You may only read this site if you've purchased Our Kampf from Amazon or Powell's or me
• • •
"Mike and Jon, Jon and Mike—I've known them both for years, and, clearly, one of them is very funny. As for the other: truly one of the great hangers-on of our time."—Steve Bodow, head writer, The Daily Show

"Who can really judge what's funny? If humor is a subjective medium, then can there be something that is really and truly hilarious? Me. This book."—Daniel Handler, author, Adverbs, and personal representative of Lemony Snicket

"The good news: I thought Our Kampf was consistently hilarious. The bad news: I’m the guy who wrote Monkeybone."—Sam Hamm, screenwriter, Batman, Batman Returns, and Homecoming

April 24, 2008

According To Rules, Iran Now Allowed To Attack U.S.

You've probably seen that Hillary Clinton just said this:

CHRIS CUOMO: You said if Iran were to strike Israel, there would be 'massive retaliation." Scary words. Does 'massive retaliation" mean you'd go into Iran? You would bomb Iran? Is that what that's supposed to suggest?

CLINTON: Well, the question was, if Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, what would our response be? And I want the Iranians to know that if I am president, we will attack Iran. And I want them to understand that...we would be able to totally obliterate them. That's a terrible thing to say, but those people who run Iran need to understand that. Because that, perhaps, will deter them from doing something that would be reckless, foolish, and tragic.

While belligerently phrased, this was not a threat by Clinton to attack Iran first. Instead, it's a statement of deterrence. And interestingly, it's quite similar to an infamous statement by Saddam Hussein back in 1990. Here's an AFP story from that April:

President Saddam Hussein has ordered the Iraqi air force to retaliate with chemical weapons in the event of atomic attack by Israel, the official Iraqi News Agency agency reported Monday. "I gave the order to Iraqi air force and missile commanders to retaliate with binary chemical weapons as soon as they know that Israel has attacked any part of Iraq with an atomic bomb,'' he was quoted as telling a visiting U.S. Senate delegation on Thursday. It was unclear why the agency waited until Monday to report the president's comments. On April 2, Hussein threatened to "make fire burn up half of Israel with chemical weapons if it attacks Iraq.''

The difference is that (1) Saddam's statement was repeatedly used in 2002-3 as evidence for why he was a madman who had to be destroyed, and (2) the "if Israel attacks Iraq first" part was generally dropped, so it was no longer a statement of deterrence but rather a threat of naked aggression.

So by the standards we apply to others, Iran is now allowed to say Clinton has promised to "obliterate" them whether or not they attack anyone. And, since this demonstrates we're madmen who must be destroyed, they therefore are allowed to invade America.

Here are some examples of the truncated use of the Saddam statement. This is from Kenneth Pollack's book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq:

Israel is well aware of the threat it faces from Iraq...It was Israel that Saddam threatened to "burn" half of in 1990 and that he lobbed thirty-nine Scuds at during the Gulf War. The Israelis have listened carefully to Saddam's rhetoric for thirty years and have watched carefully as he built up Iraq's strength, at least rhetorically, for an eventual confrontation with Israel.

From Lloyd's List, one of the world's oldest publications, on August 6, 2002

Oil traders make painstaking forecasts of everything from refining margins to weather patterns to safeguard profits.

Now they are attempting the impossible - trying to read the mind of a man accused of gassing his own people and who once threatened to burn half of Israel.

Barbara Amiel in the Chicago Sun-Times (and the UK Telegraph) on September 9, 2002:

If we leave this tyrant alone, he will continue consolidating his power. He will get more nightmarish weapons of mass destruction...The first endangered outpost of the West would be Israel, which Saddam threatened to "burn half of" with chemical weapons in 1990.

David Frum in Canada's National Post on September 22, 2002:

UN, Schmu-en says Schroeder -- it is German national interests that come first.

And what a set of national interests they are, too!...If Saddam ever does make good on his threat to "burn up half of Israel," the poisons he will use for this second Jewish holocaust will come from many of the same companies that supplied the gas for the last one.

Robert Lieber in the Los Angeles Times on September 29, 2002

Containment Has Run Its Course

Before his march into Kuwait, Hussein threatened to "burn half of Israel."

Tamar Miller and Tamar Morad in the Boston Globe on October 27, 2002:

[I]n April 1990, after the successful test of the Tammuz missile, Saddam threatened to "burn half of Israel"...

In the National Review on October 28, 2002, David Pryce-Jones didn't even bother to get the timing of the Saddam statement right, folding it into the Gulf War while also getting the date of the war wrong:

In the 1990-91 Gulf War he threatened to "burn half of Israel" and fired 39 Scud missiles.

Michael Scott Doran in the San Diego Union-Tribune on January 19, 2003, in an op-ed adapted from a piece in the Council on Foreign Relations publication Foreign Affairs:

In preparation for the invasion of Kuwait, Baghdad expressed its casus belli in terms of Kuwait's alleged participation in a Zionist-imperialist conspiracy to destroy Iraq. Saddam accompanied this rhetoric with bellicose anti-Israel statements, such as his famous threat to burn half of the Jewish state with chemical weapons.

Beautifully enough, the same formulation continues to be used even years later.

Here's Jeffrey Goldberg in New York Times on March 14, 2006:

Saddam Hussein had once promised to “make fire burn half of Israel”...

Yossi Melman on on December 14, 2006:

Some 16 years later, in 1990, shortly after becoming science minister, Prof. Yuval Ne'eman who was a member of the Atomic Energy Commission and party to the nuclear secret, also made declarations, which suggested that any attack on Israel would provoke an extremely serious response. The remarks came against the backdrop of Saddam Hussein's threats in April 1990 that Iraq could "burn half of Israel."

Finally, Aluf Benn in Haaretz on February 3, 2007:

In the spring of 1990, Saddam Hussein threatened to "burn half of Israel."

Given all this, I assume there won't be any whining on America's part when Iran uses Clinton's statement to whip up domestic political war fever and then attacks us. We will simply nod acceptingly and say "well, fair's fair."

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at April 24, 2008 11:05 PM

Haven't we had enough of the "hypothetical" war already? We can't see caskets and troop funerals. We aren't told the real number of veterans who need help because they are suicidal. Now Hillary is waging hypothetical war on Iran? McCain sang a "song" about bombing Iran. Clinton is apologizing for "obliterating" them!

Posted by: bradda at April 25, 2008 04:01 AM

Thank goodness our news media is so honest, my stars, what would we do without them? On the bright side I assume that only one half of the U.S. will be burned and as long as it isn’t the half where I live I promise not to whine too much.

Posted by: Rob Payne at April 25, 2008 05:59 AM

But Jon, you're missing the point. When they invade, we will obliterate them.

Then we get to rewrite history again.

Posted by: Baldie McEagle at April 25, 2008 07:29 AM

Depends what your definition of "obliterate" is.
She probably used in a sports-bar sort of way,like: "Boy, the Canadiens are gonna obliterate those Flyers tonight."
Youse people gotta understand and learn folks talk. No, Jonathan,not Das Volk, but Hillary-like salt of the earth types and her warm earthinessthat evn $109 million haven't obliterated.

Posted by: donescobar at April 25, 2008 07:48 AM

I don't agree that she didn't threaten to attack first. You quote her thusly:

"...if Iran were to launch a nuclear attack on Israel, what would our response be? And I want the Iranians to know that if I am president, we will attack Iran. And I want them to understand that...we would be able to totally obliterate them."

she paused after saying "I want the Iranians to know",

then said

"if I am president, we will attack Iran."

(actually she paused after she said that as well, but ABC has since tightened up the editing, cutting abruptly to the two-shot right after she continued speaking and taking out the second pause. Maybe they did this because they realized it made her look a like too much like a psycho. No, I don't have video of it and I realize I sound like someone obsessing about controlled demolitions and such, but I note that some versions of the interview have been removed from Youtube while others are still on there. )

You may think I am picking nits Jon, but I think her pacing as it originally appeared when the interview aired was designed to register with viewers as the solitary soundbite of

"if I am elected president, we will attack Iran."

In other words, yes there's the transcript version, and then there's the intuitive received version, designed to be processed at a neurolinguistic level.

Posted by: Jonathan Versen at April 25, 2008 08:37 AM

The Iranians DON'T have a nuclear weapon and Hillary's (or whomever's) 8 years will be over before they get one. The Iranians have OIL and won't just give it to US, and therein lies the problem. (U&I are willing to PAY for an attack so reasons or excuses are NOT necessary)

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 25, 2008 10:48 AM

We are at war with Iran; we have always been at war with Iran. You are to ignore evidence that we were ever at war with Iraq, which is now our friend and ally, just as it has always been.

Excuse me; musn't be late for the Two Minutes Hate. Today it features the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and his insidious efforts to undermine our glorious nation. I suspect that Wright and his followers are even responsible for propagating the false notion that we were ever at war with our friends the Iraqis.

Posted by: Whistler Blue at April 25, 2008 07:36 PM

Whistler Blue: Damned if that don't sound accurate as hell.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at April 26, 2008 06:08 AM

I suspect that Wright and his followers are even responsible for propagating the false notion that we were ever at war with our friends the Iraqis.

Or the more obvious falsehood that white people ever mistreated black people.

Posted by: scudbucket at April 29, 2008 12:25 PM