Tuesday, February 20, 2007



History repeating on Iran

The squalid history of how the Bush Administration lied its way into a war is currently being exposed in Washington - and meanwhile, that same history is gearing up to repeat itself in Iran. Despite denying that they have any plans to attack, the US is moving to create a cassis bellum out of Iranian "support" for the Iraqi resistance, is deploying another aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf, and has selected its initial targets for an airstrike. But rather than a "surgical strike" aimed at removing Iran's ability to construct a nuclear weapon (an idea problematic in itself), they're planning something far wider:

US contingency plans for air strikes on Iran extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country's military infrastructure, the BBC has learned.

It is understood that any such attack - if ordered - would target Iranian air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centres.

Even if you believe a "surgical strike" can be justified in the face of a distant (rather than imminent) threat, this can not be. It fails to meet the moral requirement that any use of force must be limited to that proportionate and necessary to prevent the threat. Once again, the US is trying to cloak an illegal war of aggression in the guise of "self-defence".

And of course that assumes that bombing can even succeed. But according to a simulation run by Atlantic Monthly, it can't - there is no military solution to the problem of Iran (and its become even less likely to work since the simulation was run). The key problem is this:

The United States simply knew too little about which nuclear projects were under way and where they could be destroyed with confidence. If it launched an attack and removed some unknown proportion of the facilities, the United States might retard Iran's progress by an unknown number of months or years-at the cost of inviting all-out Iranian retaliation. "Pre-emption is only a tactic that puts off the nuclear development," Gardiner said after the exercise. "It cannot make it go away. Since our intelligence is so limited, we won't even know what we achieved after an attack. If we set it back a year, what do we do a year later? A pre-emptive strike would carry low military risk but high strategic risk."

In other words, it will not work, and stands a very good chance of making things much, much worse. Just like Iraq, really.

20 comments:

To paraphrase a headline on Fark: Of course they have no plan to invade Iran. They had no plan in Iraq, either.

Posted by Lyndon : 2/20/2007 03:19:00 PM

> It fails to meet the moral
> requirement that any use of force
> must be limited to that
> proportionate and necessary
> to prevent the threat.

I agree with you on the second half of that statement, but not on the first (emphasis added).

The only legitimate use of force is defensive, i.e. to prevent or mitigate the initiation of force by another.

If the aggressor has no right to initiate force against his victim, why should his victim be limited to using the same level of force as the aggressor in order to prevent or halt the attack?

For a concrete example: let's say I'm walking down the street and someone walks up & attacks me with his fists. Why would it be immoral for me to use a weapon to stop him from violating my right not to be assaulted?

The 'proportionate force' argument reminds me of Marquess of Queensbury rules ... appropriate to a boxing ring perhaps, but dangerous & immoral when applied to personal self defense.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/20/2007 03:29:00 PM

Duncan: I'll turn that around: how the hell can it be considered moral to kill someone for stepping on your toe?

That's what you are implicitly advocating, and I think it's self-obviously absurd. Not even the lex talionis (which makes the whole world blind) calls for that.

(This absurd viciousness BTW is yet another reason why I am not a Libertarian)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/20/2007 03:44:00 PM

A preemptive attack by the United States on Iran would be reaching Nazi levels of hubris, racism and insanity. I am not a big one for marrtial stereotypes, but the Iranian army is made up of hegemonistic Persians, not some rag tag deeply corrupt Arab tribal army like Iraq's.

The Iranian army is a well armed, well lead and determined force that would be fighting in defence of its homeland. The loss of nearly a million men against the Iraqi's in the 1980's surely attests to the staying power of the Iranians in a protracted war in defence of their homeland, and they far, far better equipped and trained now than they were in the immediate aftermath of the revolution.

It would trigger a war more like the U.S. war against Japan or the last 18 months of WW2 in Europe than the sort of Geurilla/mainforce wars we have seen since Korea. Thousands of U.S. servicemen would be condemned to death and tens or hundreds of thousands of Iranians would die. In a full scale confrontation between the United States and Iran the use of WMD's on the civilian populations of Israel and Iran would be a near certainty. U.S. airstrikes will see retaliatory attacks my missiles with WMD warheads on Israel and possibly even a full scale spoiling invasion of Iraq by the Iranians, supported by a full scale rising against the US in that country. Israel would respond unilaterally and given the deep racist & religious hate between Moslems and Jews God only knows what Israel would retaliate with.

Its an insanity and anyone proposing it should be locked up in an asylum for the criminally insane.

Posted by Sanctuary : 2/20/2007 03:54:00 PM

On the positive side, such a scenario would probably put paid to US expansionism for another thirty years.

Posted by Rich : 2/20/2007 05:30:00 PM

> Duncan: I'll turn that around:
> how the hell can it be considered
> moral to kill someone for
> stepping on your toe?

Obviously, it can't - it's not reasonably to use lethal force to prevent or repel an attack which, at worst may hurt your foot.

But to respond with greater force to an attack that could cause serious injury or death is entirely reasonable. Hence using a weapon to prevent violent assault is moral.

> (This absurd viciousness BTW is
> yet
> another reason why I am not a
> Libertarian)

I've said this before, & I'll say it again: why the strawman attacks against Libertarianism?

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/20/2007 05:44:00 PM

I/S: "That's what you are implicitly advocating, and I think it's self-obviously absurd. Not even the lex talionis (which makes the whole world blind) calls for that.

(This absurd viciousness BTW is yet another reason why I am not a Libertarian)"

The idea that Libertarians don't believe in the initiation of force is pure propaganda. They believe in using force as much as anyone else, if they think the application is morally correct.

When Libertarians think using force is justified, they just call it retaliatory force. It's a bit like "war of aggression" versus "war of defence".

Anyone with half an eye can see the Libertarian movement is riddled with racists, extremists and the most extreme and radical elements in the political spectrum.
They are allowed to benefit from their confederations with extremists while hiding their hotheads and presenting a moderate, mainstream face to the country

That's why I'm pleased you keep posting Mr Bayne.

Posted by Ruth : 2/20/2007 07:15:00 PM

Ruth,

What exactly do you mean by that statement? Are you accusing me of being a racist? Or are you accusing me of thinking that it's acceptable to kill someone for literally stepping on my toes?

(Against charges of being an extremist and a radical I can merely thank you for the praise - because as Barry Goldwater observed, "Extremism in the pursuit of virtue is no vice.")

Ruth, I have attempted to engage you in honest dialogue on a number of occasions.

I have asked you (on your blog, which you have subsequently closed) to name names when you claimed the Libz have had to purge neo-NAZIs from our membership, & I have invited you to propose alternatives to those Libz policies you have decried as 'neoconservative.'

At no stage have you done so. You closed your blog before substantiating your slander against the Libz by naming those ex-members you claim are racist loons, and you remain utterly silent on the foreign policy debate on SOLO, despite numerous reminders on a variety of fora.

Rather, you seem content to wander around the local blogosphere, posting slander & unverified claims, and then retreating into silence when challenged. This is dishonest & immoral, & has actually led P.C. to ban you from his blog (an astounding accomplishment, given the laissez-faire approach he takes to blog management in general).

Anyway, for what it's worth, I don't think a pre-emptive attack on Iran would be a good idea either. But then you never bothered to ask me; you just launched into another of your tirades.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/20/2007 09:11:00 PM

Oh, and while I'm asking questions you'll never actually bother to answer - what exactly do you mean by "confederations with extremists?"

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/20/2007 09:14:00 PM

Duncan. I think your problem with the term 'proportionate' is that you do not appear to be using it in the way proponents of a proportionate force rule use it.
No one that I know of suggests that a defender can only respond morally with a level of force up to the level used against him. This would be absurd.

'Proportionate' is used here in that one should not use force disproportionate to the genuine threat. The threat, not the force, of your enemy is the thing you should respond to proportionatly. Thus if the threat is truly existential a lot of force is permitted. If they only step on your toe you are only entitled to maybe push them away from youyr foot.

Or at least that is my understanding of the term. It explains why so much is made of the terrible threat posed by Iraqis, Iranians, Jews, Homosexuals, Atheists and what-have-you. If people are saying that a threat to them is existential, they are justifying genocide even if they don't say so.

Posted by Pascal's bookie : 2/20/2007 09:40:00 PM

pascal's bookie (love the nick, BTW),

You are being too charitable. I have had numerous debates with people who argue exactly that: that one may not use more force than the aggressor is using, regardless of consequence.

I have had more than one person tell me that if I were threatened with a manual beating, I should take it rather than deploy weapons against my assailant.

If you meant proportionality to threat I/S, then you're right, & I apologise.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/20/2007 09:53:00 PM

late for work, so will read commenters more closely later this evening (or during lunch).

but how about this quote, "I've said this before, & I'll say it again: why the strawman attacks against Libertarianism?"

had to laugh.

libertarianism IS a strawman. i.e. "lets assume a completely rational world..."

Posted by Che Tibby : 2/21/2007 07:39:00 AM

> "lets assume a completely
> rational world..."

Tell you what. You find a Libertarian who thinks that everyone in the world is capable of being consistently rational, & you can carry on that line of conversation with him or her :-)

Seriously, you do raise an interesting issue: what is the potential of humanity? Do we really need to be led around by the nose as most contemporary politicians maintain (of course, with the intent that they do the leading, and reap the rewards), or is humanity capable of a far greater degree of self-ownership and self-management?

It's my assertion that most forms of statism have, at their core, a profoundly malevolent assessment of human nature.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/21/2007 08:06:00 AM

I/S: BTW it's "casus belli", the case for war.
Bring back Latin teaching as subject for a private member's bill?

Posted by Uroskin : 2/21/2007 10:35:00 AM

The article doesnt say that the US is off to war as many people would like to think. It says that it understands from diplomatic sources (ie not military sources) taht as a fallback teh US might attack some other military bases and wipe out the means of Iran to use the nuclear weapons.

The article also says any attack would only happen if the UN fails to halt the programme.

I note I/S that you seem to be quick to be critical of the US here, but no comments at all about Iran pursuing the nuclear programme and not investing in renewable energy?? Of is it that only the USA can do wrong internationally. I also thought you would have said that you hope the UN would be able to solve this problem but hey we wouldnt want your anti-americanism not to shine through, would we?

Posted by Anonymous : 2/21/2007 12:36:00 PM

The issue isn't that people are malevolent, it's that some actions only make sense if done collectively. If the cost of an action is individual but the benefit is collective, then the cost-benefit analysis for any particular person is overwhelmingly against them personally taking the action. The benefit cannot be obtained without state enforcement of collective action even if everyone agrees that it's worth it.

Posted by Commie Mutant Traitor : 2/21/2007 01:32:00 PM

commie mutant traitor,

How then do you explain private charitable giving? The provision of private charity is an ancient tradition, which somehow manages to survive to this day despite the horrendous levels of taxation that should, in theory, render it unnecessary.

Or those who volunteer for charity work, such as at hostels, shelters, and the SPCA?

Again, I think you're coming from an assumption that most of humanity is malevolent, or at least not benevolent.

In fact, most people are happy to help those who are in need through no fault of their own, or who show an intent to better their lives, or even (sadly - for this is morally wrong) those whose suffering is of their own cause, & who show no intent to better their own lives.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/21/2007 01:55:00 PM

Here's the real irony. You know that Islamic democracy the USA is trying to plant in Iraq? Well it already exists in Iran! Sure, it's not perfect, but neither is the USA.

I wonder what results a policy of engagement would have produced. But I guess the USA couldn't get over its embarassment at its previous actions in backing the anti-democratic regime of the Shah.

Posted by kiwi_donkey : 2/21/2007 02:37:00 PM

"I have had more than one person tell me that if I were threatened with a manual beating, I should take it rather than deploy weapons against my assailant."

Duncan, this eaxample doesn't really have enough information for me to be comfortable about the matter.

Let's say your assailant is an averagely built guy in his mid twenties. this gives us only a partial definition of the threat he poses. If for example you are a 60 yr old female I'd have no compunction about using fweapons. If however you are a 30 yr old male with a black belt in Karate the genuine threat to you is different and I'd think you would need extenuating circumstances to justify the use of weapons.

The rule to me is that you can only use enough force that you reasonably think is necessary to protect yourself from the threat. No more. I trust that I am wrong but you appear to be flirting with the idea that once force is initiated against you, you have no moral limits to your response because your assailant has forfeited his/her rights. This is indeed vicous and it is this impression that has perhaps caused people to get their backs up.

You are not actually justified in meeting out punnishment beyond that.

Posted by Pascal's bookie : 2/21/2007 06:08:00 PM

I trust that I am wrong but you appear to be flirting with the idea that once force is initiated against you, you have no moral limits to your response because your assailant has forfeited his/her rights. This is indeed vicous and it is this impression that has perhaps caused people to get their backs up.

I think the moral limit is to use sufficient force to stop the attack - and a serious attack by even a single unarmed person can cause death or severe injury (just ask the so-called pacifist who wound up in a UK jail cell after striking a man once, & putting him in hospital).

So, if someone attacks me, I'm justified in using the most effective means I have to hand to stop the attack. Using weapons would further reduce the odds of him being able to do serious damage to me - and last I checked, I was under no obligation to risk my own life to protect someone who's attacking me.

Your scenario based upon me being a 30 year old black belt harks back to the Queensbury rules; why should I not use weapons in my own self defense even if I am faster & stronger than my assailant? You seem to be attempting to introduce some doctrine of fairness into the matter of defending myself against a brutal assault.

But that said - it makes sense to have a range of responses available; you wouldn't use a knife to defend yourself against a drunk idiot groping you at a bar, just like (I hope) you wouldn't use a whistle & a cellphone to defend yourself against a rapist.

You are not actually justified in meeting out punnishment beyond that.

Defensive force has nothing whatsoever to do with punishment, it's about preventing, halting, or mitigating the offensive use of force by another. The moment your actions cross from defense to punishment, you're acting illegally and (in the case of a society with functioning Police and courts) immorally.

Posted by Duncan Bayne : 2/22/2007 09:06:00 AM