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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Interesting Questions

Last nigh I got together with three other guys to talk about Niall Ferguson's book The War of the World, which is about the 20th Century.  My take on the Century is that it was all about decaying Empires (Russia, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman and Chinese) and how that impacted the rest of the nations.

I was going to say that for the UK, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and the US there was more or less graceful degradation, but that isn't true. First off, there were serious long term problems in some of the colonies (millions died when India partitioned and US forces are again engaged in fighting an insurgency in the Philippines). And, France experienced a coup and a change of Constitution as a result of the events in Algeria.  The UK experienced terrorism for quite a while due to Ireland.  In the US we had an attempted presidential assassination and then the same generic freedom fighters shot up the US House of Representatives a few years later.

Which brings me to this question I received in an EMail today:
Is the President’s ringing endorsement of nuclear energy power plants actually an attempt to cover up refining of weapons grade uranium for warheads to use against Iran?
Of course not, but it should give us pause to think about the fact that other nations may be viewing their nuclear programs through their own positive and peaceful lenses. And, just the reverse, there are some lying scoundrels out there who should remind us of Mary Therese McCarthy's line, "every word she writes is a lie, including 'and' and 'the'."

What do we think is really happening in Iran?  I bet there are people in Iran who see their nuclear program as purely peaceful in intent, with no interest in weaponizing the nuclear results.  On the other hand, there are those, for sure, who intend it as a way of ensuring Iranian military power in the Middle East, but for maintaining the peace (and deterring the US and Israel).  Then there are those who think that they need nuclear weapons so that Iran can right past wrongs.

On the other hand, there is no putting the nuclear genie back in the bottle.  We have to make our choices and live with the consequences.  I am glad that the President has been trying to find a peaceful solution to the Iran question, but I am not sure there is an easy answer.

My own preference is that we go for deterrence and that as part of that we should include bringing members of the Iranian military and civilian leadership to the United States to go to nuclear weaponeering school, so they can see that the consequences of the detonation of a nuclear weapon can be serious.  Further, we should quietly offer Iran information on securing and safing nuclear weapons.  I think it would be worth our while to provide information on Permissive Action Links (PAL), in the hopes that Iran would develop its own PAL, so that if their weapons fell into the wrong hands they would not be readily useable.  And woe be unto them who don't understand that Iran's national interests may well shift in twenty years and at that point the great Satan may no longer be the US.

Regards  —  Cliff

  These words were uttered on the Dick Cavett show and were about Lillian Hellman.  Cue the lawyers.


The New Englander said...

How about a hypothetical -- what if McCain had been elected in 2008? How would that affect U.S. policy towards Iran?

I'll start by offering my own opinion -- it wouldn't make an iota of difference. Iran is the MOST vexing foreign policy question for us..we can talk carrots and sticks all day while they go ahead and continue to develop their program.

Not saying I have any good answers on this either, because I certainly don't.

While we're talking about extremely difficult foreign policy questions, I'll add that I also want to study up a bit on seems like the last few Administrations have sort of walked a tightrope on that one, too.

ncrossland said...

As The Shadow used to intone ominously over the airwaves, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?" I think that is the enduring question as we assess the good or bad intentions of other nation-states with regard to our soverignty or perhaps "the freedom of the free world."

I know that Cliff and I have had this discussion many times before, so he may perhaps yawn absent mindedly and change the channel.

I think that the answer to our many dilemmas regarding other countries is that we must discontinue our national philosophy of exceptionalism. I am not preaching isolationism, but rather, we have no right or business meddling in the affairs of other states.

To be sure, in times of international horror, we have acted humanitarianly and with great passion. Millions of people made inconsequential by the dark hearts of a few despots can thank the American fighting man for the freedoms they enjoy today. But it ends there. We should not be an "occupying force" once we have helped to vanquish a dictatorial presence in a foreign land.

I am not at all certain that under the current Iranian regime, the great unwashed of Iran are any better or worse than when the Shah was in power. In point of fact, the little Vietnamese farmer planting, tending, and harvesting his rice was largely unconcerned who was running the country. Life for him and his family was essentially unchanged.

The excuse for our international meddling (aka "adventurism") that we are merely protecting access to resources essential to our national security are largely without merit and substance. We are sitting on more oil than the Middle East possesses, as an example of significant note.

The kind of foreign policy I endorse is that we live and let live unless we are specifically asked to intervene in some aspect of the operation of another nation state. If Afghanistan, Iraq, VietNam, Taiwan, or any other country wish us to help them with a power change, a basic prerequisite must be that the sons and daughters of that country must be actively engaged in effecting that change. We can help, but we are NOT going to take the lead.

Now, if there is a clear and present threat to our country, we are obliged to remove it by whatever means is required. Fine, if we can send Hillary in and she can swing a deal. However, if we are the recipient of an extended middle digit for our effort, more forceful and determinant action is justified and must be the least possible cost to America.

Walk softly....and carry a big stick that the world knows we will use in a New York minute.

I see no difficulty with the current mess with Iran. We simply tell the perverted shrimp currently dictating Iran that if we even THINK he is going to use his nukes on us, we will turn him and his country into a massive lake of green glass.

The whole reason for military action taken by a society is to win against the opponent, and to do so with minimal cost. Escalation or incremental force is NOT a strategy. Winning is the only outcome of conflict....and winning decisively.

This is the one thing that I deeply respect about Israel and their history. Kill one of them and they will hunt you down and take you out. Act like you are going to do harm, and they will strike first....and decisively.

But then, there isn't a moderate bone in my body.


C R Krieger said...

Re Greg's comment, I don't think the general outcome would be any different—Iran would still be getting the bomb.

The question is, what is the path forward?  President Obama tried the soft approach.  A President McCain might have tried a harder approach, but short of war would have achieved the same thing.

As I noted, the best we can hope for is an informed leadership in Iran—that or war.  War would be ugly.

Neal's comment brings to mind the Douglas MacArthur quote:  From the Far East I bring you one single thought, one sole idea; written in red on every beachhead from Australia to Tokyo, there is no substitute for victory."

But, I believe Neal is right about us not sticking our nose in where it is not wanted, although I still cling to the idea of American exceptionalism.

I used to have a couple of pieces of that green glass, which my Father policed up when he was working as part of the crew doing instrumentation for some of the nuclear tests.  Long gone.  I would hate to see more of it created.

On the other hand, we have that unique situation, Israel, which is closer to being one of the states than, apparently, Alaska.  And, the Alaska thing aside, I am not saying that is a bad thing.  If Israel were to disappear, the last best hope for the survivors would be these United States—and our duty would be to take them in, rather than shut them out, as we did in the 1930s and early 1940s.

Regards  —  Cliff

C R Krieger said...

I picked this up somewhere...

The United States has never signed security accords with Israel, but the Weekly Compilation of Presidential Documents, Volume 13, Number 20, May 16, 1977, pages 706-707 contains the following unequivocal statement: "It is absolutely crucial that no one in our country or around the world ever doubt that our number one commitment in the Middle East is to protect the right of Israel to exist, to exist permanently, and to exist in peace. It is a special relationship." No U.S. President ever has rescinded that proclamation to my knowledge.

I have not personally sighted the document, but my source is unimpeachable.

The commitment seems pretty straight forward.

Regards  —  Cliff