Thursday February 23, 2012
The “What If” Excuse for Bombing Countries
In the lead up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, those of us who opposed the invasion were constantly rebutted with “but what if Saddam developed nukes and gave them to Al-Qaeda to use against us?” My answer to that was always the same: “What if France gave nukes to Al-Qaeda? Shouldn’t we be attacking France?” That line invariably got me deer-in-headlights looks, like I'm the one initiating irrational arguments for war. Yes, using a baseless hypothetical premise to justify a war is so palpably ludicrous, as evidenced by the fact that we’re not proposing wars on France, Russia or China because they might give WMDs to terrorists. So why was it easier to sell the American people a war on Iraq based on a hypothetical? For no other reason than the fact that Saddam and bin Laden happened to be bad guys who share an Arab ethnicity. For an audience that knows little about the divergent interests and ideologies of Saddam’s Ba’ath regime and Al-Qaeda’s fanatical religious worldview, ethnicity was sufficient to paint a plausible connection where none really existed. That’s why even many years after the fact, over 20% of Americans still believed Saddam Hussein had a hand in 9/11.
Fast forward to last night’s Republican debate. With the exception of Ron Paul (a voice of reason on war and civil liberties), the candidates were engaging in the typical saber-rattling regarding a potential attack on Iran. Mitt Romney’s comments were particularly noteworthy: he wanted the President to communicate to Iran that military options are “not just on the table, they are in our hand.” So what’s the emergency? He cautioned of the threat of “Ahmadinejad having fissile material that he can give to Hezbollah and Hamas and that they can bring into Latin America and potentially bring across the border into the United States to let off dirty bombs here.” Yeah, great point. But what if Romney became President, wrote down the nuclear codes on a card in his wallet, travelled to Germany, lost his wallet by accident, and the wallet got picked up by Chinese agents who then gave our nuclear codes to Chinese government hackers to control our arsenal? Clearly, keeping Romney from becoming President is a national security imperative.
It’s interesting to hear all this nonsense about Hezbollah’s activities in Mexico and Latin America when, according to Politifact, the State Department itself “confirms there are no known terror cells of al-Qaida or Hezbollah groups in our hemisphere.” It’s more absurd to imagine that Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah would ever attack the U.S. with a dirty bomb when they know that globally-backed retaliation would literally obliterate them off the face of the planet. Like all regimes, Iran’s is interested in self-preservation (that’s why they fought so hard against the green revolution). They’re not an irrational actor that will arbitrarily trigger their imminent annihilation.
I wish hawkish American and Israeli politicians would just be honest with us for a few minutes and tell us the truth. The truth is, no one is afraid that the Iranians are going to be firing nukes like mad men banging their fists on launch buttons, they’re just afraid Iran’s potential acquisition of nuclear weapons (emphasis on "potential," they don’t even have the capability to develop them yet and their intentions are unclear) would shift the regional balance of power away from Israel’s hegemony, the only nuclear-armed country in the region. Since no one wants to see nuclear weapons proliferate any further than they already have, moving towards a regional WMD-free zone seems to be the most obvious solution. But hawkish politicians don’t have to be this sensible, they just need to spare us the silly hypotheticals and justify the means they seek to perpetuate their dominance more honestly.
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