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April 4, 2007

Iran basic
Posted by Teresa at 12:00 PM *

Bush & Co. were beating the drum for war with Iran for a while. They were of course insane, given that we can’t even hold Baghdad, the rest of the world is not going to believe anything we say about WMDs, and there’s no way the Iranians would greet us with flowers. Strangely enough, though, those are not the biggest reasons that war with Iran would be a non-starter.

Iraq is a small flattish riverine country that already has our soldiers in it, yet we don’t have the resources to continue fighting a war there. (Unless replaying “The Destruction of Army Group Centre” counts as continuing, which I don’t think it does.) Iran is nearly four times the size of Iraq—as big as the UK, France, Spain, and Germany put together. It’s rough terrain. In a purely topographical sense, making war on it is like invading Mordor.

Let’s call this one Why Persia Never Moves:

Iran is so thoroughly defined by its topology that its borders are visible from space. Basically—and few things in this world are as basic as geology—it’s the southeastern wing of the WSW Eurasian crumple zone, the area that got pleated when the Arabian Plate plowed into the Eurasian landmass.

Iran is one of the most mountainous countries in the world. They cover half its surface area. Unlike most countries, they don’t have a sprinkling of towns and villages in upland areas, and most of their population in the lowlands. A lot of Iran’s population lives in the hard-to-take, harder-to-control mountain valleys and high plateaus. That’s because those areas have soil and water. Their low desert areas are forbidding. Like, they have salt glaciers. Some parts of them look like abstract art.

If we go to war with Iran, it’s going to be uphill both ways. It’s hard to enforce your will in mountainous terrain where there’s a great spot for an ambush every half a mile along the road. If you send in enough troops to deal with that, there won’t be enough room to move, and water and other logistics will be a problem. It makes everything you do slow, difficult, accident-prone, and vulnerable to attack.

(See also Thermopylae, Pliska, Roncesvalles, Hattin, Morgarten, Killiecrankie, Jalalabad, the Khyber Pass (passim), the Valverde campaign, Gallipoli, the Winter War/Talvisota, and the role of road and bridge construction in the pacification of the Scottish Highlands. Terrain matters.)

Modern technology makes resupply easier, at least in good weather, but the basic problems remain. Plunging fire always favors the guys at the top of the gravity well. Helicopters will always be vulnerable from the top. (One of the problems the Soviets kept running into in Afghanistan was attacks from mountainside positions that were above their helicopters’ ceiling of operations.) A long war favors the defenders. You can’t win hearts and minds by bombing people. You can’t hold territory without boots on the ground.

Also, Iran is a modern nation-state with a middle class, lots of university graduates, and a large healthy military. While I’m sure that none of my readers are the sort who like the idea of the United States demonstrating its power by winning a one-sided war against a much smaller opponent, such people undeniably exist. If they should happen to read this, I hope they take the message the invading Iran would not be a satisfactory experience.

Here’s the very short version: If we can’t even hold a nice flat place like Baghdad, we sure as hell can’t hold Tehran.

I don’t think a war with Iran going to happen. The Yorkshire Ranter is good on the issue. Have a look if you’re interested.

And what were Bush and Cheney thinking? Heaven only know. They’re not competent and they’re not entirely sane, so it could have been anything.

Finally, insofar as any other right-wingers are holding on to the “war with Iran” meme, I suspect it’s so they can claim afterwards that Iran was the big enemy all along, and the U.S. could have licked them and ended terrorism forever, but the Evil Liberals and Democrats wouldn’t let them do it.

(Note: I’ve replaced some of the links in this entry because they’d gone bad. I couldn’t find exact equivalents, so I had to change some wording. While I was at it, I changed some other wording.* If this worries you,* you can find the original on Wayback. -TNH, 03 August 2008)

Comments on Iran basic:
#1 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 02:46 PM:

I'm going to nitpick a word choice:
In a purely topological sense, making war on it is like invading Mordor.
Cyrus the Great deserved his title, but it’s arguable that topology had something to do with him being the first ruler in history to codify a system of religious tolerance.

I think you really want 'topographical' and 'topography' there. Topology is, um, another field entirely.

They seem to think that aerial bombing will do something useful. I'd bet that various generals and admirals have told them it's not going to help, given that the Iranians have some very nice missiles.

#2 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 02:49 PM:

about that 'abstract art' bit. Google Maps is a great source for psychedelic false-color imagery. here are some interesting things i found on Google Maps up along the north coast of Alaska.

#3 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 02:51 PM:

I submit that the entire Bush Mis-Administration is insane...

Today Congressman Henry Waxman, Chair of the Government Oversight Committee, has asked the RNC to turn over all email from WH staffers regarding any Federal agency.

In my mind's eye I keep seeing the end of the Lester "Four Musketeers" where the Cardinal says to D'Artagnan, "One must be careful what one writes..."

#4 ::: cleek ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 02:52 PM:

i should add: excellent post, too.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 03:00 PM:

You're right: topography, not topology.

#6 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 03:03 PM:

Alexander the Great could have pared away the western parts of the Persian Empire forever and a day, and never have touched the heart of it if the Persians themselves hadn't become convinced that Darius was a loser, and fallen out among themselves.
In order to make it through what is now Afghanistan, even Alexander had to marry locally, and trust in his in-laws.
Nevertheless, would-be conquerors, from Crassus' day to the present, are convinced that because Alexander did it, they can too. It's worth noting that the caliph Umar and his successors took 30 years to conquer the Sassanid empire, and managed this mostly because, like Alexander dealing with Darius, they were helped first by weakness and later on by chaos at the upper levels of the Sassanid state. Somehow, I don't think that advantage would be present today.

In other news, I knew this had to be Teresa's post, because of the salt glaciers.

#7 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 03:05 PM:

Insofar as any other right-wingers are holding on to the “war with Iran” meme, I suspect it’s so they can claim afterwards that Iran was the big enemy all along, and the U.S. could have licked them and ended terrorism forever, but the Evil Liberals and Democrats wouldn’t let them do it.

As Molly Ivins said of one of Pat Buchanan's speeches, it "probably sounded better in the original German".

#8 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 03:06 PM:

There was a big science book published back about 1992 called 'Geomorphology from Space', with the front cover photo being a largish part of Iran. ( I think it's this.) It was mountainous desert, or desert-ous mountains, and I wouldn't want to try marching - or driving - across it.

#10 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 03:11 PM:

So just how badly will the current Iranian regime have to screw up until the Iranian people overthrows it?

(The real weakness of Iran is the economy -- i.e. oil. Where are the politicians who are serious about economic sanctions against Iran?)

#11 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 03:17 PM:

This is a very cogent analysis. And having voted against Bush twice, I have little faith in his leadership.

However, I have heard the Iranian president (sorry, can't spell the fellow's name) quoted as saying "Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth" and "it would only take one nuclear bomb."

He says this while the IAEA says Iran is enriching uranium, presumably for nuclear weapons.

So, the $64,000 questions (for which I don't have an answer) are:
1) Do we really want Iran to have nukes?
2) How do we prevent that (if we can)?

#12 ::: Steven desJardins ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 03:23 PM:

Note that the President of Iran has relatively little power; it's the Supreme Leader who can declare war and make decisions about things like nuclear strikes.

#13 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 03:32 PM:

Now, now, I'm sure the Bush administration wouldn't do anything as stupid as actually invade Iran.

They'd use the two branches of the military that aren't bleeding out of their eyes to bomb, bomb, and bomb again until the Iranians overthrow their rulers and line up to FedEx boxes of flower petals to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Because people love it when their countries are bombed. Especially when bunker-busting nukes are used.

Remember: If doing the same thing again doesn't work, again, you just didn't do it hard enough.

#14 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 03:32 PM:

Steven @ 12 - My understanding is that only people acceptable to the Supreme Leader can get on the ballot, and that the current occupant was especially favored of the Supreme Leader. In short, he may be more flamboyant then the Ayatollahs, but not substantively different.

#15 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 03:42 PM:

#11 Chris--I think the questions we must investigate in connection with that are:
To what extent is the president of Iran regarded by the council that actually runs things with approval? To what extent do they see him as a useful tool to scare Israel and the West with? To what extent do they see him as a formerly useful tool who is causing more trouble than he may be worth?
Add to those questions this one:
To what extent do the Iranian voters who, out of a very limited field, elected this man as president, look upon him with buyers' remorse, and feel that he is now a hindrance to their goals (personal and national) rather than a facilitator?

The man has a leash, and one thing we need to keep in mind is how to make sure the men who hold the other end feel it's worth keeping that leash short, rather than giving him a lot of slack. Making threats is probably not the way to do it.

#16 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 03:47 PM:

Teresa, I hope you're right that war with Iran isn't going to happen. Now that the British sailor and marine situation has been resolved (apparently), I'm a lot less nervous.

However, I can't convince myself that our executive branch would think things through in a rational or logical fashion in deciding whether or not to go to war. I mean, yes, whenever the topic of war with Iran comes up, Keith and I turn to each other and say "Us and whose army?" -- but I'm not confident that the president wouldn't be that stupid.

(I'm unfamiliar with the Yorkshire Ranter, but they get points for the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band reference. Here comes the equestrian statue, prancing up and down the square...)

#17 ::: Jon Rosebaugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 04:00 PM:

@11

I think the answers to your questions are:
1) No, we don't.
2) No, we can't.

The genie is, as they say, out of the bottle. I think the best we can hope for is that the Supreme Leader is sufficiently deterred by the "research" being conducted at Dimona.

#18 ::: tavella ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 04:09 PM:

So, the $64,000 questions (for which I don't have an answer) are:
1) Do we really want Iran to have nukes?
2) How do we prevent that (if we can)?

I'm fairly indifferent to Iran having nukes. They are a great deal more stable and sane than Pakistan, which is constantly an assassination away from genuinely crazy people having them, and even without that assassination had the Khan network busily spreading nuclear technology. That nuclear horse is a decade out of the barn.

Iran's leaders like their power and are deterred from bombing Israel by the same MAD that worked for the US and the USSR. And they have no interest in slipping a bomb to fanatics that A) might turn and use it on them and B) will produce a nuclear signature (remember, Iran mines its own uranium.)

#19 ::: Del ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 04:23 PM:

This is adapted from my tabular original, as comment boxes are not really suited for tables.

A quick comparison of the two countries
(source: CIA Factbook)

Key:
Quantity
Iraq figure
Iran figure unit
ratio

Area
437,072
1,648,000 sq km
ratio 3.8

Irrigated land
35,250
75,620 sq km
ratio 2.1

Land boundaries
3,650
5,440 km
ratio 1.5

Roadways: total
45,550
178,152 km
ratio 3.9

Roadways: paved
38,399
118,115 km
ratio 3.1

Roadways: unpaved
7,151
60,037 km
ratio 8.4

Population
26,074,906
68,017,860
ratio 2.6

Manpower for military service: males age 18-49
available
5,870,640
18,319,545
ratio 3.1

fit
4,930,074
15,665,725
ratio 3.2

reaching annually
298,518
862,056 /year
ratio 2.9

GDP
(purchasing power parity):
$ 94.1
$ 551.6 billion
ratio 5.9

(official exchange rate):
$ 46.5
$ 182.5 billion
ratio 3.9

Budget:
Revenues:
$ 19.3
$ 48.8 billion
ratio 2.5

Expenditures:
$ 24.0
$ 60.4 billion
ratio 2.5

Capital expenditures
$ 5.0
$ 7.6 billion
ratio 1.5

Military expenditures
$ 1.3
$ 4.3 billion
ratio 3.3

(these money quantities are a little unfair to Iraq, as they are post-invasion figures, not pre-invasion. a hypothetical post-invasion Iran can also be expected to suffer a dramatic fall in revenue)

Terrain:
Iraq: mostly broad plains; reedy marshes along Iranian border in south with large flooded areas; mountains along borders with Iran and Turkey.

Iran: rugged, mountainous rim; high, central basin with deserts, mountains; small, discontinuous plains along both coasts.

#20 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 04:28 PM:

Another reason not to nuke Iran:

Who's downwind of it?

#21 ::: Todd Larason ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 04:31 PM:

Chris, #11: What other people said, especially Jon #17 and fidelio #15. Given that, this is a relatively minor point, but do you have a reference for Ahmadinejad saying "it would only take one nuclear bomb."? Google only has one hit, a 2005 sermon which gives an unsourced quote from 'three years ago'.

#22 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 04:33 PM:

Tavella at #18 has a point: Musharraf is not going to last forever. Sooner or later he is killed or deposed -- then whither Pakistan?

(Though bear in mind Pakistan's archenemy is not the USA, but India.)

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 04:33 PM:

We claimed Saddam Hussein had WMDs. He didn't have them. We lied, said he did, and invaded. Iraqis now spend sleepless nights wondering what we're going to do next.

North Korea has developed nukes, in part because Bush idly poked them with a sharp stick when he was first in office. We haven't invaded them. We sit up nights wondering what they're going to do next.

What message does this send? "If you're a country the U.S. might decide to tangle with, the best thing you can do to protect yourself is develop nuclear weapons."

All that aside, Iran is not in a position to have nuclear weapons any time soon. Suggestions that they might be in that position seem to have been part of the effort to drum up a war with them.

Del (19), thanks for the stats. I knew the facts leaned in that direction, but I didn't know by how much they did it.

#24 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 04:58 PM:

Todd @ 21 - no I don't have a link to hand.

Although I readily grant that Pakistan and North Korea are more of a threat with a bomb then Iran, I'm not a fan of more countries having nuclear weapons.

In part that's because I'm not a fan of MAD. Sooner or later, a real nut will get their hands on the button. Also, the Cold War had a number of near-misses where one side or the other almost launched. Adding more players to the mix doesn't seem to be a good long-term strategy.

Although bombing Iran would be counterproductive, (unless they do something VASTLY more provocative) it seems to me that we need to keep some level of pressure on Iran. Avram's post suggests that some of the reason for Ahmadinejad's unpopularity is Iran's low international standing.

Again, I don't claim to have all of the answers, and I have a low opinion of neo-con foreign policy. (Actually, so do some conservatives - Jerry Pournelle, a Goldwater repub, calls them "Jacobins.") I do think we ought to *try* to keep Iran from going nuclear. That region has problems enough.

Teresa @ 23 - nobody says Iran has nukes now. The IAEA, hardly a fan of Bush, says they are taking steps to develop them in violation of treaties.

#25 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 05:28 PM:

I think it's worth noting that all nukes are not created equal. Couple points:

1. Fission bombs, such as those the U.S. used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, have a theoretical upper limit to their yield. My understanding is that it's something in the 1 megaton range, though in practice you usually see them built to yield something in the tens of kilotons. For that reason, the detonation of a single fission bomb--though very very destructive--would not in and of itself be a threat to the survival of the race, or even the nation of Israel.

Fusion bombs (a.k.a. thermonuclear) are a much more sophisticated animal. Unlike fission bombs, thermonuclear detonations have no theoretical limit on their yield. I presume that the exact yields are classified, but test detonations with yields as high as 50 megatons are known to have taken place. TO the best of my knowledge, no one has been crazy enough to build one big enough to crack the planet in half, but it could probably be done.

For that reason, the detonation of a single thermonuclear device is potentially a threat to not only Israel, but also the region and indeed the biosphere.

2. Fission bombs are, at least in comparison to thermonuclear bombs, relatively simple devices. The main obstacle to constructing one is the acquisition of adequate fissionable material. You can't just dig Uranium out of the ground and make a bomb with it. You've got to refine it into a fissionable isotope before it will go boom, a process which is both extremely expensive (10s of billions) and extremely time-consuming (years).

However, once you've got the fissionable material the bomb itself is relatively easy to design and construct.

Here's what worries me about Iran's nuclear program. Even if nation X is willing to go to the trouble, the strategic value of having fission weapons is debatable. Yes, they're "nukes" and thus a bargaining chip, but the battlefield utility of fission bombs is debatable. A lot of small nations have concluded they're just not worth the expense, particularly since most of them can buy adequately scary conventional weapons from either the U.S. or Russia.

What worries me is the countries who have decided that a fission program IS worth the expense.

Here's why: absolutely the only way to build a fusion bomb is to first construct two fission bombs. Thermonuclear reactions are kindled by placing a quantity of lithium deuteride between two fission bombs, then detonating them more or less simultaneously.

So, while fission bombs are not, in and of themselves, a HUGE risk factor, the desire of a country to have one strikes me as extremely scary in that 1) they are a necessary stepping stone to constructing thermonuclear weapons and 2) the cost / value ratio of their construction suggests that that country wants them in order to build a a much scarier fusion bomb.

For that reason, I don't want anyone, anywhere to have fission bombs. To whatever degree it's possible to stop their proliferation, it should be done. I don't actually think it matters what motivates the countries who interfere with such proliferation are.

Yes, the whole Mutually Assured Destruction thing is bad and has been for decades, but I think we've gotten complacent about it. It could very easily become much, much worse.

#26 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 05:31 PM:

Chris (24), I'm old enough to have spent decades frightened by the possibility of nuclear war. I hate going back to that. And yet, if I were Iran -- threatened by the United States, and sandwiched in between Iraq, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan -- I'd think hard about developing nuclear weapons.

It's bad enough that we think we can maintain our position in world affairs while willfully making ourselves stupid. Do we now expect other countries to adopt the losing strategies we recommend? We can't simultaneously object to them developing nuclear weapons, while giving them every incentive to do so, and maintaining our own stock of same.

#27 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 05:41 PM:

A.R.Yngve @ 22

(Though bear in mind Pakistan's archenemy is not the USA, but India.)

I'm not convinced that's an accurate characterization. The archenemy of the most powerful individual power structure in the country, the secret police, may be India or it may be the US. The enemy of the dissidents and terrorists they use as pawns in their struggle with India may be the US or India. It's not clear in either case who hates who more, or who is the most useful target for which faction.

And probably no current analysis will be worth anything when the vultures start squabbling over Musharraf corpse; the situation will be far too fluid to predict.

#28 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 05:47 PM:

Uh-huh, I remember "duck-and-cover" all too well.

Cheney's betrayal of Valerie Plame's identity wasn't just to get back at Ambassador Wilson (that was a side benefit) -- it was done to gut the Nuclear Proliferation division at the CIA.

After all, if there's no one with access to the evidence to show the Administration is lying, then you can tell everyone that any country is making nukes, and there will be none to contradict you, much less get the truth out to the rest of the world.

#29 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 06:05 PM:

We can't simultaneously object to them developing nuclear weapons, while giving them every incentive to do so, and maintaining our own stock of same.

Teresa, you are much too sane for George Bush's America. In this America we happen to be living in, we can and do. And when they appear to want to discuss the issue with us, we refuse to talk to them until they agree to give up the one thing that they think keeps them safe -- from us.

Yeah, that'll work.

#30 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 06:15 PM:

Teresa @ 26 - You have no argument from me that the US hasn't covered itself in glory the past few years (in fact rather the opposite).

I would point out that all the geographical features that make Iran a tough nut for us to crack apply to her neighbors too. Some of those neighbors (Pakistan) have bigger fish to fry (India) and others (Turkey) are only interested in Iran keeping her Kurds under control.

Why should Iran consider the US a threat? Well, we want Iran to:
1) Not fund Hezbollah (who attacks Israel and destabilizes Lebanon)
2) Not threaten its neighbors
3) Not interfere in Iraq (assuming for sake of argument that they are).

If they did these things, we'd consider Iran no more of a threat then, say, Argentina. In short, an Iran willing to live within its borders wouldn't need nukes.*

I am NOT saying that America is some saintly place, nor that we particularly deserve nukes. But, part of the responsibility of having nukes should be to prevent proliferation.


* And yes, we aren't setting a good example for that in Iraq. We're paying the price for that in blood.

#31 ::: Tom S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 06:20 PM:

Scott at #25. That's not really how a fusion device works. Fusion devices of the standard Teller-Ulam design use a single fission device as a trigger, with lithium deuteride and uranium for the fusion secondary. For diagrams, see:

http://nuclearweaponarchive.org/Library/Brown/index.html

#32 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 06:24 PM:

It looks to me, at any rate, like the primary strategic reason for any nation in Central or East Asia to acquire nuclear weapons right now is for regional deterrence, not global. Yes, those nukes might be aimed at American bases (or at least at countries that have them), but they're not likely to be aimed at the US itself, at least until they have several hundred operational warheads and reliable delivery vehicles.

This is not a good thing, though. Regional deterrence is much more likely to deteriorate into local nuclear wars, in which a few warheads are exchanged, and (severe_irony) only a few hundred thousand people are killed

The other problem regional nuclear powers have is the same one the US has: our nuclear arsenal cannot protect us from a terrorist strike that smuggles a nuke into an American city. That's not very likely in my opinion; what's a lot more likely is a strike against Mombai or Islamabad or Haifa or Riyadh, or ...

#33 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 06:40 PM:

Scott @ 25

I think you have the relative complexities of fission vs. fusion weapons reversed. Once you have the fissionable material, to build a fission device you still have to design and build the trigger and the implosion system. This is not easy at all*, and the major subject of the US atomic energy documents that are still classified.

By contrast, once you have the fission trigger, fusion devices are basically just a block of lithium deuteride and some radiation focusing materials to cook the lithium. Stan Ulam did the basic design in a few hours on a plane trip**.

* It's likely that a failure or bad design of the trigger was what made the recent North Korean nuclear test a dud.

** At least that's his and Teller's story.

#34 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 06:55 PM:

Chris in 24 --

A real nut has his hands on the largest and most sophisticated nuclear arsenal in the entire world.

Non-proliferation has been used in a number of ugly, ugly ways, mostly to preserver the post-war power structure, and is arguably indefensible on humanitarian grounds. (Because we really need to all stop burning things to stay warm and power industry and move around RSN.)

Bruce in 33 --

Grad students have produced workable trigger designs on their own hook.

The basic design is very, very easy. Some of the materials science is not trivial, but this really is nineteen forties technology.

#35 ::: Zack Weinberg ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 07:20 PM:

Bruce @33: I'd really like to believe that, but Theodore Taylor and John McPhee in The Curve of Binding Energy give the strong impression that everything one needs to know to build a Hiroshima-scale fission bomb is available from declassified American sources (never mind what may or may not be findable elsewhere), and that design and construction are relatively simple once one has sufficient U235. [Optimizing the design, to maximize yield and minimize the amount of uranium you need, is harder and still classified, according to them - but if you just want something that works and don't mind using more uranium than is strictly necessary...]

This is a book that came out in 1976 or so - I can't conceive of there being less info available now...

#36 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 07:25 PM:

Graydon @ 34 - I note that Baghdad still stands, so apparently Bush isn't entirely nuts :-)

More to your point. It's not fair that certain countries have nukes and others don't. I didn't claim it was fair. (It is a damn good thing, though, or we'd be having this conversation in German.)

I don't think we want "fair." When we send a cop to arrest a crook, we don't want them to have a fair fight. We want the cop to win, because the cost of loosing is too high. (Once we're arguing with words and not fists that's a different matter.)

Since the surviving post-war winners are liberal democracies that allow people great freedom, I have a hard time seeing that as a problem. Included in that freedom is a great deal of leeway in how you run your own country's internal affairs. Ask the folks in Darfur and Ruwanda about that.

But that's not all bad either. If you want to have six weeks of vacation and free health care, that's OK too.

I also don't see what the enrichment crisis has to do with nuclear power. Iran was offered an arrangement to get enriched uranium from other countries and turned it down.

Yes, the US isn't "walking the walk" to back up this talk, but two wrongs don't make a right.

#37 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 07:58 PM:

Del @19

Additional data:

2000 US Census- Ancestry (1)
Iranian: 340,000
Iraqi: 37,000
Icelander: 42,000
Armenian: 385,000

2000 Census- languages spoken at home other than English (1)
Persian: 312,000
Hindi: 317,000
Greek: 365,000

Living in the US (2)
Iranian-Americans: 350,000 to 800,000
Iraqi-Americans: 37000+


All to say: doesn't anyone in the administration (AITA) know Iranian Americans? If they do, have they talked to them recently?

Because while I can understand that the "Hey, we're thinking about bombing Iran. Your parents were born there, you've visited your relatives there several times. How do you think it'll go?" conversation could get awkward, it should be a necessary conversation. (3)

Or maybe AITA could talk to 5th graders who've taken geography... "Hey, kid, what's Iran like?"

"Mr. President, it's like Switzerland, but with 10 times the population and 40 times the land area. You didn't study that? Oh, ok, Iran is just a bit smaller than Mexico. Still too hard? Well, how about California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona together, except with 12 million more people?

---------
(1) http://factfinder.census.gov, summary file 3, selections QT-P13, QT-P14
(2) via Wikipedia 'Iranian Americans'. Floor is Census data, multiple Iranian-American estimates exist, but none for Iraqi-Americans.

(3) Not that it should make a difference. Still, during the cold war, when people would say to me "We just need to bomb those commies" and I'd say "I have relatives in those commie countries" then the wanabee commie bombers at least had the decency to shut up.

#38 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 09:18 PM:

#36 ::: Chris Gerrib

Graydon @ 34 - I note that Baghdad still stands, so apparently Bush isn't entirely nuts :-)

Past half a million dead and climbing for negative returns is, I find, quite sufficient to surpass my threshold for "nuts".

I don't think we want "fair." When we send a cop to arrest a crook, we don't want them to have a fair fight. We want the cop to win, because the cost of loosing is too high. (Once we're arguing with words and not fists that's a different matter.)

Your analogy fails to scale. (It's a terrible model on its nominal scale, but it doesn't scale at all to large organized groups of people. A nation state cannot be adequately modelled as many tens of millions of individuals and contracts.)

Since the surviving post-war winners are liberal democracies that allow people great freedom, I have a hard time seeing that as a problem.

Which people? The US is pro-cheap labour to an extent that is difficult to distinguish from being pro-slavery.

The post-war US was pro-capitalism, not pro-democracy; Avram's Iran post has some links on the consequences of that. (The Eisenhower administration spent a lot of time overthrowing duly elected democratic socialists in favour of authoritarian capitalists. As a grand strategic move, this was stupid beyond belief for anyone concerned with principles of liberty, equality, or the common natural rights of mankind. Which tends to suggest that's not what the folks making decisions were in favour of.)

The United States as presently constituted is neither liberal nor a democracy; you have fraudulent elections and have engaged in aggressive war on false pretenses. At a time when it is impossible to argue that the pretenses were not false, or that the rule of law was in any way respected in the process of engaging in that war, nothing material has been done in response.


I also don't see what the enrichment crisis has to do with nuclear power. Iran was offered an arrangement to get enriched uranium from other countries and turned it down.
Yes, the US isn't "walking the walk" to back up this talk, but two wrongs don't make a right.

What has Iran done wrong?

They're a sovereign nation. They have every right to enrich uranium if they want to do that. They have every right to decide that their unquestionable right of self defense requires nukes, too. As a strategic argument that's a complete and utter no-brainer.

For everyone on the entire planet.

This is a direct consequence of the US's "obey or be bombed" rogue nation foreign policy.

#39 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 09:33 PM:

Tom @ #31:

I see the point you're trying to make, but I think you're overlooking a key factor.

While it's true that the Teller-Ulam configuration consists of a single fission device (the 'primary') that is detonated convetionally via high explosives, the detonation of that primary is itself the trigger for the detonation of a secondary fissonable mass (referred to in the link you provided as the "spark plug".) It is the compression that results from the fusionable mass being sandwiched between the shock waves of the primary and secondary fission detonations that triggers the fusion reaction.

See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teller-Ulam_design

Bruce @ 32:

As with Tom at #32, I'm afraid that I must respectfully disagree.

While the fission reaction is insanely complex by any rational standard, I believe that the consensus is that a staged fusion reaction is more complex still.

This is a slightly trickier argument to make, but I'll start with the anecdotal evidence of the Castle Bravo shot. The significance of Castle Bravo was that its predicted yield was 4-8 megatons, but the actual yield was more like 15 megatons. If I'm understanding the event correctly, the higher-than-expected yield was the result of an unpredicted generation of tritium by the primary detonation that boosted the yield of the tertiary fusion reaction. (Again, I wouldn't absoulutely swear to this, but my understanding is that the computational epoch used in modeling the response of the lithium deuteride to the initial fission reaction was too long by an order of magnitude and a crucial fusion reaction fell between the cracks.)

Anyway, regardless of the cause, quite a few techies were temporarily buried in observation bunkers and the crewmen of the Daigo Fukuryu Maru* got fatally dosed. I'd argue that that's reasonably good evidence of computational complexity.

Less objective than Castle Bravo but, I think, more compelling is the observation that while the trigger of a fission reaction is primarily mechanical--shock waves from conventional explosives compress critical mass to a super-critical state--the triggering factor of a fusion reaction is neutron flux generated by the fission reaction. Because there's no way for any measuring equipment to survive such a detonation, all design of fission reactions was, of necessity, based purely on theoretical predictions.

To build a fission bomb you need a good machinist. To build a fusion bomb you need a good machinist and Stanislaw Ulam.

*Side note: Is it coincidence that the original Godzilla movie came out the same year as the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident?

#40 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 09:54 PM:

Graydon @ 38 - We have irreconcilable worldviews on this issue, but in the spirit of friendship I will attempt to explain mine.

Baghdad was not nuked. A truly crazy person would have gone nuclear, which was my point.

I disagree on your assessment of the election of 2004 as fraudulent. Please cite sources to support your position. Regarding "pro-cheap labor," I don't quite see the relevance to the debate. You (I think) assume I support how we in the US have been handling illegal immigration. Suffice it to say I am not in favor of illegal immigration.

Alas, the war is NOT illegal, it was authorized by Congress as per the War Powers Act and the Constitution. Whether the war was fraudulent (meaning deliberately false) as opposed to "in error" I shall concede the point to you. I reiterate that two wrongs do not make a right.

Per the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran is in breach of its treaty obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a treaty it signed. Or so says the Secretary-General of the UN, Mr. Ban Ki-moon. They have not, as of the date of the link, withdrawn from the treaty.

#41 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 10:00 PM:

I've often considered, when looking at a map of the middle east, that the main impetus for one G W Bush when talking up an invasion of Iran is the temptation of being able to point to the three-in-a-row of Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan and say he won in the Middle East version of noughts and crosses.

That said, from where I'm sitting (Australia) there's more urgent worries regarding nuclear proliferation. Both India *and* Pakistan have nuclear weapons, and have had for a while now. The Chinese are just across the Himalayas from both of them, and will hopefully stand poised to pull the massive smackdown (*crosses fingers and prays*) should anything go too far wrong, but it's somewhat worrying that we're almost directly downwind of such a thing. Hopefully there's intelligent life in Beijing - there's none in either Canberra or Washington.

#42 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 04, 2007, 10:24 PM:

Chris Gerrib @11, as I pointed out in my post on Iran, Ahmadinejad didn't actually say that Israel should be "wiped off the map". And it was Ahmadinejad's rival, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who made the "one nuclear bomb" comment back in 2001:

If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.

And as far as comment 30 goes, what would you say if you were president of the US, and the Supreme Leader of Iran made the following offer (though intermediaries, of course, since there's no direct diplomatic relations)?:

1) If the US stops funding Israel, Iran will stop funding Hezbollah.
2) If the US stops threatening Iran's neighbors, Iran will stop threatening Iran's neighbors.
3) If the US stops interfering in Iraq, Iran will stop interfering in Iraq.

Or, to put it another way, what reason does Iran have to trust us? The US has overthrown a democratic Iranian government to install a friendly puppet tyrant. We've supported Iran's enemies. We've interfered in the affairs of that entire region. Bush described them as part of the "Axis of Evil" even though the Iranians were willing to cooperate with us against the Taliban. Why should they extend us the benefit of the doubt? From their point of view we're not the good guys,and we've been interfering in their lives far more than they've been interfering in ours.

#43 ::: Heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 02:49 AM:

#40 Chris Gerrib: "Baghdad was not nuked. A truly crazy person would have gone nuclear, which was my point."

Well, a really crazy person would've flung poo during the presidential debate. I think we can all agree he's crazy enough that quibbles about exactly how crazy he is aren't really worth the time.

#39 Scott H: "*Side note: Is it coincidence that the original Godzilla movie came out the same year as the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident?"

From what I have heard, the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident was a direct inspiration. If I remember correctly, Godzilla's first casualty is a fishing boat, no?

#44 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 03:35 AM:

More to your point. It's not fair that certain countries have nukes and others don't. I didn't claim it was fair. (It is a damn good thing, though, or we'd be having this conversation in German.)

Well, yeah, but it would've been a good thing if Hitler didn't have access to the railways. This is not a good argument for denying Iran railways.

Do you notice how there is this assumption that Iran must become absolutely blameless before anything can happen? I mean, take ``stop interfering in Iraq''. Iraq waged a war against them in recent memory. Japan attacked America; then the Americans took over Japan, and thoroughly meddled. Nobody ever complains about that, so, from the Iranian's POV, why should the Americans complain about Iranian involvement in Iraq?

I note the reference to Iran being no more of a threat than Argentina:

``The armed forces took power through a junta in charge of the self-appointed National Reorganization Process until 1983. The military government repressed opposition and terrorist leftist groups using harsh illegal measures (the "Dirty War"); thousands of dissidents "disappeared", while the SIDE cooperated with DINA and other South American intelligence agencies, and with the CIA in Operation Condor. Many of the military leaders that took part in the Dirty War were trained in the U.S.-financed School of the Americas, among them Argentine dictators Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola. Economic problems, charges of corruption, public revulsion in the face of human rights abuses and, finally, the country's 1982 defeat by the British in the Falklands War discredited the Argentine military regime.''

#45 ::: Doug ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 05:41 AM:

"Is it not passing brave to be a king
And ride in triumph in Persepolis?"

Of course he came from the other direction...

#46 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 05:41 AM:

Scott H said (#39):
Less objective than Castle Bravo but, I think, more compelling is the observation that while the trigger of a fission reaction is primarily mechanical--shock waves from conventional explosives compress critical mass to a super-critical state--the triggering factor of a fusion reaction is neutron flux generated by the fission reaction. Because there's no way for any measuring equipment to survive such a detonation, all design of fission reactions was, of necessity, based purely on theoretical predictions.

Minor technical quibble: in the Teller-Ulam design, it's an X-ray flux, not a neutron flux. The Wikipedia page on thermonuclear weapons has a good overview.

But I agree with you that proper fusion weapon design is more complex and difficult than fission weapon design -- and there's less publically available information about the details.

#47 ::: chris y ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 06:48 AM:

Yngve@10: So just how badly will the current Iranian regime have to screw up until the Iranian people overthrows it?

If the USA and its cheerleaders would just stay out of their faces, the Iranian regime probably only has to keep going much as it is for a few years and the people will overthrow it.

If the USA and its cheerleaders insist on meddling in things that don't concern them, namely the internal political process in Iran, then the people will probably back the regime for as long as it takes, and place their differences with it on the back burner until Yankee go home.

#48 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 07:58 AM:

As said, upthread, both India and Pakistan have nuclear weapons.

They've fought wars.

And it can be argued that they have already fought a nuclear war, through the medium of their nuclear tests.

What makes a state different from a terrorist--even a state which supports terrorists--is that a state has too much to lose. If you want to worry, ask yourself which nuclear power has survived losing a city?

#49 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 08:40 AM:

One more difference: Iraq was softened up by ten years of sanctions.

#50 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 09:20 AM:

Avram - yes, I did read your post and noted the quote on Israel and nukes. That's why I haven't brought it back up. Obviously many Americans (like me) are not getting good information regarding Iran, since in context the quote is not threatening.

The US funds Israel because we believe (as does the UN, last I checked) that they have a right to exist. If Iran will agree that they in fact have a right to exist, we no longer have a problem.

Iraq is such a mess I hardly know where to start, but I do have a bit of a personal problem when my countrymen are being killed with weapons provided by a third country. This assumes Iran is doing so, and the jury is still out on it.

Which other neighbors of Iran are we threatening? Afganistan, base of Al Queda, and where NATO is there on behalf of a duly elected government? NATO member Turkey?

#51 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 09:25 AM:

Scott H @ 39

I will bow to your superior knowledge of the fusion reactions involved in a bomb; it's certainly not my area of expertise. We're not really in disagreement here, I think we just have different perspectives on the relative difficulty of solving kinds of problems.

The problem with a fission bomb is not theoretical, you're correct, but it involves more than just mechanical apptitude and machine tools. There are at least three separate disciplines to apply to the problem: electronics for the trigger, explosives for the implosion system, and nuclear physics to compute the shape of the assembled pieces. Also, uranium and plutonium bomb designs are very different, and most of the work done in the US has been on plutonium bombs, since they're inherently smaller.

For fusion, the essential problem is computational nuclear physics; the physics itself is well understood, and a lot of it is unclassified because of fusion energy research and astrophysics. And the computational resources required are modest; any current generation desktop computer will do the job nicely, although it might awhile longer than a big machine. And if you are in a hurry, you can always cluster a bunch of machines (this is my area of expertise).

#52 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 10:09 AM:

Chris @ #50 -- Some of the weapons being used against us in Iraq were ours -- we gave Iraq weapons in the war against Iran.

Pallet loads of US currency have gone missing in Iraq, and my guess is that that money bought more weapons. It would not surprise me at all if it turns out that Blackwater or Halliburton is supplying them.

The United States has a track record of helping put corrupt regimes in charge of other countries.

We have f*cked over every Muslim country who has dealt with us, and Israel's hands aren't clean either.

There is a nutcase in the White House backed by a homicidal maniac in the OVP, and they control a nuclear arsenal Third World dictators can only dream of...

I ask you, "Which country has actually used nuclear weapons against an opponent?"

Think about it.

#53 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 11:03 AM:

Lori Coulson said (#52):
Chris @ #50 -- Some of the weapons being used against us in Iraq were ours -- we gave Iraq weapons in the war against Iran.

Not really. The only significant arms we (meaning US companies) sold Iraq during the 1980s were some light helicopters. I haven't heard that the insurgents are using those yet (assuming any are still in working order).

On the other hand, it's quite possible that some of the weapons we've given Iraqi soldiers and police in the last three years have ended up in insurgent hands.

We have f*cked over every Muslim country who has dealt with us, and Israel's hands aren't clean either.

Turkey? Kuwait? (Not quibbling with the general sentiment, just the "all" part.)

#54 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 11:51 AM:

Lori @ 52 - almost scared to say this, in fear of creating a flamewar, but I have thought of the use of nukes in WWII.

First, even after two detonations, elements of the Japanese military attempted to block the surrender by storming the Imperial palace.

Second, if the nukes had been duds, the US would have invaded in 1945 and 1946 (two-phase attack). Estimated US casualties were half a million. Since the fighting would have been in Japan's urban areas, and not only was Japan not evacuating civilians they were arming them, civilian casualties would have been horrific.

Add to this the fact that, had the bombs worked but not forced surrender, the plan called for up to a dozen A-bomb drops to create beachheads for said invasion.

It's nasty and sad, but the A-bombs accelerated the end of the war and saved lives.

#55 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 12:08 PM:

Regarding home-made nukes, has anybody else read Nick Mamatas' short novel Under My Roof? One figures prominently there, as the narrator's dad sets up his house as a sovereign nation. (Book already out -- I'll finally get around to reviewing it in the June Locus.)

#56 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 12:16 PM:

This reminds me of a Far Side cartoon where a couple is in their living-room, and one of them is enviously looking out the front window at their neighbor's backyard, where a missile can be seen on a trailer.

"Now the Wagners have the Bomb!"

#57 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 12:20 PM:

Chris @ #54, no flame war here -- I think you're misconstruing the point I was attempting to make.

I was not saying the use of the bombs in WWII was wrong (I regret that they had to be used at all), what I was trying to say is that the U.S.A has shown that it has the political will to use nuclear weapons.

What worries me is that the Idiot-in-Chief seems to salivate at the words "pre-emptive strike."

This is a man who claims "God talks to him." This is a man who heads a section of the population that avidly wants Armageddon and believes that the Rapture will happen.

It makes me nervous...


#58 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 12:26 PM:

No fan of Bush am I (apologies to Yoda.)

#59 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 12:35 PM:

Peter at #53 -- Ok, we haven't hurt Kuwait, but do you really think the situation in Iraq is making Turkey happy?

If it goes any more pear-shaped, there's going to be a pack of unhappy Kurds on Turkey's border. IIRC, there was a suicide bombing in that area yesterday?

#60 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 01:03 PM:

a cogent analysis, and the satellite photos are fine.

"And what were Bush and Cheney thinking? Heaven only knows. They’re not competent and they’re not entirely sane, so it could have been anything."

that's the part that worries me - as I've commented at the Ranter's site, a war on Iran clearly makes no sense at all: but when you are dealing with irrational actors, sense is not in the equation.

#61 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 01:43 PM:

Dave Bell #48: "If you want to worry, ask yourself which nuclear power has survived losing a city?"

Not sure what you're getting at. How big a disaster does it take to qualify as "losing" a city, and just what do you mean by "surviving"? Are you referring to New Orleans? How is that related to the US being a nuclear power, and why would it be further cause to worry?

#62 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 01:49 PM:

What I have found fascinating was the right-wing criticism of the way the British handled the capture of 15 sailors and marines by the Iranians. One article in yesterday's Atlanta Journal-Constitution called the British 'wimpy'. I wonder what Blair was expected to do? Invade? Britain doesn't have the capacity to do that without signalling its intent for months (since that would require the return of conscription). And even if Blair wanted war with Iran, such a war would be immensely unpopular in the UK. The only thing he could have done was nuke Iran's major cities and/or oilfields. That would have been truly batshit insane.

#63 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 02:44 PM:

I think part of the "wimpy" crowd's question is how were they captured in the first place.

I've done Vessel Board and Search (VBS) operations in a past life. Usually, the boarding party is covered by an armed helicopter and the ship's deck guns. Non-participants are kept at a distance, by whatever means necessary.

This didn't happen in this case, in part because the target ship was anchored in shallow water. For whatever reason, these details didn't get into most media reports, so it "looks" like the Brits just gave up.

#64 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 02:49 PM:

Faren @ #55 re: Nick Mamatas - I've read it. I liked it.

Having been raised with the people who talk about rights of self-determination for Alaska, and having read Friday where the corporations act as states, I didn't find myself going "what an intriguing idea" as much as going "cool, someone's using that concept again".

The end, that was the best part. I went back and re-read the last just to make sure I was really reading what I thought I was. Mr. Mamatas did a rather fine job, IMNSHO.

#65 ::: FungiFromYuggoth ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 02:50 PM:

Chris @ #50 - Your information about Iranian involvement in US troop deaths is incorrect.

At a very fundamental level, these accusations against Iran don't make sense. I have no doubt that Iran is backing factions in Iraq, but they're backing the same ones we put into power - Shi'ite groups.

For the claimed numbers of casualties to work out, Iran would have to be funding Sunni radicals and giving them weapons to use against Shi'ites friendly to (and in some cases sheltered by) Iran. There's no 'there' there.

Of course, the Sunni militants are getting funding from outside of the country - from Saudi Arabia.

At a fundamental level, any policy on Iran will have to be implemented by the current bunch of bums (including Cheney, who did want to nuke Baghdad back in Gulf War I, according to Powell). The threat from Iran is less than the threat from what the Bush administration would do about it, so we should endorse hitting the snooze alarm until someone vaguely sane takes power here.

#66 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 03:03 PM:

Chris #50:

Your explanation for why we send Israel lots of money would make more sense, if we also sent all the other countries we believed to have the right to exist the same kinds of money. US policy toward Israel and Cuba, IMO, is about 90% driven by internal political concerns. It's certainly not from some kind of high-minded idealism or commitment to the principle that identifiable, oft-persecuted religious/ethnic groups have the right to their own country.


#67 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 03:24 PM:

Nick Mamatas is an impressively good writer. I was quite taken with Move Under Ground.

#68 ::: Howard Peirce ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 04:09 PM:

#39 Scott H: "*Side note: Is it coincidence that the original Godzilla movie came out the same year as the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident?"

#43 Heresiarch: From what I have heard, the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident was a direct inspiration. If I remember correctly, Godzilla's first casualty is a fishing boat, no?

If you haven't seen the 2005 Toho re-release of the uncut Gojira, you really should. It's not the Raymond Burr creature feature you remember. It's an extremely political film, and if it weren't for the emotional distance that the guy-in-a-rubber-suit provided, it probably couldn't have been made. The American release cut any scenes showing the aftermath of Godzilla's attacks, and cut or dubbed rewritten lines over the political dialog.

Yes, the Daigo Fukuryu Maru incident directly inspired the film, and the uncut sequence is explicit about this. Another source of inspiration was Ishiro Honda's experience as a returning POW passing through a still-smoldering Hiroshima on his way home after the war.

#69 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 04:55 PM:

albatross @ 66

It's certainly not from some kind of high-minded idealism or commitment to the principle that identifiable, oft-persecuted religious/ethnic groups have the right to their own country.

Seriously, is there anyone on this thread who believes that any US strategic initiatives in the last 50 years have been based on "high-minded idealism" or even concerns about any interests but those of the current administration (i.e., not even concerned with our allies' interest unless it aligned with ours closely).

Tactical initiatives and political gestures done to make the US look good without any great effort, perhaps. But even simple things are not often done well enough or with enough common sense to make any difference. Lest we think this all started with Shrub, it's interesting to compare the level of cluefullness of the Iraq invasion and occupation vs. the police action in Somalia. In both cases, the planners of the operations appear not to have even known what the sides were.

#70 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 04:59 PM:

#62: I wonder what Blair was expected to do? Invade?

Yes. Any outcome that doesn't hurt and humiliate the other guy is wimpy. Nonviolent resolution - ANY nonviolent resolution - is the mark of a coward and a loser.

It is the atavistic dominance-seeking posing of a pack of baboons, and it is really how they think.

This is not just rhetoric - there's actual psychological evidence of it.

#71 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 05:12 PM:

Bruce Cohen said (#69):
Lest we think this all started with Shrub, it's interesting to compare the level of cluefullness of the Iraq invasion and occupation vs. the police action in Somalia. In both cases, the planners of the operations appear not to have even known what the sides were.

To be fair, Somalia was a genuinely international screw-up, not just an American one. And it was initially planned as just an aid escort operation, which worked fairly well. It was only when people at the UN and in the US started thinking, "Gosh, that went well -- maybe we can fix all of Somalia's problems at once, starting right now!" that things began to go pear-shaped.

#72 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 05:31 PM:

Chris #70: This is the lunatics running the asylum. The thought that an appropriate British response to the seizure of its personnel would be to invade Iran is simply, clearly, obviously nuttier than a whole bag of Cheneys. Winston Churchill, no wimp by any standard one might care to use, pointed out that 'jaw-jaw is better than war-war'. One suspects that he would not have had much positive to say about the Shrub.

#73 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 05:53 PM:

Lori Coulson said (#x):
Peter at #53 -- Ok, we haven't hurt Kuwait, but do you really think the situation in Iraq is making Turkey happy?

Well, no, I'm sure it isn't. (Of course, that it's a problem for Turkey is perhaps partly Turkey's fault for not doing a better job of dealing with their own Kurdish problems until very recently.) But the US hasn't done any serious, wholesale destabilization of Turkey that I'm aware of, and has, for example, supported Turkey's bid to join the EU.

This may be because Turkey is a NATO member, and some basic level of sanity said that it wasn't a good idea to destabilize a NATO member, at least as long as the Soviet Union was around....

#74 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 07:21 PM:

Peter Erwin @73

This may be because Turkey is a NATO member,

I suspect it's more because of the airbases Turkey allowed the US to build and run. They were a fundamental part of MAD during the Soviet era because they were close to the Soviet borders and bombers could react from takeoff almost as fast as the in-the-air bombers could react from the fail-safe point. Ditto medium range missles wrt ICBMs. And with the Soviets gone, and as long as the Russian Federation has other problems to distract them from imperial aspirations, Turkey gives the US air control of Central Asia.

#75 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 08:53 PM:

Chris Gerrib @50 -- The US funds Israel because we think they have a right to exist? Do we fund every country we think has a right to exist? Does Iran have a right to exist?

As I've heard from an Israeli friend, the US funds Israel in no small part because it serves the purposes of American military contractors. Much of that funding isn't actual money, it's discounts on American arms. Without those discounts, the Israeli air force might have more than one model of native-built aircraft, and they might even be able to sell those aircraft to other countries, competing with Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Sikorsky.

As far as Iraq and your personal problems go, American foreign policy is not supposed to be determined by your personal problems. Keep your personal problems out of it.

#76 ::: Chris Gerrib ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 09:49 PM:

Avram @ 75 - Yes Iran has a right to exist. It's a long way from saying "I don't approve of your actions" to "you have no right to exist."

Israel may not be exporting fighter jets, but they do export quite a bit of other military hardware. I'm not entirely sure I agree that's relevant; be that as it may.

The US has certainly funded or assisted countries perceived to be under threat of attack. See the US troops based in Germany for NATO, or US troops in South Korea, or my stint under NATO command in the Mediterranean.

As a registered voter in the US, my personal opinions do matter.

I keep saying that "the jury is out" as to whether Iran is arming insurgents in Iraq (including Moqtada al Sadr, no friend of the US) but you seem to assume that I am convinced that the accusations are true. I am not convinced that they are arming Iraqi insurgents.

Fungi @65 - I suspect that Saudi Arabia is our "friend" in the same way that a drug pusher is a "friend" of a junkie. One of my many gripes with the current administration is their complete lack of a rational energy program.

#77 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2007, 11:41 PM:

Chris Gerrib: As you point out, Operation Olympic was scheduled to produce half a million American casualties, and this was a major consideration in Truman's decision to use nukes. Now consider that substantially more than half a million Iraqis have died since we destroyed their government and infrastructure. (It's true that Americans didn't kill them all, though high-altitude bombing, official disinterest in collateral damage, and the like make it hard to tell how many we did get ourselves. Certainly we made the situation.) Our ancestors looked at the possibility of such a large death toll and decided to take drastic steps to avoid it. How can we condemn Iran for looking at the reality of it and trying to prepare themselves against the same fate?

#78 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 12:00 AM:

Bruce @ 77

And, I would guess, looking even harder at it because their population is a lot smaller than ours was in 1945.

I also doubt that Shrub would stop at only two nukes. He's got no one to stop him and no self-restraint. (Add to that also absolutely no sense of empathy with the people on the receiving end. After reading about his hands-on equipment demonstrations, I'm surprised that reporters want to be around him.)

#79 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 06, 2007, 10:33 AM:

From Iran's perspective, we've done a whole lot of stuff to threaten them, including invading countries on both sides of them, threatening rhetoric, apparently running special ops teams inside their borders, and having a long-term alliance with their major regional enemies. So it's not like it's crazy for the Iranian government to see us as a threat and take measures to defend themselves.

If we decided to invade them, we could do it. It would be very expensive and bloody, and in practice, we'd probably pull out after a few years because the costs were so much higher than the benefits. But while that would be a defeat for us in the style of Vietnam and Iraq, it would be a disaster for the Iranian people, also in the style of Vietnam and Iraq. It's no fun fighting guerrilla war on someone else's turf, but the civilians and infrastructure on that turf takes much more of a beating than your soldiers.

So, I think the fact that Iran wants nukes is entirely rational. Now, I also see this as the path to potential disaster. Iran with nukes adds to the set of countries with the very error-prone MAD thing going on--you can imagine false-steps that will lead to a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel, leading to millions dead in both countries and fallout affecting millions more. The more countries there are with nukes, the more incentive for other countries to get them, and the more chance of someone getting hold of them to use in a terrorist attack. (Iran won't nuke us, because they know how the war will end. But someone who steals nukes from their arsenal probably doesn't care if we nuke Tehran in response to that nuke going off in New York City.)

#80 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 05:05 PM:

#72 et al: An amusing thing during the recent incident was seeing John Bolton (former US ambassador to the UN) appearing on BBC's Newsnight nearly every night, complaining that everything that the UK was doing was encouraging the Iranians to be badly behaved (or something, I couldn't quite follow the paralogia), even after the service-men and -woman were released. The man obviously does not understand what diplomacy is.

I think the BBC site keeps the Newsnight programme archived for a week, if anyone is interested in seeing Bolton embody the term blowhard.

#81 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 08, 2007, 09:07 PM:

NelC #80: Given that Britain's *only* viable military option was to nuke Iranian cities,* Bolton's approach measures an 11 on the loony metre.


* In order to invade Iran, the UK would have had to reinstate conscription.** This is about as likely to happen as my becoming Pope.


** With the Iraq war already immensely unpopular. Tony Blair is not off his rocker.

#82 ::: graylion ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:51 PM:

you know I am more than slightly shocked. Have you all lost any concept of a moral compass?

The Iraq war was a bad idea because you can't win it? Not maybe because it was illegal, created untold human misery and bunchload of deaths.

Are human lives of no consideration whatsoever anymore? Do the US feel free to walk up to somebody on the street go "I don't like your nose" and club them over the head and the rifle their pockets? Whatever happened to the 5th commandment (or 6th depending on your denomination)? It appears to me that the US only applies rules to others while you yourselves seem to operate under a set of what I call 'D & D Morals' ie what amounts to 'we are the good guys, hence it is OK for us to murder, torture, commit arson, theft, robbery, rape ...'.

I see not one post in this whole thread that mentions that there might be such a thing as a moral issue involved in this? And that from a Nation of self professed Christians?

#83 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:00 PM:

graylion @82:
The immorality of the Iraq war is assumed knowledge in this community, as you would discover if you read much that gets posted here.

However, this post was about facts that can be brought up with people who don't acknowledge that underlying reality, and who must therefore be persuaded by other arguments. Because there are people like that, and we need them on side, too, to stop this thing.

And that from a Nation of self professed Christians?
This is not a nation. It's a weblog, run by people of a number of different religious persuasions, and commented on by a community that varies even more wildly.

We do not attempt to, are not qualified to, and are not capable of, speaking for the United States of America.

#84 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:49 PM:

Not maybe because it was illegal, created untold human misery and bunchload of deaths.

We've been calling it immoral, and predicting that it would cause untold human misery and a bunchload of deaths, since 2002. We don't need to restate the obvious every time.

site:nielsenhayden.com +Iraq +immoral gets you hundreds of hits.

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