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Why I’m Not Afraid of a Nuclear Iran

If there’s one thing that is a matter of absolute consensus among elected officials of both parties, it is that we cannot, must not, ever allow Iran to develop the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon. Romney and Obama both agreed that we must do everything in our power, including going to war if necessary, to prevent that from happening. I don’t buy it. Never have. Stephen Walt, a Harvard international relations professor, provides a strong argument against that consensus:

At bottom, the whole debate on Iran rests on the assumption that Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon would be an event of shattering geopolitical significance: On a par with Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in 1933, the fall of France in 1940, the Sino-Soviet split, or the breakup of the former Soviet Union. In this spirit, Henry Kissinger recently argued that a latent Iranian capability (that is, the capacity to obtain a bomb fairly quickly) would have fearsome consequences all by itself.  Even if Iran stopped short of some red line, Kissinger claims this would: 1) cause “uncontrollable military nuclear proliferation throughout [the] region,” 2) “lead many of Iran’s neighbors to reorient their political alignment toward Tehran” 3) “submerge the reformist tendencies in the Arab Spring,” and 4) deliver a “potentially fatal blow” to hopes for reducing global nuclear arsenals.  Wow.  And that’s just if Iran has nuclear potential and not even an actual weapon!  It follows that the United States must either persuade them to give up most of their enrichment capacity or go to war to destroy it.

He points out that the history of nuclear proliferation over the last 70 years suggests the contrary, including the acquisition of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union, China, England and France. But the best comparisons are to nations that were not major powers, militarily or politically, prior to getting the bomb, including some that were considered international pariahs.

What about Israel? Does Israel’s nuclear arsenal allow it to coerce its neighbors or impose its will on Hezbollah or the Palestinians? No. Israel uses its conventional military superiority to try to do these things, not its nuclear arsenal. Indeed, Israel’s bomb didn’t even prevent Egypt and Syria from attacking it in October 1973, although it did help convince them to limit their aims to regaining the territory they had lost in 1967. It is also worth noting that Israel’s nuclear program did not trigger a rapid arms race either. Although states like Iraq and Libya did establish their own WMD programs after Israel got the bomb, none of their nuclear efforts moved very rapidly or made it across the finish line.

But wait, there’s more. The white government in South Africa eventually produced a handful of bombs, but nobody noticed and apartheid ended anyway. Then the new government gave up its nuclear arsenal to much acclaim. If anything, South Africa was more secure without an arsenal than it was before.

What about India and Pakistan? India’s “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974 didn’t turn it into a global superpower, and its only real effect was to spur Pakistan — which was already an avowed rival — to get one too. And it’s worth noting that there hasn’t been a large-scale war between the two countries since, despite considerable grievances on both sides and occasional skirmishes and other provocations.

Finally, North Korea is as annoying and weird as it has always been, but getting nuclear weapons didn’t transform it from an economic basket case into a mighty regional power and didn’t make it more inclined to misbehave. In fact, what is most remarkable about North Korea’s nuclear program is how little impact it has had on its neighbors. States like Japan and South Korea could go nuclear very quickly if they wanted to, but neither has done so in the six years since North Korea’s first nuclear test.

In short, both theory and history teach us that getting a nuclear weapon has less impact on a country’s power and influence than many believe, and the slow spread of nuclear weapons has only modest effects on global and regional politics. Nuclear weapons are good for deterring direct attacks on one’s homeland, and they induce greater caution in the minds of national leaders of all kinds. What they don’t do is turn weak states into great powers, they are useless as tools of blackmail, and they cost a lot of money. They also lead other states to worry more about one’s intentions and to band together for self-protection. For these reasons, most potential nuclear states have concluded that getting the bomb isn’t worth it.

But a few states-and usually those who are worried about being attacked-decide to go ahead. The good news is that when they do, it has remarkably little impact on world affairs.

Despite that history, the hawks offer us lurid nightmare scenarios of the mullahs in Iran nuking Jerusalem, which has never seemed remotely plausible to me. Doing so would not only cause serious death and mayhem in Jordan and Syria, it would also provoke a massive backlash. The United States and Israel would bomb them back to the stone age. And they know it. And don’t tell me that the leaders of Iran are just madmen who can’t be deterred; that’s nonsense. They have acted quite rationally, at least in regard to their own survival, up to this point.

A nuclear Iran isn’t entirely without problems, of course. It would make things more complicated and require us to focus on the safety and security of those weapons in the event of any sort of military conflagration involving that country, as we must do with Pakistan already. But those complications are manageable and little different from the considerations we already have to make for many other nations. A nuclear Iran is not a nightmare scenario, it’s a minor change to reality that is entirely within our ability to manage and contain.

Comments

  1. says

    Shorter analysis:

    North Korea is run by a maniac, haz em sum bombs, haz no credible means of delivery and they would see their bug fucking nutz commanders squashed or incinerated about thirty minutes after it was determined where the bomb had come from. They are entirely aware of this.

    Iran has some capability to deliver, at least short range, death and destruction and a decent military for DEFENSIVE purposes. The public face of Iran, for many people, is Madman Imadimjihad–he may be bug fucking nuts. The The country is run by totalitarian dicks who are not.

  2. says

    I have often pointed out (and will do so yet again) that with nuclear-armed regional neighbours like Israel (whose leadership has threatened attacks on Iran on multiple occasions) and Pakistan (unstable and infested with Sunni fundamentalists who loathe Shi’a Muslims), and with the world’s most significant nuclear-armed nation-state (the USA) also engaging in sabre-rattling, it would be entirely rational for Iran to desire a nuclear arsenal of its own.

  3. jamessweet says

    I don’t necessarily disagree with the conclusion here, but there are some problems in the analogies to other countries.

    Israel is a bad analogy exactly because of their conventional weapon superiority. TBH, I’d be pretty nervous about a nuclear Israel if they suddenly found themselves severely outgunned by their Arab neighbors. It’s the backed-into-the-corner thing you have to be afraid of.

    South Africa is not analogous at all because they don’t have nearly the degree of geopolitical tension with their neighbors.

    North Korea is a reasonable analogy, but it’s still not quite the same because they don’t really have a nuclear capability IMO… it’s more like a really big dirty bomb. Which is pretty frightening nonetheless; if they lobbed that at Seoul, it would be a Very Bad Day. But the best intelligence suggests NK’s nuke fizzled.

    Pakistan is probably the best analogy here, because they have the tension with India, and in a balls-out conventional war they would almost certainly lose.

    And yeah, it hasn’t been a disaster… but it’s not really a good thing either.

  4. Scr... Archivist says

    Nuclear weapons are good for deterring direct attacks on one’s homeland….

    I think this is what has U.S. hawks unhappy. When they decide to invade or attack, they prefer weaker targets.

    …the hawks offer us lurid nightmare scenarios of the mullahs in Iran nuking Jerusalem, which has never seemed remotely plausible to me. Doing so would not only cause serious death and mayhem in Jordan and Syria, it would also provoke a massive backlash.

    Yeah, and a lot of the backlash would be from Muslims. Isn’t Jerusalem one of the most important cities in Islam, for both Sunnis and Shia?

  5. zekehoskin says

    Have to disagree here. Argument boils down to: since no state acquiring nuclear weapons has started a nuclear war, it is safe for all states to get ‘em. I respectfully suggest that it is unsafe *to Iran* as well as to Israel for Iran to have the capability to carry out the wishes of such of its citizens who happen to think that killing Jews is worth dying for, and for Israel to know this and be able to obliterate it.

  6. slc1 says

    Prof. Stephen Walt is a long time advocate of the notion that the answer to America’s problems in the Middle East is to throw Israel under the bus. His sanguinity about Iran’s nuclear ambitions is quite fine for someone living in Cambridge, Ma. Not so fine for someone living in Tel Aviv, who will be the inevitable target for Iran’s nukes.

    The mullahs who run Iran have made it perfectly clear so that no misunderstanding can be justified that their aim is to remove the State of Israel from the Middle East. The notion that they give a flying fuck about the number of Arabs who would also be killed in a nuclear attack is piffle.

    People like Walt were quite common in the 1930s, pontificating that Frankenberger didn’t really mean what he said, just as he pontificates that the mullahs don’t mean what they say.
    Easy to say from the safety of Cambridge, Ma., not so easy to say from the non-safety of Tel Aviv. Well, I take them at their word and suggest that the mistake made about Frankenberger not be made about the mullahs.

  7. Ben P says

    I agree that lurid scenarios about Mullahs nuking Jerusalem are for the most part fantasy, but I disagree on some other points.

    Israel is a player here, but the one that people consistently forget about is Saudi Arabia.

    Iran is a large, populous country that both in word and deed contends it ought to be a regional power in the middle east. This is easily seen in Irans influence in Syria and Lebanon, the proxy war in Iraq and in other areas.

    Moreover, Iran is the international center of Shia Islam (Iran, Iraq, parts of Syria and Lebanon), which still has some very serious disputes with Sunni Islam (centered in the gulf states).

    The Sunni states, although they play a very delicate line with their religious leadership, are generally aligned with US interest in the area. It is in their interest to sell western countries oil, and our interest to see that they are able to sell that oil with minimum disruption.

    All the muslim countries have a bone to pick with Israel, but you just can’t ignore Geopolitics. Israel is an easy foil, but largely sits apart from the gulf states. Iran’s real opposition is Saudi Arabia.

    If we see a nuclear armed Iran, I think we absolutely see an Iran that starts trying to push its weight around in the Gulf and in OPEC a little more. There’s a pretty high chance it will spark a cold-war type scenario not with Israel, but with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar. Any dispute like that has potential to disrupt the nice orderly flow of oil out of the ground and into western refineries, and would be bad for us.

  8. tomp says

    To some extent it makes sense to jump up and down and act as if a nuclear Iran would be a horror in hopes of preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons. However, if Iran gets nuclear weapons then we should give up that trick and concentrate on working to prevent Iran from increasing their nuclear arsenal and joining the nuclear world.

    If I was Iranian, being that I have a nuclear Pakistan on one side and an Iraq that has used WMDs against me on the other side, getting nuclear weapons doesn’t seem like a bad idea. And since fear of America invading me (and since right wing American leaders have called for invading Iran) is real that is even more reason to get some nukes. But really I would only need a couple as a deterrent. Nuke me and I nuke you, although in the invading US scenario the “you” Iran nukes would be Israel.

  9. John Hinkle says

    Iran has shown historically that self-preservation outweighs its supposed desire to execute an act of kamikaze. They would assure their own destruction by using nukes.

  10. says

    Perhaps we should extrapolate the “2nd Amendment approach” from the theories of the gun lovers here in America – i.e. arm everybody, then we’ll all be safely armed.

    Let’s just give every country in the world 1 small nuclear weapon, to stash under their metaphorical beds. Of course, some unstable rogue mini-country will impulsively try to use it when they get pissed off at a neighbor that violates their water rights or something, and when they do, they’ll cease to exist. Their topsoil will take on a glass-like appearance. The rest of the armed nations, seeing the example made, will think twice, three times, etc, before trying the same thing.

    Ok, now I’ll get back to pulling my tongue out of my cheek.

  11. noastronomer says

    Da rulez of nuclear weapons usage since 1949 :

    1. If you do have one you can’t actually use it.

    The end.

    Mike.

  12. says

    We have to attack Iran to keep them from going nuclear, just like we had to attack the USSR and China to keep them from…oh, wait.

    Not so fine for someone living in Tel Aviv, who will be the inevitable target for Iran’s nukes.

    Funny thing, Likud boy, but last I checked, the idea of an unprovoked — oops, I mean preemptive — attack on Iran does NOT seem to have majority support within Israel. Their military high command don’t seem too keen on it either. I can’t help remembering that every time you pretend to speak for Israel’s vital interests.

    Well, I take them at their word…

    Right…they’re deranged implacable religious fanatics, but when they say something that correlates with your vindictive bigotry, suddenly their word is unimpeachable and reliable. Because loony bloodthirsty Shia theocratic regimes are as infallible as the Pope.

  13. says

    Spanish Inquisitor:

    I like it.

    “A planet where every nation is nuclear capable is a polite planet”

    We’d have to work something out for when they go to Walmart, though. Don’t want any countries dropping their nukes in the dressing rooms.

  14. says

    If we see a nuclear armed Iran, I think we absolutely see an Iran that starts trying to push its weight around in the Gulf and in OPEC a little more.

    They’re already “absolutely” doing that, and, in fact, have been since their revolution — using a variety of threats that everyone knows they can actually CARRY OUT. Like, you know, support for Hezbollah, assassinations otuside their turf, economic actions (they have a pretty big economy for that region), and, of course, old-school shit like naval blockades of the Persian Gulf.

    Also, I agree with other commenters that Iran does not compare to most of the other countries mentioned. Unlike Israel, it’s big, and unlike Pakistan, it’s pretty stable internally and there’s no prospect of regime change, revolution, or any other form of political fracturing. Both of those factors mean: a) they have more to lose by going nuclear in any situation, and b) there’s very little chance they’ll end up in any situation where their conventional power is insufficient to save them.

    And let’s not forget c) HOW MANY deployable nuclear warheads are they ever really likely ot get? Probably not one-tenth as many as either China or the USSR, neither of whom ended up attacking anyone with them. And probably not enough to deter any coalition of nations from retaliating against any serious incursions Iran might make.

    I predict a nuclear Iran will be more of a status-quo power than a dangerous destabilizing force, just like a nuclear China and a nuclear USSR.

  15. Ben P says

    Ben P:

    Given how much Iran depends on fossil fuel revenue, I do not think they have any incentive to rock that particular boat.

    How about the incentive for a larger piece of that pie? Or higher prices for that pie.

    OPEC sets quotas for production and is dominated the the Gulf States. Saudi Arabia famously follows a policy of keeping the quotas at a level that keeps oil prices relatively low, because they don’t want developed countries to start looking too hard at alternatives while the oil is still flowing.

    Iran has some incentives at least to upset the boat if they can use the influence to take SA’s place as the setter of oil prices.

  16. Michael Heath says

    John Hinkle writes:

    Iran has shown historically that self-preservation outweighs its supposed desire to execute an act of kamikaze. They would assure their own destruction by using nukes.

    Iran’s non-imperialistic ambitions over the past several hundred years is a Persian tradition; but the country is now run by Islamists. So I see your analysis as analogous to considering what Dwight Eisenhower would do while our president was a Tea Bagger.

  17. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Ah, a fine opportunity for slc1@6 to be his reliably stupid self.

    The mullahs who run Iran have made it perfectly clear so that no misunderstanding can be justified that their aim is to remove the State of Israel from the Middle East. The notion that they give a flying fuck about the number of Arabs who would also be killed in a nuclear attack is piffle.

    No, AFAIK, they haven’t. They have indeed expressed the hope that it will disappear, but that’s not the same thing. There are quite a number of people who I fervently wish would drop dead, but I’m not planning to kill any of them.

    On the other hand, Khamenei, the Iranian “Supreme Leader”, has categorically stated that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam. Of course, we need not take that at face value, but if we’re really interested in how the Iranian leadership thinks, rather than seeking justification for genocidal fantasies as slc1 is, we should certainly bear it in mind. It tells us that if Iran is going to produce nukes, it will either have to keep them secret indefinitely, or find a way to cancel Khamenei’s fatwa.

    People like Walt were quite common in the 1930s, pontificating that Frankenberger didn’t really mean what he said

    Note to the justifiably bewildered: for some reason, slc1 thinks it’s witty, or clever, or cool, to refer to Adolf Hitler as “Frankenberger”. This is a reference to the tale told by a prominent Nazi awaiting execution after the war, Hitler’s former lawyer and governor-general of Poland, Hans Frank, suggesting that Hitler’s paternal grandfather might have been a Jew named Leopold Frankenberger. No credible historian takes this seriously: Frank is the only source for Frankenberger’s existence, and the story is full of holes. Interestingly, slc1 shares with David Icke the belief that Hitler had a Jewish grandfather – only Mr. Icke favours a Rothschild for the role. Maybe he and slc1 should get together to thrash out this knotty point?

  18. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    I have a comment on slc1′s idiocy in moderation – three links is enough?

    But I’m not as sanguine as some. Any increase in the number of nuclear-armed powers increases the danger that they will be used, by deliberate state policy, by a rogue general, by a terrorist group, or by accident. These dangers are probably greatest for weapons possessed by unstable authoritarian states. A nuclear-armed Iran would be a seriously bad thing – but not nearly as bad as another and much larger Middle East war.

  19. slc1 says

    Re Raging Bee @ #14

    The opposition to attacking Iran in Israel is based on the latter going it alone. The opposition melts away if Israel and the US do it together.

  20. slc1 says

    Re Nick Gotts the limey @ #19

    I suggest that Mr. Gotts make two posts, with 2 links in one and 1 link in the other. Comments with more then 2 links automatically go into moderation and, it is my experience, never get out.

    As a little entertainment, here’s a little nacht musik for Mr. Gotts. I really like to watch the Hood blow up.

    “http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eZOQAPkZAFc”

  21. says

    Well, yeah, it’s easy to support an idiotic policy if you have — or think you have — a sugar-daddy who will deal with all the bad consequences for you. But the fact remains that most Israelis think an unprovoked attack on Iran is a bad idea, and only think it’s workable when they have an excuse to ignore the likely consequences.

    Also, if Isreal needs US support to make their bloodthirsty fantasy work, that means the US gets to weigh in with its own interests. And guess what — exponentially higher degrees of political volatility are not in our interests.

  22. eric says

    It would make things more complicated and require us to focus on the safety and security of those weapons in the event of any sort of military conflagration involving that country, as we must do with Pakistan already. But those complications are manageable and little different from the considerations we already have to make for many other nations.

    I somewhat disagree. There was a whole AAAS session in their spring 2011 national meeting dedicated to the climate consequences of an I/P nuclear exchange. Link. Quote: “New studies suggest that a nuclear conflict using even a small number of weapons would have a devastating local effect and global climatic consequences, with catastrophic effects on stratospheric ozone, precipitation, agriculture, and water supplies.”

    The extremely short reason for this is that earlier models of what a small number of nukes would do to the climate were based on the observed effects of our 20th century nuclear tests…but those tests didn’t hit cities. The new models combined test data with data we have from infrastructure fires (such as Kuwait), and the resulting predictions are much worse.

    So, the complications from a military conflagration involving nuclear weapons are not manageable – they will likely be global, multi-year, and economically terrible, even from a local exchange. An Iran/Israel exchange (or Iran proxy/Israel exchange) will likely be less terrible than an I/P exchange, but still nothing I want to be even a significant possibility.

  23. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Ah, a fine opportunity for slc1@6 to be his reliably stupid self.

    The mullahs who run Iran have made it perfectly clear so that no misunderstanding can be justified that their aim is to remove the State of Israel from the Middle East. The notion that they give a flying fuck about the number of Arabs who would also be killed in a nuclear attack is piffle.

    No, AFAIK, they haven’t. They have indeed expressed the hope that it will disappear, but that’s not the same thing. There are quite a number of people who I fervently wish would drop dead, but I’m not planning to kill any of them.

    On the other hand, Khamenei, the Iranian “Supreme Leader”, has categorically stated that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam. Of course, we need not take that at face value, but if we’re really interested in how the Iranian leadership thinks, rather than seeking justification for genocidal fantasies as slc1 is, we should certainly bear it in mind. It tells us that if Iran is going to produce nukes, it will either have to keep them secret indefinitely, or find a way to cancel Khamenei’s fatwa.

  24. =8)-DX says

    Let’s just give every country in the world 1 small nuclear weapon, to stash under their metaphorical beds.

    Sounds just like Frank Herbert’s Dune. It didn’t help the Atreidies there (they were taken down by “conventional” weaponry), but the phrase “family atomics” brings back wonderful loving memories..

  25. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    @slc1

    People like Walt were quite common in the 1930s, pontificating that Frankenberger didn’t really mean what he said

    Note to the justifiably bewildered: for some reason, slc1 thinks it’s witty, or clever, or cool, to refer to Adolf Hitler as “Frankenberger”. This is a reference to the tale told by a prominent Nazi awaiting execution after the war, Hitler’s former lawyer and governor-general of Poland, Hans Frank, suggesting that Hitler’s paternal grandfather might have been a Jew named Leopold Frankenberger. No credible historian takes this seriously: Frank is the only source for Frankenberger’s existence, and the story is full of holes. Interestingly, slc1 shares with David Icke the belief that Hitler had a Jewish grandfather – only Mr. Icke fingers a Rothschild for the role. Maybe he and slc1 should get together to thrash out this knotty point?

  26. velociraptor says

    @ 20 & 21

    Well, slc1, given your bellicosity, I assume you would be willing to put yourself in physical danger for the interests of Israel. If you aren’t there already, why not take yourself over there and find out what war is like? You might even get to shoot yerself an A-rab or two!

    Or are you one of those Internet warriors who yammer for war from behind the safety of their monitors?

  27. says

    …suggesting that Hitler’s paternal grandfather might have been a Jew named Leopold Frankenberger.

    I’ve always found that theory a bit fishy: why suggest that Hitler might have had Jewish ancestors, except to kinda sorta maybe insinuate that Jews might have had a hand in their own partial extermination?

    And why the FUCK would someone like slc1 keep on referring to Hitler by an allegedly-connected Jewish name? Is he trying to claim some sort of credit for Hitler? It really doesn’t make a lick of sense, even if we believe the “Frankenberger” story.

    SlobberingLikudnikChickenhawk1 really seems like a fucked-up piece of work with major anger and revenge-fantasy issues.

  28. Ben P says

    They’re already “absolutely” doing that, and, in fact, have been since their revolution — using a variety of threats that everyone knows they can actually CARRY OUT. Like, you know, support for Hezbollah, assassinations otuside their turf, economic actions (they have a pretty big economy for that region), and, of course, old-school shit like naval blockades of the Persian Gulf.

    I think you’re not giving any credit to the psychological effect here.

    Even if the chance Iran would actually go nuclear is infinitesmal, responding to a threat by a nuclear armed country with “hahahaha, you wouldn’t dare” is a difficult thing to do.

    Not to mention, there are possibilities here that don’t even involve the worst use of a nuclear weapon. The conventional MAD Thinking is that Iran would never use a weapon on Israel or any city because it would cause universal international outrage and very possibly retaliation.

    But what happens if a particularly desperate Iran uses a weapon like that on oil fields or a major oil processing facility? Is there the same international outrage as if they’d killed 5 million people?

  29. says

    velociraptor: if our Likudnik chickenhawk actually went to Israel, he’d probably try to get himself the same exemption from compulsory service that all the other ultra-orthodox religious wingnuts get, BY LAW. That’s one of the things that’s most fucked up about Israel’s political culture: the most intolerant and belligerent elements are protected, by law, from the adult responsibilities their less-loony countrymen share.

  30. laurentweppe says

    The mullahs who run Iran have made it perfectly clear so that no misunderstanding can be justified that their aim is to remove the State of Israel from the Middle East. The notion that they give a flying fuck about the number of Arabs who would also be killed in a nuclear attack is piffle.

    Please: everyone around here already knows that your favorite jerk off fantasy includes watching middle-easterners of arabic and persian descent burning alive in a nuclear fire: you can stop pretending that your pretense of argumentation are anything but attempts to justify these urge of yours to scratch that hardened, itching part of your anatomy. Just be a kind boy and go relieveyourself in private.

    ***

    I have a comment on slc1′s idiocy in moderation – three links is enough?

    Anything above two links and your comment is forever lost in the limbo of the web

  31. scienceavenger says

    why suggest that Hitler might have had Jewish ancestors, except to kinda sorta maybe insinuate that Jews might have had a hand in their own partial extermination

    I had thought (as a child) it was to expose somewhat comical hypocrisy on Hitler’s part. Hadn’t thought about it in years though, and now that I do, in light of the horrors of the Reich, it doesn’t seem too funny.

  32. says

    Even if the chance Iran would actually go nuclear is infinitesmal, responding to a threat by a nuclear armed country with “hahahaha, you wouldn’t dare” is a difficult thing to do.

    So just keep on doing what’s in our legitimate interests, without the overt laughter.

    But what happens if a particularly desperate Iran uses a weapon like that on oil fields or a major oil processing facility?

    What would it take to make a large and relatively stable country like Iran “particualrly desperate?” Seriously, what circumstances are you talking about here?

    And the answer to your question would probably be: the owners of the oil field, along with whoever depends on their oil, would probably get together and smash whatever is left of this “particularly desperate” Iran. Which wouldn’t be all that hard, since Iran is already “desperate,” probably because someone is already at war with them.

  33. velociraptor says

    @30

    RagingBee – I have read about the Ultra-Orthodox Israeli wingnuts exemption from military service in Israel on this blog and a few others. I find it quite disgusting. As an active-duty Soldier who has been to war (Iraq x 2, Afghanistan x 1), it never ceases to amaze me that the asshats who yell for war the loudest are often the furthest from it (I fantasize about the establishment of the 1st Congressional Infantry Company, to be composed entirely of Congressmen and/or their family members, and attached to XVIIIth Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg). The list of Chickenhawks is quite long.

    Having been in a few engagements, I will state that there is nothing fun or glorious about it, and the best thing about being in a firefight is when you count heads afterwards and your troops are still there and unhurt.

  34. Ben P says

    What would it take to make a large and relatively stable country like Iran “particualrly desperate?” Seriously, what circumstances are you talking about here?

    And the answer to your question would probably be: the owners of the oil field, along with whoever depends on their oil, would probably get together and smash whatever is left of this “particularly desperate” Iran. Which wouldn’t be all that hard, since Iran is already “desperate,” probably because someone is already at war with them.

    What exactly made Japan decide they needed to wipe out the US fleet so they could conquer oil supplies in the South Pacific. What exactly made North Korea decide that they needed to launch an invasion of June of 1950? What precisely made Saddam Hussein decide he needed to launch an invasion of Iran in 1980?

    Hell, why did the US invade Iraq in 2002?

    Making the assumption that countries and their leaders always act in a narrow range of rational thought is a silly assumption to make.

    As for a specific answer, I think desperation could very easily stem from any combination of economic problems, internal politics and the perception of outside threats. I’m not a prophet.

    That said, don’t mistake what I’m saying. I’m not suggesting that war is necessary to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, just that the opposite is not true either. Iran obtaining nuclear weapons is definitely something to be concerned about. That doesn’t mean the concern rises to the level of preventative war to stop it.

  35. slc1 says

    Re Nick Gotts @ #26

    Limey Gotts is making the assumption that L. Frankenberger was Jewish. That is rather unlikely, although he may have had Jewish ancestry. Actually, it is not known who Frankenberger’s biological paternal grandfather was as his father Alois was christened Schickelgruber which was his mother’s name (as I understand it, there is no father listed on Alois’ birth certificate). When the Anschluss took place in 1938, Frankenberger had all the records in his home town destroyed.

  36. says

    “Iran has some incentives at least to upset the boat if they can use the influence to take SA’s place as the setter of oil prices.”

    I’m not so sure about that. I think that they have a clear and recent example of what happens when somebody tries to fuck with the U.S. oil that Saudi Arabia sits on top of.

  37. tbrandt says

    It’s a tiny bit ironic that one Nobel Peace Prize winner is urging another Nobel Peace Prize winner to start a giant war. It’s also incredibly sad.

  38. says

    to carry out the wishes of such of its citizens who happen to think that killing Jews is worth dying for

    Ah, the “suicidal Iran” trope. See, here’s the problem. Iran’s got a pretty decent conventional army including lots of artillery. If they wanted to commit suicide killing jews, they could have done that years ago. Why haven’t they? Simple: they’re not that crazy.

  39. says

    BTW, now that Israel has purchased some subs from Germany, we can assume they have a second-strike deterrent in place. So any country that eradicates Israel will die. The threat of a decapitation strike is fictional.

  40. says

    But what happens if a particularly desperate Iran uses a weapon like that on oil fields or a major oil processing facility?

    Iran has pretty decent artillery, including cruise missiles. If they wanted to hit an oil field with a cruise missile that’d do the job. In fact, they could do it right now.

    Here’s the thing: the US and Israel don’t want a nuclear Iran because then they can’t threaten to invade it and browbeat it as effectively. You don’t want the kid you’re pushing around to buy a gun – same reasoning. It doesn’t need to get any more complicated than that.

  41. davem says

    Soviet Union, China, England and France

    I wish you wouldn’t do that Ed. The UK’s main deterrent weapons are actually held in Scotland.

    As to Iran; if I were Iranian big chief, I’d want civil nuclear facilities, for the day (coming sooner than most think) when the oil can’t be used because the planet is getting too warm.

    The Iranians are more likely to go down the peaceful nuclear route if they’re being spoken to by nations other than Israel and the US. After all, what would the reaction of the Israelis and the US be if they were being dictated to by the Arabs or Iranians?

  42. says

    Any increase in the number of nuclear-armed powers increases the danger that they will be used, by deliberate state policy, by a rogue general, by a terrorist group, or by accident.

    Yes. That’s exactly why, as the world has gone from a sole nuclear-armed power to thousands of warheads in the hands of at least 9 states, they’ve been used much more often. Oh, no, wait…

    If we wanted to make a big difference, we’d be teaching other countries how to make permissive action links and encouraging them to stay away from nasty dirty gun-type uranium bombs. And, yes, the US and the rest of the world could encourage nuclear-armed states to disarm if they are experiencing political instability. Instead of acting like this is super-secret magic stuff (it isn’t) the world community should be treating it as something more like a public health issue. For example, one question that should be being asked, of the United States, is “who the FUCK are you guys so scared of that you have THOUSANDS of warheads? What about beating a few of those swords into plowshares, guys? You’re scaring all of us.”

    The Onion’s article: “Iran watches with concern as US completes 8,500th nuclear weapon” http://www.theonion.com/articles/iran-worried-us-might-be-building-8500th-nuclear-w,27325/ pretty much hits the nail on the head.

  43. John Hinkle says

    Marcus Ranum says:
    December 5, 2012 at 7:01 pm

    Any increase in the number of nuclear-armed powers increases the danger that they will be used, by deliberate state policy, by a rogue general, by a terrorist group, or by accident.

    Yes. That’s exactly why, as the world has gone from a sole nuclear-armed power to thousands of warheads in the hands of at least 9 states, they’ve been used much more often. Oh, no, wait…

    Marcus, I find your commentary enlightening. But how can you deny that more nuclear arms means increased chance they’ll be used? The increased probability may be small, but…

    I agree with the rest of your last comment (43).

  44. says

    But how can you deny that more nuclear arms means increased chance they’ll be used?

    I don’t actually think that it’s the case, that’s why. I know it seems counter-intuitive. But here’s my reasoning: we might well argue that more nuclear-armed states increases the chance that they’ll be used, since their use is more likely to be from one state against another. So, if we went from ~10 nuclear-armed states to 50, then maybe the chances would go up. But if we go from 12,000 nukes worldwide to 15,000 nukes worldwide, it doesn’t necessarily follow. For one thing the vast majority of those nukes would, unfortunately, be US nukes. US nukes have permissive action links (except for in the artillery shells) and are very very unlikely to go off by accident. The artillery shells, by virtue of some brilliant features in their design, are very very very unlikely to go off by accident. “Accident” includes “stolen by a rogue nutcase terrorist nihilist” – as much as I despise the US’ nuclear stockpile and monopoly, I have to say that the guys at Lawrence Livermore who designed the safety systems in those things are incredibly clever.

    Making nukes is one thing, weaponizing them so they’re transportable and reliable is another. South Africa’s bombs, for example, were simple gun-type uranium bombs with some “layer cake” enhancements based on Russian work from the early cold war. They would not have been something that would have gone in a truck, or a rocket, or a small airplane. A state having nukes like that isn’t going to be able to do anything useful with them; they’re really pretty much good for firing off and announcing “we’re in the club!” more than anything else. Having such devices on the earth doesn’t greatly increase the chance that they’ll be used and it’s extremely unlikely anyone would be able to steal one and do something useful with it.

    So the question boils down to one that’s much more complex than just the number of nukes – it’s got to do more with something like the number of states that don’t use permissive action links that are politically unstable or likely to start nuclear wars. In the 1970s, the US (!this is about the one really cool clueful thing the US has done regarding nukes!) offered any country that wanted it, permissive action link technology so they could build their own. Except for the Chinese. :( The French have PALs, the UK have PALS but were too lazy to use them, etc. The USSR had its own version of a PAL. So, it’s the case that there might be a former soviet weapon that might get free, but it might or might not be usable. According to Reed et al., the breakdown of the USSR resulted in a lot of poor custodianship of plutonium, but: a) the US bought most of it and b) it’s harder to build a plutonium bomb – by far – than a uranium gun-type bomb. So the level of the bar keeps going up and down and it’s very hard to really say what the greatest weakness is.

    Pakistan, unfortunately, does not use permissive action links. :( The US’ support for that regime may have a lot to do with trying to keep a nuclear tin pot dictatorship from toppling. It is believed that the US has given Pakistan considerable technical assistance with guarding its weapons. That may not include PALs but may include PAL-like tricks for managing the assembly of the devices.

    Contrary to what you see in bad TV shows like Broken Arrow and 24, it’s not that easy to rewire a bomb to go off by assembling your own firing controller over top of the physics package. Building the physics package from scratch is really expensive and requires some very specialized stuff (not “high grade aluminum tubes”) that is very closely monitored.

    Anyway…

    Here’s a weird way of looking at it: The world might be a safer place if every country had several large nukes with PALs that were designed to be tamper-resistant and very hard to move. Think of them as a sort of scorched-earth mechanism to protect against agression. That’s a way-out idea. But, unfortunately, I don’t think that the problem is as simple as “more nukes = more danger” It’s more like “more nukes in the hands of dangerous people = more danger” and that’s a harder thing to quantify. After all, with (who knows?) ~20,000 warheads, nobody fired one. Now there are fewer but the ones that exist are more powerful.

    I actually think we’re more likely to see a nuke used in the middle east if Israel maintains its monopoly. And, of course, it’d be Israel using it. In my opinion, they’d be less likely to use one if some of their neighbor states had a retaliatory capability. The best thing, for middle east peace, would be if the US committed to counter-strike against Israel if Israel used a nuke offensively. Of course that’d never happen and the threat wouldn’t even be credible.

    We saw during the cold war that humanity can exist with many many of the angels of death sleeping in their cages – as long as there is a balance carefully maintained that keeps them in their cages. That balance cannot be the “balance” of a sole dictatorship. The likelihood of a nuke being used against the US probably went up substantially when the US declared itself the “last superpower standing” and decided to make enemies of most of the rest of the civilized world by our imperialistic behavior.

    It’s not the number of nukes. :( I wish it were that simple.

  45. Michael Heath says

    I see a major error in analysis by all parties on this topic coupled to a lack of appreciation for the risks of the option opposed. Taking out Iran’s capabilities militarily and living with a nuclear Iran could both ultimately be successful strategies. But they also present a likely risk of a generations-long disaster when weighing the benefits and costs of both; with neither option presenting a compelling “least-bad” conclusion.

    The military options will almost certainly result in catastrophic costs; the loss of blood and treasure attacking Iran and then the probabilistic blowback by Iranians and others, e.g., non-Iranian Islamists. That blowback could last for generations.

    However the risk of a nuclear country run by religionists already willing to ally with terrorists provides zero comfort. And a sample size analogy of one (Pakistan) as a defense for this policy is in no way compelling when a defect rate of a mere one or a handful of nuclear explosions is massively catastrophic.

    The idea that history near-convincingly demands we not take out this risk but live with a nuclear Iran is at best naive. We’re not talking about being happy with a success rate of say, 99%, but instead catastrophic results if the defect rate is a mere one. So looking at patterns from the past when conditions were different, or non-perfect analogies in the present, is not sufficiently convincing to push us towards a confidently-held default position.

    Conditions have changed in the past and will change in the future where even here in the U.S. we ran the risk four years ago of an idiotic delusional zealot with Armageddon fantasies becoming our VP. We even saw close calls between the USSR and the U.S. during the Cold War in spite of both parties not wanting a nuclear war and almost always acting very rationally – but not always or always acting competently.

    So we’re left with two choices as debated in this thread so far:
    1) Take out this capability militarily – This absolutely comes at a catastrophic cost with unintended and unknown disasters an almost certainty.
    2) Not take out this threat and live with a catastrophic threat where the odds of disaster almost assuredly increase with time. Especially when we begin to encounter a reduction of Middle Eastern oil production combined to innovations which provide affordable alternative energy sources.

    A primary and justified reason for the frustration that led to al Qaeda was the fact a handful of clans have long been stealing the wealth out of this oil-rich region where very little of value will be left when the oil supply becomes insignificant. The populists have a right to be angry. That frustration will further amplified with strife guaranteed to come as water, droughts, and loss of biomass from climate change cause even more suffering in this region.

    Perhaps the better approach is to work backward and not consider merely the strategy but instead the viability of each strategy’s corresponding operational tactics. From this perspective we work through an execution plan and benchmark which seems:
    1) most easily administrated,
    2) the worst case results – that most likely favors a military adventure,
    3) the most likely results – that most likely favors living with a nuclear Iran. However we have to consider the administration by incompetent Republican presidents in such a world where their competency in Iraq was sufficient to cause us about $2 – $3 trillion in harm and where the GOP is ever-increasingly incompetent and crazy with religious zealots. So on #3, we seem to fucked with either option though I think a nuclear-armed Iran with a GOP administration is more dangerous. Especially if it’s tied to a Netanyahu figure running Israel.

    Of course this problem-solving approach also reveals a fallacy of false restrictions, i.e., we still have another option not mentioned. That’s to to eradicate the threat non-militarily with sanctions well beyond our current efforts, or with carrots which hasn’t really effectively been tried. Where even the former option presents its own blowback threats if the Iranian public began to overly suffer like from starvation while the latter perhaps presents a moral hazard.

    So it seems to me neither of the afore-mentioned options are worth debating except to conclude neither is an acceptable path. Both lead to unacceptable risks.

  46. says

    The military options will almost certainly result in catastrophic costs; the loss of blood and treasure attacking Iran and then the probabilistic blowback by Iranians and others, e.g., non-Iranian Islamists. That blowback could last for generations.

    The US is currently dealing with blowback from its past mistakes with Iran. They don’t trust us because, well, we’ve made it obvious that they can’t. And, of course, we’ve threatened them and now we’re starving their economy and saying “none of this is negotiable” – it’s as if some idiots in Washington want to make sure that Iranians as well as Iraqis and Afghanis and Palestinians all want revenge on the US. Let’s guarantee some blowback, shall we? If you look at human behavior, you see the big horrible slaughters are often fuelled by long-simmering revenge for perceived geopolitical abuses. If the US ever finds itself no longer the “world’s only superpower” I sure hope someone has figured out a nice plan for dealing with the line of people who will be ready to kick our teeth in when we’re down.

  47. Michael Heath says

    Inadvertently hit submit above prior to fixing clerical errors and finishing my conclusion.

    I laid out why a military attack is unacceptable. But a nuclear Iran with a U.S. Republican demonstrating its current zealotries and incompetencies is also unacceptable (that’s confusing above since I have a clerical error, sorry).

    Therefore we need to be far more aggressive than we are now with sanctions while we should also be very open to using carrots as well.

  48. Ichthyic says

    they don’t want developed countries to start looking too hard at alternatives while the oil is still flowing.

    I just saw an article last week that presented the idea that the US, for one example, has already developed sufficient reserves through current fraking to be entirely independent of arabian oil.

  49. Kelvin Pauli says

    If you haven’t seen it already, I highly suggest everyone watch the movie, The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.

  50. lofgren says

    I sort of feel like the suggestion that a single dirty/nuclear bomb ending up being used by terrorists or otherwise set off being the worst case scenario or being totally unacceptable is perhaps a little irrational. It’s hard to think rationally about this when you live in a very likely target area. Just thinking about 9/11 still makes me sad, afraid, and angry. But ultimately that attack was symbolic but meaningless. A lot of people died, and that is sad. But there are a lot of things that could be worse, that would lead me to choose to risk another 9/11 rather than guarantee generations of conflict that could reshape the globe in a negative fashion.

    Since I agree with others that Iran using its nukes personally is at a low probability, let’s say Iran gets a nuke, sells it to some terrorists, and the terrorists set it off in a US or Israeli city.

    This is obviously bad. Millions will die. International policy will be reshaped.

    But the reaction to it will be the far more pervasive consequence than the immediate death and destruction. If the US or Israel (or both) can refrain from freaking the fuck out and nuking Mecca, the perpetrators can likely be dealt with even more efficiently those who committed 9/11 since the entire world will be on board with it. I mean even other Islamist nations. Hell, possibly even Iran would be on board, since the fractious nature of their government means that it’s likely whoever made the decision to turn a terrorist group into a nuclear power did so without the support of the rest of the government or its people.

    If this is a one-time event – again, not trying to diminish the resulting death and destruction, just trying to look at it this with some dispassionate disinterest – then, really, how bad is it? I submit that it is less bad than most of our options for preventing it, such as war. The fallout from a nuclear bomb is bad, but the fallout from a war with Iran could last 100 years or more.

    While I strongly agree that we should discourage Iran from getting a bomb as much as possible, I don’t think it’s the worst case scenario.

  51. slc1 says

    Re Marcus Ranum @ #45

    I actually think we’re more likely to see a nuke used in the middle east if Israel maintains its monopoly. And, of course, it’d be Israel using it.

    Actually, there is not the slightest chance that Israel would use nuclear weapons without the permission of the US. As a for instance, it took several months of intelligence gathering and back and forth negotiating before we gave them permission to bomb the alleged nuclear facility in Syria.

    However, although I think that MH’s discussion of incompetent Rethuglican administrations is a little over the top, as it would take the election of a nutcase like Rick Santorum, its not a throwaway. In the event that a Santorum type were somehow elected, that would indeed be a concern.

    Re MH @ #46

    Especially if it’s tied to a Netanyahu figure running Israel.

    Actually, Bibi is a rather cautious fellow who talks big but is reluctant to pull the trigger. I would be more worried if an incompetent like Olmert was in charge (vis. his incompetent handling of the adventure in Lebanon in 2006).

    I think that we can sum up MH’s comment rather simply as all options are bad and it’s just a case of choosing the least bad one.

  52. says

    I sort of feel like the suggestion that a single dirty/nuclear bomb ending up being used by terrorists or otherwise set off being the worst case scenario or being totally unacceptable is perhaps a little irrational.

    Dirty bombs are actually not particularly real. They’re not that effective a concept – they’re mostly a myth useful for scaring people (typical terrorism FUD) that’s not practical. The concept sort of begs a question, since it would take a nuclear-armed state to build one, why not just use a nuke?

    I’m afraid that the plausible scenarios leading to a nuke being released on a city all involve a state doing it, very deliberately. Unfortunately, our fellow humans are entirely capable of such casual evil.

  53. says

    @slc1 – I agree. The chance Israel would launch without a US green light is close enough to zero that it may as well be zero. I’ve heard unconfirmed stories that Israel was looking at deploying one as a fallback in the Yom Kippur war, but they’re only rumors.

  54. bradleybetts says

    “Nuclear weapons are good for deterring direct attacks on one’s homeland”

    And therein lies the rub. “What happens when Alaska runs out of oil?! We’ll need to go “Liberate” someone and we can’t do that if they’ve got nukes!”.

  55. lofgren says

    I’m afraid that the plausible scenarios leading to a nuke being released on a city all involve a state doing it, very deliberately. Unfortunately, our fellow humans are entirely capable of such casual evil.

    Capable yes, but it seems that there are very few scenarios by which it is actually useful to Iran to do so. No doubt they would use their membership in the club in the ways that you describe, which would also be bad. But it’s been posited many times, including earlier in this comment thread, that we absolutely must stop Iran from getting a bomb because they are terrorist sympathizers. The obvious implication being that they would arm the terrorists (or aid them) with nuclear weapons.

    In addition, I have the same objections to the examples cited by Walt as others mentioned above. However I think there is one thing that seems very consistent amongst nuclear states: they know that the fewer people who have nuclear weapons, the more impressive their membership in the nuclear club is. It seems to me that there is very little advantage to sharing that technology freely. The more tightly Iran guards its nuclear weapons, the more discerning they are in the application of the threat, the more powerful it is.

    It’s true that we can’t expect those in power to behave humanely or rationally at all times. But there are only a very narrow set of conditions by which it is in even their immediate best interests to do so. Those conditions are plausible enough that they are worthy of concern, but they are still very narrow.

  56. dingojack says

    Logren – and why can’t this argument be used to argue, say, Israel or the USA shouldn’t have nuclear weapons either?
    Dingo
    —–
    Beware of special pleading

  57. gingerbaker says

    slc1:

    “…His sanguinity about Iran’s nuclear ambitions is quite fine for someone living in Cambridge, Ma. Not so fine for someone living in Tel Aviv, …”

    My first thoughts exactly!

    Michael Heath re choices:

    “…1) Take out this capability militarily – This absolutely comes at a catastrophic cost with unintended and unknown disasters an almost certainty….”

    Why do you say that? Israel has a track record of bombing the fledgling nuclear facilities of countries which are hostile to it, and both times I can think of, the consequences were the opposite of catastrophic disaster.

  58. says

    The obvious implication being that they would arm the terrorists (or aid them) with nuclear weapons.

    That wouldn’t happen. Most people don’t realize how good the science of nuclear forensics is. You can tell from samples taken after a burst, which reactor bred the plutonium (and when) and which centrifuge cascade enriched it (and when). Every bomb has a unique and unconcealable signature. If you’re interested in this stuff, you would enjoy Reed’s “at the abyss” and Rhodes “twilight of the bombs” – any state giving a nuke to terrorists may as well do a press release about it, load it into a missile on live tv, and launch it with a mariachi band playing.

    Btw, I see that our IC is saying Syria is loading sarin in munitions. :(. Like I said – it takes the will of a state to commit atrocities at this level. :(

  59. says

    Ps – you can tell the yield of a bomb and therefore its design and almost certainly its manufacturer, just from the electronic signature of its detonation. There are some wicked clever satellites up in orbit that do nothing but listen for the utterly unique double crackle of a nuke going off.

  60. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Limey Gotts is making the assumption that L. Frankenberger was Jewish. That is rather unlikely, although he may have had Jewish ancestry. – slc1

    Slc1 confirms that pairing him with David Icke as I did @27, was spot-on. The only source for the existence of Leopold Frankenberger, as I said, is Hans Frank, the well-known Nazi war-criminal; and Hans Frank said Frankenberger was Jewish.

    Of course, even if Adolf Hitler’s paternal grandfather had been Leopold Frankenberger, Adolf Hitler’s name was, throughout his life, Adolf Hitler. It makes no more sense to call him Frankenberger than it would to call him Rothschild, or for that matter Angus McSporran.

    As for “limey” as an insult – how quaint.

  61. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Yes. That’s exactly why, as the world has gone from a sole nuclear-armed power to thousands of warheads in the hands of at least 9 states, they’ve been used much more often. Oh, no, wait… – Marcus Ranum

    That’s just silly, Marcus. Suppose, for the sake of argument, the probability of a nuclear power using nuclear weapons is .001 per year, and the probabilities of any two or more doing so are independent. With nine nuclear powers, the probability would be 1 – .999^7 = .00698 to 3 s.f. Then the probability per year would have increased nearly sevenfold, but we still wouldn’t expect there to have been a use of nuclear weapons yet. Of course the real situation will be far more complicated, but you really ought to be able to see in the general case that:
    “X hasn’t happened yet”
    does not contradict:
    “The chances of X happening are increased by changes of type Y”.

  62. dingojack says

    Lofgren – apologies, I incorrectly attributed to you an argument you were merely paraphrasing viz:

    “But it’s been posited many times, including earlier in this comment thread, that we absolutely must stop Iran from getting a bomb because they are terrorist sympathizers. The obvious implication being that they would arm the terrorists (or aid them) with nuclear weapons.”

    This could equally apply to other states too, so applying such an argument to just Iran (or any other state) is mere special pleading, unless one can show how it’s only applicable to that particular state.
    Dingo

  63. dingojack says

    nick – wouldn’t that be prob = (1-(0.999^8)) ≈ 7.972e-03 ≈ 7.97 times increase?
    Confused,
    Dingo

  64. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Marcus Ranum,

    we might well argue that more nuclear-armed states increases the chance that they’ll be used, since their use is more likely to be from one state against another.

    Er, yes, that’s what I said, and what you dismissed @44. I did not mention the total number of weapons.

    I don’t think that the problem is as simple as “more nukes = more danger” It’s more like “more nukes in the hands of dangerous people = more danger” and that’s a harder thing to quantify.

    Um, quite. The more independent groups of people have control of nukes, the more likely it is that one of them will turn “dangerous” – which would mean, essentially, becoming so irrational they would use nukes.

    We saw during the cold war that humanity can exist with many many of the angels of death sleeping in their cages – as long as there is a balance carefully maintained that keeps them in their cages.

    We were very lucky. At least three times (Cuban Missile Crisis, and twice in 1983, when Ronald Dumbfuck Reagan had convinced the Soviet gerontocrats he was planning a first strike), catastrophe was very close. There was apparently another near-miss in 1995, due to faulty Russian launch detection equipment.

    Marcus, you obviously are well-versed in the technical aspects of nuclear weapons – and thanks for the references, I’ll put them on my reading list. I have been somewhat concerned about shipping container nukes with concealed origin, but if what you say here:

    You can tell from samples taken after a burst, which reactor bred the plutonium (and when) and which centrifuge cascade enriched it (and when). Every bomb has a unique and unconcealable signature.

    is accurate, and applies to uranium too, the concealment wouldn’t work – unless one power capable of building such a weapon got hold of uranium/plutonium produced elsewhere. Which doesn’t mean there would be no tactical advantages to such a means of attack, but does reduce them.

  65. says

    Suppose, for the sake of argument, the probability of a nuclear power using nuclear weapons is .001 per year, and the probabilities of any two or more doing so are independent.

    The probabilities aren’t independent! Consider the cold war, there was a probability that the US would use no nukes, or 10,000 but the difference between the probability of them using 1 or 10,000 was pretty small.

    Putting that another way: giving the US one more nuke doesn’t substantially increase the probability that a nuke will be used somewhere in the world. Giving the People’s Liberation Party of Elbonia a nuke (hypothetically) would dramatically increase the probability of a nuke being used somewhere in the world.

    The problem is more complicated than simply counting nukes. Counting nuke-armed states would be a better metric. Counting nuke-armed “entities” would be better, still. But things get vague, rapidly. I think it’s crucial to embrace that vagueness, which means that we encourage ourselves to be suspicious of the motives of anyone who wants such a weapon.

    At the very least because, in order to want a nuke, you basically must acknowledge that you’re a genocidal monster and therefore anyone who wants a nuke is an enemy of everyone who wants their fellow human beings to survive their lives un-nuked.

  66. says

    @Nick Gotts
    I did not mention the total number of weapons.

    OMG. I apologize. I don’t know what happened there – I read your comment and my preconceptions ran away with me, and I responded to something you totally didn’t say! You’re correct. Wow. And I wasn’t even drunk (but I was tired; my brain may have jumped into an old rut)

    I really fucked that up; I’m very sorry!

  67. lofgren says

    This could equally apply to other states too, so applying such an argument to just Iran (or any other state) is mere special pleading, unless one can show how it’s only applicable to that particular state.

    I don’t think that’s how special pleading works. In order for it to be special pleading, I would have to say “Any state that is allied with terrorists shouldn’t have a nuclear bomb.” Then when somebody mentions Pakistan, I say “Pakistan can have a nuclear bomb because I like their regional cuisine.”

    If I say “Iran can’t have a nuclear bomb because they might share the technology with terrorists,” it’s not special pleading to say “Pakistan can have a nuclear bomb because even though they might share the technology with terrorists, their cuisine is good enough to deserve one.” That’s just a value judgement. In my assessment, Pakistan’s food is good enough to justify nuclear technology despite the risks, while Iran’s is not.

    Anyway, the possibility of other states getting nuclear weapons isn’t what we’re discussing. We’re discussing Iran, so the application of any argument to any other state is neither here nor there.

    Besides, the US is not (by US standards) a terrorist sympathizer (since terrorist allies of the US are Freedom Fighters), so right away that drastically narrows the list of states you could apply this argument to without even resorting to the workaround presented above. And I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want a nuclear bomb in the hands of any one of them.

    Ultimately, I don’t want Iran to have a nuclear weapon because I don’t want them to drop it on some people and kill them. Of course this could just as well be said about the US, the only state who has actually dropped nuclear bombs on people. If it’s special pleading to say that I am more comfortable with the US having a bomb than I am Iran, then I’m comfortable special pleading. I am also more comfortable holding a gun than I am with you holding a gun. The reason for this is, “I’m me, and you’re you.” Sure, to a hypothetical objective observer that might be special pleading, but I’m not an objective observer – I’m me. And I would prefer to be in control of the gun than to give it to somebody who I don’t know if I can trust. (And putting additional guns into the scenario definitely does not make me any more comfortable.)

    Finally, the US already has nuclear bombs. As we can’t go back in time and prevent that, the fact that any given argument could be made against the US not having bombs is totally moot. There’s nothing we can do about it now. Iran is a different story. Well, theoretically different. Personally I’m not entirely convinced there is anything we can do about that, either. But at least since it’s a future event rather than something that happened decades ago, we wouldn’t have to violate causality to do it.

  68. says

    applies to uranium too

    Yes, it does.

    Another thing that’s cool – you can tell a great deal about how uranium was enriched by its byproducts as well. So, literally, you could hypothetically tell if a nuke’s uranium was enriched in a Pakistani P2 centrifuge or a variant thereof. I hope someday someone writes a book about this; “The long shadow of A.Q. Khan” would be a good title… And if it’s a plutonium bomb, the breeder reactor, the design of the reactor, and the reactor run is stamped permanently in the plutonium itself. It’s just physics – think radiocarbon dating except with even more bizzare isotopes.

    If you are interested in this stuff, I strongly recommend:
    Thomas Reed: At the Abyss
    http://www.amazon.com/At-Abyss-Insiders-History-Cold/dp/0891418377
    as well as:
    Richard Rhodes: The Twilight of the Bombs
    http://www.amazon.com/Twilight-Bombs-Challenges-Dangers-Prospects/dp/0307387410

    And to give you an idea of the kind of stuff that’s quietly sitting out there listening for bombs:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vela_Incident

    As an aside:
    There’s a story that when Hans Blix was notified by the physics department at U of Goteborg (I think it was) in Sweden, that radiation levels had jumped, he knew immediately to call Gorbachev because the specific byproducts in the materials could have only come from a core explosion from a graphite-mediated reactor. The story is that Gorbachev had been being told “the situation is under control” and Blix’ calling and asking him “how bad is the explosion at Chernobyl?” was a hell of a wake-up call. BTW, it was popular during the run-up to the Iraq war to demonize Hans Blix. Blix is, to me, an amazing character.

  69. dingojack says

    Marcus –
    Rule: Nuclear weapons should not be in the hands of states likely to deal with terrorists.
    Except ….

    Special pleading.

    “Besides, the US is not (by US standards) a terrorist sympathizer (since terrorist allies of the US are Freedom Fighters), so right away that drastically narrows the list of states you could apply this argument to without even resorting to the workaround presented above. And I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want a nuclear bomb in the hands of any one of them”.

    I sure hope that’s irony.

    I’m sure when state X passes on their nuclear weapons to group Y that’ll be all hunky dory ’cause state X calls them FREEDOM FIGHTERS. I’m sure all the irradiated living-corpses, left in the wake of group Y’s nuclear detonation, will feel so much better in that knowledge.

    Welcome to the SLC monster club, hope you enjoy your special moral-vacuum attachment.

    Dingo

  70. says

    Marcus –
    Rule: Nuclear weapons should not be in the hands of states likely to deal with terrorists.

    I don’t think I said that. I try to avoid the term “terrorist” because it doesn’t seem to have any meaning to me for exactly the reason you point out: whether someone is a “terrorist” or not depends on whose side they’re on. If I used the word “terrorist” other than in a blockquote or scarequotes it was a mistake.

  71. eric says

    @34: (I fantasize about the establishment of the 1st Congressional Infantry Company, to be composed entirely of Congressmen and/or their family members, and attached to XVIIIth Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg). The list of Chickenhawks is quite long.

    So did Heinlein. I’m not particularly enamored of an official OR unofficial requirement for military service for our elected leadership. Hypothetically, that’s why you have a SecDef and National Security Council; so you have access to experienced soldiers.

    However, I do agree that those with the least to lose are often the first to call for war. My own personal preferred solution is to propose that a congress who sends us to war, or approves the aggression of a sitting president (and there are many different ways to count or measure that; we can argue which one’s best if you really feel like it) can’t run for reelection. Pithily: you shouldn’t sacrifice other citizen’s lives over something unless you’re willing to sacrifice your job over it.

    Marcus Ranum @54:

    Dirty bombs are actually not particularly real. They’re not that effective a concept – they’re mostly a myth useful for scaring people (typical terrorism FUD) that’s not practical.

    They don’t have to be particularly real to pose an economic threat. TMI killed no one but arguably ended the development of new nuclear power reactors in the US. I would probably look at the Goiania release in Brazil as a model of what might happen (its not absolute worse case, but its pretty bad): a couple hundred people getting high doses but nobody killed. Billions of dollars spend in cleanup, and many ten or a hundred times that lost in secondary economic effects (i.e. lost work, tourism, etc.)

    Remember, 9/11 killed about 1/10th of the number of people as auto accidents kill in a year. People are not rational in how they compare or respond to different risks. If they don’t like radiation (and they don’t), the negative response to a dirty bomb will be much much larger than you would ever calculate by merely looking at the health effects.

  72. savagemutt says

    Marcus Ranum said:

    Btw, I see that our IC is saying Syria is loading sarin in munitions. :(. Like I said – it takes the will of a state to commit atrocities at this level. :(

    Are you just referring to delivery capability? Because sarin is what Aum Shinrikyo used in Japan.

  73. says

    Are you just referring to delivery capability? Because sarin is what Aum Shinrikyo used in Japan.

    Yeah, I’m mostly thinking capacity and scale, though Aum Shinrikyo’s attack was certainly horrible. When governments do this kind of stuff they have the ability to prevent aid from reaching the victims, and can not simply launch the attack, but follow-through with it and make it totally crushing.

    What I fear we’re about to see in Syria is a break-away town invested so that nobody can escape from it, and gassed. What will the world community’s response be?

  74. slc1 says

    Re Marcus Ranum @ #76

    Assad pere didn’t need chemical weapons to do that in 1982 in Hama. He surrounded the town with several hundred artillery pieces and subjected it to a bombardment, killing upwards of 20,000 people. Assad fils has now doubled his father’s toll.

  75. slc1 says

    By the way, I’m sure that the Israel bashers hereabouts are having an orgasm over the news that the former Senator , Chuck Hagel, a two fisted Israel basher, may become Secretary of Defense. Now all Obama has to do is appoint John Mearsheimer as his national security adviser and Stephen Walt as his Secretary of State to complete his stabbing Jewish voters in the back.

    http://freebeacon.com/the-critique-of-hagel/

  76. slc1 says

    Re Nicki Gotts @ #63

    Actually, Alois went under three different official names during his lifetime. He was christened Alois Schickelgruber, his name was changed to Alois Heidler when his mother married a man named Heidler (who was probably not his biological father), which name was changed again to Hitler by Heidler. We could just as easily called Frankenberger Adolf Schickelgruber or Adolf Heidler.

    The reason we don’t know anything about the Frankenberger family is because all records of their existence were order destroyed by Frankenberger after the Anschluss. The allegation is that Maria Schickelgruber was a maid in the Frankenberger household and was knocked up by their 19 year old son, resulting in Alois Frankenberger, ne Schickelgruber, ne Heidler, ne Hitler.

  77. slc1 says

    Re dingojack @ #81

    Actually, when I was in high school, we used to have a lot a yuks referring to him as Schickelgruber, as in heil Schickelgruber.

  78. says

    Making the assumption that countries and their leaders always act in a narrow range of rational thought is a silly assumption to make.

    Attacking a country before they’ve done anything irrational or threatening, because they MIGHT or COULD do something irrational in the not-really-foreseeable future, is even sillier. Not to mention more dangerous. How do you think it would have gone if the US had tried to preemptively destroy Stalin’s nuclear capability around 1950? Stalin was still in power, remember, and we certainly had good reason to believe he was irrational back then.

    I’m not suggesting that war is necessary to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, just that the opposite is not true either.

    You can’t just think about the consequences of allowing Iran to get nukes. You also have to weigh that against the consequences of an unprovoked attack on Iran. And you also have to consider whether such an attack would really keep Iran from getting a nuke — or whether we’d have to keep on attacking them into the far future. Given those choices (the choices we actually have, outside of our fantasies and idealized outcomes), I’d say a nuclear Iran would be much easier to manage than an Iran (and the rest of the Muslim world) reacting to one unprovoked attack and expecting more of the same.

    Limey Gotts is making the assumption that L. Frankenberger was Jewish. That is rather unlikely [blah blah blah]…

    I believe I speak for all of us when I say SO FUCKING WHAT?!

    The idea that history near-convincingly demands we not take out this risk but live with a nuclear Iran is at best naive.

    Not nearly as naive as the idea that we can use force to keep other countries from building up their own forces. Seriously, when has that ever worked for anyone in the long term?

    Actually, there is not the slightest chance that Israel would use nuclear weapons without the permission of the US.

    And you know this how? Because Israelis are so much more rational, compassionate and civilized than their dark-skinned heathen savage neighbors?

    Actually, Bibi is a rather cautious fellow who talks big but is reluctant to pull the trigger.

    In other words, you trust him because he’s bluffing? What do you think will happen when his most dangerous enemies call his bluff?

    …Now all Obama has to do is appoint John Mearsheimer as his national security adviser and Stephen Walt as his Secretary of State to complete his stabbing Jewish voters in the back.

    Which Jewish voters are you talking about — the Israelis who tried to interfere with our election (thus, I might add, reinforcing an old “international Jewish conspiracy” stereotype)?

  79. slc1 says

    Re Raging Bee, the Fairfax phoney @ #83

    I provided an example of how Israel asks permission before undertaking certain military actions, vis the bombing of the alleged nuclear reactor in Syria.

    I don’t have to trust Bibi, who I have said on numerous occasions is a liar. Actions speak louder then words and Bibi’s actions are a lot more subdued then his rhetoric. The likelihood that he is going to bomb Iran unilaterally without a green light from Obama is quite small.

    I’m talking about the 68% of American Jews who voted for Obama. Appointing former Senator Hagel to any position such as Secretary of Defense is a stab in the back.

  80. slc1 says

    Re Raging Bee @ #83

    the Israelis who tried to interfere with our election

    I don’ recall Mr. Bee doing any raging in 1999 when the Clintons sent the Rajun Cajun, James Carville over to Israel to help run Ehud Barak’s campaign against Bibi because of their displeasure with his actions. Funny that.

  81. says

    I’m talking about the 68% of American Jews who voted for Obama.

    Did they do so ignorant of Israel’s preference for a Republican president? I don’t think so. That might indicate they don’t identify with Israel as much as you seem to think.

    Appointing former Senator Hagel to any position such as Secretary of Defense is a stab in the back.

    You sound like all those Republicans who cried so piteously about how “hurt and betrayed” they felt every time Ronald Reagan said or did anything not radical enough for their delicate sensibilities. I take your cries of “betrayal” about as seriously as I take theirs — especially since you’re the only person, Jewish or otherwise, I’ve heard say anything about Jews feeling betrayed. Get off your laughable hobby-horse, chickenhawk, and stop pretending you represent any legitimate interests of Jews in any country.

  82. says

    I don’ recall Mr. Bee doing any raging in 1999 when the Clintons sent the Rajun Cajun, James Carville over to Israel to help run Ehud Barak’s campaign against Bibi because of their displeasure with his actions. Funny that.

    Of course you don’t recall it — you’d never even heard of me back then, so you have no fucking clue what I said about anything. Lamest flailing diversionary whine of “hypocricy” EVER.

    Oh, and did Clinton try to badger the Israelis into allowing us to attack some other country without provocation? Did he try to scare them into supporting a policy that was clearly against their own best interests? If not, then your comparison is invalid.

  83. says

    Actions speak louder then words and Bibi’s actions are a lot more subdued then his rhetoric.

    Funny, you don’t admit the same thing about Iran’s leaders, who TALK about destroying Israel, but haven’t actually tried to destroy them. And you wonder why we call you a flaming bloodthirsty hypocritical racist?

  84. slc1 says

    Re Raging Bee @ #88

    Iran is doing the best they can at the moment to eliminate the State of Israel by egging on Hizbollah and Hamas. Apparently, they ain’t doing quite as well in Syria as today’s newspaper articles indicate that Assad fils is on his last legs.

  85. slc1 says

    Re Raging Bee @ #87

    Contrary to the Fairfax phoney’s comment, the Clinton’s intervened in Israel’s 1999 election and were rather more successful then Bibi was this time as the latter lost in 1999 while Obama won.

  86. md says

    the question must be posed and wrestled with: Would a nuclear armed Iran in turn arm a terrorist group?

    Its plausible a nuclear armed Iran wouldnt attack someone directly. They’d be decimated as a result. But would they aid someone else? Is there a sufficient deterrent against that behavior?

    There is currently not enough deterrent to keep them from funding Hezbollah.

  87. velociraptor says

    It looks like slc1 has no interest in putting his ass on the line to defend Israeli interests, but has no problem putting the lives of Americans or others on the line to defend those same interests.

    And by the way, Hizbollah and Hamas have exactly ZERO chance of defeating Israel militarily.

    So the question remains, since you are so fired up to defend Israel and her interests, why the fuck aren’t you over there doing it?

  88. says

    the question must be posed and wrestled with: Would a nuclear armed Iran in turn arm a terrorist group?

    No, because Tehran would be destroyed by a nuclear strike within 48hr.
    Because the origin of the blast would be that clear, that fast, that sure.

    Side-commentary: they already have cruise missiles; if they were willing to die to genocide Israel they would pursue a secret development-cruise-strike scenario. That scenario is rendered nonsensical by the Israeli publicity surrounding the program, its targeted killings, and its likely sucessful espionage within that program.

  89. says

    So the question remains, since you are so fired up to defend Israel and her interests, why the fuck aren’t you over there doing it?

    Or, at the very least, why the fuck isn’t he at least trying to do a more credible job of standing up for Israel’s interests?

    If I was a Mossad agent and saw this blog post, I would seriously consider hunting slc1 down and making him disappear before he could embarrass my country any further. The only time he doesn’t do Israel’s image more harm than good, is when he’s either offline or talking about completely unrelated subjects.

  90. says

    Contrary to the Fairfax phoney’s comment, the Clinton’s intervened in Israel’s 1999 election and were rather more successful then Bibi was this time as the latter lost in 1999 while Obama won.

    That’s not even what my comment was about, let alone contrary to it. Give it up, Likudnik boy, you have no credibility.

  91. says

    Marcus – did uou miss your own words I quoued?

    Is slc1′s name also “Marcus”?

    I thoroughly and sincerely throw myself upon my blogsword for misinterpreting an earlier comment about numbers of nukes correlating to threat. See #69.

  92. says

    @dingojack:
    Marcus –
    Rule: Nuclear weapons should not be in the hands of states likely to deal with terrorists.
    Except ….

    Special pleading.

    I do not see the string “should not be in the hands of states likely to deal with terrorists” in this thread.

    “Besides, the US is not (by US standards) a terrorist sympathizer (since terrorist allies of the US are Freedom Fighters)

    ‘Lofgren’ said that. There may be more than one ‘Marcus’ here, though, because I’m confused and that would explain it.

  93. says

    “Why do you say that? Israel has a track record of bombing the fledgling nuclear facilities of countries which are hostile to it, and both times I can think of, the consequences were the opposite of catastrophic disaster.”

    Because while they were taunting the Syrians and the Iraqis they were standing between the legs of the U.S., absent that they would have been fighting for their lives.

    I would guess that one of these fine days there will be a “sudden” revelation that the Yom Kippur war happened because some signals officer at the Russian Embassy in Cairo mis-translated some piece of intel from the U.S. to its Israeli client which gave them the impression that we wouldn’t stand by Israel in the event that they were attacked. I have nothing to back this up and it’s possible that Nasser and the rest of the people on the arab side were complete fucking idiots but I doubt that being the case.

    As for Iran supporting terrorists (aren’t terrorists and war criminals ALWAYS on the losing side?), I doubt that such support would extend to them letting them have a baby nuke.

  94. says

    As for Iran supporting terrorists … I doubt that such support would extend to them letting them have a baby nuke.

    I doubt that ANY regime, even a bigoted theocratic one, would entrust that much destructive power to any party they could not directly control. Government — especially tyrannical government — is all about control, and tends to attract and reward control freaks. And I suspect that that kind of person would absolutely recoil from any thought of someone outside their organization’s control having a weapon that powerful.

    A regime might use operatives PRETENDING to be non-state terrorists to deploy a nuke; but they would be most unlikely to let one slip into the hands of an actual non-state group.

    Remember all those terrorist groups that were accused (credibly or not) of getting support and guidance from the USSR? How many of them got a nuke handed to them? Also, I notice that Pakistan’s ISI hasn’t given the Taliban any of their nukes.

  95. dingojack says

    Marcus – What the fuck is wrong with me? Sheesh.
    You are completely right. I can only blame a temporary brain fade or something.
    I apologise and withdraw (before I do something really dumb).
    Dingo

  96. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    @slc1 #80

    Actually, Alois went under three different official names during his lifetime

    I’m well aware of that. But Adolf Hitler, as I said, never had any name other than Adolf Hitler.

    The reason we don’t know anything about the Frankenberger family is because all records of their existence were order destroyed by Frankenberger after the Anschluss.

    What a beautiful example of paranoid conspiracy-mongering – you really are an Icke-class fuckwit. There is no evidence whatever that such a family existed, other than the statement of the Nazi war criminal Hans Frank. Hence, specifically, there can be no evidence whatever outside statements by a single Nazi war criminal that Hitler ordered records of their existence destroyed.

  97. says

    Someone who pretends to be a defender of Israel and Jewish interests is willing to believe the word of ONE NAZI WAR CRIMINAL, with no corroboration? This is so fishy I’m beginning to wonder whether slc1 is really what he pretends to be. It certainly wouldn’t be hard for a Jew-hater or Israel-hater to call himself a supporter of Israel on the ‘tubes; and using that pretense to advocate genocidal war on Israel’s behalf looks like a pretty effective way to make Israel and it’s REAL supporters look bad.

    And who else is known to at least imply that Hitler had some Jewish blood in him? Oh yeah — Jew-haters and Hololcaust-deniers looking to bash the Jews and blame them for their own victimization.

    It certainly wouldn’t be the first time bigoted reich-wingers ever used that well-known COINTELPRO tactic.

  98. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    Raging Bee@107,

    You could be right, but I suspect that slc1 is just very stupid, as well as being a genocidal maniac.

    I have nothing to back this up and it’s possible that Nasser and the rest of the people on the arab side were complete fucking idiots but I doubt that being the case. – democommie

    Worth noting that the Yom Kippur War did actually gain Egypt the return of Sinai (this is not to justify the attack, just to note the outcome). Sadat (Nasser died in 1970) had domestic reasons for the war, but may also have thought the broader international situation favourable; and as it turned out, so it was.

  99. says

    There is currently not enough deterrent to keep them from funding Hezbollah.

    Funding Hezbollah is a whole different game from providing nuclear materials or components. It should come as no surprise to you that certain materials, precursors, and electronics, are very very closely monitored. One of the fascinating things (to me, anyway) about nuclear weapons technology is that it requires certain things that, literally, are unique. That’s why, when the US was making a big deal about “aluminum tubes” during the run-up to the Iraq war, I knew they were lying – because aluminum tubes are pretty general purpose. It would have been a much more interesting indicator if they had been collecting relays that could fire accurately in under a microsecond, and controller systems capable of managing firing dozens of such relays at exactly the same fraction of a microsecond. There is, literally, nothing else that requires that kind of stuff – and anyone who knows anything about nukes knows it. Aluminum tubes aren’t even used in centrifuges – uranium hexaflouride is very very very corrosive stuff (solving that problem is what Dupont invented a little material called “teflon” for back during the manhattan project) Anyhow… You could give Hezbollah a billion dollars and they wouldn’t be able to buy a nuke, let alone build one. They could, however, buy a humongous assload or russian-made rockets. And the reason they do that is because the rockets already say “MADE IN USSR” on them and they’re a whole lot easier to get and the state providing the money has plausible deniability.

    I can’t emphasize this enough: because of the technical problems and the forensics capabilities of nuclear physics, nuclear weapons technology is a whole different game from anything you think you might know about normal weapons. Fortunately for most of us, there are powers that know that, and look carefully for very specific signs. They also watch for what I have heard described as “perturbations in the money-field” – The scenarious of someone selling a nuclear weapon would make a noticeable impact in the non-stock market money supply of the parts of the world where it’s even plausible to imagine. If you don’t believe me, consider how thoroughly comprehended and watched the A.Q. Khan network was (the US and allies stopping ships bound to Libya with Quaddafi’s purchases, and seizing his extremely expensive shopping cart being one example)

  100. slc1 says

    Re Nick Gotts, Raging Bee, and Marcus Ranum

    This is from the Times of Israel web site. Apparently, the new web site here doesn’t yet allow links.

    If all else fails, US will hit Iran in 2013, say former top advisers to Obama and Bush
    At Washington Institute gala, Dennis Ross, Elliott Abrams and outgoing US ambassador to Iraq James Jeffrey insist the president will strike next year if diplomacy doesn’t succeed

    NEW YORK — If the standoff over the Iranian nuclear program is not resolved diplomatically in the coming year, it will be resolved militarily by the end of 2013, two top US foreign policy officials told The Times of Israel on Thursday.

    “I think there’s the stomach in this administration, and this president, that if diplomacy fails [to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons] — to use force,” according to Dennis Ross, a former Mideast envoy during the Clinton administration, and until November 2011 President Obama’s top advisor and planner on Iran in the National Security Council.

    James Jeffrey, a former deputy national security advisor and, for the past two years, the US ambassador to Iraq, agreed with Ross’ assessment.

    “I think [Obama’s] first choice will be a negotiated settlement. Failing that, I think that we’re going to strike,” Jeffrey said.

    “One way or the other, these guys [the Iranian regime] are either going to stop their program or, before we’re halfway through 2013, they’re going to have enough [enriched nuclear materiel] to go critical in a few weeks,” he added. “I think if we don’t get a negotiated settlement, and these guys are actually on the threshold [of weaponization capability], as Obama said during the campaign, then the president is going to take military action.”

    The two officials spoke with The Times of Israel at the gala dinner of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, held Thursday night at New York’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The event honored Ross and Elliott Abrams, a former deputy national security advisor to George W. Bush. Jeffrey, who was in attendance, recently joined the institute as a visiting fellow.

    During an on-stage discussion with Ross and Abrams halfway through the evening, Washington Institute director Robert Satloff asked the former officials, “Will either America or Israel employ preventive military action against Iran’s nuclear program – yes or no?”

    The two replied in unison, “yes.”

    “Will this happen in 2013?” Satloff pressed.

    “Yes,” said Ross.

    “Yes, I agree,” added Abrams.

    Obama’s “preference is to have diplomacy succeed,” Ross clarified to The Times of Israel after the panel discussion. But, he added, Obama is able and willing to carry out a military strike.

    “If [Obama’s] position was going to be not to use force, he would have accepted the objective of containment [of a nuclear Iran]. He did not. He adopted the objective of prevention. That doesn’t mean you want force to be the case. What it means is, fundamentally, that if diplomacy doesn’t succeed you’re prepared to do it. And I believe he is.”

    Asked if the Obama administration had an interest in pressing for a new Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative, Ross suggested the US had a more limited view of its role than in the past.

    “I don’t think it’s the president’s view that somehow the United States can wave a magic wand and you can have peace,” he said. “If you go back to an interview he gave at the end of the first year [of Obama’s first term], he said [bringing the sides together to discuss peace] has proven more difficult than he hoped it would be.”

    He insisted that “It’s very important to try to preserve a two-state outcome,” and that “I don’t think the administration will walk away, and I don’t think we should walk away. If you can create a set of circumstances where it looks like there’s an opportunity, I think the administration would make a major effort. But to assume the administration will make a major effort as if there’s an opening [when there isn’t one,] that remains to be seen.”

  101. Nick Gotts (formerly KG) says

    slc1,
    Even if Obama has no intention of attacking Iran (I don’t pretend to know whether he does or not), it would clearly be in his interest to convince the Iranian regime that he does. So this tells us nothing.

  102. slc1 says

    Re Nick Gotts

    But Obama said in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that he doesn’t bluff. Actually, I think that Bibi is the bluffer.

  103. says

    You actually think we can take Elliott Abrams seriously? He’s a lying piece of shit from way back to the Vietnam War, IIRC, or at least back to the El Salvador kerfuffle.

    But Obama said in an interview with Jeffrey Goldberg that he doesn’t bluff.

    What, you think anyone with any brains would say otherwise?

    And even if Obama isn’t bluffing, that still doesn’t mean he wouldn’t try to find a way out of a pointless unprovoked attack. So as Nick said, your article doesn’t tell us jack shit.

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