politics: i read an interesting review by fred kaplan called are we really going to bomb iran in slate of seymour hersh's article in the new yorker about the whole nuclear bombing of iran plan. kaplan attempts to deconstruct what this is really about.
Is this for real? Is President Bush or anyone else in a position of power truly, seriously thinking about dropping nuclear bombs on a country that poses no direct threat to the United States, possesses no nuclear weapons of its own, and isn't likely to for at least a few years? Pre-emptive war—attacking a country to keep it from attacking us or an ally—is sometimes justifiable. Preventive war—attacking a country to keep it from developing a capability to attack an ally sometime in the future—almost never is. And preventive war waged with nuclear weapons is (not to put too fine a spin on it) crazy.
kaplan comes up with a few theories as to what this might really be about. here's a snippet of the madman theory:
In his first few years as president, Richard Nixon tried to force North Vietnam's leaders to the peace table by persuading them that he was a madman who would do anything to win the war. His first step, in October 1969, was to ratchet up the alert levels of U.S. strategic nuclear forces as a way of jarring the Soviet Union into pressuring the North Vietnamese to back down. A few years later, he stepped up the bombing of the North and put out the word that he might use nukes. In neither case did this ploy have any effect whatsoever.
what bothers me most about all of these theories kaplan rattles off is the expressed assumption that the rhetoric is driven by a logical rationale and coordinated policy. i too was performing a similar sort of analysis of the bush administration's pre-iraq war rhetoric; for a while, i was convinced the often conflicting messages coming out of the white house were really the output of a highly sophisticated psy ops campaign. then i started seeing too many inconsistancies in my ever complex evolving model of the "real plan." eventually i kept modifying my theory with beliefs like "well the left and right hands of government are just not in cahoots." this went on until i realized, and concluded that, perhaps government inneptness was the "real plan." this seems particularly plausable, especially after witnessing the debacle around the administrations hurricane katrina response. in other words, this administration is full of strong willed characters w/ opposing world views, a wishy washy man at the top, and innept characters within promoted for loyalty reasons rather than merit -- the results are often conflicting statements in the news, such as leaks about real consideration of nuclear bombing, and bush saying that's simply "wild speculation."
who knows, though, maybe i'm wrong now, and was right originally, and this is yet another sophisticated model. if i have to pick, i'd place my bets on kaplan's madman theory variation b:
If Iran is immune to such pressures, our European allies might not be. Many of them already regard Bush as a religious zealot and Cheney as a warmonger. If they believe that the White House might really resolve the dispute with Iran by dropping nuclear bombs, they might suddenly start pushing for sanctions—a move they've stopped short of, mainly to protect their own trade relations with Tehran—as a comparatively moderate way of pressuring Iran to stop enriching uranium. Whether or not this is Bush's intent, there's evidence in Hersh's piece that the escalation might have the same effect. The Europeans, Hersh writes, are "rattled" by "their growing perception that Bush and Cheney believe a bombing campaign will be needed." He quotes one European diplomat as saying, "We need to find ways to impose sufficient costs to bring the [Iranian] regime to its senses. … I think if there is unity in opposition and the price imposed"—in sanctions—"is sufficient, [the Iranians] may back down."