, a supposedly democratically elected official, is calling for another country to be wiped off the map. I hate to make the extermination of Jews sound like a pedestrian electoral concern, but when an elected president makes a widely reported promise, he will be under pressure to fulfill it or face humiliation and defeat if he backs down. President Ahmadinejad promises to wipe Israel off the map. Once he gets the bomb, his constituents (the equally crazy Mullahs of Iran) will expect him to do what he says. We should give him the courtesy of taking him at his word.

This isn't a question of faulty intelligence or competing analyses. We have the president of Iran threatening one of the closest allies of the United States with nuclear annihilation. Intelligence analysts must resist the temptation to look beneath the plain words to discern what President Ahmadinejad "really" means. He says Israel should be wiped off the map and he is working to build a bomb. These are three really big dots you can use a crayon to connect.

Now to be fair, there are other reasons that Iran might want to build a bomb, other than to just exterminate Israel. Iran sees that they have three enemies in the world, the US (Great Satan), Israel (Little Satan) and Iraq. Building a bomb arguably can deter the US from conventional attack, and can menace and intimidate Iraq, in addition to wiping Israel off the map. These considerations hearken back to my earlier observation that Iran is unmoored from concerns about mutually assured destruction that restrain every other nation that possesses nuclear weapons.Israel is too small to worry about proportionate response, Iraq does not have nuclear weapons and the Iran does not have a delivery system capable of menacing the Continental US.

Assuming that Iran is full of rational actors, (something I certainly DON'T assume), and given "balance of power" theory, a nuclear armed Iraq can operate with impunity. And since balance of power theory (and practice) shows that countries will accumulate power until they are checked, Iran will not willingly forgo acquiring weapons. So whether you judge Iran as a rational or irrational actor, the rest of the world is faced with a situation where Iran's acquisition and use of nuclear weapons are in their own national interest.

So we are faced with a race against time. More on this later