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Mutually Assured Destruction

by on June 16, 2011

A few years ago in an upper division political science class regarding international relations – in fact, it may have been the IR course taught by Barry Preisler, who should always teach that class (others will disagree) – I asked a question that we need to ask more often:

ME: OK, so I get why we pursued our containment policy while the Cold War was going on. I don’t like the policy, but I get it. But why are we doing the same thing now, 20 years later?

Dr. Preisler: Exactly.

Barry Preisler falls into my category of ‘excellent teacher,’ but he was unable to show, except by example after example, course after course, why the United States pursues the same policy over and over.  I wish I could describe it in a few easy words: jingoism, hubris, nationalism, moral superiority, human rights; — but all of those are just labels, and can’t quite describe why we pursue a Cold War policy after Our Enemy Is Beaten.

The Obama administration, which might be said to include us, the citizens, is involved in several wars.  He inherited Afghanistan, which was launched on the presumption of an eye for an eye; Iraq, which was launched on the assumption it would be a ‘cakewalk’ to put L. Paul Bremer in charge of a transitional Coalition Provisional Authority; Yemen, which we were never told about because two wars we didn’t declare is enough; Pakistan, because the eye-for-an-eye in Afghanistan involves the neighbors; and Libya, launched on the predication we’re doing something for human rights (but not Syria, which produces 1/4 as much oil as Libya and has at least as bad a human rights record as Libya).  That, of course, is not enough for those who like war (AIPAC). The Iranian government is disconcerting to those who like war and is disconcerting to those who like peace.

“If you listen to Iran hawks on the right, Iran is hell bent on getting a nuclear weapon.  They just know that’s what Iran wants, despite, as Roger Cohen suggests, no evidence or logical basis supporting their conclusion.” This sounds familiar. An article for NIAC (The National Iranian American Council) calls this “eerily familiar” to the language used in 2002, before the invasion of Iraq.  And it’s the same Cold War language we never abandoned.  Those hawks on the right – and those hawks claim the American Eagle as their emblem – suggest a ‘limited sortie,” which is something like the Libyan enterprise which is approaching a billion dollars.  And by ‘limited sortie’ they just mean bomb the suckers a few times.

The same NIAC article – and who might guess the thoughts of Iranians if not Iranians themselves – suggests that “for us to assume Iran would not respond to ‘limited strikes’, that Iran would slow or end its enrichment of uranium, that Iran would somehow become more pliant in its reporting, and that the rest of the Middle East would remain quiet, is recklessly naive at best.”  I know it wouldn’t make me stop working on nuclear weapons if you bombed me a few times.  Thankfully, I have no idea how to build a nuclear weapon, and IAEA reports suggest that Iran is nowhere near building a weapon either.

I’m going to take another page out of Barry Preisler’s book and suggest that if we did something foolish like bomb Iran there’d be the old rally-’round-the flag mentality.  And it would be on the Iranian side.  I watched the Green Revolution (Iran’s precursor to the region-wide Arab Spring) with some interest a couple years ago.  Any help we hope to give to democracy in a region where we continue to expound democracy as a saving principle would be dashed – just as it was in Iraq in 2003 – with a bombing to unite divided Iranians.

“Stop focusing on the nuclear program.  Shift the focus to human rights.  This is something around which we can build a consensus.  Evidence is not lacking proving Iran’s poor human rights record, pushing this instead of the nuclear program may also change Iran’s calculus regarding weaponization,” advises the NIAC article.  “Instead of asking whether military strikes will work, the real question is, can we use diplomacy to solve our problems? “

From → US Politics, World

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