Friday, May 2, 2008

Attacking Iran: Would Victory Be Worth It?

I recently posed several questions that I think need to be answered by any who advocate a nuclear attack against Iran. War is like blowing up a dam; the water goes where it will. The one aspect to be said for a war of choice is that timing is up to the aggressor, so there is no excuse whatsoever for not thinking things through before it is too late.

If you are considering voting for a politician in the war camp, you may wish to take a look at what happened the first time the U.S. used nuclear weapons.

Even if no one plans actually to start a war, making threats can be dangerous. Threats repeated often and loudly enough can take on a life of their own creating an infernal reality beyond our control (because we get ourselves too angry to think clearly, because we persuade the opponent that he must strike first for self-preservation, or because a third party takes advantage of the tension to provoke a fight neither of the combatants really wants). So even without actually starting a war, just advocating it can risk the nation's future.

Beyond those two general dangers posed by an aggressive foreign policy stance come the many specific concerns related to the idea of a U.S. war of choice against Iran. The first question I posed was:

Why should we endanger our national security by provoking a war when there is no current threat to us?

War entails several areas of uncertainty: victory is uncertain; the impact of victory on one’s own society is uncertain; even if victorious, the thoroughness of the opponent’s defeat is uncertain; the implications of partial or total defeat of the opponent are uncertain. Indeed, those implications are so uncertain that it is not even clear that one should want complete victory: who cleans up the mess?

All this is by way of an introduction to what is truly as difficult to analyze as any question facing human society, so the point here is not to resolve the issue but just to push folks to replace the pathetically emotional and irresponsibly dangerous rhetoric with a little actual thinking.

In this post, then, let’s limit the discussion to the best possible outcome: total victory. The likelihood of such a scenario and possible alternative outcomes can be considered later. So the question here amounts to the following:

if total victory could be guaranteed in advance, would that be a good deal?

Even total victory entails costs. Having won a total victory, you are the only one left to clean up the mess. In the modern world, simply sneering and going home is not an option. Nuclear fallout, depression resulting from oil price rise, global terrorist campaign by those sympathetic to the loser, destablizing refugee flows, and epidemics are among the key dangers on the list of messes the victor will have to deal with. Then, there's the unwanted influences on the victor itself.
Effects on the aggressor of aggression that works:
  • denial of one’s own immorality weakens ability to see and avoid future acts of immorality, pushing one further down that pathseeing the first act of aggression persuades others to defend themselves, acts that will be misinterpreted as new threats;
  • these new threats could, just like the perceived “threat” of a weak but independent Iran, be dealt with in any number of ways, but force will be all the more tempting, having once been used;
  • war becomes a habit;
  • populace salutes the flag and supports whatever charlatan happens to be in office, believing whatever lies are told, and ends up with a government prone to exploit fearmongering in order to maintain its hold on power;
  • those who see the truth tend to be steamrolled; moreover, those whose power in office is based on lies tend, logically, to feel insecure and therefore constantly to be looking under the bed for more enemies – the two conditions together rapidly undermine civil rights.

Victory in a war of choice can be a very dangerous thing. The way of life the aggressor claims to be defending by starting a war may be destroyed even by victory. In a future post, some of the implications of an outcome that falls short of the mythical "total" victory will be explored.

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