Green Room

What The President Should Have Said To The Iranian People

posted at 11:01 pm on June 15, 2009 by

I am speaking tonight to the people of Iran. I am well aware of the hostile relationship you have maintained with my country for the last three decades, and under no illusions that you intend to dramatically revise that relationship at this moment. I will keep my remarks brief and direct, and ask nothing of you in return, save for a moment’s consideration. The nations of the West have been attempting to negotiate with the government of Iran for years, with nothing to show for our efforts. It’s high time we looked past the regime, and spoke to the people.

For many years, America has indulged in the fantasy that we could confer honor and respect upon the dictatorial regimes of the world, by addressing those regimes as equals. We have been compelled by diplomatic necessity, and economic reality, to pretend that rogue nations and police states have stature equivalent to free democracies on the world stage. We allowed the neatly tailored emissaries of brutal thugs to address us as peers. We created an international institution, the United Nations, which was intended to promote peace by giving every nation a chance to air its concerns in a global forum, but we didn’t take the time to review that institution through the cold and heartless eyes of the dictator. If we had, we might have realized that our global form would instead become a megaphone for tyranny, because by legitimizing those regimes, we dimmed the hopes of the people suffering beneath their boots. We received little cooperation in return for our efforts, and very little improvement in the human-rights records of dictatorships granted seats at the parliament of freedom. We should have known that such tyrants can speak the language of democracy, in order to manipulate the hopeful and gullible… but they do not understand a single word of that language.

The rulers of Iran are a perfect example of this principle. They appreciate the usefulness of painting a thin veneer of democracy over their iron rule, so they offer their people an electoral charade, in which two “candidates” selected by the theocracy conspire to create the illusion of a legitimate democratic election. Now we have witnessed the final insult delivered to the Iranian people by their squalid ruling class, invalidating even this mockery of an election, without even the delicacy to make the rigged results look plausible. The anger of the Iranian people has been met with clubs, blades, and bullets.

It has been suggested that America should remain silent while this crisis erupts into bloodshed. It has been proposed that our strained relationship with Iran will make it difficult for us to encourage the budding democratic revolution, so we should rely upon others to speak in our place. However, we cannot remain silent. The United States has a unique duty, to speak as the herald and defender of freedom around the world. It was an American president who stood before the captive people of East Berlin and demanded its walls be torn down. This was not a polite request given with a timid whisper – it was a thunderclap that shattered stone and melted barbed wire. It was an American president who carefully laid out the crimes Saddam Hussein had perpetrated against the people of Iraq, and plotted against other nations… then dug the old monster out of his spider hole and dragged him to justice. America’s place in this world is not to stand as the silent guardians of a Liberty Bell kept under glass. It is our duty to sound that bell, without reservation or apology.

America’s fondest wish is to see freedom ring across the width of the Middle East, for we know that free men govern their destinies far better than any cabal of elites. The great tragedies of the past century were not conceived by hard-working citizens, trying to do the best for their families and live with honor and dignity. Instead, they were engineered by power-hungry elites, who perfected the dark arts of tyranny and came to see their people as merely ammunition, to be expended in wars of conquest or ideology. The lawfully elected leaders of a free democracy would not be able to squander the wealth of their nation, and the goodwill of the world, in a mad and futile quest to obtain weapons of mass destruction, knowing that the hour of their use would be the final hour of their nation. All the truly awful ideas of recent history were designed by small groups of sinister men. The people of Iran have taken to the streets in protest of the latest truly awful idea, and Americans are united in praising their courage.

We cannot know where history will take Iran from here. It is my duty to report honestly that the path of freedom is not an easy one. There has been bloodshed, and if the will of the Iranian people does not break, there will be more. Even if the Iranian people prevail over their oppressors, the West is under no illusions that a free Iran would immediately become our friend. We only know in our hearts that freedom might bring the chance of such friendship… and no matter how long the odds, that is a chance we are always willing to take.

Without regret or qualification, the United States of America condemns the cowardly tactics of the vicious regime clinging desperately to power in Iran, salutes the Iranian people, and honors those who have died in the name of liberty in these dark and turbulent hours.

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You’d never catch Obama uttering one sentence of this.

clnurnberg on June 15, 2009 at 11:24 PM

I could criticize the content of Dr Zero’s proposed speech, since I don’t think it takes into account the fundamental US commitment to a worldwide system of nation-states as a bulwark against cataclysmic war and global chaos. Until and unless you have an effective alternative, adopting a policy that separates the world into three large camps – the legitimate, the quasi-legitimate, and the illegitimate – could have inestimably dangerous implications. For instance, one of our chief complaints against terrorists, non-state actors, and would-be conquerors like Saddam Hussein has been the threat they impose to international order. Without the underlying presumptions that have guided us internationally since the end of World War II, the world starts to look ready to unravel, with ourselves as the only ones who could even conceivably try to hold it together – an expensive proposition, to say the least.

There’s potentially much more to be said on this subject, but I’ll instead focus on why Obama couldn’t give the Doctor’s speech or anything coming close to it, and instead had to settle on the rather weak and unsatisfying statement he gave today.

The fundamental problem is that there is nothing different that Obama could say that would serve any greater purpose except in the context of a different strategy than the one he’s adopted.

He had to say something because we require a president to address a situation of general concern, political turmoil in a country that, for better or for worse, rightly or wrongly, we have put at or near the center of our international interests as we understand them and as we have experienced their unfolding. There’s blood on the ground between us and the Iranians going back decades.

What Obama’s statement said – as much in his cold-blooded delivery as in its content – was that his pre-existing strategy of constructive engagement is still in place. He’ll talk to whomever, and call it respectful outreach, even if “whomever” turns out to be a bloodthirsty madman or gaggle of madmen, and furthermore he’ll see it as expressive of higher values.

In the absence of a full-fledged, Reaganesque campaign against Iran (see JE Dyer’s What Would Reagan Do piece at her blog), or some other alternative strategy, anything more aggressive would amount to winging it. That doesn’t mean he’s any less criticizeable. It just means that his failure to invoke some more stirring, morally bracing Americanism is part and parcel of his overall approach.

His stubborn defenders claim to be satisfied with constructive engagement even in the current situation. His remaining political problems are twofold: 1) Events have seemed to carry at least the potential of shifting dramatically and unpredictably, and 2) Americans, including many of his usual supporters, are no less than Iranians or anyone else subject to human emotions. Lots of us, right and left, strongly sympathize with or even identify with the people rebelling against tyrants. Since his strategy has never been about that kind of hope and change at all, but rather about making deals with seeing the best in anyone, it doesn’t give him many satisfying notes to play.

As for Iran itself, I don’t impute to him any bad intentions toward the protestors, but he’d probably find it more convenient if they were a bit more Gandhian, a bit less fervent, destructive, and impatient – a bit less messy. My guess is he’s still expecting the anger to burn itself out, and for agitated Americans also to move on to other fascinations. If the crisis intensifies, he may at some point be forced to re-conceive his entire approach to the Middle East from the ground up, but he’s not yet willing to accept that as a necessity.

CK MacLeod on June 16, 2009 at 12:36 AM

Such a pity someone couldn’t have snuck this onto his teleprompter…

TheQuestion on June 16, 2009 at 3:09 AM

CK MacLeod on June 16, 2009 at 12:36 AM

Bear in mind this is only the first draft of the speech – we’ll have the whole Hot Air political team work it over before we hack into TOTUS and upload it. I thought we should start with an unvarnished original document. I can already see that we’ll need to replace every occurrence of “we” with “I”, and throw in a gratuitous slam at George Bush, if we expect Obama to get through the speech without stopping and growling, “What the hell…?”

The central problem of the Age of Terror is that worldwide system of nation-states is starting to look less like a bulwark against chaos, and more like tall grass for the snakes to hide in. Terrorism provides a method for rogue states to collect all of the benefits of constructive engagement, without surrendering their tendencies toward violent aggression. Iran has been able to kill an awful lot of Israeli civilians through its terrorist proxies, without formally violating Israeli borders in a military incursion. Iranian operatives have helped the Iraqi terrorist insurgency kill American soldiers. Now we stand on the edge of the Age of Nuclear Terror, an age which will formally begin sometime in the next ten years. The old approach of constructive engagement, and polite deference to dictators in charge of sewer states, may indeed have helped restrain the kind of military conquests that kicked off the World Wars, but I think it makes us dangerously vulnerable in an era when someone like Amadinejad or Kim Jong Il will be able to kill a city full of innocents, using a nearly untraceable bomb that fits in the trunk of a Toyota, delivered by proxies who can retreat to anonymous safety in their sovereign capitals.

The approach we’ve taken so far has only entrenched ugly dictatorships, and given us the ongoing diplomatic farce of the North Korean and Iranian “negotiations.” Perhaps the world needs to achieve a slightly greater critical mass of serious democracies before we can expect to treat thug states like international outcasts, but in the meantime, we should spend less time flattering the people holding the whips in these states, and more time directly addressing their people. We spend far too much time pretending there are valid alternatives to republican governance. We should raise our standards, and begin expecting more of the rest of the world to meet them. Of course I know Barack Obama can’t do any of that… which is a pity, because the current situation in Iran might be more than just an opportunity to spread freedom. It might be the last chance to push the starting date of the Age of Nuclear Terror back another generation.

Doctor Zero on June 16, 2009 at 9:36 AM

Doc, first of all, as I think you already understand but I still want to note, I agree with you a lot more than I disagree with you.

But let’s take the example of nuclear terror. A lot’s said, and feared, about suitcase nukes and untraceable fingerprints on mass casualty strikes, etc., but to my mind those fears greatly underrate deterrence. Just as Saddam Hussein couldn’t survive our reaction to 9/11, there is no rogue state on our suspicion list that could expect to survive the nuclear destruction of the port of Los Angeles, even presuming that any malefactor was both insanely foolhardy and at the same time exquisitely efficient in launching such a hand-off attack.

I have no doubt that Bush-Cheney’s aggressive reaction and also their security measures helped keep us safe in the US homeland from 2002 to the present day, but a big part of it also, in my opinion, was the knowledge among all of the sponsors of international terror that 9/11 already went too far for their own good, and that the half-awakened giant had the capability literally within a few hours of wiping them out – leaving hardly a brick stacked upon a brick from border to border. Neither the psychopath in chief nor every single one of his henchmen down to the least bomb-toting sherpa could have any reasonable expectation of surviving a “successful” hand-off operation, and merely getting the ball rolling, merely entering the planning stages, would put each and every one of them in imminent peril – and also in possession of extremely valuable and marketable information.

My point isn’t that there’s no threat from terrorism, up to and including mass casualty terrorism, but that we shouldn’t underrate the value and demonstrated effectiveness of the deterrent we possess, even in the confrontation with terrorists and especially in the confrontation with terrorists tied however indirectly or through however many cutouts to a nation state sponsor. The better the fingerprints are hidden, the more risk all of the other usual suspects are under: In reaction to a super-9/11, any realistic observer of human affairs could reasonably expect a “kill ‘em all/let God sort ‘em out” reaction from the American populace. We were darn close to it in the days after 9/11.

Nor should we underestimate the benefits we derive from the international system as it exists, for all of its imperfections. We were heavily implicated in its design and installation, it was done largely to our specifications, and it has served us exceedingly well.

I would much prefer a completely different approach to the dangerous and unlikely constructive engagement strategy that Obama has adopted and, for better or worse, always stood for and won the election while promoting. For all of his dishonesty and hypocrisy, it’s one promise he’s actually keeping. If the American people get a snoot full of it and don’t like it – as I believe they inevitably will – they’ll sneeze it out, clean themselves up, and look for something different. Such ups and downs happened all the way along during the Cold War, and we muddled our way through – admittedly at great cost to ourselves and especially to others, but that’s just how we do things, and no one has a complete cure for the ills of democratic self-governance, which include inconsistency and unenlightened selfishness, and for which no one’s come up with a cure that doesn’t also kill off the benefits.

CK MacLeod on June 16, 2009 at 11:05 AM

Better:

I am speaking to the people of Iran AND to American citizens.

I resign.

Daggett on June 16, 2009 at 12:39 PM

Doc, that speech reminds me of “here’s the pitch..and a swing…’CRACK’..that ball is outa’ here! HOMERUN. SSSSWWWWWEEEEEEEET.

HumblyRight on June 16, 2009 at 12:41 PM

You’d never catch Obama uttering one sentence of this.

clnurnberg on June 15, 2009 at 11:24 PM

I agree. It captures the spirit of US freedom and exceptionalism, both of which Obama rejects.

Daggett on June 16, 2009 at 12:41 PM

Damn … potent is the wine of freedom. It’s really filled us Conservatives with a mad craziness for Iranian regime change.

Even though there’s no real evidence the protesters want that. Swapping Amadinnerjacket for the guy who participated in bombing our Marines in Beirut (the “reformer” Mousavi) … is NOT regime change.

I have no idea why you guys want us to go down this road. You’re acting like Mousavi is George Washington or something – as I’ve stated – he was the Prime Minister of Iran when they bombed our Marines in Beirut – he’s got 144 extra-territorial assasinations of Iranian “enemies” under his belt and eliminated 30,000 political enemies inside Iran.

George Washington – he is not. He and his followers don’t deserve to be talked about in that manner. Not yet.

HondaV65 on June 16, 2009 at 12:49 PM

Dear Iranian Comrades,

When you stop fighting, give me a call and I will arrange for me to stop by to give a major speech on a topic of your choosing. Generally, we have a list of apologies we can offer.

Your Messiah

faraway on June 16, 2009 at 12:53 PM

I have no idea why you guys want us to go down this road. You’re acting like Mousavi is George Washington or something – as I’ve stated – he was the Prime Minister of Iran when they bombed our Marines in Beirut – he’s got 144 extra-territorial assasinations of Iranian “enemies” under his belt and eliminated 30,000 political enemies inside Iran.

George Washington – he is not. He and his followers don’t deserve to be talked about in that manner. Not yet.

HondaV65 on June 16, 2009 at 12:49 PM

I didn’t name Mousavi specifically for that very reason. I sure don’t have any illusions about him. I just think it would be fitting for an American president to make that strong statement in support of democracy and liberty. If the best Iran can do at the moment is trade one slimy SOB for another, then maybe that’s a start, and next time they can trade up from a slimy SOB to a vicious little jerk. A few more upgrades, and who knows? We might get to the Iranian Barack Obama by the end of the century, and then we can hope they’ll upgrade to someone of real stature after that…

Doctor Zero on June 16, 2009 at 12:56 PM

Both sides carry “Death to America” signs. Be careful what you wish for.

faraway on June 16, 2009 at 12:58 PM

If the best Iran can do at the moment is trade one slimy SOB for another, then maybe that’s a start, and next time they can trade up from a slimy SOB to a vicious little jerk. A few more upgrades, and who knows?

Doctor Zero on June 16, 2009 at 12:56 PM

The problem I have with that DZ is the fact that Mouzavi is a facelift – he’s not an upgrade.

Iran is on the verge of gaining a nuke – and Mouzavi, even as president is powerless to stop that – that’s totally in the hands of the Supreme Leader.

If they are going to get a nuke – then we WANT Amadinnerjacket to stay in that position. Yeah … that’s right. And the reason is – all of our allies hate that little twit and if we have any chance in hades of uniting to stop Iran – it’ll be through the extreme dislike that Amad generates to all around him.

Put a soft-spoken Mousavi in there – and Iran will milk and divide our allies until they have a bomb. This really isn’t a time for us to see a change in that position unless the Iranians are talking regime change. In that case – we’d better support them now.

But it’s difficult to know what exactly is going on here. One thing’s for sure – if Mousavi is now suddenly a friend of the west – he’s just turned his back on his entire adult life’s work since the mid 1970′s – and that’s pretty hard for me to “buy” – not impossible – but very hard.

HondaV65 on June 16, 2009 at 1:06 PM

Obama is handling this correctly by taking a wait and see approach. If he spoke out now it would just give ammunition to the entrenched powers that be in Iran. They will make the claim that the opposition is in bed with the US.

Bill Blizzard on June 16, 2009 at 1:07 PM

“I have signed legislation that would outlaw Iran forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

the_nile on June 16, 2009 at 1:20 PM

Obama couldn’t positively affect this if he tried, but he could have sought to put us in the camp of the angels rather than that of supposedly disinterested fence-sitters.

Maquis on June 16, 2009 at 1:43 PM

the knowledge among all of the sponsors of international terror that 9/11 already went too far for their own good, and that the half-awakened giant had the capability literally within a few hours of wiping them out – leaving hardly a brick stacked upon a brick from border to border.

CK MacLeod on June 16, 2009 at 11:05 AM

You make it sound like we bombed Mecca after 9/11. truly one of the more ridiculous statements I’ve read in the HA comments section…you really believe the hype don’t you? Get a clue. Saddam would have probabbly killed more civilians in the same amount of time we’ve been in Iraq.

max1 on June 16, 2009 at 2:21 PM

Great Speech. Sadly, BO is not a man who can deliver it.

markfm on June 16, 2009 at 2:26 PM

max1 on June 16, 2009 at 2:21 PM

Learn some manners, learn how to read, and, only then, do some research.

CK MacLeod on June 16, 2009 at 2:36 PM

CK MacLeod on June 16, 2009 at 2:36 PM

My lack of manners aside, it is preposterous to think that suicide bombers and their ilk are deterred by our intentions to destroy them. and show me one country where we left nary a brick standing and I’ll eat my hat.

max1 on June 16, 2009 at 2:42 PM

For many years, America has indulged in the fantasy that we could confer honor and respect upon the dictatorial regimes of the world, by addressing those regimes as equals.

If he actually said this, the entire right wing would explode in a simultaneous “HOW DARE HE APOLOGIZE FOR AMERICA????”

orange on June 16, 2009 at 3:40 PM

My lack of manners aside, it is preposterous to think that suicide bombers and their ilk are deterred by our intentions to destroy them. and show me one country where we left nary a brick standing and I’ll eat my hat.

max1 on June 16, 2009 at 2:42 PM

You seem to be experiencing an information processing problem. I never suggested that “suicide bombers and their ilk” would be deterred. The host nations, international support networks, and organizers, however, have been deterred, and will remain deterred. Confirming – but by no means exhausting – that deterrence was a major aspect of the Afghanistan and Iraq expeditions. Much of the rest of the “confirmation” was done in private or relatively quietly – the implicit threats to Musharaf if he didn’t cooperate, for instance, just to cite one well-known example.

The references to destruction down to the last brick referred to potential, not by any means to anything we actually did – or needed to do. We’ve tacitly accepted that their proxies can fight – mostly die, occasionally inflict losses on our personnel – in places like Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan. The last thing any leaders of rogue nations want is to see attacks on the US homeland whose profile fits their capabilities.

CK MacLeod on June 16, 2009 at 4:04 PM

The references to destruction down to the last brick referred to potential, not by any means to anything we actually did – or needed to do. We’ve tacitly accepted that their proxies can fight – mostly die, occasionally inflict losses on our personnel – in places like Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, and Afghanistan. The last thing any leaders of rogue nations want is to see attacks on the US homeland whose profile fits their capabilities.

CK MacLeod on June 16, 2009 at 4:04 PM

I worry that the traditional paradigm of such deterrence may expire under the kind of nuclear proliferation we’re dealing with. Deterrence is always a matter of will, as well as capability. Is Amadinejad the insane millenialist he appeared to be in his youth, ready to follow up on all those blustery threats to wipe out Israel with the “Islamic bomb?” Nobody really knows for sure, an uncertainty that was less troubling in an age when armies had to march across borders as the prelude to horrific civilian damage. Would someone like Kim Jong Il be willing to sell nuclear materials to well-heeled rogue elements, gambling that a weak American president would be unwilling to follow a tenuous chain of evidence back to him – unleashing devastation on the Korean peninsula over Kim’s vehement denials of responsibility?

Of course, it’s hard to imagine any American president would be that weak, even the current one. No administration could survive even the smallest NBC attack on American soil, if it did not respond forcefully. The question is whether the madmen are equally confident they could expect determined, overwhelming retaliation, or whether they might be able to engineer a fall guy or two, then quietly let a shaken U.S. administration know that further attacks can be avoided, if certain demands are met. We might also find ourselves dealing with the nightmare scenario of someone like Amadinejad, if he and the right people in the Iranian security apparatus agree that striking a fatal blow against the Little or Great Satans is worth risking a retaliation they believe they are divinely protected from.

No certainties in such matters are possible, and in the face of nuclear terrorism, the rounding errors in our probability calculations will be measured in thousands of corpses. I would prefer a more robust and consistent declaration of American principles when dealing with a situation such as we find in Iran today – better to make a principled statement than observe a calculated silence. I often think of the late days of communism, and how many dissidents went on to say that Reagan’s forthright willingness to speak of freedom, and call the Soviet Union the “evil empire” it was, meant so much to their struggles. I also wonder what gains we have truly made from the United Nations model I criticized in my post. Did the U.N. ever really stop any of the bad guys from doing their worst? The impulse to place a multi-national bulwark against a recurrence of the World War II nightmare was certainly understandable, but we let too many pipsqueak tyrants into a forum that was always about the West trying to restrain the worse impulses of Russia and China.

I think we would be better served by joining with the other democracies of the world, and letting both dictators and their captive populations know that certain minimum standards of behavior are expected from any nation that would call itself “great.” Some amount of bile will always need to be swallowed in the name of diplomacy, but we can at least take opportunities like today to remind both foreign and domestic audiences that we stand for certain things. Our best long-term strategy against the uncertainty of terrorism perpetrated with weapons of mass destruction is to improve the character of the nations terrorists would hide in, rather than banking on our ability to terrify all of the world’s mullahs and presidents-for-life into keeping a lid on them.

Doctor Zero on June 16, 2009 at 4:33 PM

Well, as I said, Doc, I agree with you more than I disagree with you about what policy I would prefer, but another problem with going a step further and essentially withdrawing from the consensus that we’ve spent 65 years asserting is that it doesn’t reduce, and under many easy to imagine circumstances likely increases, the odds of just the kind of rogue insanity you fear.

You’re obviously a very highly intelligent and thoughtful individual. I’d urge you to play a game of 24 for the home viewer, trying to think up a practical scenario for a rogue leader or cabal engineering a mega-attack on the US and getting away with it, from inception to execution to aftermath. How many people would have to be involved? At how many points would the plan be subjected to uncertainty? For instance, the safer the hand-off, the greater the distance between the nuclear quarterback as his nuclear running back. Ideally, assuming a QB who wants to survive and eventually even profit, he would have never met the RB. Nor would any of his top aides. So, basically, he’s giving a nuclear weapon – one manufactured by someone he and his gang have never had any known dealings with – to the friend of a friend of a friend of a friend etc., and trusting him to “do the right thing” with it. Except the RB isn’t just one guy, but a team of guys, drawn together god-knows-how, and, while having micro-minimal contact with them, the QB and all of his teammates have to main the fullest conceivable confidence in them…

I have a hard time thinking of secure plan, or even of one that has a decent chance of succeeding. So in my estimation you also have to imagine a psychopath who’s willing to bet everything on a low-odds gamble AND get it right the first time.

Alternatively, if we imagine a suicidal psychopath, so as to remove the requirement that he has a decent chance of getting away with his scheme, then we have to imagine that he’s surrounded by equally suicidal psychopaths, all sharing the same mania, none of them experiencing a moment of sufficient desire for self-preservation or profit or power.

Pretending for a moment that Ahmad’s gained access to a stray nuke, he has to persuade or kill everyone else who’s aware of its existence but isn’t also looking forward to getting his virgins tomorrow (not the day after or the year after), and he has to keep his suasions and his killings quiet enough not attract the attention of competitors and adversaries. And everyone who has a grudge against Ahmad and the slightest suspicion of what he’s up to has a survival interest – in addition to whatever power political, patriotic, humanitarian, or financial interests – to put a stop to his plan.

Maybe you can come up with a do-able scenario. You still then would have to explain how the policy you prefer is more than marginally more likely to stop it from coming about than whatever other policy.

CK MacLeod on June 16, 2009 at 5:12 PM

For many years, America has indulged in the fantasy that we could confer honor and respect upon the dictatorial regimes of the world, by addressing those regimes as equals.

Is that what Reagan did? Is that what GWB did? In fact, here is GWB in 2008 speaking directly to the Iranian people:

“We have great respect for the people, and we’ve got problems with the government. We have problems with the government because the government has been threatening, has made decisions that –and statements that — really have isolated the people of Iran.

“My message to the young in Iran is that someday your society will be free. And it will be a blessed time for you. My message to the women of Iran is that the women of America share your deep desire for children to grow up in a hopeful society and to live in peace.”

LINK

Obama would do well to read up on what his predecessors actually said and did but he won’t do that any more than he’ll consider any input not from yes-men.

KittyLowrey on June 16, 2009 at 7:58 PM

CK MacLeod on June 16, 2009 at 5:12 PM

Gaming out the Nightmare Scenario is a fascinating challenge. I have a couple of particularly troubling ideas, but I’m almost afraid to write them down. I should bite the bullet and do it, so everyone could take their shot at poking holes in them. I’d sleep better if they succeeded.

The “Crazy Mahmoud” scenario, in which an apocalyptically insane Amadinejad wastes no time in delivering the first Iranian nuclear warheads to Tel Aviv, would hinge on the command and control procedures Iran puts in place for its weapons. How many Iranians are willing to ride the nuclear bomb down into their field of heavenly virgins, like so many Islamic Slim Pickenses? And how many people in the right positions would it take for a couple of crazy top dogs to accomplish that launch? I assume the Western intelligence services have people pondering those questions intently. I think it’s more logical to consider it “improbable” rather than “impossible.”

More troubling than whether Amadinejad or a deranged general gets to light off the Islamic nuclear candle is the long-term contagion of nuclear proliferation. It’s only been sixty years since the best-kept secret of Western science exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the first small, unstable nuclear-armed states have already appeared. That’s an alarmingly fast timeline for such devastating, easily deployed destructive power. In another sixty years, the odds will have increased that someone desperate or crazy enough to use those weapons will devise a sufficiently short chain of command and pull it off.

We can never put the nuclear genie back in the bottle, but I think the best long-term strategy is to promote the spread of democracy, to produce more national governments that will be more likely to crack down on potential WMD terrorism, instead of offering safe havens for the perpetrators. Democracy is no guarantee of harmony or friendship, but it does tend to produce governments that are much less likely to roll the dice on Armageddon. A truly republican Iranian government, headed by people who know they must stand for re-election in free and fair contests that could sweep entire parties out of power, might still hate our guts – but it seems to me they would be exponentially less likely to spend their days contemplating national suicide for a glorious cause than a gang of bitter old theocrats and their hand-picked Sith lords.

It will surely be a slow process, but it’s one we should be pursuing more aggressively, instead of continuing to treat despotisms as gentleman neighbors. Maybe the only significant differences between our current course, and a more Reaganesque approach, would be rhetorical – but words have power, and silence is meaningful, too. I advocate the idea of American being more confident and forthright in expressing her ideals, and more aggressively using her influence – over a world that, for the most part, desperately wants to do business with us, no matter what insults they hurl – to encourage oppressed people to demand those ideals in their leaders. If nothing else, confidence is more likely to make a favorable impression on the tyrants of the world than self-doubt and capitulation.

Doctor Zero on June 16, 2009 at 11:10 PM

Obama would do well to read up on what his predecessors actually said and did but he won’t do that any more than he’ll consider any input not from yes-men.

KittyLowrey on June 16, 2009 at 7:58 PM

Reagan and G.W. Bush were exceptionally vigorous in giving the kind of speeches I wish Obama was capable of giving. JFK deserves credit in this regard as well. The degeneration of our current relationship with the United Nations has been a long process. The fantasy we live under is the idea that we can civilize the corrupt leaders of the world by inviting them into the parlors of the West and negotiating with them, while politely refraining from making too much of a fuss about the blood on their hands. I think we need less Madeleine Albright and more John Bolton.

It’s interesting to note how seriously we are taken when we do speak up. Those tense months after 9/11 saw an awful lot of bad guys taking George Bush’s measure and wilting like stale lettuce. The sound of Quaddafi’s bladder letting go could be heard around the world. We don’t have to be belligerent to maintain that kind of strength and confidence in our dealings with the world. We do have to elect better men than Barack Obama to speak for us.

Doctor Zero on June 16, 2009 at 11:16 PM

Doc, I don’t know if you checked out the JE Dyer piece I linked on Reagan up above, but it’s worth reviewing just to remind yourself that there was more to Reagan’s strategy than his words, as important as they were. A big part of why deterrence and, to be blunt, strangulation of dysfunctional regimes work is the clarity that the adversary gets about never having a chance to succeed. A big part of why Obamaism is so risky is that it gives the bad guys reason to believe or fool themselves into thinking not only that they could succeed, but they they’re already winning.

One reason that I make a point of speaking up against the nuclear kamikaze scenarios, aside from the fact that I’ve never seen a convincing one, is that I think it takes our eyes off the ball. A nuclear Iran may be dangerous, and harmful to our interests, for a lot of other, more likely reasons. For that matter, a sane Iran with nukes might be a lot better for us than an chronically violent and unpredictable one without them.

CK MacLeod on June 17, 2009 at 12:26 AM

CKM — thanks for the boost on the WWRD piece. I’m glad I saw the link from Doctor Zero’s piece over at the blog, as this is a great thread. Kudos to Dr. Zero for kicking it off.

You might be interested in my updated piece on what we should be doing about Iran.

Really good dialogue here. I hope more folks pick up on this piece.

J.E. Dyer on June 17, 2009 at 2:06 AM