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April 02, 2006

0.07% Of American Political Class Still Sane!

The Washington Post today informs everyone that if we bomb Iran, Iran may attempt to retaliate, including via Hezbollah. Then they give us this brief history of Hezbollah:

Before Sept. 11, the armed wing of Hezbollah, often working on behalf of Iran, was responsible for more American deaths than in any other terrorist attacks. In 1983 Hezbollah truck-bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241, and in 1996 truck-bombed Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, killing 19 U.S. service members.

As I've mentioned previously, this kind of thing demonstrates that much of America's elite has gone completely insane. Whatever else you might say about those bombings, they weren't terrorism, at least if words have any meaning. They were attacks on military targets.

But this goes really, really deep in U.S. political culture. The basic idea is: we are allowed to send our military anywhere on earth to do anything to anyone. And if someone tries to fight back—even by targeting our military when it's stationed in their country and killing them—that is fundamentally AGAINST THE RULES.

So, I'm pleased to see Matthew Yglesias picked up on this aspect of the Post story as well. At least there's one person on the fringes of these circles who isn't completely bonkers.

SPECIAL CRAZY BONUS: Here's another section from the article:

Former CIA terrorism analyst Paul R. Pillar said that any U.S. or Israeli airstrike on Iranian territory "would be regarded as an act of war" by Tehran...

Is Pillar sure about that...? Isn't it just as likely Iranians would regard it as a proposal of marriage?

This actually isn't a slam against Pillar, who seems admirably non-nuts. I'm sure he felt he had to say that, even though it was like pointing out the sky is blue. As Seymour Hersh reported last year, there are many people certain the sky is green:

The immediate goals of the attacks would be to destroy, or at least temporarily derail, Iran's ability to go nuclear. But there are other, equally purposeful, motives at work. The government consultant told me that the hawks in the Pentagon, in private discussions, have been urging a limited attack on Iran because they believe it could lead to a toppling of the religious leadership. "Within the soul of Iran there is a struggle between secular nationalists and reformers, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the fundamentalist Islamic movement," the consultant told me. "The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse"—like the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.

Posted at April 2, 2006 12:08 PM | TrackBack

like the soviet union 1941

Posted by: Peter Hofmann at April 2, 2006 01:17 PM

I always thought that about the Cole bombing as well. Clearly a military attack on a military target, whatever else you might want to say about it.

Regarding the inadmissibility of self defense against U.S. attack, I mentioned this once before, but Chomsky's covered this at some length:

A quote: 'It was also understood throughout that the aging MiGs that Nicaragua was accused of trying to sneak into its territory could have only one purpose: to protect Nicaraguan airspace from the CIA supply flights that were required to keep the U.S. proxy forces in the field and the regular surveillance flights that provide them with up-to-the-minute information on the disposition of Nicaraguan troops, so that they can safely attack civilian targets in accordance with their instructions and training. Understood, but scarcely mentioned. A search of the liberal Boston Globe, perhaps the least antagonistic to the Sandinistas among major U.S. journals, revealed one editorial reference to the fact that Nicaragua needs air power "to repel attacks by the CIA-run contras, and to stop or deter supply flights" (Nov. 9, 1986). Again, the conclusion is clear and unmistakeable: no one has the right of self-defense against U.S. attack.'

Posted by: John Caruso at April 2, 2006 01:19 PM

Me too. As Chomsky says somewhere, "terrorism" essentially has no meaning beyond "violence we don't like."

What's the difference between 'terrorism' and 'shock and awe' as a military tactic?

Both are designed to cause the other side to submit through attacking their morale and belief in the possibility of final victory.

Both these tactics are not confined to military targets.

Posted by: floopmeister at April 2, 2006 08:39 PM

Speaking of Chomsky and Yglesias, if I remember correctly, a while back on Yglesias' blog he said that he disagreed with Chomsky, but even if he agreed with Chomsky it wouldn't matter because his "policy preferences" weren't on the table anyway.

Or something similarly ridiculous. I'm surprised at the recognition he gets in the blogosphere. I guess I'm just cynical, but I see him as a future liberal cheerlearder for war. I'm pretty sure he supported the Iraq war in the beginning as well. Although I'm going by memory again.

Posted by: anonymous at April 2, 2006 08:43 PM

"The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West, the Iranian regime will collapse" -- like the former Communist regimes in Romania, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz share that belief, he said.

Another alternative to that belief is that it will make the citizens of Iran rally around the mullahs. Why abandon the leadership that is steadfast in its opposition to America, especially in a time of war?

I doubt that many Iranians will revolt against their regime, given the fact that the continual saber-rattling from Washington and an American military presence surrounding Iran led to the election of hard-liners instead of the re-election of reformers.

Posted by: alexp at April 2, 2006 08:51 PM

In the history of WAPO editorials, that one was almost sane -- the sky is blue, and attacking and bombing another country's source of nuclear power is often considered hostile. Of course, we could proclaim that we just wanted to get Iran's attention, cause we find Persia so iiirrredamnsitible. A Hollywood cute meet -- nation bombs nation, nation takes nation out for a drinky, nation goes back to nation's apartment and says, what d'ya got under that chador, baby?

Posted by: roger at April 2, 2006 11:13 PM

Ah, yes. I remember the day the Japanese burst the aura of invincibility that Roosevelt had. Yep, swept Roosevelt right out of office, it did, ushered in the glorious utopia of the Dewey administration.

So, did I miss something? Did the Soviet Union collapse because we bombed them? Is this some kind of secret known only to Wolfowitz? I'd have thought something like that would have been in the papers.
Are these people really this stupid?

Posted by: cleter at April 2, 2006 11:23 PM

The USA held 'elections' in Afghanistan and once again it is the major smack supplier to the world (Surprise!). The USA held 'elections' in Iraq and Iranian backed Iraquis got elected (Surprise!).
The Palestinians hold an election and Hamas wins (Surprise!). If the US attacks Iran the people will rise up in orange Gitmo overalls and strew flowers in the path of American invaders...not! Iran has 68 MILLION people and has nearly 1.7 million square kilometres (source It is A LOT bigger than Iraq, oh and also, bombing it into the stone age WILL NOT restore the USA's international a long, long shot! PS Of course, given the Neocon penchant for oil stocks, maybe it is par for the course to have the Iranians block the Straits of Hormuz, imagine the oil profits if oil is $200/barrel!Regards.

Posted by: GreginOz at April 2, 2006 11:42 PM

"The minute the aura of invincibility which the mullahs enjoy is shattered, and with it the ability to hoodwink the West,"

What does that last part mean? I don't get the reference to the West at all. And since that whole quote seems like the place where they lose touch with reality, I feel that I've missed something important.

Posted by: hf at April 3, 2006 12:28 AM

I agree with the general spirit of this post, but I feel compelled to point out that part of the problem is that a) terrorism as a word doesn't really mean much, b/c it's painfully ambiguous, and b) there is a major lack of precise, generally understandable terms to describe most of these events. "Attacks on military targets" is so general as to be almost devoid of deep meaning--it's a label that's simply a description of the bare physical fact of the event, not any kind of meaningful classification of the event's significance, much as homicide doesn't tell you if it was a murder or manslaughter.

If we are allowing that non-nation-states can play this game of "acts of war" then what makes soldiers military targets? Being uniformed? Being abroad? Being on duty? The Cole was simply refueling. It's clearly not the same thing as if the U.S.S. Iowa had randomly decided it was a good idea to refuel in sight of Axis ships in the Med during WW II--an attack on that ship, then, while carried out by a disliked enemy would still be fully within the rules of war. Were we to have captured the sailors responsible for such a hypotehtical act, we would have been obligated to discharge them after the war without any prosecution or further imprisonment. "No hard feelings." That, to me, embodies what "rules of war means"--exchanges where one can plausibly imagining the players still shaking hands in their lifetime. The attack on the Cole, and on the Barracks, feel fundamentally different.

Moreover, while the underlying politics of our presence in Beirut may be deeply debatable, it is true that we were there as ther result of truce negotiations with several factions in the civil war--not even just the invitation of the official government.

My point is not that we should go around labeling things like the Cole and the Beirut bombings terrorist attacks--I'm about 98% convinced that you're right and we shouldn't--but that we need a better and more descriptive label to promote in its place. Otherwise people will keep clutching for the familiar. "Attacks on military targets" is just not helpful.

Posted by: Saheli at April 3, 2006 01:59 AM


It is not the your leaders are this stupid. It is that they are convinced that YOU are this stupid.


The whole point of propaganda is augmented by its complete lack of clarity. Clarity is anathema to the purpose.

Posted by: alexis S at April 3, 2006 08:42 AM

Sure, Alexis, but when we are talking amongst ourselves clarity would be nice. . ..

Posted by: Saheli at April 3, 2006 11:53 AM

As long as we're hoping for some regime change on the cheap, and we're using historical analogies from the Cold War to justify it, maybe Rumsfield et al could go to South Florida, find some veterans of the Bay of Pigs, and suit them up for a run at the mullahs. After all, look how well that worked out; Castro is ready to fall any day now.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at April 3, 2006 01:46 PM


Say what? I'm lost-- is your point that elections are evil? Or that it's degenerate of Palestinians to vote for the only group which provides social services to them? Or is your point that properly putting a post into paragraphs is an antiquated system?

Posted by: Sully at April 3, 2006 05:07 PM