Bill Kristol, at the Weekly Standard, questions whether a military strike on Iran’s alleged nuclear development program would be as dangerous as everyone seems to think. A limited strike against selected military and terrorist-training targets, he argues, would most likely result in a similarly limited Iranian response. The reason: the rational self-interest of Iran’s leadership.
“It’s unclear… that Iran would want to risk broadening the conflict and creating the prospect of regime decapitation. Iran’s rulers have shown that their preeminent concern is maintaining their grip on power. If U.S. military action is narrowly targeted, and declared to be such, why would Iran’s leaders… want to escalate the conflict, as even one missile attack on a U.S. facility or ally or a blockade of the Strait would obviously do?”
In other words, the Iranian leadership’s likely response is a rational assessment of the results of their own past actions: “This attack is punishment for our reckless policies. Clearly, we must adjust our course of action to avoid such punishment in the future.”
Now consider the reaction among most of the Republican base when Ron Paul, in 2008 GOP primary debates, made a similar assessment of 9-11 as blowback from American adventurism overseas. The howls of outrage were swift, loud, and predictable: “Defeatism!” “Moral equivalence!” “Blame America first!”
Imagine the United States being subjected to a limited Chinese strike against its military forces, aimed at limiting the American government’s ability to intervene overseas and deterring its leadership from adventurism. What seems more likely to you? That the American people would pressure the U.S. government to refrain from further adventures overseas in order to avoid more such attacks, and that the U.S. leadership — obsessed, after all, with holding onto power — would avoid any response that might result in a decapitating second strike? Or that the American people would rally around the flag and the “Commander-in-Chief,” and that the U.S. government would wage total war to punish this totally unjustified foreign aggression?
So Kristol is relying on the assumption that Iran’s leadership and populace are not as pig-brained stupid as those of the United States.
Indeed, if Iran’s leadership is as rationally self-interested as Kristol says, it seems likely that any attempt at acquiring nuclear weapons capability is driven by a supremely rational interest in deterring the United States. Iran — a country with no history of military attacks on its neighbors over the past thirty years — has witnessed first an American-sponsored attrack on itself by one of its neighbors, and then two American attacks on that same neighbor based on trumped-up accusations. Man, I’d be wanting some nukes myself.
Kristol also produces the obligatory, for neocons, quote from Churchill on “appeasement” and “half-measures.” In the neocon template, the “foreign threat” of the week is always Hitler at Munich, and the United States is faced with a choice between Chamberlainian appeasement and Churchillian deterrence and resolve. This neglects the possibility that the leadership of foreign states might see the United States as playing the Hitler role, and themselves as confronted by a choice between appeasement and deterrence.
In the neocon view of the world, the United States is the only country in the world whose people and political leadership should be incapable of rational self-interest. For America, alone among the peoples of the world, rationally considering the consequences of the U.S. government’s foreign policy and adjusting that policy accordingly constitutes “defeatism.”
Apparently it’s never occurred to Kristol that, in the event of an American attack on Iran, the Iranian leadership would see itself as Chamberlain in the Munich scenario, and attempt to punish aggression as harshly as possible in order to deter further attacks — or that the Iranian people would rally around their flag in exactly the same mindlessly uncritical, gullible fashion as their Nascar-attending, Toby Keith-listening counterparts in the U.S.
To be a good American, you must be stupid. If you think, the terrorists have won.
Maybe that’s what Liz Cheney means by “American exceptionalism.”