Friday, April 21, 2006

Iranian bomb: Krauthamer and the cost of havoc problem.

The March 31st issue of Time Magazine included an essay by Charles Krauthamer. The essay is now behind a paywall, but a blog search found this excerpt (from a neoconservative-type web site). Emphases mine.
Clear and Present:

Today Tehran, Tomorrow the World

... We're now at the dawn of an era in which an extreme and fanatical religious ideology, undeterred by the usual calculations of prudence and self-preservation, is wielding state power and will soon be wielding nuclear power.

We have difficulty understanding the mentality of Iran's newest rulers. Then again, we don't understand the mentality of the men who flew into the World Trade Center or the mobs in Damascus and Tehran who chant 'Death to America'—and Denmark(!)—and embrace the glory and romance of martyrdom.

This atavistic love of blood and death and, indeed, self-immolation in the name of God may not be new—medieval Europe had an abundance of millennial Christian sects—but until now it has never had the means to carry out its apocalyptic ends.

That is why Iran's arriving at the threshold of nuclear weaponry is such a signal historical moment. It is not just that its President says crazy things about the Holocaust. It is that he is a fervent believer in the imminent reappearance of the 12th Imam, Shi'ism's version of the Messiah. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been reported as saying in official meetings that the end of history is only two or three years away. He reportedly told an associate that on the podium of the General Assembly last September, he felt a halo around him and for 'those 27 or 28 minutes, the leaders of the world did not blink ... as if a hand was holding them there and it opened their eyes to receive' his message. He believes that the Islamic revolution's raison d'etre is to prepare the way for the messianic redemption, which in his eschatology is preceded by worldwide upheaval and chaos. How better to light the fuse for eternal bliss than with a nuclear flame?
Krauthamer starts the article by quoting Richard Feynman. The rumbling you hear is my old professor (ok, so I went to two of his Physics-X lectures ...) approaching a relativistic spin rate. Insults to the honored dead aside, let me deconstruct the essay as such:
  • Fanaticism is not new, but the falling cost of havoc means it has a new significance for the survival of humanity.
  • Iran's leader is a religious zealot who wants to bring on the end-time (elsewhere in the same issue it's noted that he now has strong support among the young for a nuclear program, albeit perhaps not for the end-time).
  • Iran must be stopped, with a strong implication that military action will be required.
For the sake of discussion let's assume that President Ahmadinejad is indeed an apocalyptic madman. True, Saddam was accused of this as well and was found to actually quite calculating and not inclined to suicide. (Alas for us all, Saddam was no better at such calculations than were Rumsfeld/Bush/Cheney). True, Bush has been accused of this and he's probably not suicidal. No matter, let's assume it's really true of Ahmadinejad.

What can and should we do in this case? I'd say, not damned much. Bush has dug a deep hole for us. Thanks to Bush Iran is stronger than ever, and US actions in Iraq have enormously strengthened Ahmadinejad's political base. Thanks to Bush the US has no credibility to push for sanctions, and no international support for any serious action. Probably the best we can do is horse trade to get China to take the lead on this, doing whatever they can do to slow things down. (Putin seems as blind and incompetent as Bush.)

Could we nuke Iran and solve the problem? Maybe their bomb would be delayed a few years, but probably not much more than that. In the meantime there'd be enormous sympathy for Iran, and in many circles there'd be support for an anonymous counter-strike against the US. Incidentally, this idea of nuking Iran is morally repugnant.

So, what can we do? We delay, retreat, appease and hope for a miracle. Voting the GOP out of the house this year, and the presidency in 2008, might help a bit.

Anyone who voted to reelect Bush is at least partly responsible for this mess. Competence matters, rationalism matters, thinking matters.

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