Mistaking Bravado For Strength

Glenn Reynolds highlights a rather strange statement by the quintessential left-wing ranter Duncan “Atrios” Black:

Look, I just don’t get this stuff. I don’t want Iran to have nukes. I don’t think that’s a good thing for the world. I certainly didn’t want Pakistan or India to have nukes. But is a nuclear Iran really a threat to us? Certainly an Iran-with-nukes could blow the hell out of a city or two, but an Iran that did such a thing would pretty much cease to exist. It isn’t mutually assured destruction, it’s you f*ck with us a little bit and YOU NO LONGER LIVE BITCHES!

That’s all fine and well, unless you happen to be in the city that gets nuked. Or have relatives in the city that gets nuked. Or work in travel, for an airline, or any of the other hundreds of industries that would be effected by such a devastating event.

Black is exhibiting something I’ve noticed somewhat frequently with the far left. The left gets criticized for being weak on issues of defense and national security, and quite rightly so on the merits. Their response is usually with a statement of Rambo-esque bluster like the one above – what a Freudian might call “overcompensation”.

It is obviously and clearly foolish beyond all measure to argue that we should let a US city be nuked, and Black is probably not saying he thinks that should happen (assuming he gave this statement a modicum of thought to begin with). (And as seen below, that’s not what he’s saying.) However, the idea that a nut like Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad is going to give a whit for the doctrine of MAD is questionable at best. Ahmadi-Nejad believes his job is to bring about the coming of the Twelvth Imam, the Imam Mahdi. It’s not entirely certain if he’d care about his death and the death of a few million more in an action he thought would lead to that end.

There’s a difference between a position of rational strength and mindless and foolish bravado. Mr. Black’s statement is a glaring example of the latter, and another indication of exactly why the left in this country remains utterly and completely cluessless on issues of defense and security.

UPDATE: Atrios then tried to backtrack from his previous statements, and trips all over himself doing it:

I of course never even implied the notion “who cares about a city or two?” The point is that the deterrence that kept a few thousand ICBMs coming our way from the Soviet Union should also work with smaller state nuclear powers, with the added benefit that “mutually assured destruction” simply becomes “assured destruction” – theirs, not ours.

Again, the idea that MAD would necessarily dissuade someone who wasn’t acting on a rational calculus to begin with is just not a good idea.

North Korea can also presumably take out a couple of US cities, and that country is both more desperate as well as having a leader who is more likely be an irrational actor. Pakistan is under a dictatorship and is one successful assassination attempt away from who knows what. They too can presumably take out a couple of US cities.

Black is right here, to a point. North Korea should never have been allowed to have nukes, and the 1994 Agreed Framework was a joke that the family Kim simply ignored. Pakistan is unsettled, but Musharraf likely would destroy Pakistan’s nukes than let them fall into the hands of terrorists, and Musharraf also has his selected people throughout the army to help keep the peace. (Making him a dictator, but at least one who is using his power to hold back an even worse tyranny.)

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad strikes me as the more dangerous of the three leaders. Musharraf is a nominal ally, Kim Jung Il is a meglomaniac but not sucidal, but Ahmadi-Nejad is something much more dangerous. He’s a true believer in a particularly dangerous and suicidal version of radical Islam. He is the sort of person who would launch a nuclear strike against the West full knowing that it would lead to his destruction, because he would think that his death would usher in the Imam Mahdi or that Allah would protect him, or that the destruction of Iran would unite the Muslim world. In any event, the fundamental issue here is whether or not we should allow a state like Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. It doesn’t seem very far-fetched to me that the idea that we could respond in kind is a cold comfort at best.

I’m quite against nuclear proliferation in all of its forms and it would’ve been nice if we had been taking it more seriously. But thinking that Iran shouldn’t have nukes is not the same as imagining that Iran with nukes is the “greatest threat to the Republic” that we face. I just have no idea how that computes.

Again, Black is seriously underestimating how dangerous Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad could be. And again, the lessons of the past few years have been clear as to how dangerous it can be to underestimate the will and danger of an ideology that doesn’t care about death.

5 thoughts on “Mistaking Bravado For Strength

  1. Ahmadi-Nejad isn’t as potentially dangerous as many are making him out to be. The nature of the Iranian political system isn’t the same as Saddam’s Iraq or Kim Jong Il’s North Korea; Ahmadi-Nejad is practically a figurehead compared to either Kim or Saddam. The country has a one-party but functional parliament which has axed a considerable number of Ahmadi-Nejad’s initiatives; on top of that, there’s a whole cabal of Ayatollas that can check his power, and they’re not about to let their country be wiped off the map on a quixotic and stupid quest to demolish Israel. Many analysts think that the only reason that the Ayatollahs are letting Ahmadi-Nejad get away with the rhetoric he’s using is because it’s only that; it’s popular with the people at a time when the current regime is weakening.

    All that said, I certainly don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons, and would hardly be opposed to pelting their nuclear facilities with Tomahawks. But keep it in perspective; it’s just sabre-rattling. It’s as likely that Iran would lauch a bomb at Tel Aviv as China will invade Taiwan or NK will nuke Seoul. Ahmadi-Nejad is far too cynical for such a quest; and even if he is a true believer, there are enough cynics in his government to stand in his way.

  2. There is a reason why MAD worked so well against USSR. Under soviet secular dogma, the only thing that exists is the state. The state is what its citizens lived, worked and died for. There is no before or after life. Therefore, state protection was paramount.

    Iran is fundamentally different. Securing the after life is paramount. The Iranian mindset is more likely to accept a few barbaric acts if it secures the after life, even at the expense of the Iranian state.

  3. Joe:

    I’d be willing to bet that for every “true believer” among the Iranian ruling party, there’s at least one cynic, if not two. And those cynics aren’t going to want their state blown to pieces.

  4. Nicholas:

    I hope you’re right. Unfortunatly, you’d be “betting” using hundreds of thousands of lives as stakes. The tables a little too steep for my tastes.

  5. Rob:

    I didn’t say I didn’t support knocking out their reactors or missile facilities in a pre-emptive strike. I don’t want Iran to have nuclear weapons. But even if they had them, I doubt they’d use them as anything more than a bargaining chip.

    The real reason they want nukes? They don’t want to be Iraq’d. They know that if they have nukes, we won’t go near them.

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