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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Living with the Iranian bomb?

One of the headlines in the news here today is the statement by John Abizaid, the retired Army general who headed Central Command for nearly four years, said he was confident that if Iran gained nuclear arms, the United States could deter it from using them.
"Iran is not a suicide nation," he said. "I mean, they may have some people in charge that don't appear to be rational, but I doubt that the Iranians intend to attack us with a nuclear weapon."

The Iranians are aware, he said, that the United States has a far superior military capability.

"I believe that we have the power to deter Iran, should it become nuclear," he said, referring to the theory that Iran would not risk a catastrophic retaliatory strike by using a nuclear weapon against the United States.

"There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran," Abizaid said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank. "Let's face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we've lived with a nuclear China, and we're living with (other) nuclear powers as well."

He stressed that he was expressing his personal opinion and that none of his remarks were based on his previous experience with U.S. contingency plans for potential military action against Iran.


Abizaid suggested military action to pre-empt Iran's nuclear ambitions might not be the wisest course.

"War, in the state-to-state sense, in that part of the region would be devastating for everybody, and we should avoid it — in my mind — to every extent that we can," he said. "On the other hand, we can't allow the Iranians to continue to push in ways that are injurious to our vital interests."

He suggested that many in Iran — perhaps even some in the Tehran government — are open to cooperating with the West. The thrust of his remarks was a call for patience in dealing with Iran, which President Bush early in his first term labeled one of the "axis of evil" nations, along with North Korea and Iraq.

He said there is a basis for hope that Iran, over time, will move away from its current anti-Western stance.


Abizaid expressed confidence that the United States and the world community can manage the Iran problem.

"I believe the United States, with our great military power, can contain Iran — that the United States can deliver clear messages to the Iranians that makes it clear to them that while they may develop one or two nuclear weapons they'll never be able to compete with us in our true military might and power," he said.

He described Iran's government as reckless, with ambitions to dominate the Middle East.

"We need to press the international community as hard as we possibly can, and the Iranians, to cease and desist on the development of a nuclear weapon and we should not preclude any option that we may have to deal with it," he said. He then added his remark about finding ways to live with a nuclear-armed Iran.
I must disagree. The problem with Iran is precisely that it is an undemocratic state with a government that is not a rational actor. As I have noted previously, the reason why nuclear deterrence between the US and the Soviets worked in the 1960's, 70's and 80's was because with two rational actors, mutually assured destruction gave both sides an interest in not setting off a nuclear war. Iran is not a rational actor and its leaders' statements must be taken seriously and at face value and not discounted.

Several months ago, I blogged an article in which I explained why the Iranian nuclear threat against Israel is "madder than MAD," with MAD being mutually assured destruction, which is what kept the US and Russia from going after each other in the 1970's. At the time I wrote:
The problem with Iran getting nuclear weapons is that there is no mutually assured destruction. Iran is convinced that it would sustain only 'acceptable' casualties from an Israeli second strike (assuming that Israel even has a nuclear capability) while it is convinced that its use of nuclear weapons (or even its threat to use nuclear weapons) would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state. Thus once Iran has nuclear weapons, there is no deterrent to its using them - unless someone else is going to step up to the plate and make Iran's casualties 'unacceptable.' The odds of that happening are quite slim (what other country is going to put itself at risk for nuclear attack to defend Israel?), and that's without even considering the question of whether Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinadinnerjacket is a rational actor at all.
Or as Ron Rosenbaum put it in Pajamas Media at the time:
There is no deterrent to suicidal martyrdom, involuntary mass martryrdom. No deterrent that depends on belief in the value of life by genocidal murderers on a “martyrdom mission”. Is there a solution to this problem aside from pre-emptive strikes which will likely be catastrophic for both sides and probably only postpone a second Holocaust? Are there any deterrents that will stop Ahmadinejad and his ilk from carrying out their genocidal designs? I wish I could believe there were. Any ideas?
It is dangerous to assume that Iran led by Ahmadinejad is a rational actor. It's dangerous for the US and it's even more dangerous for Israel.


At 4:32 PM, Blogger Ron said...

Are there any deterrents that will stop Ahmadinejad and his ilk from carrying out their genocidal designs? I wish I could believe there were. Any ideas?

Yes, there is one very obvious deterrent: kill them.

What a complete idiot Abazaid is. Very good riddance.

At 7:05 PM, Blogger Dave in Pa. said...

Gen. Abizaid is one of the Army officers who rose to the top of the ladder under the Clinton Administration. That is a telling fact. Think of him as a Zbignew Brezhinski or Sandy Burger in uniform, an underwhelming intellect who sees the world first through the prism of liberal ideology.

That having been said, Abizaid's whole argument is a premise without logical substantiation. (In other words, wishful thinking.)

His premise, given entirely without substantiation, appears to be that a pre-emptive attack on the Iranian nuclear weapons facilities is the worst possible option, regardless of outcome.

I'd argue that allowing the Iranian dictatorship to build a nuclear weapons arsenal would present the entire world with an array of terrible possible outcomes, the worst of which it'd be hard to select.

Seems to this commentor that any dispassionately thinking, well-informed person will come to the conclusion that under any circumstances, a nuclear-armed Iran is profoundly, unacceptably dangerous and not just to Israel or the US.

At 12:31 AM, Blogger Always On Watch said...

I don't place any confidence in Gen. Abizaid's words, especially but not limited to "Iran is not a suicide nation."

He's using Western logic--or maybe something else.


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