What is Bush and Cheney's Game vis-à-vis Iran?





Mr. Kimball is a professor of history at Miami University and the author of To Reason Why, Nixon's Vietnam War, and The Vietnam War Files.

In a January 2005 article in the New Yorker based on unnamed sources inside the Bush administration, Seymour Hersh argued that an ideologically rigid, militaristic, messianic, neocon clique—which included Bush and Cheney—was serious about using military force against Iran over the issue of its nuclear program. When reporters asked President Bush about such claims, his refrain was deliberately ambiguous: “This notion that the United States is getting ready to attack Iran is simply ridiculous. And having said that, all options are on the table.” My thought at the time was that for the most part the press had avoided serious attempts to explain the causes of Bush’s repeated “mixed signals.”

I believed Bush was deploying a radical coercive strategy that Nixon had earlier dubbed "the madman theory." At its core, this strategy consisted in the making of threats of excessive force by a leader who projected an image of being irrational, unpredictable, or uncontrollably angry. A leader who chose this strategy did not actually have to be certifiably crazy—reckless and ruthless perhaps, but not really mad. He (or she) simply needed to convince an adversary that he was crazy enough to carry out his threats. As game theorists like Thomas C. Schelling would put it: if the strategy worked and its practitioner won the game's payoffs, the strategy could be considered "rational" in geopolitical terms.

Neither Nixon nor Kissinger had invented this strategy. Hitler—who was probably certifiably mad—had practiced it. Nuclear war theorists had discussed it during the fifties and sixties. The madman theory was and is an inherent element of terror tactics, of "atomic diplomacy," and of nuclear deterrent strategy. The nuclear "brinkmanship" of Eisenhower and Dulles was but another word for the ploy. Indeed, the strategy is as old as human history and is recorded in the clay-tablet records of the ancient Hittite empire. It has often worked; it has often failed. It failed for Nixon and Kissinger in the Vietnam War.

The strategy has several flaws. An adversary may be so desperate or so committed to a cause that he is unwilling or cannot afford to give in. Or a reckless adversary may play the game as well or better than an American leader. If an adversary recognizes the game and calls the bluff, it presents the bluffer with the dilemma of following through or backing off. The latter choice presents a great power like the United States and its leaders with the potential loss of credibility, and so the momentum of the confrontation escalates.

In January 2006, almost a year after I had proposed this thesis about Bush's motives, and as Bush and company continued to send threatening signals toward Iran (and North Korea), I had grown increasingly concerned about the direction of their policy:

Their doctrinal rigidity in favor of military force and against diplomacy . . . has put them and us in a situation in which the "game" may have taken control . . . They have, in other words, painted themselves and us into a corner. And knowing what vaulting hubris the Bush war party possesses, it would take more wisdom, honesty, and humility than they have to change course. This is how World War I came about and how the October 1962 Missile Crisis almost led to an invasion of Cuba and a war between the United States and the Soviet Union. An additional danger is that leaders in Tehran are playing the same game.

Six months later, I—along with a co-researcher, William Burr—took some comfort in new information from Sy Hersh's sources. Hersh had reported in mid July that General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other military and foreign policy advisers had successfully warned Bush and Cheney of dire political, military, international, and economic repercussions should the administration choose the nuclear option against Iran. By this time, moreover, the administration's militant rhetoric toward Iran had diminished.

Just this month (January 2007), however, the president has ramped up his rhetoric, offering up a new reason for threatening Iran, one other than Teheran's nascent nuclear program; namely, its supposed arms shipments to insurgents and political meddling in Iraq, which, the administration says, threatens U.S. troops there. Bush has also expanded U.S. economic reprisals against Iran, arrested selected Iranian nationals and diplomatic officials in Iraq, put a naval-air admiral in charge of U.S. forces in the region, and sent a second carrier group into the Persian Gulf. Periodically, reports surface that Israel is training its forces and developing plans to attack Iran with American collaboration.

Tensions in the Persian Gulf are escalating. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has recently said that the U.S. buildup was intended to impress on Iran that the war in Iraq has not made America vulnerable, while Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, has announced that Washington will not talk directly with Teheran and has called on Iran to back down. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, repeatedly declares that Iran will not back down, accuses Washington of having hegemonic ambitions in the region, and engages in his own saber-rattling.

Considering how easily Rice, Gates, Pace, and the JCS have caved in to Bush and Cheney on the troop "surge" into Iraq, it is reasonable to wonder whether any checks and balances against attacking Iran remain within the administration. Now there is a new concern among the citizenry, Congress, and Mideast watchers that Bush is either building up to a preemptive attack on Iran or trying to provoke the Iranians into retaliating against U.S. interests, which in turn would serve to justify U.S. military attacks. Some pundits take solace in the thought that perhaps Bush's purpose in threatening Iran is only to divert American voters' attention from the disaster in Iraq, while others dismiss reports of Israeli preparations to attack Iran as merely a rhetorical ploy to influence Teheran into backing down.

Whether Bush and Cheney actually intend to attack Iran, or merely intend to coerce Tehran into making concessions, or simply intend to divert Americans' attention away from Iraq, the strategy is reckless and could lead to military confrontation and war. The Bush-Cheney threat-strategy does not make sense to rational, realistic, practical observers, who believe that the consequences of military conflict would be disastrous in many ways and on all fronts. Even without military conflict, the strategy is preventing movement toward a diplomatic solution to the U.S.-Iranian standoff and other Mideast puzzles. David Gergen's recent assessment of Bush's rejection of real diplomacy toward Iran was,"This is nuts! It's just crazy to me."

Is the Bush-Cheney approach to Iran merely a case of neocon ideological rigidity and fascination with the madman theory of coercion—both reinforced by their isolation in an "information bubble," in which they are surrounded by groupthinking yes-men-and-women? Or is something else going on in their heads? How the mind of an individual occupying the office of the presidency works is, to say the least, noteworthy, because of the enormous power he (or she) can wield. How this mind works is even more significant when the president’s personality is highly unusual. George W. Bush's personality—as well as that of his vice-president—falls into this category. Bush and Cheney's slant on the nature of the world and foreign and military affairs is sufficiently idiosyncratic to make a difference in the calculus of foreign policy, adding an unpredictable, chaotic element to the standard formulas for war and diplomacy. The United States is not so exceptional that it has been immunized from the tragedies brought on by seriously flawed leaders throughout history who willfully, incompetently, or irrationally engaged in reckless threat-making.


comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

"I do know that the percentage who believes that spreading the House of Islam by violence - which is the classical Islamic theological formula - must be very large. But, I would not venture a guess as to how large."

(Re: What would you do? (#105022)
by N. Friedman on February 5, 2007 at 12:44 AM)

This brand of waffle-baloney sandwich from Mr. Friedman has been warmed over and re-served on hundreds of HNN pages for several years now, most of them about topics other than the threats posed to western civilization by militant Islam. It is at the core of his deeply-rooted Islamophobia which repeatedly and badly warps what might otherwise be useful and intellectually stimulating discussions. He consistently denies this with about same degree of persuasiveness as Holocaust deniers claim to be not anti-Semitic. The track record in the HNN archives is clear. Time and again Friedman makes sweeping generalizations about Islam or Moslems (mostly negative), throws in bogus qualifiers such as "very large" when pressed, and then shrugs his shoulders to say he has "no idea" when asked to come with actual numerical figures. He relies heavily on very dubious ahistorical demogagoues such as "Bat Y'eor" and David Horowitz, is profoundly ignorant of anything to do with Europe or European history, except the parts of it directly related to the Holocaust, and cannot conceive of a bad Israeli policy or a good Palestinian one.

I rather regret to have to make these points, because Mr. Friedman makes a consistent effort to be polite and reasonable in his HNN postings, especially as long as he is allowed to have the final word in any thread, and to change the subject to the dangers of Islam, no matter what it might have been to start with. But there is no shaking his all-absorbing and blinding phobias about Islam.

This is ultimately a pity for him too, because the irrationality to which he almost invariably resorts, ultimately , means that his crusade here to wake people up to what are indeed a genuine set of fundamental problems (for humanity and coming from within modern Islam) falls mostly on deaf ears, except for an ongoing choir here which, from time to time, enters an echo chamber with him.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

For all the facile name- and quote-dropping, this is a rather feeble attempt at analysis. What, in the name of all holy geopolitics, for example, are significant historical figures such as Nixon, Kissinger, Eisenhower, Dulles doing on the same page as 4th rate bungling losers such Cheney and Airhead Guard Bush?

For 40 years, nuclear proliferation was very hard to stop, because the two top nuke dogs were too busy growling at each other to mind the pack. After one of those to melted into a half-toothless poodle, opportunities to put to tighten the leash on the nuclear genie improved a bit. But then America, newly solo top dog, found itself led first by a president who overly busy not keeping his zipper zipped, and then by an international laughingstock who did not and does not know his military record from a hole in the ground, or the difference between diplomacy and cheating at baseball, or the difference between leadership and BSing.

Iran was probably going to get the bomb eventually some day. Thanks especially to the lameness of the Fratboy bungler and his foulmouthed VP , it will get it faster, more easily, and under more dangerous auspices than otherwise. So beeping what! What have the fiascos of these chickenhawk fools got to do with the realpoliticking of real major international rulers such as Nixon, Ike, Stalin, Hitler, etc.?


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

That Lewis has evidently long since passed his intellectual peak, and losing marbles rapidly since ought to be obvious given his foolish willingness to be a poster boy for the Iraq invasion disaster which his incompetent neo-con-coward buddies concocted. He may HAVE BEEN a brilliant expert on Middle Eastern history, but he clearly does not know jack now about European history or contemporary European politics. The rate of growth of Muslim populations in Europe is anyway centrally related to Bush's policies on Iran (the topic of the page) only in your Islamophobic fantasies, N.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007


Check out the following article from today's Washington Post, N.

I think Lewis IS right about one thing, by the way: The Iranian people have no great love for their current ruler or his anti-Israel rants. Of course, the ayatollahs are not democratically elected, but their power and authority is also not based soley on fear and oppression.

One thing on which the Iranian masses are almost certain to be solidily united, however, is in an intense anger at being lectured to condescendingly and ignorantly by an American president of any kind, and ESPECIALLY by THE most internationally pitiful US president of all time.



http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/01/29/AR2007012902090.html?nav=rss_email/components


With Iran Ascendant, U.S. Is Seen at Fault

Arab Allies in Region Feeling Pressure

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 30, 2007; Page A01

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Kuwait rarely rebuffs its ally, the United States, partly out of gratitude for the 1991 Persian Gulf War. But in October it reneged on a pledge to send three military observers to an American-led naval exercise in the Gulf, according to U.S. officials and Kuwaiti analysts.

"We understood," a State Department official said. "The Kuwaitis were being careful not to antagonize the Iranians."

Four years after the United States invaded Iraq, in part to transform the Middle East, Iran is ascendant, many in the region view the Americans in retreat, and Arab countries, their own feelings of weakness accentuated, are awash in sharpening sectarian currents that many blame the United States for exacerbating.

Iran has deepened its relationship with Palestinian Islamic groups, assuming a financial role once filled by Gulf Arab states, in moves it sees as defensive and the United States views as aggressive. In Lebanon and Iraq, Iran is fighting proxy battles against the United States with funds, arms and ideology. And in the vacuum created by the U.S. overthrow of Iranian foes in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is exerting a power and prestige that recalls the heady days of the 1979 Islamic revolution, when Iranian clerics led the toppling of a U.S.-backed government.

"The United States is the first to be blamed for the rise of Iranian influence in the Middle East," said Khaled al-Dakhil, a Saudi writer and academic. "There is one thing important about the ascendance of Iran here. It does not reflect a real change in Iranian capabilities, economic or political. It's more a reflection of the failures on the part of the U.S. and its Arab allies in the region."

Added Eyal Zisser, head of the Middle Eastern and African Studies Department at Tel Aviv University in Israel: "After the whole investment in democracy in the region, the West is losing, and Iran is winning."

The United States has signaled a more aggressive posture toward Iran. President Bush on Friday defended a Pentagon program to kill or capture Iranian operatives in Iraq. Vice President Cheney, in a Newsweek interview published Sunday, said the deployment of a second U.S. aircraft carrier task force to the Persian Gulf was intended to signal to the region that the United States is "working with friends and allies as well as the international organizations to deal with the Iranian threat."

And John D. Negroponte, outgoing director of national intelligence, told Congress this month that Iran's influence is growing across the region "in ways that go beyond the menace of its nuclear program."

Widespread Support

Iranian officials -- emboldened but uneasy over nuclear-armed neighbors in Israel and Pakistan and a U.S. military presence in the Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan -- have warned that they would respond to an American attack on Iran's facilities.

"Iran's supporters are widespread -- they're in Iraq, they're in Afghanistan, they're everywhere. And you know, the American soldiers in the Middle East are hostages of Iran, in the situation where a war is imposed on it. They're literally in the hands of the Iranians," said Najaf Ali Mirzai, a former Iranian diplomat in Beirut who heads the Civilization Center for Iranian-Arab Studies. "The Iranians can target them wherever, and Patriot missiles aren't going to defend them and neither is anything else."

"Iran would suffer," he added, "but America would suffer more."

As that struggle deepens, many in the Arab world find themselves on the sidelines. They are increasingly anxious over worsening tension between Sunni and Shiite Muslims across the Middle East, even as some accuse the United States of stoking that tension as a way to counter predominantly Shiite Iran. Fear of Iranian dominance is coupled, sometimes in the same conversation, with suspicion of U.S. intentions in
confronting Iran.

Page 2 of 3 < Back Next >
With Iran Ascendant, U.S. Is Seen at Fault

"It was necessary to create an enemy to justify the failure of the American occupation in Iraq," Talal Salman, the editor-in-chief of as-Safir, a Lebanese newspaper, wrote in a column this month. "So to protect ourselves against the coming of the wolf, we bring the foreign fleets that fill our lands, skies and seas."

Iranian rivalry with its Sunni Arab neighbors is centuries old, but as with most conflicts in the Middle East, its modern contours are shaped by politics and interests.

Iran has found itself strengthened almost by default, first with the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan to Iran's east, which ousted the Taliban rulers against whom it almost went to war in the 1990s, and then to its west, with the American ouster of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, against whom it fought an eight-year war in the 1980s.

Arab rulers allied with the United States issued stark warnings. Jordan's King Abdullah in 2005 spoke darkly of a Shiite crescent that would stretch from Iran, through Iraq's Shiite Arab majority, to Lebanon, where Shiites make up the largest single community. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt suggested last year that Shiites in the Arab world were more loyal to Iran than to their own countries. And in a rare interview, published Saturday, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia suggested that Iran, although he did not name the country, was trying to convert Sunni Arabs to Shiism. "The majority of Sunni Muslims will never change their faith," he told al-Siyassah, a Kuwaiti newspaper.

Across the region, Iran has begun to exert influence on fronts as diverse as its allies: the formerly exiled Shiite parties in Iraq and their militias; Hezbollah, a Lebanese group formed with Iranian patronage after Israel's 1982 invasion; and the cash-strapped Sunni Muslim movement of Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

"I disagree with Iranian policy, but you have to give the Iranians credit," said Abdullah al-Shayji, a political science professor and head of Kuwait University's American Studies Unit. "You have to appreciate that they have an agenda, they're planning for it, they seize the opportunity, they see an American weakness and they are capitalizing on it."

A Helping Hand

In Beirut's southern suburbs, a Hezbollah stronghold, a banner hangs near a bridge wrecked by Israeli strikes last summer: "The Zionist enemy destroys, the Islamic Republic of Iran builds." Even before the 33-day war ended, Iran had provided Hezbollah with $150 million to begin rebuilding, some of it going to victims in $10,000 bundles of crisp U.S. currency, according to a Shiite politician who spoke on condition of anonymity.

"You want me to give you my opinion? Honestly?" asked Hajj Hassan Sbeiti, a 44-year-old merchant, his face breaking into a wry smile. "If you say hello to me, you probably like me. If you say hello to me and ask what I need, you're a friend. If you say hello to me, ask what I need and put money in my hand, then you're going to be my brother."

In Iraq, U.S. officials say Iran is providing Shiite militias with sophisticated projectiles capable of penetrating U.S. armored vehicles and backing those forces in a gathering civil war against Sunni Arabs. One commander of the Mahdi Army, a Shiite militia that U.S. military officials now identify as the greatest security threat in Iraq, said that however much he might dislike Iran, he was eagerly anticipating the delivery of 50 rocket-propelled grenades to Basra.

But no less influential are the ties that Iran has deepened with the three main Shiite groups in Iraq, some of whose leaders spent years in exile in Iran and are now nominally allied with the United States, and the burgeoning economic relationship between the two countries.

The extent of Iran's engagement in the Arab world, and the rising sectarianism that has accompanied the Iranian ascendance, troubles Arabs who already worry about growing tension between the United States and Iran.

"If Iran is bombed, Iran's reaction is a sure thing. They cannot sit idle, and what kind of reaction they will take is a big question," said Abbas Bolurfrushan, the president of the Iranian Business Council in Dubai, a booming city-state on the Gulf that is part of the United Arab Emirates, where an estimated 400,000 Iranians live and work.

< Back 1 2 3 Next >



The result? "A disaster," he said. "Disaster."

'Defensive' Alliance

Mirzai, the former Iranian diplomat, offered a similar scenario in more threatening terms. Wearing a white turban and the robes of a cleric, he sketched out potential Iranian responses: cutting the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf, through which 20 percent of the world's oil passes; retaliation in Iraq, Afghanistan or Lebanon; attacks on U.S. targets in the Gulf.


"There is a policy the Iranians have and they've repeated it often -- the Gulf is either safe for everyone or no one," he said.

In an attempt to contest Iran's influence, the United States has sought to form an axis among Sunni Arab states it considers moderate: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and smaller countries in the Gulf. Israeli officials have spoken about a possible alignment of their country's interests with those states to arrest both Iran's influence and its nuclear program.

In November, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said he would try to deepen ties with those states, some of which have yet to recognize Israel, in what Israeli analysts saw as an opening bid to create an anti-Iranian bloc.

But Zisser, of Tel Aviv University, cautioned that "all of these countries are not very strong, and they have their own problems."

"Iran's threat could do something to bring them together, but I would say that any alliance that comes out of it would be defensive in nature," he said. "These countries are not going to be able to unite in any way that would meaningfully change the face of the Middle East."

Potentially more far-reaching is the sectarian tension that the struggle has ignited. In the Palestinian territories, Israeli officials say, Iran has been increasingly successful in influencing the chaotic political situation, particularly by funding the Hamas-led government.

The connection has not gone unnoticed in the Palestinian street. At two rallies this month for Fatah, the movement led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, crowds directed chants at Hamas, a Sunni Arab group. "Shiites, Shiites," they shouted.

Across the Middle East, once antiquated words have sprung up in conversations about Shiites -- Safawis, for instance, drawn from the name of a Persian empire that brought Shiism to Iran. In Lebanon, posters have gone up in Sunni neighborhoods portraying leaders united by little other than their Sunni sectarian affiliation: Saddam Hussein, Yasser Arafat, Rafiq al-Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister killed in a 2005 car bombing, and Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the leader of Hamas who was assassinated by Israel in 2004.

"You are in heaven," the poster reads, "and those who killed you will go to hell."

Iranian officials have repeatedly warned against the phenomenon, fearing it will curb their leverage in an Arab street that remains majority Sunni. Many in the Arab world watch its gathering force with a sense of helplessness.

"It's very bleak and it's very dangerous," said Dakhil, the Saudi writer. "We have a sectarian civil war in Iraq now and this is drawing sectarian lines through the region. This is the most important, the most dangerous ramification of the American war in Iraq."

Correspondent Scott Wilson in Jerusalem contributed to this report.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

I see that, in spite of my message directed at you

Re this tangent (#105074)
by Peter K. Clarke on February 6, 2007 at 4:41 AM

and which was based on many dog-chasing tail sessions with Mr. Friedman going back to at least 2004, you have gone on for several further ultimately meaningless rotations around his irrationality.

Your time is, of course, your own to waste. But, I can't help wondering: Why ?


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

What "brinkmanship"?

Cheney and Junior didn't go the brink of disaster, they plunged willingly over it, with the neo-cons and most of the US Congress and much of the news media racing alongside like lemmings with them.


What "hostile enemies" ?

The X hundred thousand now-dead Iraqi civilians ?


Trying to shoehorn these incompetent losers into historically non-applicable cookie cutter categories does not work and never did and it is time to stop such laziness.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Okay you're on topic now, at least, N. But what evidence is there for this
claim of Lewis:

"Iran's ruling ayatollahs [think that] if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick, free pass to heaven." ?

This appears to conflate Persian Shiite officials with renegade Sunni suicide squads. Being a Moslem does not automatically mean wanting to die in a violent explosion.


I think Lewis does, or did, have expertise on Iranian history, though it was apparently not his top focus. That is why I talk about him. Goldhagen, by contrast, is a specialist of sorts for Nazi and German anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, while Morris's concentration is on Palestine. Neither is a credible authority on the intracacies of Iranian domestic politics, in my view.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

N, heed your own message (for once in a blue moon). My comment was to your latest victim, not you. Nobody regular reader of HNN needs to get even within nose-holding distance of any of your favorite anti-Islam "books," let alone websites such as Horowitz's which you frequent, in order to observe the serial inconsistency in your vast outpouring of HNN posts, your inability to concede error, and your incapacity to ever let anyone who disagrees with you have the final word.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

You seem to assume that because he is an apologist for the ethnic cleansing of Arabs from the areas seized by Israel, that this bozo Morris must be correct about anything it says. This "logic" does not persuade.

Your "evidence" is nothing of the sort.

"willing to absorb a nuclear retaliation", "permission to use nuclear weapons," were standard American policy for generations - as the article ITSELF says (the author at least regurgitated that bit intact).

You want me to believe that this is "evidence" that American leaders
thought that killing large numbers of their own people, would be "doing them a favor."?

Your warped fearfulness is truly amazing, N. It has apparently boggled your brain so badly that you can't think straight. Either that or you need an urgent long term vacation from this website. Matter of fact, I think I'd like one myself.

Look, we both know this Ahmadinejad guy is a dangerous maniac, and that he hates Jews in general and Israelis in particular. And that once if gets the bomb we all have a big problem. That does NOT proove that every Moslem cleric in the whole damn country is some kind of suicide bomber.

How messed up can you be to even suggest such lunacy? And don't try to weasel out of it now, either. Your "evidence" is up there in the adjacent post for all to see and it is the "evidence" of a true-believing paranoid. The whole world does not revolve around Moslems wanting to exterminate Jews. Nor does even the kernel of serious truth within such titanically-inflated fears repeal common sense.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Okay, fair point. Iran not Iraq. They are different places after all.

But I don't for a moment believe that Bush and Cheney are fundamentally doing anything more with Iran that what they did with Iraq and everything else they touch: blunder and try to BS their way of out it until the next chance of new distracting blunder arises. These clowns are not leaders, they are not international strategists, they are not policy-makers. They are reckless juvenile deliquents light years above the level of their competency, and it is to the lasting shame of Americans that so many of us who ought to have known better five+ years ago STILL are trying to throw history and common sense out the window in pitifully useless and hopeless attempts to apply boneheaded recycled paradigms in order to make lions out of rodents.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Okay, N, I mixed up Morris and Karsh. See, I can admit a mistake and not die instantly.

Now, living on, I will further proclaim my intention to be more careful about historians of Israel and the Palestinians, especially on future pages where THAT is the topic.

Otherwise, your predictably juvenile attempt to deny your prior claim that an Iranian governmental willingness to risk possible nuclear war at some hypothetical future stage, is "evidence" of Lewis's crapola about the ayatollahs of Iran, as an unqualified entire group, relishing the prospect of doing millions of Iranians "a favor" by helping them to die violently, does not impress me.


Peter K. Clarke - 10/9/2007

Jeffrey,

Before we can talk usefully about alternatives to what the White House is doing, e.g. NOT doing, I believe we need to have at least a working consensus of some kind as to what that existing status quo is.

My "gripe" here is with your implicit, typical, and I think quite erroneous assumption that the existing policy is one of a misguided strategy against Iran.

What you evidently fail to appreciate is the very strong likelihood that Bush & Cheney have no real strategy at all versus Ahmadinejad (which is the main reason why the latter is laughing his way to nukedom) only a strategy for spin versus the American public. Instead of exposing their phony baloney, you are essentially playing along with it.

If Ahmadinejad really wanted to just die, there would be many easier and more direct ways than the "madman" approach he IS taking. Whatever HIS ultimate motives, however, he surely craves power, and is indeed gaining power and influence for his regime throughout the region. In contrast, all Bush really wants at this stage is for historians to not rate him as the worst US president of all time. Attributing long-standing standard policies to what is ultimately a game of smoke and mirrors (except of course for the poor fools and unfortunates caught in the crossfire in places such as Baghdad etc) helps the naked emperors playing their con games to postpone the censure that they deserve.

The "alternatives" here are a Congress that discovers a backbone or the new broken pottery sweeper in the White House come January 2009. When one of THOSE emerges on the horizon, THEN you can trot out your boilerplate geopolitics and perhaps use them to usefully evaluate the new strategy in historical or comparative perspective. Until then you would be vastly more credible, at least in my computer-worn eyes, if you could manage to realize and admit that Bush is not fundamentally mad OR pretending to be mad. He is pretending to be a leader with a foreign policy strategy.


John Charles Crocker - 2/11/2007

The current supreme leader Khamenei has been rather consistent regarding nuclear weapons and is generally viewed as a relatively progressive voice. Whether he is sincere I cannot say, but his pride is not on the line over the nuclear question. There was an interesting article in the LA Times this weekend that touches on this topic.
Dissent grows in Iran by Kim Murphy
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-iran8feb08,0,4989084.story?coll=la-home-headlines


N. Friedman - 2/11/2007

John,

I again note Professor Morris' point. That is, the program that Ahmadinejad is on, at least with respect to Israel, is likely supported by the clerical establishment as such was the view even of revolutionary founder of the country, Ayatollah Khomeini.

Now, the assumption of your view is that there really are two clerical views among the leadership in Iran with regard to use of nuclear weapons. There are, surely, two documents - if not more. But, I would like to know why we should trust either document? They may both be in earnest, one might be in earnest or neither might be in earnest.

Now, I tend to see the more congenial fatwa as likely a deception. Why? Because, I see a program to arm and cries by the leadership of the country - not just the loony Ahmadinejad - to reverse the position in the world of Islam vis a vis the West. And obviously, that cannot be done with a program that is wholly peaceful, not backed by the potential that such weapons might be used. I might add: I would not believe any country that appears to be developing nuclear weapons and then has a high government priest say the weapons cannot be used.

That brings me back to the view that the real question here is the intention of the Iranians. I certainly am not in their meetings. But, their rhetoric simply is not normal, if their goal is to go along and get along or even merely to make Iran a, generally speaking, powerful state. So, to me, they are very, very dangerous and, quite possibly, set on a genocidal plan as outlined by Mr. Ahmadinejad, not to mention by the original Ayatollah Khomeini.


John Charles Crocker - 2/11/2007

There is apparently disagreement among the clerics regarding nuclear weapons. The fatwa I mentioned is from the supreme leader of Iran and so, I think, carries more weight than the fatwa of Ahmednejad's cleric. Assuming Khamenei remains supreme leader for the next several years the only one of consequence who's pride is on the line is Ahmednejad. As I mentioned before his term is up in 2009. If his pride causes Iran to face stiff sanctions he could lose in 2009, particularly if those sanctions have had time to be felt and are not fresh enough to be used effectively by him to rally support. This will not happen if direct negotiations do not begin soon. If negotiations are well underway and assuming that sanctions become a necessary next step the 2009 election will amount to a referendum on the future of Iran's nuclear program.

We cannot form the coalition necessary for your recommended course of action for at least 3 years. If we follow my recommended course of action, at the least we will know what we face in three years time. At this point we will be in a better position to confront it, assuming that most estimates regarding Iran's nuclear program prove true. Nothing will be lost by entering direct negotiations with Iran that is not lost already. Given this doesn't it make sense that we should all be doing everything in our power to influence our elected representatives and media to push for these negotiations?

"Now: my point about terror in Europe and terror against the US is that, prior to Madrid, there had not been mass terror attacks in Europe. So, Europeans really did not know what Americans experienced."
The previous point that brought this point to the fore was that Europeans, as opposed to Americans, base their decisions regarding the Middle East and terrorism on fear and greed. There are greed and fear in all political systems, the question here is one of degree. In my view it is an untenable position to say that European politics have been driven by fear to a greater degree than have American politics since 9/11/2001. As far as greed is concerned again I think that it is untenable to contend that EU politics is more greed driven than US politics. Lastly, their calculation of what is in their best interests clearly differs from yours. Time will tell whether it is your calculation or theirs that lies closer to the truth. My guess at this point is that it lies somewhere in between.


N. Friedman - 2/11/2007

John,

You make a good point that the Mullahs are comfortable people. There may be something to that. I have to think about it.

There are competing fatwa in Iran. Ahmadinejad has one from his cleric allowing use of nuclear weapons.

My gut reaction is that most of what Benny Morris says in the article I cited is correct. That is to say, all else being equal, the current crowd that runs Iran consists of dangerous men with apocalyptic visions. They are not, I think, patient, which is what Ahmadinejad's denier's club conference suggests. And, as Morris notes: the desire to destroy is embedded into Iranian Islamic Republic from the time of its founding. So, the issue is not just Ahmadinejad but what even the moderate wing of his party believes. Call it intuition but Islamist Iran has, to me, the foul smell to it.

Now: my point about terror in Europe and terror against the US is that, prior to Madrid, there had not been mass terror attacks in Europe. So, Europeans really did not know what Americans experienced.

As for the greedy Europeans, I never suggested that they are alone in being greedy. I suggest that they are driven by greed to undermine their own best interest. Think of it as being akin to Lenin's rope, except that rope I have in mind comes from the Muslim regions. But note: the US does not stand up to Saudi Arabia either, so we also have a rope being offered to us - and by the chief financier of Jihad and hatred of all things Western. But, the Europeans have already placed the rope around their own necks and are standing on the platform.





John Charles Crocker - 2/10/2007

I am a bit tired and bogged down in work so forgive the likely sloppiness of the response.

There appear to be some elements of all of your scenarios in the reality of Iran.

Unfortunately you are probably right that we will have to wait at least two years before the US can take an effective lead role in dealing with Iran. At this point the credibility of US intelligence is at a low ebb and that is not likely to change without a change in the administration. Virtually no one will be willing to follow the US, with Bush at the helm, into war with Iran absent a clear direct and substantial Iranian attack. Even with such an attack the number of allies will be relatively small as it will be seen by many that we brought it on ourselves. The US, under any administration, will have to negotiate with Iran before it will be able to gather allies for a credible threat of military intervention. There is no credible argument I can see against entering negotiations with Iran, whether you see it as an end in itself or as prelude. Ahmednejad's term comes up in 2009. If negotiations begin now and sanctions become necessary, as they likely would, there effect would be felt by then. The longer the sanctions are in place before Ahmednejad's reelection bid the weaker his position will be. If he loses in 2009 the issue of pride is largely avoided, particularly given the Khamenei's fatwa regarding nuclear weapons. If a "lunatic" version of Islam dominates the negotiations and its response to sanctions we will then, provided good leadership, be able to gather allies for an ultimatum backed by credible threat of force.

Whichever (if either) of us is correct about the nature and degree of threat posed by Iran, it seems to me that the initial steps to countering it are the same and later steps will follow based on the outcome of those first steps.

Regarding faith, few men live Abraham's faith and even fewer comfortable men live Abraham's faith. The Ayatollahs are comfortable men.

There were serious divisions regarding the Iraq in Spain from the beginning. There was a no win situation in Spain following the Madrid bombings. They could either continue to invest themselves or invest themselves further in a losing situation or could be seen as caving in to the terrorists. This was complicated by the conservative government's missteps regarding the bombing and ETA costing them support in the election.

Terrorism has not traditionally been a concern of Americans at home. 9/11 and its political use made terrorism a daily concern. Americans over the past five years have largely been making their foreign policy decisions based on this orchestrated fear. To say that European society is more motivated by fear, particularly fear of Islamic terrorists, than American society is not accurate. Regarding greed, I don't see more greed or acquisitiveness in Europe than in the US and see no reason to believe that it plays a greater role in politics here relative to the US. In general money has a much greater role in US politics. There are a number of things that I prefer about the American society, but the relative level played by fear and greed in the political system are not among them.


N. Friedman - 2/8/2007

Hi John,

You have a fairly distinctive style so I felt fairly confident, despite your use of your middle name, that you were you. And, I certainly engage you because you are one of the more interesting posters on this website. Which is to say, one can learn something from you - even if you are, at least not thus far, persuading me to your point of view.

In any event, you write: The conversation at hand is one, how the threat can be dealt with and two, how best to deal with that threat.

Before addressing the substance of your point, I note preliminarily that a debate - not just our debate but any debate - requires both sides to agree upon at least the meaning of the terminology being debated. That becomes a particularly acute problem if one is to make recommendations to address a point where each side has a different definition of the point in issue.

In this case, we obviously disagree on the meaning of the term "threat" with reference to the sentence "Iran is a threat." For example, if the "threat" is that Iran will someday become a regional power, the US ought to do one thing. If, for example, the "threat" is that Iran's government is run by lunatics desiring to end the world as we know it and who do not even care to protect their own lives, the US perhaps ought to do something else. But, it is the underlying issue which is critical as such largely determines what to do. In this regard, my bet is that whichever or both definitions are used, we would likely agree, except perhaps on the margins, on what to do. Or, in simple terms, the issue is the underlying issue and that drives different perceptions about what to do.

That said, I shall attempt to address what, to me, are intellectually muddled questions.

You write: Do you propose an inspection regime as thorough as the one I mentioned? How likely do you think it is that such a regime could ever be implemented? Do you think that any inspection regime can/will be instituted in Iran without negotiations as a prelude? What countries would stand with the US in demanding inspections under threat of force without negotiations and possibly sanctions as a prelude? .....

If we assume that Iran is not a threat due to the lunacy of its rulers but is merely pursuing an ordinary course to become more powerful, then likely the country would, like a rational country, act to advance its best interest, perhaps by utilitarian measure, and, taking the measure of its actual possibilities, the country would realize that it is not able to become a nuclear power in the current world climate, when push comes to shove. Such a country would seek the best deal it could and then back down.

On that scenario, an appropriate set of incentives from the West would attract the country, as it perhaps did Libya. That would mean asking Iran to turn over the keys to its project, as did, more or less, Libya. In response, we could offer to repair and modernize Iran's seriously deteriorating oil infrastructure and to allow the country normal trade and relations, etc., etc.. And, regarding inspections, whatever was agreed to with Libya would be sufficient.

Again, I think the above scenario does not address the world in which we live. But, I shall try a different scenario that, to me, is somewhat more plausible. Let us assume that Iran's unwillingness to follow Libya's path is ego related - and, as Professor Eckstein is apt to note, Islamic societies are honor based (to a very unusual extent), which would mean that the Iranian leadership could never willingly allow a situation where it was seen even potentially to be humiliated and, like maybe Saddam, would prefer its destruction to backing down. On this scenario, Iran is building nuclear weapons and, having started down that path and the nuclear project having come out into the open, just cannot back down. And such, on this scenario, is the case even if the leadership, if it did not see its honor as even more important, would want to find a way to back down.

If that is the case, then negotiations would have to lead to Iran obtaining an important victory of some sort that allows the country to save face. I am not sanguine that there is any such thing that any country can promise to Iran that would allow it to save face - on the sort of terms that Iran would consider saving face.

This is because, on that scenario, the prestige of having the Bomb is rather great. If such is correct, that would leave the idea of combining negotiations with sanctions. Sanctions, however, will take a very long time and, historically, boycotts and the like are readily avoided so I would not place great faith in either or both negotiations and/or sanctions working on Iran, at least not in a reasonably short time.

If we assume the above scenario and Iran allows inspections, I would think that the inspections would have to be rather thorough. I leave the details to those who are expert on such topics - and that is not my specialty. But, clearly the idea would be to inspect thoroughly without humiliating - so no more than is absolutely necessary.

Another scenario is that Iran is acting very rationally and that Iran's judgment of its utilitarian interest is that having nuclear weapons is better for Iran than any benefit we could ever offer or any sanctions that might be imposed. That appears, for example, perhaps to be N. Korea's bet since, at this point, it is not only defying the US and its friends but also defying China, a country alleged to be relatively friendly to N. Korea and, if nothing else, due to proximity is in a much better position to affect and pressure N. Korea's behavior than the US is. (Of course, there is always the possibility that China actually wants N. Korea to tie the US up in knots but, somehow, I think - although, this is all, for me, certainly just speculation and uneducated speculation at that - it more likely that China does not want competition from N. Korea in the nuclear weapons department.) But note: N. Korea is basically starving to death yet the regime is continuing on its program. So, if a country is sufficiently determined, and Iran might perhaps be, the country might well be willing to live with whatever threat the rest of the world might impose. At that point, the world would have to ask whether it can live with Iran with nuclear weapons.

Note: the above point brings, once again to the fore, my preliminary point that the definition of the "threat" is the issue and that such comes before, not after, determining what to do.

The next scenario is that Iran is run by lunatics but there are other forces in the country which, if there were a setback to the regime, might come to the foreground. That is my view. In such case, my proposal, stated in other posts, to have a united front against Iran with the specific threat of force which, to the more rational forces in the country, are taken as an existential threat to them and their regime but which might be avoided by deposing the lunatics or otherwise minimizing their influence. The problem is to convince the world that Iran is the danger that it is.

Now, as for the US role in any negotiations, it, once again, depends on what Iran is all about. If the regime intends to have weapons no matter what - and that is the most likely probability, I think - negotiations are not likely to be very profitable. You do, however, make a very good point that the world will not likely unite unless the US shows that it has gone the necessary extra mile. That is very likely the case, at least just now.

My suspicion is that, unless attitudes about Iran change dramatically in Europe, even if the US did go the extra mile to no avail, the press in Europe would deny that such occurred. And, quite certainly, nothing that Bush does will be believed so the next two years make your scenario irrelevant during that period. Perhaps the next administration might have some credibility with Europeans but Bush will not even if Bush does exactly what Europeans want.

But, let us suppose that a more congenial administration is elected. It would certainly be difficult to find a less congenial one. So, the supposition is rather likely that such an administration will be elected next time around. Will Europeans actually believe the US did its most? I doubt it. Rather, the best that the US could, I think, hope for is something akin to the attitude shown toward Reagan when he forced an upgrade in US weapons stationed in Europe. And, I think that countries like France, which want to avoid more riots, are not going to be persuaded by what occurs in negotiations. Rather, what would persuade Europe, including France, is for the various leaders and opinion makers to take a more careful look at the world in which we live and to understand the implications thereof. I think that is not going to happen soon, which gives me little reason to think that the issues posed by the likes of Iran and the various Islamists will be addressed without terrible bloodshed - something I certainly do not want -.

You write, lastly, about Europe's experience with terrorism. Europe has a lot of experience dealing with those who have limited agendas (e.g. the IRA or ETA) and with tiny groups that have wider agendas but little outside support. I do not think Europe has much experience dealing with people who use terror for the purposes taken up by the Islamists. The closest analogy I can think of to what Europeans face is the sort of terror employed by the Nazis to help undermine regimes in Austria, something that was not handled very well at all. And, even that is not such a good analogy. Rather, we face people making war in the Eastern pattern (following John Keegan's analysis).

As for the US, we have certainly had terrorism here. We have not, of course, had anything before akin to what occurred on 9/11. I do not think that Europe has faced such manner of terrorism before, until perhaps the Madrid bombing, which was somewhat akin.

But note: the Spaniards behaved very foolishly in response to the terrorist incident most akin to what occurred in the US. The message sent by the Spaniards to the Islamists is that Europeans - or, at the very least, Spaniards - can be bullied.

Note: I do not say that the Iraq war was ever a good idea and I do not and I have never favored the current policy. But that is a very different thing from changing votes in order to appease the agenda of terrorists - or, at the very least, in a manner that sends out that message, whatever the voters may have had in mind.

Such result tells me that Europeans are not - or, at least, Spaniards are not - thinking very clearly. I do not see how the cogent model for what to do is to do what the terrorists demand, as the Spaniards did. And, I do not think that Europeans are correct that terrorism can be fought by merely arresting terrorists when they can, by pulling out of Iraq - although there are good reasons to do so but not the noted reason -, by settling the Arab Israeli dispute, etc., etc.. Consider that, post Madrid bombing, there have been plots broken up in Spain that were to be directed against Spain. So voting to get out of Iraq did not sate the appetite of the terrorists. My contention is that such never will.

One needs, I think, to consider that irrational ideologies, once crystallized, into an attractive package - in this case, Islamism -, cannot be appeased. Yes, there are lots of grievances. But, once the ideology crystallizes, the grievances are more akin to excuses - readily replaced by new grievances -, whether or not the grievances have some validity apart from the ideology.

In this case, the ideology is tied to religion. Religion is a very complicated phenomena. And, to those who believe, it is more important than anything on Earth - their own wellbeing, that of their family and that of their normal dreams.

By way of explanation, faith is not unfairly understood in the context of Abraham's planned sacrifice of Isaac. Not to belabor the matter, but recall that Abraham was promised a great future in this world via his offspring Isaac. Yet, on God's command, Abraham, still believing what was promised (i.e. a great nation) and holding to the view that there is nothing worse than killing one's own son, stood ready to do just that - which is to say, the very thing which, to any rational mind, was the exact opposite of what he could rationally expect to result from killing Isaac. The history of religion is replete with true believers - in every religion - following the irrational over the rational. That, frankly, is why the current situation is so terrible.

So, to me, the issue cannot be understood without addressing the underlying religious issue. And, I do not think the issue is one of a war within Islam. I think the issue is the irrationality of those who accept Islamism and what they perceive to be Allah's promise and what they are willing to do to advance that promise. And, I do not think we are anywhere near figuring out how one addresses people's insane religious notions.


N. Friedman - 2/8/2007

Peter,

This is ridiculous. I read book from all sides and I read website that take the various different sides. Yes, I have read Horowitz's website. But, guess what? I also read CounterPunch, the extreme left wing site. And, I read The Nation. I read these publications regularly, not because I agree with any of the three - and, to note, quite a number of others - but to see more than one point of view.

By contrast, you have self-censored yourself. That, to me, is self-inflicted ignorance. It is the sign of someone who does not think.

As for Islam, I have made a point books on what I assert. I can, I think, back up most of my assertions about Islam. Quoting Goldhizer is quoting the gold standard on Islam. The same for Bernard Lewis.

You, by contrast, have no basis to assert anything because you do not read books. And, you censor yourself from reading all sides of matters being debated.

As for articles, if a top scholar's article appears on Horowitz's site, you do not see it. So, you are not in a position to criticize. As I have noted, there are occasionally good articles on his cite. Not always, but sometimes. The same for The Nation and for CounterPunch and for pretty much any daily web magazine. But again: I do not form my opinions from website but from books.

When you pick up a book, you can criticize. Until then, you are showing both your ignorance and your foolishness.



John Charles Crocker - 2/8/2007

I am American.

I do not pooh pooh the threat posed by Iran, though we will continue to disagree about the level of that threat. I have discussed this with you at length on several occasions and have no desire to discuss it with you now. Please do not take my refusal to engage on this topic as pooh poohing the threat. (In previous threads I did not include a middle name.) The conversation at hand is one, how the threat can be dealt with and two, how best to deal with that threat.

Do you propose an inspection regime as thorough as the one I mentioned? How likely do you think it is that such a regime could ever be implemented? Do you think that any inspection regime can/will be instituted in Iran without negotiations as a prelude? What countries would stand with the US in demanding inspections under threat of force without negotiations and possibly sanctions as a prelude? I count somewhere between 1 and 5 with possibly a few others that could be paid off but that would provide no material aid. Four years ago we might have gotten twenty or thirty, but the world has changed since then. What I propose is to look at realistic choices. Serious negotiations cannot proceed with Iran without US participation. The sooner the US comes to the table in a meaningful way the sooner the threat will be addressed. If that end is reached through negotiations or sanctions that would be great. If that does not solve the problem, then the sooner that it is a demonstrated failure the sooner other options will become available. If you want the Western World to unite it will have to be around the consensus of the Western World. That consensus will not be war unless other alternatives have failed. Years have passed that could have been used for negotiation. Iran was looking for negotiations in 2003, when the US was riding high. The US is now in a decidedly weaker bargaining position now, is it any wonder that Iran is exploiting that weakness? The US is bogged in a civil war or worse, has virtually no credibility on the world stage, and its alliances are more tenuous than they have been in my lifetime. We are not in a position to act alone and prospects of gathering allies are slim to none without if we continue on our current course.

Mr. Sokolski offered a reasonable framework that could win relatively wide support if it is put forward diplomatically. Do you find his approach credible or is it not forceful enough for your taste?

As a side note you are quick to say that Europe acts out of fear or greed. Europeans have lived with terrorism for quite some time. Terrorism has just recently hit home in the US. Might I suggest to you that it is the American public, far more than the European public who are acting out of fear.


N. Friedman - 2/7/2007

Why not mind your own business. And, sir, I remind you that you, who have lots of things to say on the Muslim regions, have not picked up a book. So, as always, I repeat my question: on what conceivable basis can you criticize? The answer, in a word, from the basis of ignorance.

That speaks to you. All this time. Not one book!!! Or, have you actually picked one up and actually read it?


N. Friedman - 2/7/2007

John,

I certainly understood what you wrote. You raise an interesting point about the suitcase Bomb, which is that the focus of the Europeans - and, to some extent, Americans - has been on those centrifuges. Yet, as you also admit, suitcase type devices (and, to note, even Hiroshima size bombs) can be built nonetheless. I recall reading many years ago that an engineer built a Hiroshima size bomb in his garage - sans fuel, of course. If the fuel can be purchased, such places the nature of the Iranian regime squarely back where it belongs: namely, front and center.

So, with Iran, there are two scenarios to consider. The one the Europeans have focused on has Iran becoming a true nuclear power, able to project its will upon Europeans. That, however, may not be the scenario which causes a major war. Benny Morris, Bernard Lewis and Daniel Goldhagen all indicate that the Iranian regime is truly crazy. Maybe the real concern is, as noted on NPR radio this morning [and note: NPR is our country's public radio network], is the suitcase bomb.

What I do not understand from you is why you refuse to contemplate the possibility - which, on our side of the Atlantic, is taken seriously - that the leadership of Iran is crazy and unbelievably dangerous. Why do you pooh pooh the possibility that historians of the caliber of Morris and Lewis and, perhaps to a lesser extent, Goldhagen might be right? Your nonchalance on this point is beyond me.

Why do you pooh pooh the fact - and it is a fact - that the late Ayatollah Khomeini's ideology made war central, made life less so, that his theory was conspiratorial, etc., etc.? Does it give you any pause at all? And, when you hear the current group of lunatics saying basically what the Ayatollah Khomeini said while building equipment to build the Bomb, do you not suppose it is possible that this is not a normal situation. As Goldhagen stated more generally with respect to the Islamist movement, "This is not normal politics. This is not even the normal excess of normal politics." (From the article previously cited, now available in at http://www.goldhagen.com/Pages/articles/TheNewRepublic_TheNewThreat03022006.pdf).



You write: Assuming you want to act to prevent the above scenario, threats of military action if Iran moves along this track are entirely pointless unless there is an inspection regime put in place to insure that they are not. So I ask again, do you propose that Iran not be allowed gun barrels, metal boxes and the electronics necessary to make alarm clocks? Do you propose the regular unannounced inspection of every warehouse, basement and garage in Iran? Because that is what it would take to prevent the construct the type of bomb described in the scenario that you are now focusing on (again minus the fissile material).

Well, you seem to think that the only way to get to an inspection regime is to negotiate. My view is that Iran is required to allow the inspections and that the reason the country does not do so is that the country prefers to have the Bomb to whatever else it could have. If, as you inform me, the only way forward requires inspections, the question becomes how to get effective inspections. I suggest that, given the Iranian regime, negotiations are unlikely to achieve anything and that whatever deal is struck, it will lead, in the end, to what occurred in N. Korea, namely, the agreement will be welshed. So, that brings us back to the topic you refuse to face, which is that the nature of the Iranian regime is the most important fact because it effects how to approach Iran.

You write: "The Iran = Nazi Germany scenario you offer as answer does not in any way answer this question."

Again, I was not positing Iran to be Nazi Germany. I was proposed a thought experiment, based on the information about how you would have brought Nazi Germany to heal, had you been in charge in 1933. And, I noted that there are troubling similar concerns with Iran. You, for whatever reason believing that the Iranians will do what they promise rather than string people out while they arm, suggest negotiating. My question: for how long? At what point do you decide that Iran is playing games and, in fact, intends to build its Bomb no matter what we offer?


You write: "Partially normalizing relations and not imposing economic sanctions, as I have stated several times before, are what are on our side of the bargaining table."

Well, now there are some very, very minor economic sanctions on Iran. They have no impact on Iran's behavior. Why would removing pseudo-sanctions be something that would attract Iran?

I can see in theory that Iran might want relations with the US. The problem here is that Iran's leader just recently sent an invitation for us to convert to Islam which, as I have noted, is, in Islamic jurisprudence, a declaration of war on the US. That is not a good way to attract the US's interest in normal relations. Those who would send such an invitation would necessarily also follow the Islamic jurisprudential law that there can only be truces with infidel, with the truces being used - as is required by their jurisprudence - in order to re-arm.

My problem here is that I do not get past the mindset of people who, in the modern world, speak of Jihad, of hudnas, of Shari'a and of religion as the correct model for ordering the modern world. What I think is that people who speak in such terms do not, mentally speaking, live in the modern world. I, accordingly, take the language being used seriously because I think it defines what such people and what they will do. Why? Because I think the language indicates that they are true believers. And, true believers will do what they say, which, in the case of Iran, is very, very scary.

I know you will return to the idea that we have to negotiate. I think that is a losing poker hand. The only hand that people who speak the language involved understand is the language of the threat of force. So, I think if you want Iran to back down, the Western world needs to unite and show that it is willing to use force to maintain the peace.


John Charles Crocker - 2/7/2007

I will restate in case you really are completely missing my point. All communications with Iran by the West and others regarding its nuclear aspirations have centered around their ability to refine weapons grade uranium (which requires a large centrifuge array) and their ability to use that in creating warheads.
Their ability to build a garage nuke (again minus acquiring the fissile material either of their own manufacture or through a black market) is not something that can not be prevented and it is not something that anyone is speaking with Iran about. It is thus irrelevant to any conversation about how Iran should be confronted regarding its nuclear aspirations.

Assuming you want to act to prevent the above scenario, threats of military action if Iran moves along this track are entirely pointless unless there is an inspection regime put in place to insure that they are not. So I ask again, do you propose that Iran not be allowed gun barrels, metal boxes and the electronics necessary to make alarm clocks? Do you propose the regular unannounced inspection of every warehouse, basement and garage in Iran? Because that is what it would take to prevent the construct the type of bomb described in the scenario that you are now focusing on (again minus the fissile material).

The Iran = Nazi Germany scenario you offer as answer does not in any way answer this question.

"Negotiations involve trading this for that. If Iran wants the Bomb, what do we have to offer that will dissuade Iran from acting? Nothing I know of. So, I would start with: what do we have to offer?"
Partially normalizing relations and not imposing economic sanctions, as I have stated several times before, are what are on our side of the bargaining table.

"The US, in fact, has made proposals and they have been responded to by Iran."
The UN issued a mandate to Iran to halt its enrichment program in exchange for financial incentives and the US held out the possibility of direct talks if Iran gives in to all of the demands that those talks would be about. These I guess are the proposals you mean. This is not the US participating in a meaningful way in the process.

The Sokolski article you cited provides a reasonable framework for addressing Iran's nuclear ambitions. What do you think of his approach?


N. Friedman - 2/7/2007

Hi John,

You write: "To say that my point makes no sense is to entirely miss the point. All negotiations with Iran regarding their nuclear program are focussed on their ability to refine nuclear fuel and construct warheads. "

Negotiations mean give and take. What is the West willing to give and what does Iran want? Negotiations have been going on for years now. What appears to be the case is that Iran wants the Bomb and that they are using negotiations as a shield under which they can continue to do what they would do had their program not been discovered. What do you think that the West - including the US - would offer Iran that might make it give up the Bomb?


You write: As I said before the "loose nukes" left over from the ex-Soviet Union need to be secured in order to limit access to pre-enriched material and pre-assembled warheads. This will go a long way towards preventing any nation or group that cannot refine its own uranium from building the type of bomb you are now talking about.

The AQ Khan network, which I hope is now defunct, suggests that even the above idea, with which I wholeheartedly agree, is not sufficient. The AQ Khan network shows that it is, in fact, possible to create a black market in the manufacture and distribution of any and all nuclear technology and that, presumably, might even include fuel material that might be adaptable for Bombs. And, the assumption I have is that if there is a Khan network, there are probably a great many other networks that have yet to be discovered. The opportunity to profit is just too great for there only to be one network or, if there was, that others have not taken its place. Maybe the creation of a fuel underground is not as feasible but, no doubt, where there is money to be made, there will be those willing to try.


You write: Other than preventing the ability to enrich nuclear fuel and preventing access to pre-enriched nuclear fuel there is absolutely nothing we can do to prevent any nation or well financed group from producing a garage nuke. Do you propose that Iran not be allowed gun barrels, metal boxes and the electronics necessary to make alarm clocks? Do you propose the regular unannounced inspection of every warehouse, basement and garage in Iran? Because that is what it would take to prevent the construct the type of bomb described in the scenario that you are now focusing on (minus the fissile material).

The issue with Iran is its government. I offer this thought experiment for you to consider. Put yourself in British PM MacDonald's shoes in 1933 when evidence came to the fore that Germany was re-arming. Would the Allies have been better off making a show of force - as Churchill proposed - in order to pressure Germany to back down or was it better off to have waited? In this regard, I note that you should look forward - without 20/20 hindsight that shows that (a) Churchill's assessment of the Nazi movement and Hitler was correct and that (b) Churchill's view that confronting Hitler with a show of force as early as 1933 might have prevented war entirely, made for a very one-sided war or, at the very worse, could not have been any worse than the course ultimately chosen -. Note that in 1933, it was not probably not possible to be sure that Hitler and the Nazis were as dangerous as they were - although, as Churchill noted, Hitler's book set out pretty much exactly what Hitler eventually did and that anyone who bothered to read the book ought to have been pretty well forewarned that his movement was very, very dangerous -. So, there was, as Churchill saw a country in which (a) a nasty ideology that had conspiratorial notions about destroying an alleged but, in fact, non-existent fifth column that supposedly undermined Germany in WWI, (b) that ideology held, according to Hitler's book, that Germany should avenge its loses and take control of all territory where there were German people and (c) was re-arming. Was McDonald right to hold notwithstanding the fact that Germany was violating its treaty obligations with regard to re-arming?

Now, fastforward. The father of the ideological movement that controls Iran believed in Jihad - as in war - as a way of life (according to his writings), claimed the right to re-claim by force all lands that ever were held by Muslims, held conspiratorial notions that Westerners and, most especially, Jews were the source of the comparative impotence of the Muslim regions. The current rulers of the country - and this is not even Ahmadinejad - have said basically the same things over and over and over again. Now, it comes to light that the country is arming itself and making noises about wiping out - or whatever the exact words were (and, to note: it is rather unimportant since the point has been stated in lots of different speeches and in lots of different ways - a far away country- held by the group which, by the founder's ideology, has a conspiracy to destroy Islam.

On your scenario with respect to Iran as you have stated it: negotiate, since the bombs are not yet built but consider that Iran will, eventually, get the Bomb. On my version, negotiations are fine in theory but, in fact, Iran wants the bomb to project its power - and, possibly even to use it - and is not looking for something for which to trade away the bomb. Which of us is being more realistic, with reference to my original thought experiment?

Consider my point: in 1933, it was not possible to know that WWII would come - although, clearly, Churchill saw it coming from the very beginning -. What could be known was the existence of a dangerous ideology and a country arming itself. In my view, that is all that any one can know, looking forward. That, to me means that you have to take the safe approach and hold Iran to the fire: NOW, not when the country is stronger. And, that means a show of force in the hope of making war less, not more, likely.


You write: "The talks would obviously be about Iran's nuclear program. Are you being intentionally obtuse here?"

No. Negotiations involve trading this for that. If Iran wants the Bomb, what do we have to offer that will dissuade Iran from acting? Nothing I know of. So, I would start with: what do we have to offer? What is Iran even willing to discuss?


You write: "Among other reasons Europe cannot assure Iran that the US will not invade, which has been a sticking point in negotiations to this point. Again are you intentionally looking past the obvious here?"

That is not a serious objection. The US, in fact, has made proposals and they have been responded to by Iran. According to CNN: "The Iranian government has provided a detailed written response to a package of incentives offered by the United States and other Western nations for Tehran to roll back its nuclear program." http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/meast/08/22/iran.inspectors/index.html .


John Charles Crocker - 2/7/2007

To say that my point makes no sense is to entirely miss the point. All negotiations with Iran regarding their nuclear program are focussed on their ability to refine nuclear fuel and construct warheads.

As I said before the "loose nukes" left over from the ex-Soviet Union need to be secured in order to limit access to pre-enriched material and pre-assembled warheads. This will go a long way towards preventing any nation or group that cannot refine its own uranium from building the type of bomb you are now talking about. Other than preventing the ability to enrich nuclear fuel and preventing access to pre-enriched nuclear fuel there is absolutely nothing we can do to prevent any nation or well financed group from producing a garage nuke. Do you propose that Iran not be allowed gun barrels, metal boxes and the electronics necessary to make alarm clocks? Do you propose the regular unannounced inspection of every warehouse, basement and garage in Iran? Because that is what it would take to prevent the construct the type of bomb described in the scenario that you are now focusing on (minus the fissile material).

"Whether it is a mistake not to talk with Iran is another matter. That depends on what the talks are about."
The talks would obviously be about Iran's nuclear program. Are you being intentionally obtuse here?

"You indicate that Iran cannot negotiate seriously without talking with the US. Why?"
Among other reasons Europe cannot assure Iran that the US will not invade, which has been a sticking point in negotiations to this point. Again are you intentionally looking past the obvious here?


N. Friedman - 2/6/2007

John,

If a small bomb can be built by people in a garage, that means a somewhat larger bomb or, even, a number of somewhat larger bombs can be built by a country in a large, underground laboratory. So, again, your point makes no sense. The point I took from the article is that it does not take a large industrial plant to produce bombs. It just takes some scientific and engineering proficiency and fuel - which, evidently, can be purchased.

The US does not talk to Iran. That is correct. There is nothing wrong with talking. Whether it is a mistake not to talk with Iran is another matter. That depends on what the talks are about.

You indicate that Iran cannot negotiate seriously without talking with the US. Why? What has the US to offer Iran that Europe cannot tell us about? And, if the Iranians have something important to say to the US, they might come out and say it in order to pressure the US administration to say something. The letter written to Bush invites him to convert to Islam. That, in Islamic history, has been an preamble to an invasion by Muslim forces, as such is called for by some of the legal schools in Islam. That does not give one much faith in the interest of Iran in a serous talk.


John Charles Crocker - 2/6/2007

If the Israeli intelligence agencies, not just members of Likud, are now placing Iran less than five years from producing nuclear weapons that is new. The article did not indicate where Mr. Steinitz got that information.

The article you link to is about constructing a "suitcase bomb" with pre-enriched uranium. It is considerably easier to construct a bomb that is carried and placed at the site of explosion than to construct a warhead for a missile particularly when you have access to enriched uranium. The issue is and has been about a program capable of enriching uranium to the point necessary for a bomb and creating nuclear warheads, not about the ability to build a one off device using pre-enriched fissile material. Iran would not appreciably increase their standing in the region by producing a suitcase bomb with enriched uranium provided by another source. If one off devices are your concern, securing the ex-soviet arsenal should be your primary goal. Securing and protecting this incredibly dangerous material has been underfunded from the beginning and the funding has been cut since 9/11. Given the circumstances surrounding this material it is likely that anyone with the finances, connections and the determination could likely find all the necessary ingredients for a one off device.

Negotiations with Iran over their nuclear program would not include ceding any land from any country. I am unaware of anyone who has advocated anything of the sort. The only reason I can see for making that comment is to draw a false parallel with WW II.

As I stated previously the negotiations with Iran have not included the US and so have limited prospects of success. If the US would engage in the negotiations perhaps they would go somewhere. Apparently Iran made overtures to the US in 2003 which were ignored, yet another foreign policy blunder.
As for what Iranians want, one thing would be to not be financially isolated from the rest of the world. Iran has few friends in the region and the governments in the region, other than perhaps the Lebanese, would financially benefit from Iran's loss of money and status.

I listen to the BBC daily, read the Guardian and Independent at least weekly, and get the Dutch news. I do not see much of this attitude you feel to be dominant.

The US has, until very recently, been fantastically popular in the Netherlands. Americans could practically do no wrong in the eyes of Nederlanders. All that has changed in the past 4 years and has been replaced by bewilderment at US politics and policy.

Back to Sokolski. I did not see in the article how he came to the conclusion that Iran was less than four years away from having the bomb. His prescription for how to deal with Iran's nuclear ambitions (in the Finding the Levers and Pulling section) does seem reasonable though.


N. Friedman - 2/6/2007

CORRECTION

Strike the sentence that reads: "Whether or not he is correct, he is someone who cannot be discounted as you do under the heading of his not being an official at present - although, evidently he was, in the government who is speaking ex cathedra."

Substitute:

Whether or not he is correct, he is someone who cannot be discounted as you do under the heading of his not being an official at present - although, evidently he was, in the government - who is speaking ex cathedra.


N. Friedman - 2/6/2007

John,

One. Note that Israeli government does not subscribe to the ten year theory. See.

From the article: "Mr. Steinitz said Israeli officials estimate that Tehran is only two to three years away from developing a nuclear bomb and that time was running out for the world to act."

You write: "There are certainly people who make claims as to Iran's nuclear program, doubtless AEI, the Heritage Foundation and the PNAC have said that Iran is closer than 10 years to producing nuclear weapons."

I do not know Mr. Sokolski's background but I gather that he is an expert on the topic. I note that the article came from the Hoover Institution website, which is connected with Stanford University, which is among the elite universities in the world. So, this is not some nut making an argument. Whether or not he is correct, he is someone who cannot be discounted as you do under the heading of his not being an official at present - although, evidently he was, in the government who is speaking ex cathedra.

Again, he may be quite wrong. I am not a conservative so I do not follow conservative politics. But, I also know for a fact that among conservatives, there are quite a few who do believe in facts. So, I cannot dismiss what he says by making a categorical judgment that officially pronounced estimates - evidently, not believed by the Israelis, notwithstanding your view of the world - are what should inform my opinion.

I might add: the official estimates of my government and Britain were that Iraq was well along in developing the bomb. That theory has turned out to be a big dud. And, while there were some in the government who said that all along, the dominant view, shared by most people in the government (and, evidently, shared by Bill Clinton), was that Iraq was well along in his efforts. So, the government's view is not sacrosanct.

You write: By that logic any nation that wants nuclear weapons could have them in short order. Do you believe this? If it is so easy why to so few countries have nuclear weapons? Why did it take North Korea so long?
Constructing the necessary centrifuge array and acquiring enough fuel to refine in that array all without it being noticed would be quite a feat.


I think that a country with sufficient assets can develop a bomb in very short order. That is a different thing from developing a program to create a lot of bombs. That is a very different thing.

Now, there was an article a bit back in Foreign Policy Magazine called "The Bomb in the Backyard" I found a reprint online from another website. The article suggests that your theory cannot, in fact, be true. The actual authors of the article are Peter D. Zimmerman and Jeffrey G. Lewis. Their bios are as follows:

Peter D. Zimmerman is professor of science and security in the Department of War Studies at King's College London. He was previously chief scientist of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and chief scientist of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

Jeffrey G. Lewis is executive director of the Managing the Atom Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. He publishes the leading arms control blog, www.ArmsControlWonk.com.


So, this is a serious issue, notwithstanding your assurance that Iran needs ten years to do what a terrorist can do in short order if sufficiently determined.

Lastly, you talk about negotiating with Iran. You sound like Neville Chamberlain. What is it that Iran wants? This is what Mr. Ahmadinejad states: he wants to reclaim lands, including lands in Europe, that he believes Europeans stole from the House of Islam. Are you prepared to negotiate for that? My impression is that European nations would, so long as the land given to Islamic revolutionaries is limited to Israel. Fortunately, the Israelis have opened a few books and will not play along with that sort of nonsense and I doubt any American president would force such on Israel. Again: what does Iran want? There have negotiations going on for years and the thing that Iran really seems to want is the Bomb in order to advance Iran's causes.

As for the arguments I have seen on your side of the continent, I read more than occasionally The Guardian, The Independent and listen to the BBC. I also read some of what is posted from the continent. It does not match what you assert. Rather, the general mode is to appease Islam in order to obtain oil, contracts and placate local hostile populations by means of throwing dirt at Israel and the US.



John Charles Crocker - 2/6/2007

"Point one: you claim that no one claims it will take Iran less time. That is simply not true."
This was not my claim, I said, "No intelligence estimate coming out of the US, any European country, Israel or the UN places the Iranians closer than 10 years to producing nuclear weapons."
There are certainly people who make claims as to Iran's nuclear program, doubtless AEI, the Heritage Foundation and the PNAC have said that Iran is closer than 10 years to producing nuclear weapons. These are not intelligence estimates, such as those produced by the national governments I mentioned or the UN via the IAEA.

"Point two. It did not take the US ten years, the first time, to make a bomb from scratch without even a blueprint from which to work. The Iranians have a blueprint for a bomb. So, they would have to be the dumbest people on Earth if it takes them another ten years."
By that logic any nation that wants nuclear weapons could have them in short order. Do you believe this? If it is so easy why to so few countries have nuclear weapons? Why did it take North Korea so long?
Constructing the necessary centrifuge array and acquiring enough fuel to refine in that array all without it being noticed would be quite a feat.

"Point Three. I reiterate my point that if Iran is seeking the bomb and, as you and many others claim, it will take them ten years to have one, why not deal with Iran while it is easier to affect their behavior than it might be later?"
I have said repeatedly that negotiations with Iran need to be entered into. Our disagreement is on the form those negotiations should take. Your formula is to open with a mandate to Iran to meet a series of demands or face military action by a coalition of Western military forces. You have offered no other formula. I do not see this a constructive starting position; even if it were a position that had much of a chance to be taken seriously by Iran. European nations have been negotiating with Iran, but those negotiations can only go so far without US participation and the US has thus far refused to participate in any meaningful way. The US needs to stop viewing talking as a reward and enter negotiations. If negotiations aren't fruitful economic sanctions may need to be imposed and at some future time, if all else fails, military action may need to be considered, but that time is not now. Neither is now the time to make threats that we are not in a position to back up.

Your interpretation of US/EU relations is in my view neither accurate or constructive. The nations of the EU have done far more to meet US expectations than the other way around. Your interpretation of European motivations in dealing Iran and Israel does not in any way reflect the arguments I have heard made here (in Western Europe).


N. Friedman - 2/6/2007

Correction:

Strike the sentence that reads: "I am not dislike Islam."

Substitute:

I do not dislike Islam.


N. Friedman - 2/6/2007

Peter,

I do not rely on anyone and, most especially, not David Horowitz. Mrs. Ye'or is another matter. She is a first rate historian. But note: I also rely on Bernard Lewis who says very similar things to what Mrs. Ye'or says.

I am not dislike Islam. I do believe that the religion should be understood as it is, not as people in the West might want to project on it. And, unlike you who has yet to open a book about Islam, I have not read only a few such books, I have spent years studying Islamic theology and history.

That I do not subscribe to your uniformed opinions is rather obvious. But note: in all your rants, you cite to no sources and you identify no facts. Rather, you make bald assertions that do not even make it out of the box for serious discussion.

That is your idea. But, do not have the nerve to call me names.

I would ask that the person who manages this cite should remove your nasty, uncalled for comment.


N. Friedman - 2/6/2007

John,

I shall, for the moment, focus on your estimates of 10 years.

Point one: you claim that no one claims it will take Iran less time. That is simply not true. For example, according to Henry Sokolski, who is executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center:

When it comes to Iran’s nuclear program, most U.S. and allied officials are in one or another state of denial. All insist it is critical to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Yet, few understand just how late it is to attempt this. Iran is now no more than 12 to 48 months from acquiring a nuclear bomb, lacks for nothing technologically or materially to produce it, and seems dead set on securing an option to do so.

From "Defusing
Iran’s Bomb
,"

I am not vouchsafing for Mr. Sokolski. I am noting that not everyone of some background in the field shares your rosy assessment.

As a layperson, I cannot rest solely on the assurance that some people see danger soon while others see it in ten years. Rather, where there is such a gap among experts, I assume that they are all speculating in an educated manner, based on inadequate information.

Point two. It did not take the US ten years, the first time, to make a bomb from scratch without even a blueprint from which to work. The Iranians have a blueprint for a bomb. So, they would have to be the dumbest people on Earth if it takes them another ten years.

Point Three. I reiterate my point that if Iran is seeking the bomb and, as you and many others claim, it will take them ten years to have one, why not deal with Iran while it is easier to affect their behavior than it might be later? I might add that since ten years is an estimate, what if it takes 8 years but we do not begin to take them on in a serious way until 8 years out? That would be, if Iran is as nutty as many of us believe, a very bad mistake.

Now, you say the US should listen to its allies. I agree. But, our allies might also listen to the US. And, our allies should stop trying to undermine other allies of the US, such as Israel. That might get the allies a better hearing in the US since attacking Israel appears, from our side of the Atlantic, be merely consistent with European (i.e. the countries of Europe) short term goals to maintain a secure supply of Arab oil, to obtain lucrative contracts in the Arab regions and to placate unruly populations within the various European countries. That, frankly, greatly divides Europe from the US and it is rather pointless.


John Charles Crocker - 2/6/2007

Re: relative danger posed by Iran and Islam. We had a few rather long arguments about this in the autumn of 2006.

"The key point that contradicts your point is that we fought them. Thank you for conceding my point."
My point was that we did not invade them or seriously threaten to do so.

You may not directly propose invasion, but you propose threatening invasion and to this point that is the only concerted action you have proposed.
"Concerted action would consist of threats of what will happen if Iran proceeds, namely, Iran would face an invasion from a united Western world, not just the US."
A strategy for dealing with Iran and its nuclear ambitions requires far more than threat of invasion, particularly when that threat is as toothless as it is at present. Economic sanctions are the logical first stick to be used in negotiations, yet you entirely skip this and move directly to threats of invasion.

"As for thinking Muslims can think rationally, when have I suggested they are less rational than anyone else."
Here for one.
"That is an assessment I would expect from a more rational part of the world. But, we are speaking about Looneyville."
and
"Given the current lunacy running through the Islamic regions, I cannot imagine your complacency."
and
"Regarding the loonies of the Muslim region: (a) those who believe that the Mahdi is about to reveal himself and invite death; (b) those who want to engage (or stand in moral support of those who want to engage) in a quixotic Jihad against the world (i.e. a substantial portion of the Muslim regions); (c) those who make policy attuned to 7th Century notions (e.g. Saudi Arabia)."
Additionally your argument for treating Iran differently than every other (non-Muslim) country on earth rests on their religion making it impossible to deal with them rationally.

"No one has any idea how far Iran is away from having a bomb. The program was hidden, like the hidden imam, for decades without anyone have a clue about it. No one knows how much more is out of sight. Estimates vary about the time that Iran needs. So, I do not agree with your assessment."
No intelligence estimate coming out of the US, any European country, Israel or the UN places the Iranians closer than 10 years to producing nuclear weapons. Have you seen any evidence that they are closer or are you operating on a 1% doctrine?

"The one counter to that is that any Iranian which wants Iran to be like Iraq is a real nut. So, the notion that we might do to Iran the great things we did for Iraq ought to send chills up any rational Iranian's neck."
Iran is far more religiously monolithic (89% Shi'a) and does not have the same ethnic tensions as Iraq, so assuming a similar outcome is not warranted. The opposition in Iran would be far more unified and the prospect of civil war is far less likely.

Also consider that part of having a united front is listening to your allies in that united front rather dismissing their opinions as political correctness.


N. Friedman - 2/6/2007

John,

You write: "We have had that argument more than once , nothing new will likely be said, and I don't really feel like going through the motions."

Point me to where you have provided any evidence to support the argument you make here. I have no such recollection.

You write: "No, we fought them every way that we found practical at the time."

The key point that contradicts your point is that we fought them. Thank you for conceding my point.

You write: "He made threats before he had a working bomb. Should we have invaded?"

So far, I have not proposed invading anyone. Why do you continue to misstate my view? Do you understand the difference between acting in concert and war? If not, I suggest you read some Winston Churchill. He give a rather clear explanation of the difference and how, had the Europeans acted in concert when Hitler first showed any effort to rearm in violation of existing treaties, millions of people who died might not have. Note, that his proposal made war a last, not a first resort and he believed, given the then superiority of forces potentially arrayed against Germany that Hitler would back down if those forces positioned themselves aggressively - again, short of war.

In answer to your question, President Clinton considered invading but then evidently reached decided to try to resolve the matter by agreement. An agreement was reached but N. Korea evidently welshed on it. It is too late to play 20/20 hindsight and I would not advise invading N. Korea today. As far as I can see, N. Korea appears thus far to be deterred - which is the goal. I have no reason to imagine, in hindsight, that N. Korea could not be deterred.

You write: "The number of Persians is far from innumerable."

Note that I said Muslims. I said that in view of Benny Morris' comment about Ahmadinejad which reads:

As his mentor, Khomeini, put it in a speech in Qom in 1980: "We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. … I say, let" Iran "burn … provided Islam emerges triumphant. …"

(Emphasis added). Which is to say, it is not sufficient to view the Iranian lunatic leadership as committed to Iran. They are committed to their Islamic revolutionary movement which is something different than Iranian or, as prefer, Persian.

You write: "If a European ally is attacked by Iran the US will become militarily involved. I think you misjudge both the public and our political leaders on this count."

Maybe. Maybe not. I am not sure. And, if the country that is attacked is France, I suspect that most Americans would cheer.

You write: "Manifest Destiny took care of that. More neighbors and less space makes for greater tensions."

Your point? Manifest Destiny has helped create peace on our side of the Atlantic. That is true. But, there are other crowded parts of the world yet none has done as bad as Europe did in the 20th Century. Think S. America. Think S. America.

You write: With this and the paragraph that follows it seems the place you see for this religion is the past.

It shows some level of disdain for a religion or philosophy if you think that its followers are incapable of making rational decisions.


Well, I think the place for all religion is in the past. But, a religion which creates a categorical imperative to conquer the world is an even more compelling case to be watched.

As for thinking Muslims can think rationally, when have I suggested they are less rational than anyone else. Consider Abba Eban's quip that all wrong ideas must exhaust themselves before a sane idea can be adopted. That is, I think, pretty universally true. My contention is that Islam makes it very difficult for the Muslim regions because the religion, in its pure form - which is in its ascendancy at present - demands war.

You write: Can you at least place some boundaries on what you mean when you say a substantial portion of them want or think x,y or z. You said that the percentage must be very large. This would indicate to me at the least 50%. Is this what you mean? If not what is the least you think it could be? 20%? 10%? 5%?

If we are referring to those who believe in the literal truth of Islam, the percentage may exceed 90% of all Muslims, worldwide. That is MJ Akbar's position.

If you mean those who actually understand the details of that truth, the percentage may be less than half of that. If you mean those who would actually commit violence to advance the goal of spreading Muslim rule, the percentages are perhaps somewhere between 5 and 20% of all Muslims.

If you mean those who believe in the hidden imam idea, then that constitutes the vast majority of all twelver Shi'a - probably above 90%. If you mean those whom, like Iran's president, say they want to provoke a cataclysm to cause the return of the hidden imam, I would bet that the number is between 5 and 20% of all Shi'a worldwide.

If you mean those who think that the hidden imam is about to be revealed so that now is the time to provoke violence, I would bet the number is somewhat smaller. However, on this topic, you should ask Professor Furnish.

As for my position, I have stated it clearly. I do not suggest a threat akin to Iraq. I suggest we have a united world, not the US acting on its own. That is a big difference. Having France and the other Europeans side with the lunatics will make war far more likely. And, I really do not want any wars.

You write: "By all accounts Iran is at least 10 years away from producing a bomb. If negotiations fail and sanctions fail it may be a necessary to take this position, but I do not see this as wise starting point."

No one has any idea how far Iran is away from having a bomb. The program was hidden, like the hidden imam, for decades without anyone have a clue about it. No one knows how much more is out of sight. Estimates vary about the time that Iran needs. So, I do not agree with your assessment.

In any event, I suggest that if they are ten years away, then now is the time to act rather than when they are potentially more dangerous.

I also note Benny Morris' point about Iran acting when, at some point, they have the bomb. And, I consider him a sufficiently astute analyst to take his comment seriously. As he states:

One bright morning, in five or 10 years' time, perhaps during a regional crisis, perhaps out of the blue, a day or a year or five years after Iran's acquisition of the bomb, the mullahs in Qom will convoke in secret session, under a portrait of the steely-eyed Ayatollah Khomeini, and give President Ahmadinejad, by then in his second or third term, the go ahead.

The orders will go out, and the Shihab III and IV missiles will take off for Tel Aviv, Beersheba, Haifa, and Jerusalem, and probably some military sites, including Israel's half-dozen air and alleged nuclear missile bases. Some of the Shihabs will be nuclear-tipped, perhaps even with multiple warheads. Others will be dupes, packed merely with biological or chemical agents, or old newspapers, to draw off or confuse Israel's anti-missile batteries and Home Guard units.


Do you have any factual reason to think that Morris is wrongly perceiving the reality of today's Iran? For real, John. And, given that reality, consider that saving a large number of people who have no beef with Iran is called being a man.

You last point is better considered. Time to get out of Iraq is a good idea. The one counter to that is that any Iranian which wants Iran to be like Iraq is a real nut. So, the notion that we might do to Iran the great things we did for Iraq ought to send chills up any rational Iranian's neck.


John Charles Crocker - 2/5/2007

Re: "I disagree with you about the level of the threat and the best way to deal with it." and your wanting evidence.
We have had that argument more than once , nothing new will likely be said, and I don't really feel like going through the motions.

"I can answer that we fought the USSR every way we could."
No, we fought them every way that we found practical at the time.

"As for Kim, he has nuclear weapons so fighting with him directly would become rather difficult, since it could potentially mean a disaster for South Korea."
He made threats before he had a working bomb. Should we have invaded?

"...and the number of Muslims is nearly innumerable so the Iranian leadership has a lot more options."
The number of Persians is far from innumerable.

"...I kind of doubt that the US would come to the aid of Europe were it to be attacked by Muslims."
If a European ally is attacked by Iran the US will become militarily involved. I think you misjudge both the public and our political leaders on this count.

"America has made its share of terrible errors too but nothing compares to what Europe did in the 20th Century. That is a rather uniquely bad period in history with nothing quite as substantially awful on our side of the Atlantic."
Manifest Destiny took care of that. More neighbors and less space makes for greater tensions.

"Islam is a great heroic religion. And heroism has its place in the world."
With this and the paragraph that follows it seems the place you see for this religion is the past.

It shows some level of disdain for a religion or philosophy if you think that its followers are incapable of making rational decisions.

"But, I would not venture a guess as to how large."
Can you at least place some boundaries on what you mean when you say a substantial portion of them want or think x,y or z. You said that the percentage must be very large. This would indicate to me at the least 50%. Is this what you mean? If not what is the least you think it could be? 20%? 10%? 5%?

Your position as I understand it is to threaten Iran with direct military action by a coalition of Western nations if it does not submit to an inspection regime to prove that it is not pursuing nuclear weapons. At one point I believe that you suggested that the US could make this threat unilaterally, though I doubt you would council this.
I do not think that you want war, but I think the above position makes it more likely. If your assessment of the leadership and a substantial percentage of their population this threat will not be a deterrent to them. If the goal of your threats is to motivate other elements within Iranian society, I see that working about as well in Iran as it did in Iraq.

By all accounts Iran is at least 10 years away from producing a bomb. If negotiations fail and sanctions fail it may be a necessary to take this position, but I do not see this as wise starting point.

An additional point to consider is that any military threats to Iran while we are bogged down in Iraq would be dubious at best and negotiations don't just give them time, they give us time as well.


N. Friedman - 2/5/2007

Correction:

Strike the sentence that reads: "Or, do you not think that there are never lunatics in the world who act on their lunacy?"

Substitute:

Or, do you not think that there are ever lunatics in the world who act on their lunacy?


N. Friedman - 2/5/2007

Mr. Chapman,

I favor no wars. I do, however, note that the Iranians say they want to make war. I think such things should be taken seriously because they are said, so far as I know, in all seriousness. And, I note that the ideology that the Iranian government espouses demands war when war can be waged effectively and, moreover, that the leadership appears to hold the view that the hidden imam will soon be revealed and that, by creating a world cataclysm, the dates of his appearance can be moved forward. That scares me. Does it not scare you? Or, do you not think that there are never lunatics in the world who act on their lunacy?


I have not suggested going to war. I have suggested taking steps that make it clear to the Iranians that their current path leads to war in the hope of convincing those who are rational in Iran to reign in the lunatics who run the country. I do not see that as advocating war.

By contrast, your path makes war more likely to occur, unless the information in my first paragraph is wrong. So, frankly, the issue here is whether what I have stated in the first paragraph is factual. And, as I have noted, three eminent historians say it is so. And, they are not all right wingers. Mr. Morris is a left winger. I do not know Goldhagen's politics but, since he publishes in The New Republic, I assume he is not a right winger.

Have I made myself clear? Now, address the issue at hand instead of baldly stating your version of wishful thinking. After all, the Iranians either will or will not act on their threats. So, it is something that we can make educated speculation about.


John Chapman - 2/5/2007

Offer Iran everything she wants: nuclear technology and normal trade relations and then see what she does. And respond in kind.

Mr. Friedman and others only seem to view the situation from the dark side, and they take it from there in their endless analysis which comes no nearer to any solution except war. Their views, like the Bush radicals, only rachet up the tensions in the Middle East.


N. Friedman - 2/5/2007

John,

You write: "I disagree with you about the level of the threat and the best way to deal with it."

Some evidence for your position, please. Otherwise, it is a bald assertion that has no significance. Since you are a knowledgeable person, I trust you can cite evidence on which you base your position. And, you can show why your position, with that evidence, is the more likely position. I look forward to your explanation and supporting evidence.

You write: "Does this mean it would have be justified to have attacked the Soviet Union at any point we chose during the Cold War? Do Kim Jong-il's rants grant us the legal pretense for attacking North Korea? Do you think either of these arguments would go very far?"

Well, we were at war, with many millions of people dying, with the Soviet Union. The war was fought via a bunch of proxy wars and other such activity. So, I can answer that we fought the USSR every way we could. And, not having the world fall to the Soviets was a good thing. We probably did not fight the Soviets directly because they had nuclear weapons and because, at the end of WWII, people were tired of fighting. So, what eventually ensued were a bunch of wars by proxy.

As for Kim, he has nuclear weapons so fighting with him directly would become rather difficult, since it could potentially mean a disaster for South Korea. While he might use his weapons, unlike people in the Muslim regions, there are not many North Koreans in the world so Kim's options are very few. And, so far as I know, he does not invite death.

By contrast, the Mullahs appear to hold a different view about the worth of being alive and the number of Muslims is nearly innumerable so the Iranian leadership has a lot more options. And, if and when Iran obtains nuclear weapons, Iran's options become even greater while Iran's ability to absorb casualties in war is far greater than that of North Korea. So, the situation is very different to the extent that one tells me nothing about the other.

You write: "I seriously doubt that. Not only because of our current foreign policy but because any fighting with Muslims that Europe does will inevitably involve Americans."

Iran has missiles that can reach Europe and, in short order, Iran's missiles will be able to reach Britain. By contrast, Iran is a long way from having missiles that can reach the US. So, as I said, it is Europe, not the US, which will fight with the lunatics of Iran in the end, if a fight ensues. The US, thus far, is out of range and such may be, at this point, beyond Iran's capacity.

Politically speaking, Americans, both Democrats like me and Republicans, are sufficiently disgusted by Europe that I kind of doubt that the US would come to the aid of Europe were it to be attacked by Muslims. I think most Americans would say, "serves you right." That is my impression.

As for the disdain issue, the issue with Europe is the horror of its wars and the unending list of political errors. America has made its share of terrible errors too but nothing compares to what Europe did in the 20th Century. That is a rather uniquely bad period in history with nothing quite as substantially awful on our side of the Atlantic. I might note: if you read about how Europeans dealt with Hitler - and no doubt 20/20 hindsight makes the mistakes seem even worse than they were looking forward but the mistakes made in confronting Hitler when he was violating treaties, etc., are pretty loathsome - and you look at the world as it is now, you see the same type mistakes being made.

As for Islam, I do not disdain Islam. I think it a fascinating religion. As I have stated repeatedly on this website, Islam is a great heroic religion. And heroism has its place in the world. But, it has its down side as well. In the modern world, a religion that advocates war to spread its rule according to its religious precepts does not work anymore. It can lead only to mass suffering and death. So, with Islam raising itself, as it was in its classic form as a religio/political doctrine, I think it is important to understand it as it really is and to understand that those who advocate the religion advocate violence and, given the history of that faith, will almost surely act violently. So, adding nuclear weapons to the mix is a lethal combination.

As for the numbers who advocate violence, I certainly do not know the numbers. I do know that the percentage who believes that spreading the House of Islam by violence - which is the classical Islamic theological formula - must be very large. But, I would not venture a guess as to how large.

Those, by contrast, who advocate the Mahdi is coming soon are comparatively few. Such is primarily a Shi'ite doctrine and certainly the part of about the hidden imam (i.e. Mahdi) is. But, note: the president of Iran claims to hold to the view that the Mahdi is soon to be revealed and that helping his return by cataclysmic violence is proper. That makes him and those like him a danger to the world.

Lastly, I was not advocating violence. I was advocating a policy to prevent violence. You conflate my position with that of a person who advocates war. I want to prevent war or, if their must be a war, that it occur when we are comparatively strong so that the number of people dying will be as small as possible. I say this because I hate war.



John Charles Crocker - 2/4/2007

"So, people who can remotely see the shape of things with a country ruled by belligerent lunatics who invite death while having nuclear weapons owe it to make the world understand that danger. Do you disagree?"
I disagree with you about the level of the threat and the best way to deal with it.

"In any event, Iran is acting illegally by threatening to destroy - and making the threat repeatedly - a state that is a member of the UN. So, the world does have a legal token on which to act"
Does this mean it would have be justified to have attacked the Soviet Union at any point we chose during the Cold War? Do Kim Jong-il's rants grant us the legal pretense for attacking North Korea? Do you think either of these arguments would go very far?

"But again, it is, in the end, Europe which will almost certainly, if trends continue, fight with people in the Muslim regions, not America."
I seriously doubt that. Not only because of our current foreign policy but because any fighting with Muslims that Europe does will inevitably involve Americans.

So say you don't have disdain for Europeans you just think that they are the equivalent of Nazi appeasers? You follow this by implying some sort of moral superiority of America because of WW I and WW II, as though America does not have its own bloody history. Perhaps I am misunderstanding your intent, but I don't see the point of this final sentence otherwise. These things along with your characterization of Europeans as failing to react because of political correctness rather than an honestly different calculation of the threat and appropriate action lead me to say you have disdain for Europeans. You apparently also disdain most or at least a substantial portion of Muslims given your characterization of them. I am unclear on how much a substantial portion is, is it half? more? less?


N. Friedman - 2/4/2007

Further correction:

Strike the sentence that reads:

My disdain, as you call it, for Europe is its not disdain.

Substitute:

My disdain, as you call it, for Europe is not disdain.


N. Friedman - 2/4/2007

Correction:

Delete the paragraph that reads:

Regarding the loonies of the Muslim region: (a) those who believe that the Mahdi is about to reveal himself and invite death; (b) those who want to engage in a quixotic Jihad against the world (i.e. a substantial portion of the Muslim regions); (c) those who make policy attuned to 7th Century notions (e.g. Saudi Arabia).

Substitute:

Regarding the loonies of the Muslim region: (a) those who believe that the Mahdi is about to reveal himself and invite death; (b) those who want to engage (or stand in moral support of those who want to engage) in a quixotic Jihad against the world (i.e. a substantial portion of the Muslim regions); (c) those who make policy attuned to 7th Century notions (e.g. Saudi Arabia).


N. Friedman - 2/4/2007

John,

You make some good points.

If the world cannot unite absent actual military action by Iran, then the world will not stop Iran from arming. If that is correct, that means a monstrous war will, in due course, occur - even perhaps as a direct consequence of your scenario of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East. So, people who can remotely see the shape of things with a country ruled by belligerent lunatics who invite death while having nuclear weapons owe it to make the world understand that danger. Do you disagree?

I have not proposed acting illegally. I have said that the issue is not best understood from a legal versus illegal perspective. In fact, I thought I said that rather specifically. In any event, Iran is acting illegally by threatening to destroy - and making the threat repeatedly - a state that is a member of the UN. So, the world does have a legal token on which to act, except, of course, that Europeans disdain the threatened country. I understand, however, that opinions in Europe are changing and that the disdain is beginning to abate somewhat.

Your point, however, is well taken about failing to bring along Europe since it is politically correct. That is a real problem. But again, it is, in the end, Europe which will almost certainly, if trends continue, fight with people in the Muslim regions, not America. Ahmadinejad did, you will note, say that his interest in destroying Israel served the purpose of beginning the reconquest of land in Europe. One can assume that he understands his own position. Maybe, if the Europeans were not so obsessed with "understanding" the "legitimate grievances" of people who spout barbaric policy objectives - suggesting that the "grievances" are just pablum, Europeans might wake up from sleeping. Again, however, your point is well taken.

The reports in the US did, or at least those of NPR. They described a cult of people who believed in an end of the world scenario.

Regarding the loonies of the Muslim region: (a) those who believe that the Mahdi is about to reveal himself and invite death; (b) those who want to engage in a quixotic Jihad against the world (i.e. a substantial portion of the Muslim regions); (c) those who make policy attuned to 7th Century notions (e.g. Saudi Arabia).

Regarding domination: your point is largely well taken. But, it is not an infrequent event and it is not an unlikely scenario. Nor would the lives of the dominated be noticeably different.

My disdain, as you call it, for Europe is its not disdain. However, I see Europeans behaving as they did before WWII. I note that apart from American intervention, the thing Europeans are best at is killing each other in numbers that rival even the Muslim massacre of India (e.g. WWI and WWII). [Note: According to historian Will Durant (among others), the killing spree in India by Muslim invaders was the worst recorded by history, even including WWII).







John Charles Crocker - 2/4/2007

"First, the threat would have to be real, not just talk..."
And as I said a threat of military action against Iran absent direct military action by Iran would not likely happen thus the threat would be empty. The best/worst that can likely get unified World or even Western support is sanctions and the US is in no position to attack Iran with only a few allies. If for no reason other than this negotiation and possible sanctions seem to be the way to go.

"You seem to view this matter as a legal matter - looking for a criminal prosecution or the like."
If what we propose is not legal, do you really think that we can get a unified front? This would go nowhere in the UN or NATO, so we would be looking at another "coalition of the willing" only this time it would be much smaller and not something Iran would be cowed by.

"My justification is the reality of the situation. If that pleases the Iranians and upsets the politically correct Europeans, that is their problem."
So, if I read you correctly, your justification does rest on the Iranians having fundamentalist Muslim leadership. I submit that it "upsets" the Europeans is a major stumbling block for your plan of a unified Western front rather than simply "their problem." Any proposed solution to this situation should be based in reality as it is, not as you or I might wish it was or think it should be.

"That is an assessment I would expect from a more rational part of the world. But, we are speaking about Looneyville."
Are you saying that the entire Middle East is peopled by "loons"? or just mostly populated by "loons"?
Do you really think that the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia would not act to preserve their positions of power? Keep in mind that Iran would not immediately gain an arsenal, they would initially have one or a few weapons and they would need to test them to convince anyone that their threat was viable. This would give the other powers in the region time to acquire weapons from Pakistan or North Korea or make some other arrangement.

The reports I read of the battle you mentioned did not portray those involved as either crazy or cultists, though they did mention a religious festival or ceremony of sorts that involved self flagellation. Additionally the reports I read stated that one group was involved in a conflict with government forces and the other came to their aid, indicating that this was not a joint event. Again all reports I have read indicated that they were neighboring tribes that had made an alliance, not a single group, if you have information that contradicts this would you supply a link? The two tribes involved, not surprisingly, have a far different account of the events than the military reports.

"I might also note that Sunnis have often dominated Shi'a who, in time, have gone along with that domination..."
The key word here is dominated. When one force was overwhelmingly more powerful than the other they were able to dominate the other. The dominated party accepted this domination as long as they had to. Again a few untested low yield nuclear weapons would not be enough for Iran to dominate the region and before Iran could test the weapons and solidify their position Egypt and Saudi Arabia would make a play for their own deterrent either through Pakistan or North Korea or some other source.

As wild as the rhetoric has been coming from Iran their actions have been grounded in reality.

As much disdain as you seem to have for Europe, current US actions have far more to do with emboldening Iran and furthering any plans they may have for regional domination than anything the Europeans have done. Perhaps more of your disdain should be focussed closer to home.


N. Friedman - 2/4/2007

John,

I forgot to address the issue of the cult. The papers have portrayed the group as crazy.

Professor Furnish, by contrast, has indicated that such group is not far out but Mahdist and not as far removed from the mainstream as reporters believe. In that the group is Mahdist in orientation, I am inclined to believe his analysis, since that is his area of expertise. I also note that he indicates that the group is made up of both Sunni and Shi'a.

I might also note that Sunnis have often dominated Shi'a who, in time, have gone along with that domination. But, at other times, Shi'a have dominated and Sunni have gone along with it. So, the fact that they are rivals regarding who leads, while making it difficult for them to act in concert, has not always prevented their coming together. It is, rather, a complicating factor for Muslim unity.

Perhaps, the world might find a way to play on the rivalry between Sunni and Shi'a. That has some potential but it is also very dangerous, as it might create, as many warn, a regional conflagration.

But, the current situation is untenable, in any event, for the long haul anyway and has all the markings, already, of a disaster for the world. Tamping down religiously inspired insanity is not easy thing and will almost certainly lead to widespread bloodshed, even on the best case scenario. So, we cannot dismiss playing on Islamic rivalries if it will help our task of surviving and thriving.


N. Friedman - 2/3/2007

John,

You write: "If they are looking for death what good are threats, particularly threats that can not or will not be backed up."

You did not read me carefully. First, the threat would have to be real, not just talk and, Second, the goal would be to convince those in Iran who are rational, not those who invite death. Note my comment about the military and about the part of the population which is not loony. They - most especially the sane parts of the military - are the audience for the threat, which obviously would make clear that the issue is an insane leadership, not any Iranian leadership.

Well, N. Korea may be dangerous. So might Pakistan. India is not in the same league as the others and neither is Israel. You seem to view this matter as a legal matter - looking for a criminal prosecution or the like. With my background, I ought agree with you, since it is good for business.

At the thought of losing potential governmental clients, I note that law is a tool, not an end. The end goal is to survive and prosper, not to maintain legal niceties in a suicide pact - although I obviously do not prefer to act unlawfully but note that such is the norm in International politics between truly rival states, with the law being more a tool than a neutral arbiter.


I think the legalities are, in this instance, largely secondary, since the issue is a government, in the case of Iran, which is dominated by religious fanatics. Again, the issue is what they believe. Note that Pakistan, which is also Muslim, does not raise quite the same issues, at least to me, as Iran. And Pakistan is not threatening to wipe out another country, at least not at the moment. Iran, by contrast, is making such threats - and making them repeatedly. That makes Iran very different.

Evidently, since the threat is not to your country, you take the matter as one to be solved at leisure. But consider, to Israelis, there is an existential threat from Iran to which the Israelis, if backed into a corner by the ever careless Europeans and others, will act like a country cornered - and I am not referring to the use by Israel of such weapons -. That would be unfortunate for Israel and Iran, but also world relations - most especially for Europeans. So, the world certainly has an interest in bringing Iran as quickly as possible to reject its current insane ideology.

You write: "Your justification seems to rest on Iran's leadership being fundamentalist Muslims. This justification is just what the Iranian leaders are hoping will be openly stated, as it is what they have alleged from the beginning. I submit that this justification is diplomatically problematic at the very least."

My justification is the reality of the situation. If that pleases the Iranians and upsets the politically correct Europeans, that is their problem. The world's problem is an insane government in Iran. And the issue is what is occurring, not whether the Iranians can state "we told you so" to their loony followers.

Consider: If we cannot even bear to speak the true reasons for our concern, hiding behind phony legalisms which have nothing to do with the world's concern, obviously the world cannot unite to protect itself. Again, the issue for the world to hang its hat on is the insane ideology which dominates the government of Iran. One might note, in a discussion about Nazi Germany, your view would be not to place opposition to Nazism on Nazism's vileness for fear of it receiving a bad review in Nazi Germany.

You write: "The Egyptians and the Saudis do not seem at all comfortable with Iran's growing influence. A nuclear Iran might lead to a regional arms race as with India and Pakistan. Pakistan might even be the avenue of a nuclear Egypt or Saudi Arabia."

That is an assessment I would expect from a more rational part of the world. But, we are speaking about Looneyville. I would expect Iran, if it obtains the bomb, to move fast to dominate its neighbors. That, at the moment, is why the Sunni neighbors are so apoplectic. They, unlike you, understand how their part of the world works.

You write: "Iran will eventually go nuclear under this regime or a later one. We need to figure out how we will deal with this eventuality even as we attempt to delay it as much as is possible."

The assumption of your comment is that this is a manageable situation. If it is, then you are correct. If not, then it is a disaster for the world. Given the current lunacy running through the Islamic regions, I cannot imagine your complacency. It has no foundation in the reality that now exists, in my ever so humble view.


John Charles Crocker - 2/3/2007

If they are looking for death what good are threats, particularly threats that can not or will not be backed up. Invasion by a united Western world is certainly not likely barring overt military action by Iran. We should limit the actions we advocate to realistic ones.

I did not single out Israel. I mentioned India and Pakistan in the same sentence and later North Korea as countries who pursued and acquired nuclear weapons against the wishes of the international community with little or not negative consequence. It is difficult to justify harsh actions against Iran for the same offense committed by these other countries. Some justification can be made in the different treatment of India, Pakistan and Israel as they did not sign the NPT, but what of North Korea, also a signatory and also led by someone many consider unbalanced?

Your justification seems to rest on Iran's leadership being fundamentalist Muslims. This justification is just what the Iranian leaders are hoping will be openly stated, as it is what they have alleged from the beginning. I submit that this justification is diplomatically problematic at the very least.

A religious test for whether or not a nation can go nuclear does not seem to me to be viable. Some universal standard needs to be applied.

I read about the battle you mentioned in Iraq though I can't find either of the articles with a lazy search. So far this is the only "battle" I have heard of with Sunni and Shi'a allied against Shi'a and Americans. As I understand it a minor Sunni tribe had an alliance with a neighboring minor Shi'a tribe that was not allied with the Shi'a in charge of the government. If I remember correctly this was a rather one sided affair and there is some dispute as to the cause. This seems evidence of a more, not less, fractured society.

"My suggestion is that you consider that the dispute between Sunni and Shi'a is more a rivalry about who leads than about doctrinal differences."
This seems to me to be a rather large dispute and one that has thus far been intractable.

I do not see it as likely that Iran could win over many if any to its cause absent an invasion by the West.

The Egyptians and the Saudis do not seem at all comfortable with Iran's growing influence. A nuclear Iran might lead to a regional arms race as with India and Pakistan. Pakistan might even be the avenue of a nuclear Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

Iran will eventually go nuclear under this regime or a later one. We need to figure out how we will deal with this eventuality even as we attempt to delay it as much as is possible.


N. Friedman - 2/3/2007

John,

You ask good questions.

Concerted action would consist of threats of what will happen if Iran proceeds, namely, Iran would face an invasion from a united Western world, not just the US.

The issue, when we think of Iran having nuclear weapons, is not the spread of nuclear weapons generally speaking. Iran is a special case because it is ruled by religious fanatics where the country's president believes - or says he believes - that the Mahdi is about to reappear. That makes Iran very, very different from any other country on Earth, as its leaders, if they believe their own rhetoric, invite death and worldwide cataclysm. So, they may not - or at least the leadership may not - care about our threats. But, the Iranian military may have a different view as may a substantial portion of the Iranian people.

I am at a loss to understand why you confuse the issue of Iran with whether a Westernized country like Israel has nuclear weapons. Israel,if the public information is correct, had them during the 1973 war - in which Israel was perilously close to being destroyed - yet did not use them. So, Israel is no different with such weapons than the UK and, perhaps, better since, unlike the UK, Israel does not send her armies half way around the world and claim to be bringing democracy.

And, if you understood Benny Morris' point, nuclear weapons are tactically useless in battle for Israel because, due to its tiny size, Israel would always be in the position of having to use them too early or too late. Which is why Israel plays the card of ambiguity, by which I believe the country's program is largely a bluff. But, even if it is not a bluff, Israel is not ruled by people who crave martyrdom while Iran may well be.

The world has already started sanctions against Iran so there must be a legal basis to claim that Iran is not following its legal obligations. But consider, if Iran left the NPT, it would be a declaration of an intention to make a weapon, something Iran cannot afford to do at this point, if the estimates of its program are remotely correct. Which is to say, Iran requires somewhat the cover of legality to create weapons, not because the legality is important but to help stave off concerted action by the the rest of the world. So, probably the best thing Iran could do, if the goal is for the world to unite, would be to leave the NPT so that the world might see Iran as it is, rather than make believe things are only half as bad as they almost certainly are.

You inquire about Iran vis a vis the various Sunni countries. The assumption you have is that Sunnis will never follow Shi'a. That is not entirely consistent with the historical record nor with present events. Note that the Mahdist "cult" (and, as Professor Furnish notes, Mahdists such as those involved are not a cult but, historically, a major force in Islamic countries) from Iraq - the one recently battled by Iraqi and American troops - was mixed with both Sunni and Shi'a. Makes you want to scratch your head, does it not?

My suggestion is that you consider that the dispute between Sunni and Shi'a is more a rivalry about who leads than about doctrinal differences. You might read Patricia Crone's book God's Rule: Government and Islam, in which she provides an excellent expose regarding the origins of the split between the two Islamic groups. While the split has evolved from what it originally was, leadership still remains the underlying issue.

So, while Sunnis would no doubt prefer not to be dominated by the Shi'a (and vice versa), that does not mean they will not be. And, the Islamist movement owes - and sometimes even acknowledges it debt to - much of its renaissance to the Shi'a of Iran as the Shi'a, with their revolution, set the path for restoration of Islamic governance.

I am not sure who Iran can win to its side. If it has nuclear weapons, it may well be in a position to dominate its neighbors and that may well define the relationship, with Iran leading its neighbors who are subject to the fact that Iran - perhaps in part thanks to the US invasion - would, with nuclear weapons, becomes truly the dominant player in the region.


John Charles Crocker - 2/3/2007

The question of whether people, "religious nuts" or otherwise, believe what they say is far from an idiotic question. Nuts of all stripes quite frequently say far more than they will or even can do.

It is possible that you are correct about the likely actions of Iran if they become a nuclear power, though I seriously doubt it. The question is how best delay the inevitable for as long as possible. (Preferably this will be delayed until well beyond the current regime's tenure.)

You have said that you council concerted action by the West. What sort of concerted action do you propose?
Sanctions? If so what sort and how do you justify them under the present circumstances? We cannot prove any treaty violations at this point can we?

What if they withdraw from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and develop nuclear weapons as have India, Pakistan and Israel? How do we then justify sanctions or other actions while India, Pakistan, Israel and to a large extent North Korea remain immune from these same actions?

Assuming Iran gets a nuke, who do you see allying themselves behind Iran?
Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Iraq are the only other majority Shia nations (the Shia do make up a plurality of the population in Lebanon). Do you really think that the majority Sunni nations will line up behind Iran? Would the Saudis or Egyptians be eager to follow Iran? Do you even think that Bahrain and Lebanon are eager to line up behind Iran to fight the West?


N. Friedman - 2/3/2007

John,

Before addressing your point, I note preliminarily that the issue of what Iran would do depends on who rules the country. If Mr. Ahmadinejad or someone of his ilk rules, Iran will likely do what Ahmadinejad has previously asserted he would do, namely, attempt to destroy Israel in order to revive Islamic forces - not as an end but, instead, for purposes of regaining land lost to Europeans. Such is something he has made rather clear. Whether that means he would use the Bomb is another matter. I am not a mind reader.

Please note, however, that three eminent historians, Bernard Lewis (i.e. the dean of all scholars of the Muslim regions), Benny Morris (of note for his study of losses suffered by Palestinian Arabs) and Daniel Goldhagen (of note for his study of Germans and the Shoah) believe that Iran will likely use the Bomb when it obtains it. To me, given the status of these scholars, the threat can simply not be dismissed by saying some other writers see more benign implications. Rather, it is for those who claim a more benign future with a nuclear armed Iran to assert some evidence that might suggest that the noted eminent scholars are wrong. I have heard none - merely bald assertions.

My school of thought is that a belligerent power ruled by belligerent, lunatic religious fanatics must be prevented from having nuclear weapons even if it means a lot of bad political fallout - and no doubt Professor Kimball is correct that war would have terrible political fallout but even an Iran turned into another Iraq would not be building the Bomb so, by that marker, the world, albeit not Iran, would be better off. I might add, as a Machiavellian aside (but not my view): one threat the US could make to Iran is to threaten to bring to Iran what we brought to Iraq (i.e. something worse than civil war).

In any event, not only is Iran's ruler a belligerent, lunatic religious fanatic but his specific doctrine of religious insanity - i.e. that he can usher in the Mahdi by means of cataclysmic violence - makes him a danger beyond all imagination. I would strongly urge you to read Professor Furnish's book about Mahdism (which, while primarily about the comparatively few Sunnis who have embraced that phenomena, is also applicable to Shi'a as well) so that you understand just how violently dangerous the Mahdist belief system is. While it is possible that the Supreme Leader holds different views than Ahmadinejad, I would not bet the house on it. And, I would not bet the house on the fact that Ahmadinejad's clique did not do all that well in the last election. The comparative moderates do not hold noticeably friendly views either.

In any event, common sense is that Iran with the Bomb means, in the not distant future, grave danger to the West whether or not Iran is inclined to use the Bomb. As Churchill wrote, the error after WWI was to allow Germany to re-arm when concerted effort early on would have prevented war entirely or, if war came, the terrible war which later occurred.

My humble view is that war will occur with Iran (and, likely, with those countries which decide to ally with Iran) if the West does not unite and take truly concerted action against Iran. To the extent that Iran comes to believe that it can lead the Islamic regions, united behind an ideological message asserted repeatedly by Ahmadinejad, while the West remains, as it is today, deeply divided, largely due to poor leadership all around (e.g. Bush, Blair, Putin and Chirac), the more likely that war will come and a bad one at that. But, make no mistake, the Ahmadinejad clique is a grave danger.

The error, today, would be to allow forces in the Muslim regions to arm themselves with nuclear weapons so that they can assert their claims more effectively against us. The other error today is to believe that the alleged grievances of the Muslim regions are the driving force behind those regions' belligerency.

I can only say, that is a nonsense view. Do not limit your study of the Muslim regions to the views of apologists and Saidists. Also read what other writers (e.g. Bernard Lewis, David Cook, Ignaz Goldhizer, Steven Runciman, Vahakn Dadrian, etc.) note, most especially with respect to the religio/political ideology which often comes to the surface in Islam and which, I dread, has come to the surface again. As explained by Bernard Lewis:

In the Muslim world view the basic division of mankind is into the House of Islam (Dār al-Islām) and the House of War (Dar al-Harb). The one consists of all those countries where the law of Islam prevails, that is to say, broadly, the Muslim Empire; the latter is the rest of the world. Just as there is only one God in heaven, so there can be only one sovereign and one law on earth. Ideally, the House of Islam is conceived as a single community, governed by a single state, headed by a single sovereign. This state must tolerate and protect those unbelievers who are brought by conquest under its rule, provided, of course, that they are not polytheists but followers of one of the permitted religions. The logic of Islamic law, however, does not recognized the permanent existence of any other polity outside Islam. In time, in the Muslim view, all mankind will accept Islam or submit to Islamic rule. In the meantime, it is a religious duty of Muslims to struggle until this end is accomplished.

The name given by the Muslim jurists to this struggle is jihād, an Arabic word meaning effort or striving. One who performs this duty is called mujāhid. The word occurs several times in the Qur'ān in the sense of making war against the unbelievers. In the early centuries of Islamic expansion, this was its normal meaning. Between the House of Islam and the House of War there was, according to the sharī‘a, the Holy Law as formulated by the classical jurists, a state of war religiously and legally obligatory, which could end only with the conversion or subjugation of all mankind. A treaty of peace between the Muslim state and a non-Muslim state was thus in theory juridically impossible. The war, which would end only with the universal triumph of Islam, could not be terminated; it could only be interrupted for reasons of necessity or of expediency by a truce. Such a truce, according to the jurists, could only be provisional. It should not exceed ten years and could, at any time, be repudiated unilaterally by the Muslims who, however, were obliged by Muslim law to give the other side due notice before resuming hostilities.


From The Muslim Discovery of Europe, by Bernard Lewis.

As explained by renowned Muslim scholar Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406):

In the Muslim community, holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the (Muslim) mission and (the obligation to) convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. Therefore, caliphate and royal authority are united (in Islam), so that the person in charge can devote the available strength to both of them (religion and politics) at the same time.

The other religious groups did not have a universal mission, and the holy war was not a religious duty to them, save only for purposes of defense. It has thus come about that the person in charge of religious affairs (in other religious groups) is not concerned with power politics at all. (Among them) royal authority comes to those who have it, by accident and in some way that has nothing to do with religion. It comes to them as the necessary result of group feeling, which by its very nature seeks to obtain royal authority, as we have mentioned before, and not because they are under obligation to gain power over other nations, as is the case with Islam. They are merely required to establish their religion among their own (people).


Here is what famed historian of Islam, Ignaz Goldhizer (d. 1921) (with Kaufmann Kohler), wrote:

In addition to the religious duties imposed upon each individual professing Islam, the collective duty of the "jihad" (= "fighting against infidels") is imposed on the community, as represented by the commander of the faithful. Mohammed claimed for his religion that it was to be the common property of all mankind, just as he himself, who at first appeared as a prophet of the Arabs, ended by proclaiming himself the prophet of a universal religion, the messenger of God to all humanity, or, as tradition has it, "ila al-aḥmar wal-aswad" (to the red and the black). For this reason unbelief must be fought with the force of weapons, in order that "God's word may be raised to the highest place." Through the refusal to accept Islam, idolaters have forfeited their lives. Those "who possess Scriptures" ("ahl al-kitab"), in which category are included Jews, Christians, Magians, and Sabians, may be tolerated on their paying tribute ("jizyah") and recognizing the political supremacy of Islam (sura ix. 29). The state law of Islam has accordingly divided the world into two categories: the territory of Islam ("dar al-Islam") and the territory of war. ("dar al-ḥarb"), i.e., territory against which it is the duty of the commander of the faithful ("amir al-mu'minin") to lead the community in the jihad.

In my view, if Lewis, Goldhizer and Khaldun say it is so, it is most certainly so. If you do not believe them, according to Dadrian:

The Koran, the centerpiece of the Şeriat, embodies some 260 verses, most of them uttered by Mohammed in Mecca, enjoining the faithful to wage cihad, holy war, against the "disbelievers," e.g., those who do not profess the "true faith" (hakk din), and to "massacre" (kital) them. Moreover, the verse "Let there be no coercion in religion" is superseded and thus cancelled (mensuh) by Mohammed's command to "wage war against the unbelievers and be severe unto them." The verse that has specific relevance for the religious determination of the legal and political status of non-Muslims whose lands have been conquered by the invading Islamic warriors has this command: "Fight against them who do not follow the religion of truth until they pay tribute [ciziye] by right of subjection, and they be reduced low." This stipulation is the fundamental prerequisite to ending warfare and introducing terms of clemency.

From The History of the Armenian Genocide, by Vahakn Dadrian.

Only a person who has no understanding at all of religious phenomena could write about a country ruled by religious clerics whom believe in the above ideology but have a ruler - if not the ruling group - who believes not only in the above but an end of the world as we know it ideology and not see grave danger.

Now, I hate war or even the notion of war. I do not counsel war here - at least not at this time. Instead, I counsel concerted action by the West - united, rather than divided by the idiotic question of whether religious nuts believe what they say - that makes clear to the Iranian government and the Iranian people the grave consequences of their leaders behavior which will lead to war, if their leaders do not change course. Whether the people - who many claim to be far more moderate than the leaders or even the cleric class as a whole - will stand up to the leadership remains to be seen. But, it is worth trying.


John Charles Crocker - 2/3/2007

Thanks for the response. That is more or less what I gathered your position was. My question was directed more to Mr. Friedman, as he seems to disagree with your position and has yet to offer a strategy of his own.


Jeffrey P. Kimball - 2/3/2007

What to do?
1. The Bush administration has misrepresented the threat posed by Iran's nuclear program and its meddling in Iraq.
2. As I have written before, military attacks on Iran would lead to multivariate catastrophes in the Middle East, around the world, and in the USA. Thus, diplomatic means must be pursued.
3. See this article, for the, current state of multilateral diplomacy with Iran .
4. In addition to the UN measures above, the U.S. should also try to engage Iran directly in negotiations about U.S.-Iranian bilateral issues, as well as regional issues. Included in these talks should be mutual security assurances. Parallel negotiations should take place with Iran and other regional powers, with U.S. participation.


John Charles Crocker - 2/3/2007

The primary issue here is not the threat, but the response to the perceived threat. There are differing opinions on what Iran would do if it had nuclear weapons, but as far as I can see no one here wants Iran to be a nuclear power. The question is how best to deal with Iran's desire to be a nuclear power.

The current administration's policy seems to be to completely disengage from direct diplomacy and issue threats and ultimatums. The latest rhetoric coming from the administration re: Iran seems to be either more brinkmanship or the prelude to a wider war in the region. There is, not unwarranted, fear that targets within Iran will be bombed in the coming weeks or months escalating the current situation. If we accept your thesis that Ahmadinejad is a madman intent on death in religious war, is this an effective strategy for dealing with him?

How do you think that we should deal with Iran's nuclear aspirations?
Unilateral diplomacy?
Multilateral diplomacy?
Sanctions?
Assassinations?
Bombing nuclear facilities?
Issue threats and ultimatums?
Broaden the war in Iraq to include Iran?
The final two seem to be the track we are on. Do you see this as problematic?


Carl Becker - 2/3/2007

What Cheney and his monkey, Bush, are stirring up in the Middle East are exactly what these two hypocrites want, unintentionally or not; chaos to hide their mistakes at home and abroad, the opportunity to create more fear which gives them the opportunity to go to war with Iran without Congress’s approval against a country too many eggheads have created into something more than it is. If the Middle East goes up in flames, Israel will go up with it, because the rage from Islamic populations may not be able to be contain the blowback. Our troops can’t even contain Bagdad. Maybe the US can colonize the region until it goes broke to control the oil, and go on believing they the great example of democratic civilization, and maybe if our predictable, preemptive president won’t sling nuclear warheads at Iran, we might survive. The only country on this planet that has used nuclear bombs to kill civilian populations to “win” a war has been the US. It’s not about Democrats or Republicans anymore. It’s about a regime that’s shredded our Constitution. react once as much to blame too for this mess, and they still are making it easy for Bush to start a bigger one. What Bush and his sky-god-mandate radcons are up to, they probably don’t even know.


DeWayne Edward Benson - 2/3/2007

The Bush game plan is summed up in documentation put out by his controllers, just go online and type in "Project for the New American Century."


N. Friedman - 2/1/2007

Professor,

Needless to remind you but we all live in the world - the Pax Americana - created by that great realist and statesman Baker. It was, after all, Mr. Baker who served the prior Mr. Bush in starting the first fight with Iraq and it was Mr. Baker who then pushed the US to have that truly peacemaking meeting between Israelis and Arabs. That certainly turned out well, did it not? And, it was Mr. Baker who set up a policy of surrounding the Iraqis after the first Gulf War was over, helping breed oodles of love for the US among religious nuts - or was that hatred? And, how many thousands died of that nonsense?

My view is that Mr. Baker knows less than nothing about the Middle East although he knows quite a bit about the leaders of that region. So, he is a master diplomat - which he is - but not a guy to understand the forces at work. And, lest you doubt that, take a look at all the success that his policies had in that region, back when he was centrally involved. None, to be exact.

Now, you mention talking to Iran. I do not recall saying we should not. What I said is that three major historians take the view that Iran is bent on obtaining weapons and using them, once Iran obtains them. Again, we should talk with Iran. Perhaps we should go over the heads of Iran's leaders and tell the Iranian people the genocide their leaders are threatening - or have led others to believe they are threatening.

I have nothing against talk. I do, however, have something against those who make arguments based on a fantasy view of the world that, with nice talk, lunatics will come about. That was Chamberlain's proposition, after all. And, it does not always work. Does it?

Which is not to suggest that we should not try to talk with Iran. But, it is to suggest that we need to be honest with people and tell them we are dealing with people who may well be lunatics. That is the least that a college professor owes his readers. Do you disagree?


Jeffrey P. Kimball - 2/1/2007

I hear you, but...

-Realists, e.g., Baker and many others, say that a great nation, like the U.S., should not be afraid to talk. There is a skill to it, and a method.
-Real diplomacy is not wimpishness. Bush has not engaged in real diplomacy. It is not unmanly/unwomanly. Real men and women aren't afraid to engage.
-Bush is (also) *acting* irrationally, probably believing (assuming he is really rational) that he can intimidate the Iranians.
-Look, we've got to look at things like this:
(a) the true seriousness or not of the "threat"
(b) the cost-effectiveness of measures adopted to deal with the situation (look at the Iraq mess--catastrophe)
(c) I wrote about our leaders because they are our leaders and we and our country and children will be affected; if Bush is incompetent or delusional, that's important, and we need to speak out to our representatives and the press; that's called good sense and democracy.
(d) Even if he is not delusional, his strategy is dead wrong.
Anyway, thanks for raising the issue you did.


N. Friedman - 2/1/2007

Professor,

In all seriousness, whether or not our leaders are incompetent or vile or whatever, that does not alter what the Iranian regime is about. If what Professor Lewis and Morris believe and Daniel Goldhagen believe is more or less correct, what should be done?

Volume One Winston Churchill's monumental book The Second World War, entitled The Gathering Storm comes to my mind when I read discussion which assume that what counts is us and only us. Angels or not we may be, what would a world with Iran with nuclear weapons be?

Now, while the world can, if it were united for peace, deal with Iran, would it not be best to do so? Or, should we wait until later, as Britain and France and the rest of the world did before WWII? I certainly do not know.

I tend to think, having witnessed one war (i.e. Iraq) which, if we, for argument sake, take the administration at its word, was a preventive war, perhaps there was folly in Churchill's view that a gathering storm can be taken on early. I do not know.

One way or the other, should we not, in this closer than ever world, not consider the irrationality that is the leadership of Iran? And, can we really afford to take the view, as your article suggests, that this is not a problem but something blown out of proportion by the Bushites and by those like Morris, Goldhagen and Lewis?


Jeffrey P. Kimball - 2/1/2007

Peter, I hope I'm not misunderstanding you as much as you misunderstood my essay. Among several ideas in the essay, one was that Bush-Cheney WERE NOT "lions," to use the term you used. I think you missed the point, as well as the logic, of the whole thing. Obviously, they are using a threat strategy (aka madman theory). Clearly, it is reckless and unnecessary to accomplish various desirable ends in the region. If they go through with it, there will be a bigger disaster than Iraq. Thus, toward the end of the piece, I was raising the question of whether they are only pretending to be mad or are they in some sense really mad (we know they're incompetent). It's kinda what you seem to be repeating. What's the gripe? Why don't we talk about the dangers of the approach? Or talk about alternatives, such as the realistic diplomatic alternatives put forward by others?


N. Friedman - 2/1/2007

Peter,

Thank you for admitting a mistake. I might also note that Karsh is rather well known for his analysis of Israeli history as well including, most particularly, his deconstruction of the revisionists - i.e. those who claim there was ethnic cleansing. Morris, perhaps in view of Karsh's close examination of the documents on which revisionists all rely, now asserts correctively:

The Zionist leadership accepted the partition plan, which provided for a Jewish state in 55 percent of Palestine with 550,000 Jews and between 400,000 and 500,000 Arabs. The Jewish Agency called on the Arabs to desist from violence, and promised a life of beneficial co-existence. In private, Zionist officials began planning agricultural and regional development that took into account the large Arab minority and its continued citizenship in the new Jewish state. Indeed, down to the end of March 1948, after four months of the Palestinian Arab assault on the Yishuv, backed by the Arab League, Zionist policy was geared to the establishment of a Jewish state with a large Arab minority. Haganah policy throughout these months was to remain on the defensive, to avoid hitting civilians, and generally to refrain from spreading the conflagration to parts of Palestine still untouched by warfare. Indeed, on March 24, 1948, Yisrael Galili, the head of the Haganah National Command, the political leadership of the organization, issued a secret blanket directive to all brigades and units to abide by long-standing official Zionist policy toward the Arab communities in the territory of the emergent Jewish state--to secure "the full rights, needs, and freedom of the Arabs in the Hebrew state without discrimination" and to strive for "co-existence with freedom and respect," as he put it. And this was not a document devised for Western or U.N. eyes, with a propagandistic purpose; it was a secret, blanket, internal operational directive, in Hebrew.

It was only at the start of April, with its back to the wall (much of the Yishuv, in particular Jewish Jerusalem, was being strangled by Arab ambushes along the roads) and facing the prospect of pan-Arab invasion six weeks hence, that the Haganah changed its strategy and went over to the offensive, and began uprooting Palestinian communities, unsystematically and without a general policy. Needless to say, the invasion by the combined armies of the Arab states on May 15 only hardened Yishuv hearts toward the Palestinians who had summoned the invaders, whose declared purpose--as Azzam Pasha, the secretary-general of the Arab League, put it--was to re-enact a Mongol-like massacre, or, as others said, to drive the Jews into the sea. And yet Israel never adopted a general policy of expulsion (or incarceration--as did the United States in its internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II, without being under direct existential threat), which accounts for the fact that 160,000 Arabs remained in Israel and became citizens in 1949. They accounted for more than 15 percent of the country's population.


I would think you might reconsider use of the calumny "ethnic cleansing" since that was not what occurred.

Now, I reiterate that three prominent, in fact, famous historians claim that Iran will not be deterred if it has the bomb. You, I note, are known on this cite for the view that the opinions of historians are due special respect - and I am not quoting you but your comments make it clear that such is basically your view -. I have no reason at all to doubt any of them.


I also would ask: why do you pooh pooh stated the religious convictions of the Iranian Mullahs? What makes you, Peter Clarke, so sure they are not speaking in earnest? Steven Runciman's famous book The Fall of Constantinople 1453 makes the point that Mehmet II, against the repeated advice of his viziers - which continued during the siege (as late of May 25, by the way) - decided to conquer Constantinople for the glory of Islam. Or, in simple terms, religion was his prime motivation.

While the Ayatollah's are not successors to the Osmanli and 2007 is not 1453, religion can be a motivating, if not the motivating, factor in some disputes. Why would you disparage the earnestness of the Ayatollahs? And, since we have a rather forceful statement by even the supposed moderate Ali Rafsanjani about absorbing the massive counterattack in a nuclear exchange with Israel, there is surely something to think about. Don't you think?

Why would you think Goldhagen is interpreting the noted evidence wrong? What is your evidence, Peter? So far, you have not sited anything. Only your bald rejection of facts you do not want to face - just like the British Liberal and Labour parties in the 1930's. Rafsanjani's statement even goes beyond his earlier statement: "We should fully equip ourselves both in the offensive and defensive use of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons." (Quoted from Middle East Defense News, 22 July 1991). And again, he is the supposed reformer.

My suggestion to you, Peter, with the possibility that your view might be correct: since you disparage those who disagree with you, the least you could do is cite evidence. Do you have any? Or, is this going to be another case of having to take your word, as if you were an expert on something you, perhaps, have not carefully studied? Really: cite some evidence!!!


N. Friedman - 2/1/2007

Peter,

Did I say every cleric is nuts? No. I said nothing of the sort. However, Ahmadinejad's clerics issued a fatwa blessing the use of nuclear weapons. And, lest you noticed, Ahamdinejad is the country's president, not some guy on a side street.

And note: my only contention is that Iran with the bomb is dangerous, which, I think, the evidence clearly shows. And, notwithstanding you rant, that appears to be your view.

As for Ahmadinejad, I did not mention his religious beliefs. However, if he is earnest, he believes in the near time arrival of the Mahdi. I might suggest that you read Professor Furnish's book about such beliefs - although he focuses more on Sunni believers -. Someone who believes such things in earnest is dangerous, very dangerous.

The ideology is more than frightening. It invites death, which may perhaps be what Professor Lewis had in mind. I am, however, not a mind reader. The noted ideology speaks of holocaustal violence pitting the forces of light against those of dark. And that would precede a new Muslim dominated age, with the other rival religions and their followers being destroyed.

Frankly, Peter, your comment has little to do with what I wrote. You focus on nonsense. But, even worse, you began this string by claiming I saw Lewis writing about Europe but - and you evidently did not read the article before you blathered - you did notice that he spoke about Iran. And, you did not realize it until I posted part - not all but part - of his comment about Iran. That is rather typical of you, claiming stuff without reading.

As for Morris, I note that he is a rather famous historian. Now you think I worry about an Iranian being pro-Palestinian Arab. That, of course, is not what Morris says. He says they hate Palestinian Arabs. And, frankly, anyone with even the slightest familiarity of the subject knows that Morris is correct. And, anyone who reads Ahmadinejad's speeches for the Palestinian Arabs knows they are not for them but merely see Israel's destruction as a peg toward Iran's facing off with Europe at an appropriate time.

But, of course, you - and this bears noting at this point since you insult me based on asinine nonsense - choose not to pick up a book and learn about the topic at hand. Rather, you rely on no nothings in the newspaper, which accounts for the stupid comment you make.

As for ethnic cleansing, I note that the world's main source of information is Professor Morris, whom you call a bozo. However, Professor Karsh's analysis of Morris' documents on which the Morris thesis is based suggests that Morris' famous theory is not really correct. In fact, Morris now emphasizes some of the points brought out by Karsh that, among other things, there was no policy to drive Palestinian Arabs out but, in fact, there was a policy by Palestinian Arabs and their supporters to drive Jews out. If that is correct, the word "ethnic cleansing" - as in an intentional policy against Palestinian Arabs - is simply not correct. The better term would simply be that people were displaced due to the fighting.

In that you call the source of your information a bozo, what does that say about your view? Bozo Plus!!!




Rodney Huff - 1/31/2007

Your comments seem to be directed at Bush and Cheney's handling of Iraq - no doubt a catastrophic mishandling -but the article refers to Bush and Cheney's handling of a perceived hostile enemy, Iran - with a "n" - a handling thus far characterized by building tension, provocative accusations, and ultimatums, in a word, "brinkmanship."


N. Friedman - 1/31/2007

Peter,

The evidence includes those keys to heaven, the statements by Rafsanjani that Iran would be willing to absorb a nuclear retaliation by Israel - and Rafsanjani is the comparative liberal of that bunch -, the issuance of a fatwa by Rafsanjani's cleric permitting the use of nuclear weapons, the statements - numerous ones - by Ahmadinejad that Israel is to be destroyed and the conference in Iran regarding the Shoah. In this regard, Morris is correct.

All of these things are available for anyone to see. They do not require an Iran specialist although that does not hurt. Lewis is knowledgeable about Iran although his foremost specialty is Turkey. I note that it did not require an expert on Germany to know that with the rise of Hitler, something was rotten in Denmark, so to speak. Rather, we have a lot of rather overt indications that are consistent with genocidal intentions.



N. Friedman - 1/30/2007

Peter,

This is the section of Lewis Interview I had in mind:

The threat of extremist Islam goes far beyond Europe, Lewis stressed, turning to the potential impact of Iran going nuclear under its current regime.

The Cold War philosophy of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which prevented the former Soviet Union and the United States from using the nuclear weapons they had targeted at each other, would not apply to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran, said Lewis.

"For him, Mutual Assured Destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement," said Lewis of Ahmadinejad. "We know already that they [Iran's ruling ayatollahs] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. If they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick, free pass to heaven. I find all that very alarming," said Lewis.


His view is rather similar to that of Goldhagen and Morris.


James Spence - 1/30/2007

The topic of this article is not only the serious danger posed by Iran to the world, but also the serious danger posed by the radical conservatives who are still crafting Middle East foreign policy. I think this “unreflective President embodies the dogmatic fundamentalism of the radcons”, as stated in Ron Briley’ review of Robert Brent Toplin’s Radical Conservatism: The Right’s Political Religion http://hnn.us/roundup/entries/33361.html . If his take is accurate, we can expect to go to war with Iran and the new “Saddam” in Iran soon.


Rodney Huff - 1/30/2007

Peter,

To answer your question, what do Bush and Cheney have in common with Nixon, Eisenhower, Hitler, Stalin, etc.?, the author clearly points out that these men, while in power, tested the "madman theory" by engaging in brinkmanship with hostile enemies.

Whether Bush and Cheney are as intelligent as the people they are compared to is another matter. The issue raised here is the strategy used by these men to achieve their ends.

This strategy, however, has historically proven disastrous, more often than not, for all parties involved. Kimball's history lesson stands as a cautionary tale to anyone who would use or support such a reckless strategy - a tale worth heeding, in my opinion.


N. Friedman - 1/30/2007

Peter,

Note that I do not need you to post entire or nearly entire articles. I can click on a link as well as anyone else.

Note that while you focus on Lewis, you say nothing about the views of very well known historian Benny Morris. And you say nothing about even better well known historian Daniel Jonah Goldhagen's article either. They both may be wrong but neither is senile.

Lewis is not senile either although I do not know the true facility of his mental processes other than to note that in the last several years, he has written some very good popularizations of some of his long held views, the most famous of which, What Went Wrong, is, in part, a very simplified version of his truly stellar book The Muslim Discovery of Europe.

As for Europe, I did not post the Lewis article with reference to Europe. I posted it with reference to Iran - as you know full well -, about which he certain knows more than any Washington Post reporter. If you think otherwise, it is you who is senile. I might add that Benny Morris also knows quite a bit about that part of the world and surely more than a Washington Post reporter.

So, address the points made rather than change the topic. And, the topic is the serious danger posed by Iran to the world.


N. Friedman - 1/30/2007

Thank you!!!


Jonathan Dresner - 1/30/2007

HNN's comment boards have some trouble with long URLs: you're better off embedding them in proper hyperlinks like this.

And if you do have trouble, don't hesitate to contact you're friendly neighborhood Assistant Editor....


N. Friedman - 1/30/2007

I give up posting the Lewis interview. However, it can be read in the Jerusalem Post of January 29, 2007.


N. Friedman - 1/30/2007

Peter,

It is interesting that we now have three important historians - Bernard Lewis, Benny Morris and Daniel Jonah Goldhagen - who indicate that Iran, if it obtains the bomb, will not be deterred from using.

Morris: http://www.nysun.com/article/47111
Lewis: http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?cid=1167467834546&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull
Goldhagen: http://www.wadinet.de/news/iraq/newsarticle.php?id=1903

That is sufficient for me to say that Iran is very, very dangerous. And, not only to Israel but to the rest of the West. As I do not tire of saying, Ahmadinejad has made no secret of the fact that Israel is merely a symbolic matter and that its destruction would begin what he sees as the process of Islam regaining its lost lands in Europe, etc.


Robert Pierce Forbes - 1/29/2007

Adding to the danger of the Bush administration's confrontational posture toward Iran is the fact that we have virtually zero intelligence assets in that country, and Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) has a comprehensive understanding of the American situation. It is entirely possible that the increasingly unpopular Ahmedinejad would welcome an American attack as the one thing that could unify his country and solidify his control of it.


Andre Mayer - 1/29/2007

Granted -- but the Bush administration is (a) in power, and (b) seeing time run out on them, which is a very dangerous situation. If Bush thinks his legacy depends upon military success in the Middle East, then the "surge" may not be his last play.


Nicholas Clifford - 1/29/2007

Unfortunately, it's not just Bush and Cheney who are making threatening noises against Iran. Check out Hillary Clinton's talk at Princeton University a year ago
(http://clinton.senate.gov/news/statements/details.cfm?id=250529), in which she castigates Bush for "outsourcing" the Iran negotiations (in other words, moving away from unilateralism by drawing in Europe, etc.) and for not being forceful enough in a situation where the US may be called upon to act, using any means necessary. Chairman Howard Dean of the DNC used similar language in a speech to AIPAC, and John Edwards has recently echoed them.
So it's not only the Republicans that we must keep an eye on.

Subscribe to our mailing list