MY on Noah Feldman on Iranian nuclear weapons

I’ve been pretty clear about my opinion on Iranian nuclear weapons: I believe that the Iranians are actively developing nuclear weapons; I believe that they’re likely to acquire them sooner rather than later; I believe the cost of aggressive military force at the level that we’re willing and able to exert on Iran is imprudent and, worse, won’t achieve the objective of eliminating (or, possibly, even delaying) the Iranians development program; I believe that the U. S. and Iran need to treat each other’s interests in the region with more respect and negotiate; and I believe that we should be actively working to deter Iran from developing and using nuclear weapons.

Given that set of beliefs on my part and my conclusion that those aren’t inconsistent with Matthew Yglesias’s views on the subject, it’s odd that MY’s post in response to Noah Feldman’s article on Iranian nuclear weapons in the New York Times should have nettled me as much as it did. Here are some of the things that bothered me.

MY writes:

The Arab League proposal, in other words, is that the Arab states will welcome — and, indeed, support — efforts to get Iran to abandon nukes if the West — most of all the United States — will also put comparable pressure on Israel. Perhaps this is a bad idea on the merits. Perhaps it’s simply a non-starter. But that’s the propsal; that’s the position of the Arab states; and the American counter-position (nukes for Israel but not for Iran; sanctions for Iran, $3 billion in annual aid for Israel) should be seen for what it is — a double-standard.

Is it a double standard? Or is it an acknowledgement that the regime, conditions, and interests that prevail in Israel are different from those that prevail in the Arab countries likely to pursue nuclear weapons? I’m absolutely not a reflexive Israel supporter. I believe that U. S. support of any given action of Israel’s should be contingent on how it furthers U. S. interests. But treating different things differently isn’t indicative of a double standard.

MY writes:

noting that millenarian Islam is an important strain in Iranian politics ought to be put in the context of a United States of America that features millenarian Christianity as an important political strain. I don’t see any reason to believe that George W. Bush is actually trying to bring about the apocalypse, but all the evidence you could bring to bear in applying this argument to Ahmadenijad applies mutadis mutandis to Bush.

I think you need to mutatis a lot more than the mutandis to get there. Has George Bush urged the destruction of Iran? Or just expressed dislike of the present Iranian regime? I think the latter. President Ahmadinejad on the other hand has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel itself, not just the present regime there. Isn’t that an important difference?

MY writes:

And, again, why all the talk of suicide bombers in the context of nuclear deterrence? The West lacks a significant tradition of literal suicide missions, akin to those of kamikaze pilots or Sri Lankan or Muslim suicide bombers. We do, however, have a quite robust tradition of asking soldiers to undertake near-suicidal missions. Infantrymen are asked to charge fixed defensive positions, to go “over the top” of the trench lines, or to be in the first-wave of amphibious assaults. The 1st Infantry Division’s official history of the Omaha Beach landing states that “Every officer and sergeant” in the leading company of the assault “had been killed or wounded” within ten minutes. This isn’t exactly the same as suicide bombing, but it’s a lot more similar to suicide bombing than suicide bombing is to deliberate, utterly foreseeable national suicide.

One reason it might be relevant is that Iran has openly supported and fomented suicide bombers. And I find the analogizing of attacks directed against civilians with the Omaha Beach landing which, as I recall, was directed against German  military emplacements, offensive, stupid, and thoughtless. So, no, it’s not a lot more similar to suicide bombing. MY is reaching.

But I agree with some of MY’s conclusion:

I’ll just conclude by emphasizing that a lot of this discussion seems to proceed as if Iran popped into existence six months ago or the Islamic Revolution occurred sometime in 2002. In fact, Iran has been governed by its current regime for over twenty years, and so we have a long historical record of its modes of behavior. Absolutely nothing in that record indicates a regime eager to seriously risk its own survival, a regime especially interested in launching aggressive wars, or even a regime engaged in a large-scale military build-up.

The reason that the Iranian regime is behaving as it is is that they do not believe that they’re risking they’re own survival and we’ve given them precious little reason to believe otherwise.

That they’re engaging in their wars through proxies and pursuing nuclear and other unconventional weapons as opposed to a large-scale military build-up is no guarantee of the pacific nature of the regime. It just shows that they’re pursuing their objectives on the cheap.

5 comments… add one
  • Tom Strong Link

    I agree, that post is a weak one. However, I don’t think it’s very accurate to criticize Yglesias’

    and the American counter-position (nukes for Israel but not for Iran; sanctions for Iran, $3 billion in annual aid for Israel) should be seen for what it is — a double-standard.

    without also including the sentence that follows it:

    Perhaps a double-standard we ought to adhere to, but not one that Muslim public opinion finds justifiable.

  • As I tried to make clear in my post, Tom, I disagree with the premise of MY’s point cited above. The issue is that there’s a standard and Iran doesn’t meet that standard not that there’s a double standard.

    I think I now recognize why MY’s post nettled me: he makes a number of really heinous, obnoxious points and then attempts to insulate himself from justified criticism with a facade of reasonableness. Israel is no different from Iran but we might be justified in treating it as though it were. And so on.

  • Tom Strong Link

    Reading it over again, I think you’re right – both about the (non-)double standard, and about Yglesias’ arguments.

  • Chris Link

    Insofar as the term “double standard” means unfairly using different standards for different groups, I agree with your reasoning. That said, I don’t really get the impression that MY is arguing that Israel and Iran are morally equivalent, just that they’re both soveriegn nations and from that standpoint, they both have the right to protect themselves.

    (And yes, Iran protecting itself doesn’t, and shouldn’t) imply a need for nukes.)

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