Sunday, February 05, 2006

Atrios and Assured Destruction

Eschaton caught flack from Byron York for suggesting that a nuclear Iran isn't the Scariest Thing Ever. Yorke:

Nuanced foreign policy analysis from the popular left-wing blogger Atrios, who doubles as a key player at David Brock's Media Matters for America watchdog site:

Look, I just don't get this stuff. I don't want Iran to have nukes. I don't think that's a good thing for the world. I certainly didn't want Pakistan or India to have nukes. But is a nuclear Iran really a threat to us? Certainly an Iran-with-nukes could blow the hell out of a city or two, but an Iran that did such a thing would pretty much cease to exist. It isn't mutually assured destruction, it's you f--k with us a little bit and YOU NO LONGER LIVE BITCHES!

Atrios' response?

He of the best hair in punditry gives us a preview of the coming political campaign. Anyone who suggests that Iran is not the biggest scariest monster in the world is going to have their comments misrepresented.

I of course never even implied the notion "who cares about a city or two?" The point is that the deterrence that kept a few thousand ICBMs coming our way from the Soviet Union should also work with smaller state nuclear powers, with the added benefit that "mutually assured destruction" simply becomes "assured destruction" - theirs, not ours.

North Korea can also presumably take out a couple of US cities, and that country is both more desperate as well as having a leader who is more likely be an irrational actor. Pakistan is under a dictatorship and is one successful assassination attempt away from who knows what. They too can presumably take out a couple of US cities.

I'm quite against nuclear proliferation in all of its forms and it would've been nice if we had been taking it more seriously. But thinking that Iran shouldn't have nukes is not the same as imagining that Iran with nukes is the "greatest threat to the Republic" that we face. I just have no idea how that computes.
Atrios was, and is, absolutely right. The point of mutually assured destruction is that both sides are deterred by the certainty of self-destruction in the case of a first strike.

Unequal situations (like the America/Iran one) just mean that only one of the parties is deterred, and in this case, it would be Iran. If the United States were attacked, they would have every right (if not the obligation) to respond in kind.

This is basic nuclear strategic thinking; York was and is an idiot by trying to fault Atrios for it.

The only issue is whether or not the Iranian leadership is insane enough to court annihilation by attacking someone else. This is somewhat more legit, but not for the U.S.: it'd be Israel that's the target in that case. I doubt that Ahmadinejad is actually that crazy; even if he were, he's not the entire leadership, and someone rational would probably end up putting a bullet in his brainpan. Iran almost certainly wants nukes for the same reason anybody else does: it guarantees the continuous existence of your regime from foreign invasion.

This isn't to say, however, that a nuclear Iran is a good thing. It isn't. The whole world would be better off with an Iran that eschews these weapons. As long as the U.S. keeps on making noises about "regime change", however, there's no way of stopping them, because they know that nuclear weapons can stave off the U.S.

Whether having that option be off the table is the REAL reason for the fearmongering, I can't say.

What I can say is that attempts by the right to monopolize foreign policy arguments, even in idiotic little blog posts like York's, doesn't do them any favors.

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