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August 3, 2008

Iran again
Posted by Teresa at 10:10 PM * 209 comments

Last April, I discussed the basic problems of going to war with Iran: (1.) We can’t even pacify Iraq, and they want to start another war? (2.) The rest of the world is not going to believe a word we say about WMDs. (3.) Iran’s a bigger country than Iraq, with a bigger military, and they like us even less than the Iraqis do. (4.) All the foregoing problems, plus any others you can think of, are secondary to the fact that no sane commander-in-chief would pick an unnecessary fight with a country that’s got the kind of geography Iran does.

At the time, I assumed that Bush, Cheney & Co. had been thinking of using smallish tactical nukes. For one thing, they kept playing up the “Iran + nuclear” angle, which I took to mean they were manufacturing a justification for preemptive retaliation. For another, what else were they going to use? The National Guard can only stretch so far.

Since B&C seemed to be putting the idea behind them, I also assumed it was a dead issue. That was optimistic. They’ve kept at it. Why? I have no more idea now than I had before. The idea makes no sense. Even the Rand Corporation has said that “declaring war on terror” is not the way to go.

Still, I was honestly shocked when I read in Think Progress that Seymour Hersh, who recently reported that we’re already conducting covert operations against Iran, has now said that Bush administration officials held a meeting recently in Cheney’s office to discuss ways to provoke a war with Iran. One idea that was considered at the meeting was to build some fake Iranian PT boats, have Navy SEALs dress up as Iranians, send them out into the Gulf of Hormuz, and stage a shoot-out with them. This was ultimately rejected—not because it was grossly dishonest, but because it might result in Americans killing Americans. Apparently, even Dick Cheney knows that’s bad press.

Hersh’s editor at The New Yorker didn’t want to publish the story because the meeting in Cheney’s office didn’t accept the idea. This astounds me. It isn’t worth reporting that they even considered such an idea? …Go read the story. It’s short. They’ve got a transcript of Seymour Hersh talking about the meeting, and it’s short too. So go look.

Kevin Drum commented on the story in the Washington Monthly, and added:

If this story sounds familiar, that’s because it is. In one of David Manning’s famous memos describing a prewar meeting between George Bush and Tony Blair, he says that Bush admitted that WMD was unlikely to be found in Iraq and then mused on some possible options for justifying a war anyway:
“The U.S. was thinking of flying U2 reconnaissance aircraft with fighter cover over Iraq, painted in U.N. colours,” the memo says, attributing the idea to Mr. Bush. “If Saddam fired on them, he would be in breach.”
In the end, of course, we didn’t do this. We just didn’t bother with any pretext at all.
One more piece of evidence that Bush was lying all along. I don’t know why his hapless lackwit supporters keep defending him.

I do know why Iran would want a nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein got rid of his WMDs, and we invaded his country, trashed the place, killed quantities of its civilians, and executed him. North Korea still has its whatever-it-has, and we’re being very polite to its Beloved Leader. I’ll bet a lot of other countries have reached the same conclusions.

What I’d really like to know is why the civilized world hasn’t stopped us. If this misbehavior of ours goes on much longer, they’re going to have to stop us for their own sake, not just out of abstract justice. Why not get started now? And while they’re at it, they can send in some election monitors.

Comments on Iran again:
#1 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 10:25 PM:

What I’d really like to know is why the civilized world hasn’t stopped us. If this misbehavior of ours goes on much longer, they’re going to have to stop us for their own sake, not just out of abstract justice. Why not get started now? And while they’re at it, they can send in some election monitors.

The US hasn't attacked the civilized world. This makes it hard to build up motivation.

The practical difficulties of forcibly stopping us, or even just imposing sanctions, are huge.

They're hoping that we'll have a better government in not so many months.

#2 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 10:27 PM:

Sadly, they keep defending him because they have bought into the "pre-emptive" argument.

My Dad said that at the end of WWII either Patton or Eisenhower (I forget which) was near the China border and asked permission, essentially, to go in there and beat the crap out of them, and when ordered not to he grumbled something to the effect of, "If we don't do it now, we're just going to end up having to do it later."

This is essentially the same idea. The conservative lot, by definition, not only don't like things that are "different," they feel threatened by it. Therefore, the Middle East, as a whole or as independent nations, is a threat, because it's too different. And for the rapture/jihadists among them, the fact that they are also non-Christian is another threat/insult. So for many, I suspect, it's not so much that they believe the hype, it's that they believe if they're not a threat now, they will be "someday," and therefore #1) attacking is defending, and #2) they deserve it for being different, and if we don't have facts, that's not proof they don't exist, it just means we haven't "caught" them yet.

The factthat this sort of behavior is what makes them belligerent and encourages them to hate us is, to them, irrelevant.


And then, too, there's the oil ...

... how dare they have all of it and not give us whatever we want at whatever price we offer.

#3 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 10:29 PM:

As somebody or other in the blogosphere observed, when you've got American troops in the country to the right, and American troops in the country to the left, and American staging bases in the country to the north, you don't really have to postulate an insane ideology of Restore-The-Caliphate to account for a certain level of nationalistic, militaristic paranoid defensiveness on Iran's part.

How would we feel if the all-powerful People's Republic of Mars had truckloads of Martian storm troopers in Mexico and Canada, ready to go? Yeah, you get the point. But it doesn't matter that you get it, because the argument is lost on the people in power and those who support them. Your nuanced and thoughtful understanding isn't worth dogshit.

People you know and love will die because we failed to figure out how to deal with (by which I mean "defeat"--also "intimidate", "punish," and "forestall future instances of") this fact. Enjoy your 21st century!

#4 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 10:39 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz, #1: "The US hasn't attacked the civilized world"

I'm going to trust that you meant that ironically.

#5 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 10:44 PM:

Pedantic Peasant, that's a good point.

It remains a good point even though your father got all his details wrong: not Eisenhower, not Patton, not WWII, and neither one of them went anywhere near the Chinese border. It was Douglas MacArthur, during the Korean War, and Truman was President. Also, MacArthur was a weird, complicated, and interesting guy. But your point stands.

#6 ::: Juli Thompson ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 10:51 PM:

Teresa @5 - I don't have a cite right now, but my memory has Patton having essentially the same conversation with Eisenhower about the Soviets.

#7 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 10:52 PM:

Also, MacArthur got fired for it (among, I suspect, other reasons for firing him).

I think, though, that it's begging to dawn on a lot of previously Bush-supporting Republicans that we aren't winning anything. And that Bush and Cheney are really certifiably insane.

(I was reading Scholars of Night again. There's a passage, fairly early in it, where one of the characters is talking about how no one has really won a war since 1870 and no one has ever won a theater war.)

#8 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 10:54 PM:

Patrick Nielsen Hayden, #4

Nancy Lebovitz, #1: "The US hasn't attacked the civilized world"

I'm going to trust that you meant that ironically.

Patrick:
I suspect if you substitute "western" or "technolog-ized" for "civilized" you'll come closer to the meaning of the comment. While it can't be denied we're spread thin, and Afghanistan, Iraq, and their amazing friends are holding their own with what we've got in their country, they are not able to stand up to us over here, and if someone is expecting the "civilized world" to stop us, odds on they're talking about the UN at large, or NATO, or some conglomeration of nations a) we might listen to, and b) that have a big enough stick to get our attention.

It sounded to me that what Nancy Lebovitz was saying is that right now we're attacking what are generally viewed as a bunch of second class nations. We have the world at large frustrated and annoyed, but it's not the same reaction as if we suddenly decided that Britain, or France, or Germany, or Japan was a threat, and attacked them. In general, those countries see themselves as our equals, as we do them, while this whole playgroup kind of looks at the middle east as that group of "school lunch losers" who have to play by themselves in the corner of the yard.

#9 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 10:54 PM:

#4 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden :

I'm going to trust that you meant that ironically.

I may well have missed something obvious, but I wasn't being ironic. The nearest thing I can think of as an attack on the civilized world is the mortgage scam.

#10 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:02 PM:

Teresa @ 5:

I don't know whether my Dad got it wrong or I misremembered, but either way, thank you for the correction.


I first heard the Iran story on Countdown with Olberman, and all I could think of was Polk and the Mexican American war.

Then with your post, the Bay of Pigs.

There seems to be a large part of the administrative machinery of our country that doesn't seem to realize that "wishing doesn't make it so."

The other problem (going back to my post at 2 and the eons earlier discussions on torture) is that that the portion of the country that supports these cockamamie ideas always buys into the "demonize your enemy" argument, accepts the hype, and fails to consider that just because they're different, and a little behind us technology wise, doesn't mean they're cowardly, stupid, or incapable.

#11 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:03 PM:

I'd heard "If we don't do it now, we're just going to end up having to do it later" attributed to Patton, and his supposed desire to fight the Russians +right then+

I sincerely doubt it. One reason being that Patton wasn't stupid. As to why it was attributed to him: he was safely dead.

In point of fact we +didn't+ have to fight the Soviets, then or later.

#12 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:07 PM:

What I’d really like to know is why the civilized world hasn’t stopped us. If this misbehavior of ours goes on much longer, they’re going to have to stop us for their own sake, not just out of abstract justice. Why not get started now?

I think, to a large extent, it's a question of which mouse is going to bell the cat. The US is too big, too rich, too belligerent, and far, far too well armed, for other countries to feel sanguine about "stopping" it.

That doesn't mean we wouldn't like to. It just means that no-one seems to be able to think of any practical way of doing it.

#13 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:13 PM:

Patrick @ 3... if the all-powerful People's Republic of Mars had truckloads of Martian storm troopers in Mexico and Canada, ready to go?

Where did I put my disintegrator pistol?

#14 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:14 PM:

What I’d really like to know is why the civilized world hasn’t stopped us.

First, what sort of remedy are you thinking of? Even completely hamstrung by the Iraq occupation, the US is still incredibly powerful. The only thing that would stop us if we're irrationally hell-bent on attacking somebody is to shoot nukes at us, or threaten to, and since we've got the biggest nuclear deterrent in the world, it's hard to make a threat like that stick. They'd be threatening global suicide--not very likely or credible against a menace at least several degrees better than global suicide.

Second, everyone outside the US is hoping some sort of sanity gets restored next January. Maybe this is a foolish hope, maybe it's just kicking the problem down the road regardless, but it's something.

#15 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:17 PM:

Patrick tells me he was raising his eyebrow at the idea that Iraq and Iran are not part of the civilized world.

I'm sorry, I've given everyone the wrong idea.

Of course they're part of the civilized world. What I meant by the phrase was "countries that aren't, like, Paraguay or Somalia or something."

#16 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:24 PM:

I keep picturing John McCain as President. It's very scary.

Maybe the reason Cheney and friends have been having conversations about attacking Iran is that they think McCain might lose. If they think McCain might lose they may decide to attack Iran before the election, because it might help McCain. If Obama wins they might wait until after the election and attack Iran before he takes office, because they really want to and they are pretty sure Obama won't do it. If McCain wins, they might do it anyway, as a f*ck you to all the people in the country who didn't vote for him.

Of course, if McCain wins, he'll probably attack Iran just to show that he can.

I'm going to go hide under the bed now....

#17 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:28 PM:

I may well have missed something obvious, but I wasn't being ironic. The nearest thing I can think of as an attack on the civilized world is the mortgage scam.

erm. Iraq (formerly known as Mesopotamia, Sumeria, and Babylonia) is the every essence of civilization. It's where "civilization" began, meaning where people began living in cities. Attacking Iraq is attacking civilization.

Iran (formerly known as Medea and Persia) is also part of the earliest known civilized world. Even a cursory study of history will tell you what a stupid idea it is to launch an attack on Persia, especially when you have a large number of sitting duck hostages in Baghdad.

I remain unconvinced that an order to launch an attack on Iran will be obeyed. I cannot believe that the people in command of the US military are that uneducated.

#18 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:32 PM:

Beth Meacham @ 17

Ummm. Meaning no offense, but what in the history and prosecution of the Iraq war to date (not to the reports of "position stuffing" by this administration) gives you this confidence in the education and forbearance of the current military?

#19 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:36 PM:

Beth, a refusal to obey an order from the C-in-C...hmmmm...well, arguably it might be legal. It would be a horrific precedent, however, even if it stopped a war.

#20 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:36 PM:

Okay, here's a really scary thought:

Rather than firing on Americans, someone who is in the administration "unofficially" talks to those in charge of Blackwater, who aren't "official" US forces, and they "accidentally" pursue someone into Iran (or just outright attack it "without authorization," and we get pulled in to defend/rescue their "innocent" forces.

#21 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:39 PM:

What I’d really like to know is why the civilized world hasn’t stopped us.

Because there is none.

#22 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:41 PM:

The Patton/Eisenhower/Soviets/end of WW2 story floats around - I've heard it called "Patton's gambit" by wargamers and those into alternate military history.

MacArthur VS the Red Chinese in Korea came a lot closer to happening than Patton VS the Commie Russians in the ruins of Europe - it did lead to MacArthur getting sacked, after all.

Here's hoping Shrub VS Hordes of Iranians remains in the realm of alternate history too...

#23 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:48 PM:

Randolph, they have the right to disobey an illegal order. Just ask Jim.

Lizzy, I couldn't think why they'd stick their necks out for John McCain. Then the light dawned: he'll pardon, not prosecute.

#24 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 03, 2008, 11:59 PM:

Teresa, of course they'll help JM. They really don't want Obama as President.

You ask why the civilized world hasn't stopped us.

Because they can't.

#25 ::: Matt McIrvin ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 12:02 AM:

I read Nancy more sympathetically as meaning "the whole civilized world," rather than implying that the places we attack aren't civilized. That is, we haven't done anything to indicate that we're likely to attempt to bomb or invade dozens of countries World War II-style. If we did attack Iran it would go very badly for us. Most of the world doesn't care sufficiently about Iran to take the enormous risk of intervening against us; they'll just wait for the karmic balance to kick in.

It may be that, eventually, somebody decides that there has to be a Free World Against the United States treaty alliance, but the post-Warsaw Pact world hasn't been around long enough. I think we'd have to sustain our current level of obnoxiousness for a couple of decades, and our current level of obnoxiousness probably isn't that sustainable anyway.

#26 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 12:11 AM:

I wish I had something to add. The entire notion of attacking Iran, and going forward from there to complete other NeoCon dreams is so insane and pathetic that it's hard to write again on the subject of "Why these losers are insane and pathetic."

They just are. And they might pathetic our nation into total collapse.

Alex

#27 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 12:24 AM:

All of this thread reminds me of the following sad and cynical passage (that I love!) form the movie The American President:

Lewis Rothschild: You have a deeper love of this country than any man I've ever known. And I want to know what it says to you that in the past seven weeks, 59% of Americans have begun to question your patriotism.

President Andrew Shepherd: Look, if the people want to listen to-...

Lewis Rothschild: They don't have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.

President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, we've had presidents who were beloved, who couldn't find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don't drink the sand because they're thirsty. They drink the sand because they don't know the difference.

So much of this seems relevant, from the stupidity of the label "patriotism," (Does everyone have their plague fin?) to the desperation of some Americans for genuine integrity governing political action, to the cynical disparagement of the greater portions of the populus who seem unable to recognize what is going on ...

#28 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 12:56 AM:

There's a very simple reason why I suspect that BushCheneyCo will not attack Iran:

Oil is currently close to $150 a barrel.

What happens if they attack Iran? Is the price of oil going to fall? Or not?

They're evil and mendacious, and I agree that they'd like to attack Iran, but right now an attack on Iran would be political suicide; it'd hand Obama the $10 gallon of gas as a stick to beat them. And a pony.

#29 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 12:57 AM:

... The time to worry about an attack on Iran is if the price of oil begins to fall back below $100/barrel.

#30 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:12 AM:

What I’d really like to know is why the civilized world hasn’t stopped us.

Does 'As much expenditure on defense as the rest of the world combined' ring a bell?

They'd have to all gang up to stand up to the US...and they'd probably still lose. They can't stop us with sanctions because their economies are driven by the ravenous american consumer. We're a crazed tasmanian devil, and nobody has a leash durable enough to put around our neck, even if they had the guts to try it.

#31 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:23 AM:

1) In one sense we are already attacking Iran. We are funding terrorist attacks inside Iran (pardon me - liberation fighter who plant bombs as part of their struggle for the rights of oppressed ethnic groups).

2) In terms of actual invasion - most of Iran's oil is along a narrow strip on the border with Iraq, occupied by ethic Arabs. Grab that, make a deal with the ethnic Arabs, and grab the seacoast, and you have a geographically tiny flat occupied area, with a coastal route for your supply lines. I'm not saying there are not major flaws in this (and I'll leave pointing them out as an exercise for other commentators), but I'm betting you can find people inside our military who will say this is doable.

3) As to raising the price of oil, well that is money in the pocket of the current administrations friends. As to hurting Republican chances, that is why a lot of people are worried about the window between the election and inauguration of a new President.

Please tell me I'm wrong, that this administration is not that crazy or that stupid, or that even if they are no one high in the military would agree with this.

#32 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:32 AM:

Teresa, #23: "Randolph, they have the right to disobey an illegal order. Just ask Jim."

Sure. But even without Congressional authorization, there would be questions--the President has a lot of war-making authority. We don't need to see civilian authority over the military weakened, internal conflict in the military, or the Roberts court ruling on such issues. And I wouldn't put it past Congress to authorize an attack, even though it would be insane.

Damnit, I really don't like looking into the Abyss.

#33 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:32 AM:

P.J. Evans:

"I didn't fire MacArthur because he was a stupid son of a bitch, I fired him because he disobeyed the orders of his Commander in Chief." Mind you the quote is from Merle Miller, who later admitted to fabricating some of the remarks in his book about Truman, but it's credible: Truman ordered MacArthur to quit making public statements that would harm the peace negotiations with the Chinese (which had happened at least once) and MacArthur sent his "There is no substitute for Victory" letter to a senator (and damn it, I can't remember his name) a couple of months later who read it into the Congressional Record.

#34 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:45 AM:

Charlie, #28, #29: <snark>there you go again, assuming this Administration is rational.</snark>

#35 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:55 AM:

Why not stop the US?

The answer may be summed up in one word: how? Think and analyze, folks.

Nobody in Europe has been willing to pay for deployable military force for decades. Now they don't have it, and it's not something you can build quickly. China and India have been working on the capacity, but don't have it yet. (The US had 10-15 years of research into operational problems before WW II, and still took five years, mostly under the urgency of wartime conditions, before we could build the force that got to Europe. Most of the allied units in Iraq -- and there are quite a few more than you might think -- are dependent on the US either for their logistics, or for the protection of their logistics; armies march on their stomach, and we're the only ones in the world with a deployable stomach above the battalion or maybe brigade level. This is not a cheap capacity, and is expensive both to acquire and to keep.)

Nobody in the world has the power to interdict sea lines of communication against the US Navy, which means that nobody can stop the US from shipping troops wherever a port exists. (Or wherever a beach exists, but supporting large numbers of troops across the beach is iffier. For practical purposes -- i.e., we don't have enough cargo planes -- supporting more than a brigade or so entirely by air is difficult long-term).
Russia hasn't had the power since the Soviet Union went bankrupt due to excessive military spending; Britain is our ally; China and India are both regional naval powers, not global ones. Nobody else has a navy worth considering along these lines.
This sort of power is EXTREMELY expensive to acquire and to keep; the last two major attempts to acquire passage control of the World Ocean from someone who already had it (Russia 1955-1985 and German 1895-1918) were both very expensive failures. China might, possibly, be able to make a bid for it sometime in the 2030-2050 range; India possibly around the same time, and that's assuming that nothing goes wrong with either country's economy.

As far as invading Iran goes, I don't see it happening any time in the next couple of years, because our ground forces are tied up either deploying to Iraq, being in Iraq, or recovering from being in Iraq. As Iraq stabilizes and we withdraw troops, this calculation will change. (Ironically, if you want the US to be forced to not do anything, bringing our troops home is a bad way to do it.) We can deploy at most about 3-4 divisions overseas sustainably. We could deploy more than that in an emergency situation, but at some point there would have to be either a rest period or a greatly enlarged recruitment effort.

Note that 3 US divisions and about a division worth of allied troops smashed the entire military structure of the Iraqi army in about three weeks, after a six-month buildup. Twice. The difference between information-age armies and industrial-age armies is almost as vast as the difference between industrial-age armies and guys with muskets. Iran could be smashed in about as much time as Iraq was, maybe a bit more, if we had a staging zone to work out of. Providing the staging zone would probably be more complicated than it was in the two Gulf Wars.
Putting the pieces back together again would be a very large and very expensive job, granted.

Nobody else in the world has so much as a division to deploy overseas (or at long distance overland) without considerable, very considerable, preparation time. (One reason that the US ended up doing peacekeeping in the Former Yugoslavia is that we were the only power with enough deployable troops to do the job.)

The reason that nobody is stopping the US by force is that nobody can. (We might also consider that a number of people, whatever they may say in public, are probably quite happy in private that someone else is doing the hard work.)

Granted, this applies to the present situation. The exercise of sufficient will and wealth by a small number of bodies (the EU, China, India, Russia) could change this, but it would be noticeable and it would take a while.

(We are also leaving the Truce of the Mushroom Cloud out of consideration, as well as the exercise of soft power -- finance, opinion, and the like. Soft power methods do not work quickly on the scale we're considering, and we're unlikely to nuke someone without very hard evidence of a very imminent existential threat that cannot be met any other way.)

#36 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 02:23 AM:

1. Reveal that OBL has been captured.

2. Reveal that OBL confirms under interrogation that Iran financed the 9/11 operation.

3. Outrage and jingoism overcomes common sense, and war is declared, with only a very few holdout votes in Congress.

4. React to wide-spread retaliatory acts of terrorism allegedly attributed to Iran by declaring martial law and suspending the Constitution before Inauguration Day.

5. Profit!

Note: step 4 is actually optional in this plan, but steps 1 to 3 work best if timed as an October Surprise.

Tin foil hat futures sound like a decent investment these days.

#37 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 03:31 AM:

Teresa @ 23

they have the right to disobey an illegal order. Just ask Jim.

Certainly they have the right, both in national and international law, and under the UCMJ. But do they have the motivation and the guts? Note that the current Chief of Staff is on public record as being in favor of an air attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.

As usual, the dimbulbs in office are going for immediate gratification without regard for long-term (more than a week) consequences. Assume for a moment that they can't manage to put together a reasonable ground invasion of Iran, but want their jollies any way they can get them. A major airstrike of every plane that can carry guided munitions, preceded by a wave of Tomahawks, all ostensibly targeted at nuclear facilities, but with some secret other targets that would weaken Iran militarily and economically would be just to their taste.

So what happens then? Well, Al-Qaeda has a recruiting field day, and operations against US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan in particular, and Pakistan, Malaysia, Philippines, all the countries of the East African coast, and any US citizens who stick their heads up in the Arabian Peninsula will increase by several factors of 2. The US is suddenly faced with a military situation that requires committment of still more troops to all theaters at a time when we must reduce troop levels in theater or be fighting with units which are fatigued, stressed, running low on materiel, and losing whatever support of the native populations they had. And in addition, the support the US has been getting from NATO will start to evaporate, and any chance of getting help from the UN will be forever destroyed. The only way I can think of to deal with that problem in military terms is to rachet up the level of involvement of US troops, and relax the rules of engagement. In other words, to escalate the fighting in places where doing so makes it easier for the enemy to recruit.

It's a downward spiral, and even a new US administration may not be able to resist the wardrums of hawks reacting to increased US casualties. I'm with Randolph here, especially as I'm very afraid the Abyss is looking back.

#38 ::: David DeLaney ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 04:07 AM:

And I was reading a subtlety into Nancy's comment that implied the US wasn't actually part of the civilized world, resonating with ... Gandhi's comment, was it?

--Dave

#39 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 04:36 AM:

Thanks for the kindness of assuming I agree with you, but I meant what I seemed to have said. Iraq doesn't strike me as part of the civilized world. Not in the practical sense Teresa was implying, and not in a moral sense-- Iraqis are way too willing to arbitrarily kill other Iraquis.

And as for the civilized world not stopping the US.... the civilized world hasn't been able to pull it together to stop Sudan.

#40 ::: Alan Braggins ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 05:35 AM:

> Nobody in the world has the power to interdict sea lines of communication against the US Navy ... Britain is our ally;

Even if Britain decided that the US was too much of a global threat to remain an ally, the Royal Navy still wouldn't have the power needed to interdict the US Navy.

Compare https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/us.html#military with https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/uk.html#Military
(which doesn't give numbers specific to the navies, but does show the overall problem).

#41 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 05:39 AM:

I think the tradition of our military staying out of politics is too strong for them to disobey a military order outright. If Iraq is any indication, military leaders will politely resign, or be forced out, until the Administration finds someone who will prosecute their war for them.

As for why they might do this, well, this Administration has already shown itself to be vindictive, and to have no realistic notion of consequences. They might do it to tie the hands of a (unfortunately, still hypothetical) future Obama Administration.
Most Administrations in their waning years merely issue lots of regulations which need to be rescinded. This one might start a war. (Of course, it's not like Bush hasn't already tied the hands of future administrations. He's set our foreign policy agenda for decades. Those political hacks appointed to the civil service positions in the Justice Department will take years, if not decades, to route out. Then there is this Administration's attack on science...)


#42 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 06:14 AM:

One idea that was considered at the meeting was to build some fake Iranian PT boats, have Navy SEALs dress up as Iranians, send them out into the Gulf of Hormuz, and stage a shoot-out with them.

Godwin Warning!

Hasn't this sort of thing been tried before? I'm slightly disappointed; depending on which wikipedia article you read, there were either 21 or 35 staged incidents before the Invasion of Poland. Just one staged incident as justification for starting a war*?

"I will provide a propagandistic casus belli. Its credibility doesn't matter. The victor will not be asked whether he told the truth."

* ObSF: I note that in Star Trek, the Universal Translator seems to have a bug which translates "You seem to have strayed over the border accidently, in violation of your treaty obligations. Can we escort you back to your own territory?" as "You have committed an Act of War. Surrender immediately!"

#43 ::: ADM ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 06:19 AM:

Presumably there are more than a few nations that could try to stop the US, although I expect that it would be more a coordinated effort to dunk the economy than with conventional warfare. After all, how much have Bush, Cheney, & Co. cost the country? Even making things less pleasant for the average consumer might help a little.

#44 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 06:54 AM:

Iraq doesn't strike me as part of the civilized world. Not in the practical sense Teresa was implying, and not in a moral sense-- Iraqis are way too willing to arbitrarily kill other Iraquis.

I guess Europe has only been part of the civilized world for 60 years, according to you - and America still isn't.

Or is it only if Iraqis are way too willing to kill other Iraqis that it's bad?

#45 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 06:59 AM:

ADM @43:
more a coordinated effort to dunk the economy than with conventional warfare.

On the one hand, I don't think any external force is really necessary for that. What could they do that would be worse than a mortgage crisis and high fuel costs?

And on the other hand, the world economies are so interlinked that trashing the US economy will trash the attacker's as well. It would be like the Netherlands attacking Germany by poisoning the Rhine.

#46 ::: Peter Erwin ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 06:59 AM:

I do know why Iran would want a nuclear weapons program. Saddam Hussein got rid of his WMDs, and we invaded his country, trashed the place, killed quantities of its civilians, and executed him. North Korea still has its whatever-it-has, and we’re being very polite to its Beloved Leader.

Actually, there are more reasons than just "worrying about the US" for Iran to think about a nuclear weapons program, and I suspect they're at least as important, if not more so, in the thinking of Iranian leaders. (And preliminary work on such a program probably started before the US invasion of Iraq.)

First of all, Iran's biggest threat of the past thirty or forty years was Iraq, and they were no doubt very deeply alarmed to discover (post-Gulf War) how close Iraq had come to having nuclear weapons. Although Iraq currently has something approximating a friendly, not-quite-puppet government (from Iran's point of view, that is), there's no guarantee this will last.

In addition, over on the other side of Iran is Pakistan, which already has nuclear weapons. I'm not very clear on Iran's current relations with Pakistan, but they were supporting opposite sides in Afghanistan during the Taliban's rise to power in the late 1990s. (Sure, Pakistan's reason for having nuclear weapons is India, not Iran; but does the Iranian government really want to rely on Pakistan's forebearance if there is some future dispute with Iran?)

Finally, there's also Israel's well-known (if officially unadmitted) arsenal, which is bound to at least vaguely worrying even if Iran were nominally neutral towards Israel.

#47 ::: bellatrys ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 07:01 AM:

Aside: "civilized" meaning either "society economically based around cities" or "behaves in a manner I/we feel appropriate for humans to behave" makes it rather a useless term of description without some further qualification, like "inhuman" as a pejorative or "culture" to mean only "high" culture specifically. No civilizations (def 1) have ever really been civilized (def 2) no matter how anyone is defining "appropriate" behavior - alas, Babylon!

#48 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 07:06 AM:

ADM @ 43 -
Presumably there are more than a few nations that could try to stop the US, although I expect that it would be more a coordinated effort to dunk the economy than with conventional warfare. After all, how much have Bush, Cheney, & Co. cost the country? Even making things less pleasant for the average consumer might help a little.

Whom?

Economic warfare is, if anything, even more random and unpredictable than military conflict. Yes, the Chinese could call due all/some of the paper they own right now - but what effect would that have on their economy? Sure, the EU could stop buying American goods (computers, software, etc.), or slap restrictive tariffs on them - but they probably don't have enough organic in-house IT production to keep up with demand.

Additionally, the blowback effects, long-term, are likely to be at least as bad as a short-mid term military conflict. The after-effects of the Chinese calling due all debts will be nobody ever trusting them to hold paper again - and to look askance at any foreign holding of substantial debt. Same thing with overseas production - shut down your lines and not only do your in-country companies scream (since they're usually sub-contractors), but the US firms either scramble for other suppliers, or bring it in-house short-term (and possibly long-term). And heaven help anyone who tries to use food as a weapon - beyond any question of it actually working on the US - it won't, though it won't be pleasant - there's massive PR problems (even if you try aiming at so-called "luxury" goods, there's going to be PR problems.

Pretty much any attempts to deliberately use the global market and economy as a weapon is going to have a chilling effect on its interconnectedness, as everyone else goes "If they're willing to go after the Americans that way, what the hell will they try to do to us if we cross them?" and starts quietly shutting down those interconnections and bringing as much as they can back in house, or at worst, dealing with only a few trusted allies, and those countries they absolutely have to do business with (because, you know, everyone needs Wakandan Vibranium, so everyone does business with Wakanda).

Military force against the US is pretty much impossible - most powerful navy, most powerful air force, most powerful (even after discounting the forces that are not CONUS-based at the moment) army, and an armed populace (substantial portions of which have prior military experience, though not as substantial as nations which have conscription service requirements) and para-military police force.

Economic force is similarly problematic, if less immediately and obviously stupid - and much, much harder to predict, as we're seeing with the mortgage crisis (which keeps popping up new "oh, yeah, remember this stupid shit? Here's another bank failure. Merry Xmas!" moments just when people think we might be behind it).

#49 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 07:14 AM:

The reason why we treated NK politely while we invaded Iraq is more complicated than "NK might have a nuclear device, Iraq did not".

NK has the ability to obliterate Seoul without resorting to nuclear weapons; they've got thousands of artillery and rocket launchers within range of Seoul already, and South Koreans are notably sensitive about having their capital destroyed. Of course, NK possibly having nukes reinforces that attitude, but it's not the only reason why we talked instead of invaded them.

RE: Iran. While we did invade Iraq with just over 3 divisions' worth of troops, the terrain there is ideal for the USArmy's doctrine of maneuver warfare. Iran, not so much. Not only is Iran much larger, it's also more rugged and the critical areas aren't easily reached through the more logical invasion routes we'd use. We don't have nearly enough ground forces to invade Iran, and bombing is not certain enough to accomplish the goal, even using tactical nuclear weapons.

Hopefully Bush & Co. realize this, but I'm beginning to doubt it.

#50 ::: Neil in Chicago ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 07:26 AM:

Strait of Hormuz
Located between Oman and Iran, the Strait of Hormuz connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. Hormuz is the world's most important oil chokepoint due to its daily oil flow of 16.5-17 million barrels (first half 2008E), which is roughly 40 percent of all seaborne traded oil (or 20 percent of oil traded worldwide). Oil flows averaged over 16.5 million barrels per day in 2006, dropped in 2007 to a little over 16 million barrels per day after OPEC cut production, but rose again in 2008 with rising Persian Gulf supplies.

At its narrowest point the Strait is 21 miles wide, and the shipping lanes consist of two-mile wide channels for inbound and outbound tanker traffic, as well as a two-mile wide buffer zone. The majority of oil exported through the Strait of Hormuz travels to Asia, the United States and Western Europe. Currently, three-quarters of all Japan’s oil needs pass through this Strait. On average, 15 crude oil tankers passed through the Strait of Hormuz daily in 2007, along with tankers carrying other petroleum products and liquefied natural gas (LNG).

http://www.eia.doe.gov/cabs/World_Oil_Transit_Chokepoints/Hormuz.html


Can anyone doubt that if the United States attacked Iran, traffic through the Strait of Hormuz would be halted?
With all the hullabaloo searching for scapegoats for the recent spike in oil prices, somehow the rational fear that the Cheney-Rove-Bush administration might be about to cut world oil production by 20% didn't get much play.

#51 ::: Micah ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 07:31 AM:

I think that the question of "Why doesn't the civilized world stop us?" has a very simple answer: they aren't run by Bush & company.

If you look at what the US has actually done, doing anything to stop us (that would actually stop us) would be similar to our invading Iraq. No civilized nation would attack another for what the US has done, nor even levy sanctions or some-such. Remember, Iraq wasn't an ally of anyone. It's not as if we assaulted their friends, we just attacked a nation they considered vile based on faulty evidence and lies.

Don't get me wrong, that's a fairly terrible thing to do, but it just isn't enough to validate serious action.

Consider this example, for comparison: Russia starts another flare-up with one of their ex-compatriot nations. They present tons of evidence, which is later shown to be flawed, that shows how said nation started things and the UN gives them a slight mandate to deal with it. Matters escalate and they end up in a war with the nation that does not spread and will not result in them occupying said nation. Bush says that this is too much so we should invade Russia, or at least levy huge economic sanctions. Do you (a) Support invading Russia, (b) Support levying sanctions, (c) Think this is far too little reason to risk touching off a war that could expand into WW3.

The remaining action that civilized nations can take is some sort of "harsh comment", possibly signed by legislatures and the UN. I feel that foreign sentiment on this matter is largely clear, in that most of the rest of the world thinks we overstepped, so I'd say this is not far from what has actually happened.

However, let me add that, IF we decide to remain in Iraq after the UN mandate expires despite the Iraqis telling us to leave OR we invade Iran soon and without UN approval (or with approval on evidence later shown to be false), the civilized world will have a clear pattern of behavior and might be able to justify acting. Short of that, they shouldn't do much of anything.

#52 ::: mpe ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 08:35 AM:

If this misbehavior of ours goes on much longer, they’re going to have to stop us for their own sake

Or die in the attempt. That's what's giving us pause.

I'm praying it doesn't go on long enough. I'd volunteer - with deep sorrow, but I'd do it - and I live close to a US military base. My family and I would be among the first to die.

#53 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 08:43 AM:

With all due respect to Mike Godwin, what Hersch describes Bush and Cheney cooking up is in essence, an updated version of the Gleiwitz incident. Now, I certainly don't want to compare the Shrub and his master to You Know Who, but the parallel is a bit horrifying.

#54 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 08:46 AM:

Abi @ 45... First, Patrick suggests that Martians will invade the USA by way of Canada, now you're suggesting that the Netherlands might attack Germany?

Extra! Lichtenstein invades France!

#55 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 08:53 AM:

Serge #54: That's Liechtenstein.

#56 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 09:04 AM:

Fragano @ 55... Monaco invades Belgium!

#57 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 09:07 AM:

I don't think we can trust the US military to refuse orders to invade Iran. After all, no one took an effective stand against invading Iraq.

Having the "right" to refuse illegal orders is meaningless, without the habit of questioning the legality of orders when given, to determine their legality and morality. To avoid having a military that will carry out illegal orders, we'd need to cultivate a miliatry culture that rewards the questioning of orders and refusal of illegal orders, rather than supressing the thought process needed to ensure only legal and moral orders are carried out.

The best we can hope for, I think, is delay and deliberate leaks of plans - spoiling the needed element of surprise, and requiring planning to start over. Things that people can do without taking a public stand, or risking official punishment and unofficial retaliation.

And also hope that an Obama administration would seek out and reward anyone found to have acted to delay and prevent another war.

#58 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 09:10 AM:

Ursula L: we need Aral Vorkosigan's required class on How To Recognize An Illegal Order?

IIRC, that was the one that made the cadets turn green for days after.

#59 ::: Total ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 09:11 AM:

We're not going to invade Iran, certainly not at anywhere near the level of forces we did Iraq. Why? Because nearly the entire combat capability of the Army is tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can't just turn them around and send them into Iran. To repurpose from a occupying/counterinsurgency force to a conventional invasion force would require pulling them out of Iraq/Afghanistan, re-equipping and retraining, and then staging back into theater. There's simply not time before the Bush administration ends.

Now, an air assault is definitely possible.

#60 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 09:12 AM:

Serge #56: There's already been a Battle of Albert.

#61 ::: Irene Delse ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 09:20 AM:

TNH: "What I’d really like to know is why the civilized world hasn’t stopped us. If this misbehavior of ours goes on much longer, they’re going to have to stop us for their own sake, not just out of abstract justice. Why not get started now? And while they’re at it, they can send in some election monitors."

As Sylvia Li said, which mouse is going to stand up to the cat?

Plus, of course, the fact that a lot of countries in the civilized (or western, or industrialized) world is either allied to the B & C administration (alas, my own country might have profited from UN election monitors, last year...) or, if not overly friendly, hopes to profit from their policy. So why go looking for problems?
So these governments are content with a few verbal condemnations of the "torture flights" and preemptive wars, but still go on cooperating with the USA, sending "warnings" to Iran and trying to get a bigger piece of the contracts in Iraq.

#62 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 09:36 AM:

Fragano @ 60... Well, Albert Finney did play Belgian Hercules Poirot in 1975's Murder on the Orient Express.

#63 ::: Tom S. ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:02 AM:

Theresa @ #23, et al: While an order to attack or invade Iran would be unwise and imprudent (not to mention impudent), it would not be clearly illegal. The UN Charter has been interpreted (by the World Court) to allow preemptive self-defense, so that's no basis to refuse such an order. And there is nothing in the UCMJ or US Code that makes it illegal either. So on what basis are they to refuse?

The right to refuse an illegal order is intended to allow soldiers to legitimately refuse orders to execute prisoners, deliberately target civilians, etc. It is not intended as a way for military personnel to refuse unwise orders, operations to which they personally object, or even wars that are unpopular with the civilian population.

Opening military discretion to that extent would undermine the entire concept of civil control of the military. Allowing the military to opt out of a conflict it doesn't want leads to a disconcerting slipppery slope in which the military leadership gets to pick and choose the wars it supports and thus control the nation's foeign policy to an unprecedented degree. I think we can all agree that we don't want that, right?

#64 ::: beth meacham ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:26 AM:

I don't think we can trust the US military to refuse orders to invade Iran. After all, no one took an effective stand against invading Iraq.>/i>

I think some high-level members of the military have already refused such orders, and have resigned.

No one took an effective stand against invading Iraq because Iraq was a)completely disarmed and b)unallied with any other nation. We know that the US military knew that Iraq was disarmed, because they did not supply chemical warfare gear to the invading troops.

The one government that could have mounted an effective resistance -- Iran -- had been trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein for decades. Also, Iran had agents in the heart of the US plans for Iraq (Chalabi, and the current president of Iraq, al-Maliki), and has had every reason to believe that the ultimate result of the US occupation of Iraq will be an ally on their western border.

#65 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:34 AM:

Andrew Sullivan makes the point that war with Iran is "now the principal policy objective of the neocon right". Given that George and Co. handed foreign policy to the neocons, and that McInane looks to do the same, it looks to me as if the Republicans are going to push for war with Iran as the great distractor from the economic crisis.

#66 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:39 AM:

If we start hearing reports that mineclearing assets have been deployed to the Persian Gulf, we'll know something's up. The --only-- way the Iranians could close the Strait of Hormuz is by covertly mining the passages, probably with bottom sitting magnetic/pressure mines. Those things are cast iron b*tch*s to find or clear, and take a lot of time and specialized platforms and assets to accomplish.

Their surface units, SSM's and the bases they operate out of would be targeted on the first day, and if any of their 2-3 subs are operational they'll be hunted to destruction as well. That leaves mining, and the Iranians have a lot of mines.

#67 ::: Ursula L ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:47 AM:

The law that a war in Iran (and the war in Iraq) violates isn't (merely) international law, it's the US Constitution. Only Congress can declare war, and Congress has not (and probably will not) do so. To the extent that a military oath includes upholding the Constitution, that has to include not going to war without the proper Constitutional authorization.

And even if "preemptive self defense" is authorized by international law, a war based on lies isn't. The lies that led to Iraq were painfully obvious (OBL and Saddam Hussein as allies? SH was the type of secular leader OBL was fighting against.)

A moral military can't be a blind puppet in a Constitutional system. There are checks and balances built into the Constitution, and if the military ignores that, it is ignoring the fundamental oath to uphold the Constitution.

#68 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:49 AM:

Tom S. @ 63

Wouldn't an "illegal order" be dependent on internal law as well as UN statutes?

And if so, then if the US Costitution gives the power to declare war only to Congress, isn't being ordered to invade Iran in a war Congress hasn't authorized unconstitutional and therefore illegal?


Yes, I know this is a technicality, given the history of police actions, military observers, and so forth...

#69 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:50 AM:

I'm currently reading Modesty Blaise novel Sabre-tooth, from 1966. Her mission: to infiltrate a proposed coup to seize Kuweit for its rather sizeable oil reserves.

#70 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 11:03 AM:

There are checks and balances built into the Constitution, and if the military ignores that, it is ignoring the fundamental oath to uphold the Constitution.

The president and vice president broke their oaths almost as soon as they got off the podium. Congress has been ignoring theirs for several years. The courts have been going along with such behavior (even in the recent decisions). Why should the military be different?

(Sorry, I am so tired of people who think oaths are jsut words, and there are way too many of them in our government right now.)

#71 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 11:26 AM:

*coming out from under the bed*

There are, I believe, two pretty clear deterrents to the US bombing Iran. (I agree with whoever said upthread that any attack we might mount would have to be an air attack.) The first is that Iran, if attacked by us, would immediately bomb Israel. The second -- already mentioned -- is what a US attack would do to the global oil market and, by extension, to the US economy. I think even the Bushies can see how economically disastrous an attack on Iran might be.

"But you're part of this world! Aren't you?"

#72 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 11:39 AM:

Micah (51), they may not stop us invading one country, but they have to take it a lot more seriously if we invade two.

Total (59), I can imagine an air assault. We don't have the resources to fight a war in Iran, but if we nail their hydroelectric system, they'll be in real trouble. They've already been buying power from all their neighbors except Iraq, and they have no surplus of water.

I see no reason to believe we wouldn't do it. We deliberately destroyed Iraq's civilian water and irrigation systems -- for which everyone responsible will undoubtedly rot in hell, unless they do major penance and make reparations.

Tom S. (63), where's the self-defense?

#73 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 11:43 AM:

where's the self-defense?

They've been working hard on establishing it according to the "He was going to hit me first!" doctrine.

#74 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 11:57 AM:
The history of warfare is similarly subdivided, though here the phases are Retribution, Anticipation, and Diplomacy -- Thus Retribution: 'I am going to kill you because you killed my brother,' Anticipation: 'I am going to kill you because I killed your brother,' and Diplomacy: 'I am going to kill my brother and then kill you on the pretext that your brother did it.'

-- Douglas Adams, The Hitchhicker Guide to the Galaxy

#75 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 12:01 PM:

Gah. "Hitch-Hiker's".

#76 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 12:48 PM:

I don't know why his hapless lackwit supporters keep defending him.

I've always found the imprinting hypothesis persuasive - a la Konrad Lorenz, with Bush as the yellow ball and 9/11 as the trauma of hatching, or something. A sizable proportion of them do seem to be binred billhilly fumbducks, too, apologising in advance to anyone here from an Appalachian background.

Lizzie@71: The first is that Iran, if attacked by us, would immediately bomb Israel.

Well, they've got some missiles, but it probably wouldn't be anything Israel couldn't handle with a few nights in the shelters. I worry more about the Israelis trying it themselves if they can't get Bush to do it for them, that could be messy, and they're about to reelect that charming Netanyahu chap apparently, he's a bundle of fun.

Teresa@72: I can imagine an air assault. We don't have the resources to fight a war in Iran, but if we nail their hydroelectric system, they'll be in real trouble. They've already been buying power from all their neighbors except Iraq, and they have no surplus of water.

Sounds like potential for televised civilian death on a large scale there, hopefully subgenocidal but they might want to think about the PR effects seeing as they've been talking a lot about rescuing the Iranian people from the eeevil mullah regime.

#77 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 12:49 PM:

The neocons have long been convinced the reality doesn't apply to them; they make their own reality by acting.

There's no reason to suppose that they've changed their minds on that score.

Meanwhile, I bet the guy who wrote The End of History is feeling foolish right about now.

#78 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 12:51 PM:

Serge @ 56: "Monaco invades Belgium!"

That's Monocle invades Belgium.

#79 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:04 PM:

#76
And taking out their hydroelectric system is so likely to get them to throw out the eevil mullahs, isn't it. /snark

Not to mention that using anything other than conventional explosives will make everyone downwind extremely sick, if not dead, and that isn't exactly going to help us or any future chances of democracy in the middle east.

#80 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:10 PM:

Jim @77: Fukuyama recanted a couple of years ago, donned sackcloth and ashes, and denounced the neocons. A day late and a dollar short, but at least he wised up in the end.

Apropos Iran, everything I've read on the subject suggests that the only reason they haven't had a democratic secular revolution in the past eight years is squatting in the White House, counting down his days. There's nothing like fear of large-scale terrorist atrocities to rally support for the reactionary nationist right-wingers, after all ...

#81 ::: martyn44 ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:15 PM:

The rest of the 'civilised' world isn't stopping you because, militarily, we can't, and we've just seen yet another vivid demonstration of the American liking for pre-emptive strikes. Then we have very real, vivid and painful memories of what war on our doorstep is like. America, however, appears to regard a very minor incident (by comparison with much of her own activity elsewhere in the 20th Century) as the end of the world as we know it.

Then we have the nonstop policy dancing required to cope with the consequences of your economic lunacy. The largesty private sector employer round here is in the painful process of going tits up because of your carpet baggers' super bright sub-prime idea. Well, I expect the fact that we are no longer in debt to the government of the USA will weigh heavily in Downing Street the next time the White House decides to get frisky.

As for economic warfare, as has been pointed out that is a no-win game of Russian roulette, but why should we bother? You're doing a bang up job of destroying the American economy. All your enemies need to do is stand back and watch. It might not be quick to those with MTV attention spans but the long view - to the Chinese at least - is somewhat longer than next week, or even the next election.

By the way, we're not your enemies and most of us would rather like to be friends, even if we'd like a promise of good behaviour in the sandbox.

#82 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:16 PM:

Part of the problem, as Jim notes, is that Bush and Cheney don't make plans with what we'd consider normal tactical concerns. They aren't interested in outcomes much. They do prefer that not a lot of Americans die visibly. They also prefer that as many "enemies" as possible die miserably or suffer horribly, and this takes priority over things like the governability of conquered territory or the desire to subdue rather than arouse the enemy. The displayed priorities in Iraq made no sense, and seldom make much now. (Insofar as they do, it's almost all the work of folks further down the food chain, who may well get yanked off the job for anything sensible.) An attack on Iran needn't make any military sense to be launched, either.

#83 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:17 PM:

Opening military discretion to that extent would undermine the entire concept of civil control of the military. Allowing the military to opt out of a conflict it doesn't want leads to a disconcerting slipppery slope in which the military leadership gets to pick and choose the wars it supports and thus control the nation's foreign policy to an unprecedented degree. I think we can all agree that we don't want that, right?

Don't see why not. I mean, the outcome here is that the military won't wage wars that the government likes and the military doesn't. We're not suggesting that the military would wage wars that the government didn't like but the military did. So: fewer wars.

#84 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 01:41 PM:

The US military leadership only needs the facade of a reasonable excuse to follow the civilian leadership into war. They bought into the invasion of Iraq when their own military intelligence questioned the whole "mushroom cloud" as well as the "hidden WMD" story, but as long as the White House didn't say that there were 8 legged beasts from Venus in Iraq as the reason, they were ok with it.

#85 ::: Randolph ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 02:41 PM:

...sigh...sigh...I regret writing that...

The Joint Chiefs, having had the experience of Iraq, are probably going to try very hard not to invade Iran. The question, I think, is how hard?

Ursula L, #67: "Only Congress can declare war". In theory. In practice, Congress has delegated that authority fairly extensively, and historically the Courts have accepted that. So if it came down to a court case, who can say?

#86 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 02:47 PM:

Adrian at 76, I appreciate your response; I was under the impression that Iran had a much greater missile capacity than you suggest. You are right; Israel can probably handle it.

marytn44 at 81; The largest private sector employer round here is in the painful process of going tits up because of your carpet baggers' super bright sub-prime idea. Yeah, sucks to be you. Sucks to be us, too -- those of us who aren't wealthy and well-connected corporatists, anyway. Which is most of us. Believe me, we -- the we that is 98% of us -- are not having any fun.

#87 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 02:55 PM:

Why, yes, Adrian, you are talking about my people there, when you mention hillbillies. Please bear in mind it's not being hillbillies that's the problem, because there are people like that everywhere--see various comments that have been made over the years about William Faulkner's creation, the Snopes family.
The problem is a sort of desperate closed-mindedness, as if any new thoughts, new ideas, new items, new people are such dangerous things that they can destroy everything one loves, simply by existing in close proximity. Some people are this way naturally, some are raised to be that way, and others (almost any of us, really) can be driven to it by fear, if the fear is great enough. Remember the studies that showed how much authoritarian conservatism was linked to fear and anxiety? That's the problem, there--not where people were born and raised, or whether or not their parents or grandparents might have been cousins. If we succumb to the assumption that it's isolated in a single area or ethnic group, we lose the chance to take on the problematic behavior and deal with its effects.

(When the GOP manages to alienate potential political allies through displays of foolish and disgusting prejudice, it's stupid of them. What is it when liberals do the same thing?)

Bush/Cheney's hard core of public support consists largely, at this point, of fearful people, including people who bluster loudly in order to hide just how fearful they are, and of people who are somehow emotionally wired so that they cannot accept anything else than the equivalent of the Victory March down the Champs-Elysées in 1944, Mussolini's corpse hanging up upside down, Hitler's suicide, and Admiral Dönitz and Foreign Minister Shigemitsu creeping forward to sign surrender papers as evidence of their country's, and therefore their own, effectiveness in the world*. There's a mindset out there, and not just in the US, although we have a large supply, that cannot equate calling it a day, declaring victory, and going home as acceptable. We must win. It is essential to win. We can never look weak. When asked to explain what winning looks like, these people will have extreme difficulty doing so--either they can't come up with anything coherent, or else what they do manage is so unrealistic that one finds oneself adding "and a pony, too!" under one's breath. They do know we have to win, though, because if we don't win--Bad Things Happen. (Insert the appropraite parts of Bill Murray's speech to the Mayor of New York in Ghostbusters for the Bad Things.)**
The best way to deal with these irrationalities is to confront them, and pick their inconsistencies and follies apart. For some who were in the neoconservative camp (see Fukuyama and Sullivan), actual events have been unsettling enough; for others, self-destruction through embarassment has done the trick--where is Paul Wolfowitz these days, anyway?. If the US press did its job consistently, instead of enabling the folly, more of the fools in high places would have been shaken out by now.

But, as John Rogers' friend Tyrone has memorably observed, the Crazification Factor must be allowed for. Our problem is to separate out the people who are merely confused, so that they may perhaps be rescued from the rest.

Just remember--the people who make up the 27% mentioned as the Carzified are everywhere, and from every background.

*Someone else can speculate on whether Dick Chensy's doctors felt his heart condition was good enough for a Viagra prescription.

**For some of these people, the pictures of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the stautes of Lenin & Co. being pulled down from their pedestals, and the rest were just teasers--the end of the Cold War was a little flat. Without an American army marching past the old May Day Parade reviewing stands, it wasn't quite good enough. There's Crazification for you!

#88 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 02:56 PM:

I don't think the US can claim to be part of the civilized world these days. Neither can Iraq.

Iraq was indeed the birthplace of civilization. Evanston, IL, was the birthplace of me, but I'm not there now. No sane person could possibly claim that Iraq is civilized (in the sense of having civil society) as things now stand. Even Iran, much as I abhor them, has a better claim to that label.

#89 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 03:22 PM:

I agree, Xopher. I'm not happy when I hear, for instance, that yet another British or Australian friend has decided it's not worth the hassle or risk to travel here for business, research, or pleasure. But I agree with them. This isn't like Germany in 1931; this is like Germany in 1942 or '43, with the war underway. There isn't the calculated genocide, but there is a degree of class warfare that's ahead of almost everything this side of the Ukrainian slaughters of the '30s. (And when it comes to New Orleans, the gap between Bush's US and Stalin's USSR of the early '30s narrowed to right about zero.)

In a better world, there'd be the multinational structures to fence off the US better, and to oversee its reconstruction as a republic. We're in better shape that way than, say, Lithuania in 1989, but we are so far short of basic standards of electoral accountability, and so short of any effective opposition.

*sigh*

#90 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 03:22 PM:

The most plausible way I could see an attack happening is if Bush and his advisors are convinced that an attack on Iran is necessary for US security, and is also politically impossible. Then, they might decide it's better to launch the strikes now, having nothing to lose politically. This is especially true if the Republicans have already lost or are obviously getting ready to lose the election.

It would have to be air and missile strikes, not occupation, right? If we could hit only nuclear sites, with minimal damage otherwise, we might avoid a larger war, though we'd probably see our position in Iraq turn to sh-t in a hurry, and I don't see how we could be sure it wouldn't expand into a larger war by, say, Iran mining the harbor now or later, or giving us some sort of other nasty surprise. And in the worst case, I can imagine effective retaliation here at home. (Of course, if we blow up a building in Iran with a cruise missile, it's war; if they blow up a building here with a truck bomb, it's terrorism. Who could fail to see the large, important moral differences between these two acts?)

#91 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 04:01 PM:

Teresa asked:
"What I’d really like to know is why the civilized world hasn’t stopped us."

Look: when you're dealing with a (potential) lunatic armed with thousands of nuclear warheads... you don't pick a fight with him. That would be too dangerous.

Instead you dig a very deep pit with pointy stakes at the bottom, cover it with twigs and leaves... and try to (very gently) persuade him to walk across.

In practical terms, this means other nations will subtly attempt to persuade the U.S. government to overreach to its breaking point.

So what precisely would said "overreaching" be? Make an educated guess...

#92 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 04:02 PM:

albatross, it cannot be occupation; we haven't the troops.

A friend of mine's only son is in Baghdad; he was just Medevac'd to hospital -- roadside bomb, concussion, no other wounds. They're keeping him -- planning to send him back out there, let him get blown up again, only worse.

F*ck them. We should be in the streets. Why are we not in the streets? Because there's no draft.

#93 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 04:15 PM:

Lizzy @ 92

We are not in the streets because it doesn't work, anymore. There were huge rallies at the beginning of this war, and the Bush administration simply shrugged them off. Campaigning is probably the winning strategy. I freeze up when doorknocking, though, so I'm not much good. Envelopes. I should find myself a position where I can stuff envelopes. I stuff a mean envelope.

#94 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 04:26 PM:

Lyddy #93: In the rampup to the war in Iraq, what I remember is seeing a lot of people on the streets (in Durham, NC) with my eyes, but almost no coverage of it on TV. It was kind-of striking.

Along with masterful media manipulation, Bush understood that he had the backing of enough of the nation that he could carry out the war. He and his administration also appear to have ignored a lot advice that suggested this was going to be much harder than it looked. All that would have been fine, had the war turned out better. (And now, apparently, it's not nearly as bad as it was a couple years ago, though turning this into a success requires a massive exercise in goalpost-moving.)

#95 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 04:48 PM:

Democracy Now would probably report street riots, but not enough people would listen to matter; it would be more along the lines of preaching to the choir at that point.

#96 ::: Matt Austern ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 05:11 PM:

Look on the bright side. Before the neocons fixated on bombing Iran, they were spoiling for a Cold War with China. Some of them clearly still are.

As disastrous as a US attack on Iran would be, we should be glad that it's distracting the neocons away from things that would be even worse.

#97 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 05:28 PM:

Instead of civilized, I prefer Thomas Barnett's classification of Integrated Core vs Non-Integrating Gap countries (Core vs Gap)*. Under those definitions, I'd make the argument that Iran is a disconnected, non-itegrated Gap country.

P.S. Nice article in this month's NatGeo on Iran.

----------
*If you've never listened to it, check out his TED talk from 2005. I was totally riveted and have been keeping up with his work since then. If you don't want to listen to the talk, try his book pitch for Pentagon's New Map.

#98 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 05:31 PM:

We should be in the streets. Why are we not in the streets? Because there's no draft.

I talked about this with a friend of mine recently. Essentially, I'm not willing to have that bluff called. I'm not willing to bet my brother, my boyfriend, and my male friends on the idea that if there's a draft, people will rise up sufficiently to stop the war.

First of all, others in the thread are correct -- people were in the streets and it was ignored. I am unconvinced that even massive street riots would have the slightest effect on the Bush administration's plans. They would most likely say "Yay draft, now we can invade Iran!"

Second, even assuming that sufficiently massive protests would stop the warmongering -- how long did it take in Vietnam before public opinion actually pushed the U.S. out of the war? How many people died in the meantime because of the draft?

To me, it's the same logic as voting McCain to protest Obama being insufficiently progressive -- the idea is if you make the public SUPER unhappy by pushing things very far right, they'll break left. This works in electrophysiology and is known as an anode break. I do not think it works in politics.

#99 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 05:44 PM:

I seriously think that the problem is an alternate reality existing among the Washington political class. By that I mean a different consensus reality, not another dimension, but I do mean to imply a profound difference in perceptions about what is real, what is moral, what constitutes an appropriate action, what past actions of the US have been successes or failures, what capabilities the US possesses, what the American people want, and so on.

If it sounds a little implausible that a geographic region could have such a distinct view of reality, think about the obvious differences in consensus reality between, say, conservative areas of Texas and the San Francisco Bay Area. Things that are obviously true in one to the point of hardly being worth mentioning are obviously wrong in the other; you'll find dissenters in both places, but they'll be stating their case against what "everybody knows".

So, in Washington, Iraq was a serious threat to the US, and US security required some action against Iraq. This was their background understanding of the world, a bipartisan understanding, and in arguing against it you had to battle local consensus reality. This despite the fact that to most people in the rest of the country, prior to the media blitz selling the war - and I think this was true in red states just as much as blue - Iraq was just another country on the other side of the planet of no relevance at all to the US, no more likely to pose a threat than Sweden.

Unfortunately the ignorance about Iraq in general meant that when the government and media went into their full sales pitch for the war, a lot of trusting Republicans (and not a few Democrats who dismissed the possibility that their representatives and media could be lying to them) were able to be sold - for a while - on the Washington version of reality, or one small part of it. Thing is, I think a fair number of those Washington media & political types were not lying, they were just living on another planet.

The same, I think, is true of Iran today, and I think the exact same danger exists, and so despite the fact that attacking Iran seems like the height of insanity to the rest of us who know anything about it, not to mention impossible or extremely inadvisable given the military commitment in Iraq and the size & territory of Iran, not to mention completely immoral and disgusting, to those inside the Washington consensus reality Iran poses a vital threat to the US, and attacking them is an entirely plausible choice, just an alternative to diplomacy should that fail. That's their reality and that background is why McCain felt entirely comfortable singing a little song about bombing Iran: because All Sensible People know that that's something we probably Have To Do.

(Just like all sensible people know that Social Security needs to be fixed. Evidence to the contrary can't shift a consensus view held for 25 years.)

#100 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 05:49 PM:

I'm wondering if the almost subliminal rumblings about invasion of Iran aren't some clever distraction from something else. With luck it's only the smokescreen for the retreat from the White House.

#101 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 06:23 PM:

Well, if this bunch wants to try something, odds are it won't involve nukes.

One of those interesting little details of nuclear command and control is the two man rule. which covers everything up to and including presidential decisions. Unless there is sufficient urgency to require an emergency war order, President Bush needs SecDef Gates' explicit concurrence for the use of nuclear weapons or JCS will not accept the order, period. It's not a matter of refusing the order of a superior, it is strictly following the standing orders that have been in place since the early 1960's.

Currently Gates and the JCS Chairman appear to be some of the principal opponents to attacking Iran at this time. Also, Gates tends to be a real stickler on command and control issues. The last time somebody significantly violated nuclear custody rules was the B-52 flight from Minot to Barksdale last year. After that everybody from the team that handled the weapons at Minot up the chain to the AF Chief of Staff and Secretary of the Air Force either had their careers ruined or were fired outright. (It makes one wish for that kind of enforcement of the law of land warfare, but that is a different topic. Maybe.) That tends to send a very clear message in the military.

Now conventional weapons are a different question. News releases like this one help feed the rumors that a small number of prototype Big BLUs are ready to go.

#102 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 06:32 PM:

Matt Austern @ 96

When you're sitting on the epicenter, the difference between Richter 7.5 and Richter 8 is hard to see.

Lydy Nickerson @ 93

I have to disagree with you and agree with Lizzy L. The differences between the situation now and that during the Vietnam War are

1. There is no draft now, so many fewer people have gotten worked up enouch about the war to want immediate change. Remember that for every person marching there are typically ten people who share the opinions but arent' willing to march.

2. The media covers demonstrations selectively. This helped get the war going with a seeming consensue; what the media would do now is anyone's guess.

3. A lot of people are expecting Obama to get elected and wave a magic wand to end the war. They should expect the pony first; even if he keeps all his promises and nothing changes between now and then, it'll be a minimum of 16 months before the drawdown is complete. And if Bushco attacks Iran before leaving office I don't think Obama gets to make that drawdown anyway.

To all my non-US friends:

If it wasn't obvious before, I have to say now that I am deeply ashamed of the things the US government has had my country do in the last 8 years. That's not a position I like to be in; I love my country; for all its warts it has (or at least had) great potential to help make the world a better place. But potential isn't what makes things better, it's well-intentioned, well-considered acts that make a difference, and those have been very thin on the ground here lately. I just hope to hell that we can start to correct some of the insanity that's been perpetrated.

#103 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 06:38 PM:

albtross@90

The most likely way I can see an attack happening is if Bush and his key advisors are convinced that bombing Iran will result in a popular uprising in Iran that sweeps in a pro-American government.

(Yes, thinking this would be utterly insane. But if I recall correctly, according to an article by Hersh some months back, this is precisely what administration hawks do believe.)

(However, there probably won't be an attack unless Bush is SURE that everything will turn out well. Brother Jeb still has presidential ambitions and things going badly would likely kill them.)

#104 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 07:03 PM:

Bruce Baugh #89: I know people of strongly Tory viewpoint who will not cross the Atlantic to enter the US simply because of bad experiences with US Customs and/or TSA.

#105 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 07:51 PM:

pedantic peasant @ 10:

I first heard the Iran story on Countdown with Olberman, and all I could think of was Polk and the Mexican American war.

Then with your post, the Bay of Pigs.

[Still Waiting for the inevitable comparison to the Gulf of Tonkin]

#106 ::: Stephen Frug ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 08:10 PM:

Seconding some things said above:

* I think that the main reason the rest of the world hasn't tried to stop us -- not in the war sense (they ain't crazy by and large), or even the economic sense necessarily, but started treating us diplomatically and publicly as a threat -- is that they hope it's an aberration which will end in January. If we are stupid and immoral enough to elected McCain, then I presume that there will be a more open rupture.

* As a few have said, in reply to Charles Stross: I think the real threat is an (air) attack after the election if Obama wins. When they think they have nothing left to loose. (I suspect that an October surprise, with some trumped-up cause, is less likely but in the consideration set. Also probably less likely but in the mix is giving Israel the green light, letting Iran counter-strike, and then getting us drawn in that way.)

* A draft would give them a much bigger military to start more wars with... which might then be opposed more strongly, but too late. The last thing we need to do is to hand these lunatics (by which I mean not only the Republicans, although mostly them, but the entire consensus political establishment) more soldiers. If your interest is in stopping wars, a draft is a very bad idea. (Even aside from its being, at least in my view, immoral.) I'd suggest instead (although admittedly it's unlikely (although that's because it really would make war less possible and our political class would hate that)) trying to A) end stop-loss; B) create some sort of non-military core with the same benefits that people with few other options could join instead of the military.

SF

#107 ::: Sylvia ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 08:29 PM:

Sorry, I think Nancy is being hard done by.

"What I’d really like to know is why the civilized world hasn’t stopped us. If this misbehavior of ours goes on much longer, they’re going to have to stop us for their own sake, not just out of abstract justice."

On first read, I presumed TNH meant "nations in the UN" but upon reflection I can't justify that. But by definition, civilized world in this context does not appear to refer to Iran or Iraq. You certainly can't accuse either of tolerating US behaviour.

I'm loathe to try to guess what was initially meant by the phrase civilized world but I don't think it's fair to imply that Nancy changed the reference.

#108 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 09:52 PM:

John L @ 84:

as long as the White House didn't say that there were 8 legged beasts from Venus in Iraq as the reason, they [the US Military] were ok with it.

Now that's not fair ... Given past history, there's no way to know for sure if they'd believe it or not ...

#109 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:00 PM:

Teresa --

The civilized world -- at least as it is defining itself -- is stopping you. It just has to employ indirect approaches, which are slow.

All that defense spending rests on a tax base that's dependent on a financial system that is, pretty clearly, being walked off a cliff.

There are indications that there's some searching going on for the highest available cliff, too, or at least some precision in timing. And yes, this depends on the greedy idiots with no capacity for long term thinking, but the idiots are being carefully enabled by central bankers.

Central bankers who are quite probably going to pull the rug at some interesting future point,and all of whom belong to cultures that have not lost the idea that you have to actually make other people better off to maintain power over generational time.

I have a bet with myself about what the objective is; it almost has to be a complete currency collapse in the US, but since the rising costs of transportation are pretty much guaranteed to force a major change in the global economy's fundamental organization in the relatively near future, I suspect that there's a carefully planned preferred successor economy or six out there. Finding out which one wins is going to be highly entertaining.

#110 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:01 PM:

Richard Brandt @ 105:

Still Waiting for the inevitable comparison to the Gulf of Tonkin

And now you've made it ...

Sylvia @ 107:

Sorry, I think Nancy is being hard done by.

But by definition, civilized world in this context does not appear to refer to Iran or Iraq. You certainly can't accuse either of tolerating US behaviour.

I'm loathe to try to guess what was initially meant by the phrase civilized world but I don't think it's fair to imply that Nancy changed the reference.

I said as much back @ #8, and Teresa did the same in #15, but it seems not everyone has caught up.

It was, unlikely as it seems at this site, an unfortunate choice of words that was lost in the initial post, but got highlighted (and unfortunately miscredited as originating with Nancy) when placed in a "shorter" context.


#111 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:23 PM:

Graydon @ 109

For some values of entertaining.

(My retirement plans are looking more and more like a guy in a black robe with a scythe. I suspect a lot of us will be retiring that way, whether we want to or not.)

#112 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:41 PM:

P J Evans --

Y'all get serious about political struggle, it can still turn out well. It's just that "serious" involves recognizing that it's a fight over what constitutes legitimacy in the exercise of public power, that the US has never had a very solid version of that, and that this lot are directly descended from Prohibition (when lots of people started viewing the central power as seriously illegitimate), the CSA (ditto), and the current corporate profit-as-objective culture (ditto again; anything that tells them they can't do what they want can't possibly be legit).

It is always easier to raid than to trade; trading requires letting the other party say no, it's a much, much more complex problem. It's better to trade, but trade guarantees that your social pre-eminence is transitory. (You can very readily do quite well forever, but unless you cheat, market dominance is very hard to maintain over generational time.) That transitory social pre-eminence isn't acceptable to folks with aristocratic delusions, so they start building cheating into the system, and it eventually falls over, having been rendering a worse and worse model of what's actually going on.

Note that the whole forced-market-access-with-threat-of-carriers/bombing thing that gets called "free trade" is much closer to 'raid' than actual 'trade'; it's a disease of empire and has the gods-awful splat built into it. (The correlation between the severity/duration of the splat and the degree of social stratification in the culture is instructive, too.)

But, anyway, yeah, no, don't expect to retire unless you participate in wresting the definition of legitimacy back from the looters and the pillagers and onto some notion of the common weal.

#113 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:45 PM:

For all those who thought that my comment about the draft means that I want one -- good god, no. I don't. But if we had had a draft for the last 5 years, I think we'd be looking at the end of the war in Iraq about now, instead of (god willing) in 18 months.

Graydon, you really think there are central bankers out there pulling financial strings? The gnomes of Zurich are alive and well, and they're going to start calling in the debt any day now? Um... maybe.

BTW, I've been told that Thomas Frank's new book about conservative theory of government, titled The Wrecking Crew, is a terrific read. I don't have the stomach for it, I'm afraid.

#114 ::: Jim Satterfield ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 10:45 PM:

Why, yes, the mullahs are evil. Or have you forgotten this incident, which by most accounts is just one of many?

Sorry, but while the idea of attacking Iran could only be adequately described with every word in the dictionary that is a synonym for insane let's not go overboard. Whatever the typical Iranian citizen might be like, the mullahs, the Revolutionary Guard and their ilk are not particularly civilized. Just ask the relatives of those boys and all the others like them.

#115 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 11:03 PM:

Lizzy --

The "gnomes of Zurich" weren't central bankers; central bankers have a government if not behind them than at least on call.

Private investors stopped buying US Treasuries -- US public debt -- some years ago now, during W's first term; this has been widely remarked on by numerous sources. (Both Krugman and De Long have written blog posts about it, for example.)

The primary purchasers of US dept are East Asian economies, notably China and Japan, Europe (to a rapidly decreasing extent as their eastern frontier has expanded), and the various OPEC members in the Middle East.

(Saudi has been using threat of economic disruption by politically directed wealth for years, too. It's also about asymmetric costs; the House of Saud can afford to take the loss if it comes to it, and no US administration has been willing to eat the recession.)

Do you really think it's at all farfetched that China, for example, can't see the writing on the wall about the approximate time at which it must start developing internal markets? That their contingency plan for this is not calculated on benefiting the US whatsoever? (They have, rightly, never forgiven you for backing the landlords after the Great Pacific War.)

They may get it wrong; they may be having bad-model delusions of their own. But it's also at least quite possible that they think burning their dollar-denominated currency reserves is entirely worth it if it gets the USN down to 4 (or no) in-service CVBGs because you just can't afford the imperial navy any more.

#116 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 11:09 PM:

Lest we forget, civilization is not about violence or the lack thereof; it's about complexity and culture and sophistication.

Personally, I think that the part of the civilized world best placed to put a brake on the neocons is the other 85% of the United States of America. And they're going to get a chance to do just that in about three months' time. If they manage to steal this election, then it's time to start thinking about rest-of-world solutions.

#117 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: August 04, 2008, 11:17 PM:

>RE: Iran. While we did invade Iraq with just over 3 divisions' worth of troops, the terrain there is ideal for the USArmy's doctrine of maneuver warfare. Iran, not so much. Not only is Iran much larger, it's also more rugged and the critical areas aren't easily reached through the more logical invasion routes we'd use.

Again, look at the basic geography. Redefine the critical areas as "where the oil" is rather than "where the people and military are" and you have a small flat area that can be supplied by coastal area. In terms of closing off Hormuz - if the U.S. grabs the oil then they can also cut off Iran from its oil supply. Bombing is aimed at civilian infrastructure - further destruction of oil infrastructure and electricity (including nuclear electricity infrastructure) and water, and sewage supply. At that point Iran is under a state of siege; their remaining oil will run out in 90 days. They can cut off Hormuz for a time, until they run out of missiles. (Maybe they can plant mines, but they have to get past the U.S. navy to do this. Where does the U.S. get the troops? Given our administration's priorities it pulls them out of Afghanistan. Also I'm not convinced Brown is different enough from lapdog Blair not put British troops in once push comes to shove.)

#118 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 12:20 AM:

Gar: (1) I'd love to see "Iran under a state of siege" ... once the huge consequential shi'ite uprising in Iraq kicks off (probably in parallel with Hezbollah in Lebanon). And (2) Gordon Brown appears to be backing away slowly while muttering "nice doggie"; the British Army is at such overstretch that they're pretty much panicking over losing in Afghanistan, and they're certainly not up to supplying troops to an unpopular adventure in Iran (especially when they're staring down the barrel of an on-coming electoral wipe-out in 2010).

#119 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:31 AM:

Why, yes, the mullahs are evil. Or have you forgotten this incident, which by most accounts is just one of many?

If this is directed at me, you'll notice I used the term "eeevil", which is meant to indicate my perception of the attitude of those doing the accusing, not the spotless innocence of Iran's beardies-in-chief.

I don't much hold with executing educationally subnormal black folks out of sight either, even if they are old enough to vote.

#120 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:00 AM:

fidelio@87: When the GOP manages to alienate potential political allies through displays of foolish and disgusting prejudice, it's stupid of them. What is it when liberals do the same thing?

I think you'd have your work cut out for you getting significant numbers of that bunch to vote Democrat, foolish and disgusting though it may be to admit it. Joe Bageant has written some interesting stuff about what it would take to get his people (Scots-Irish crackers, IIRC) to switch, FWIW. Maybe one for 2020. This time, sounds like a mighty load of them think Obama's out to make every last one of them personally atone for slavery as soon as he gets in.

#121 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:28 AM:

Jim Satterfield @ 114

Whatever the typical Iranian citizen might be like, the mullahs, the Revolutionary Guard and their ilk are not particularly civilized. Just ask the relatives of those boys and all the others like them.

I'd say that's not a bad description of the US for the last 8 years: a religious zealot government out of step with its people, ignoring civil rights internally, and reasonable foreign policy externally.

Gar Lipow @ 117

They can cut off Hormuz for a time, until they run out of missiles. (Maybe they can plant mines, but they have to get past the U.S. navy to do this.

You're ignoring the fact that there are two large countries with reasonably advanced military tech, including lots of anti-ship missiles, who really, really want Iran's oil, and don't want the US taking it: Russia and China. Even assuming they do nothing overt, they can certainly give Iran lots of weapons, and play merry hell if the US starts shooting at their transport. I doubt there is any scenario that involves US occupation of Iranian oil fields that won't start a nice little war that the US cannot win except by bombing Iran into the stone age, which, as I mentioned upthread, is guaranteed to result in needing more troops than the US has just to maintain its current footholds.

#122 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 03:17 AM:

Bruce Cohen, #102, here in DC the protests and marches are covered by the WashPost and the local TV news. That doesn't make any difference. Bush doesn't care what people want; he cares what he wants.

#123 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 03:41 AM:

Just how good is the US Navy's mine clearance ability these days?

(In 1990 it was, I gather, called the Royal Navy.)

#124 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 07:30 AM:

The USN has gotten fairly serious about mineclearing after various embarrassments involving the pesky little things in both Iraqi Wars and the Tanker War.

They've got an advanced class of non-metallic minesweepers with all the bells and whistles (RPV's, underwater cameras, etc), helicopters capable of towing minesweeping arrays, and minisubs that can detect mines.

Rumor has it they've also got dolphins trained to search, find and attach explosives to mines, but I've never seen an official mention of them.

Most of those assets, though, are designed to look for mines in shallow waters such as coastlines and harbors. The Strait of Hormuz is fairly deep, and I've no idea how effective any mineclearing would be in that area.

#125 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 08:28 AM:

Is a military which refuses some orders to attack the same thing as a military which is dangerously out of civilian control?

#97 ::: Lance Weber:

Thanks for the Core/Gap distinction. Does it imply that sanctions are a dangerous policy because they reduce connectivity?

#98 ::: Caroline:

This time around, if there were a draft it would probably include women.

#107 ::: Sylvia:

Thanks. See essay below.

#115 ::: Graydon:

Is foreign governments withdrawing their trust from the US economy a conspiracy to push a dangerous society over a cliff, or is it common sense and self-preservation? Is there an important difference?

About "civilized countries": I think it's still normal English to say "How could the Holocaust have happened in a civilized country?"

In this context, "civilized" doesn't mean refraining from conquest. WWI had happened, and WWII doesn't seem to be part of the standard.

I would say that, in addition to a reasonable level of internal peace, Germany's music, science, philosophy, and industry were a lot of what caused people to call it civilized.

Having cities is not part of the common usage. Places without cities are called rural or desolate, not uncivilized. And if people discover that VR and anything boxes leads to living well without cities, we won't call the result uncivilized.

Conquest is one of the things civilized countries attempt. I don't think people call Napoleon's France uncivilized.

I believe that the common use of "civilized" means a country above a certain level of wealth and organization which isn't killing large numbers of its own people. I'm not absolutely sure that this is a valuable category, but it does have the advantages of stigmatizing relatively rare and extremely disgraceful behavior.

#126 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 09:05 AM:

Adrian, although I am a hillbilly and not a cracker, I do have friends who can be described as such, and I'll thank you to lay off the use of the sort of generalized ethnic slams you wouldn't tolerate if they were applied to persons of color within your sight/hearing. If you read Joe Bageant with any care at all, he doesn't make many bones about the fact that we're not too stupid to notice such remarks and be offended by them--which doesn't help your coalition building very much. It's very hard to accept that your best interests lie in joining up with people who are determined to despise you for being what you are. I can be more blunt about the extent to which I find your comments along these lines both offensive and (in terms of political tactics) stupid, but I'm trying to live up to the local standards of civil and constructive discourse here.

#127 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 09:12 AM:

Charlie Stross @ 28: "There's a very simple reason why I suspect that BushCheneyCo will not attack Iran: Oil is currently close to $150 a barrel. What happens if they attack Iran? Is the price of oil going to fall? Or not? They're evil and mendacious, and I agree that they'd like to attack Iran, but right now an attack on Iran would be political suicide; it'd hand Obama the $10 gallon of gas as a stick to beat them. And a pony."

That depends on which goal is more important: maintaining political power in the United States, or making the most out of their oil fields? If the latter is more important, then $10/gallon gas might not be as much a political downside as a windfall profit--the oil they control in the ground will be worth four, five times as much without them having to break a nail.

Oil companies know they've only got so much oil in the ground. Once that's gone, they're more or less done--the industry will become marginalized as returns on investment shrink and shrink. The supply of oil is constant--the only way to increase profit is to increase price per barrel. From that point of view, a sudden contraction in the amount of oil available to the US isn't an apocalypse scenario. It's profit heaven. If Iran stops selling oil to the US, it just makes the oil that US companies already control that much more valuable. Besides, if they luck out and Iran is opened to American companies at some point, that's just that much more profit down the road.

There's another limiting factor too--alternative energy sources. The explosion of bio-ethanol technology must have them scared shitless that some genius is going to figure out how to make gasoline out of grass clippings and drop their per-barrel price into the gutter. They've got to sell as much oil as possible before bio-fuels take over. So raising the price now makes plenty of sense. Make the money now, while it's still there to be made. Sharp shocks to the price are the most profitable: adapting your lifestyle to conserve gas is notoriously slow, and until you can buy that hybrid, you're paying through the nose.

If they figure that the presidency is already lost, it'd be stupid not to attack Iran, from the oil exec's point of view.

#128 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 09:14 AM:

Nancy Lebovitz @ 36: "Iraq doesn't strike me as part of the civilized world. Not in the practical sense Teresa was implying, and not in a moral sense-- Iraqis are way too willing to arbitrarily kill other Iraqis."

As opposed to who, exactly? I haven’t noticed a categorical reluctance on the behalf of any ‘civilized’ society to kill other people with different ethnicities, religions, or political leanings than their own. I think the aftermath of Katrina should certainly have dispelled any illusions of such a quality in modern Americans, if the invasion hadn’t already done so.

John L @ 66: "The --only-- way the Iranians could close the Strait of Hormuz is by covertly mining the passages, probably with bottom sitting magnetic/pressure mines."

The scenario I’ve heard is for Iran to sink an oil tanker in a shallow part of the strait, blocking it to further traffic. Apparently the terrain on the Iran coast thereabouts would make it almost impossible to secure.

Charlie Stross @ 116: "Personally, I think that the part of the civilized world best placed to put a brake on the neocons is the other 85% of the United States of America."

Hear hear. Speaking as a member of the civilized world, I’ve been doing my best to stop us, but with less than stellar success. Still, there seem to be some signs of progress.

Adrian Smith @ 120: "I think you'd have your work cut out for you getting significant numbers of that bunch to vote Democrat, foolish and disgusting though it may be to admit it."

You think the only supporter you’re going to lose by trafficking in stupid knee-jerk racist stereotypes are the people you’re stereotyping? Speaking as someone who has no measurable relationship with Appalachian people or culture, I’m pretty turned off whatever point you’re trying to make simply on the basis that you’re being racist, period full stop--I don’t much care who your particular target is.

The point here is to be better than the Republican party, not their perfect inverse.

#129 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 10:08 AM:

John L @ 124

Rumor has it they've also got dolphins trained to search, find and attach explosives to mines, but I've never seen an official mention of them.

The US Navy has been trying to train dolphins for both minesweeper ad mine-placement tasks for years. I'd say they're inadvertently applying a practical intelligence test to the dolphins; if they'd rather play with each other other than with someone else's high explosive, they pass.

The point here is to be better than the Republican party, not their perfect inverse.

Necessarily so. In fact, one of my fears right now is that Barack Obama and his advisors, colleagues, and choices for appointment to high office will prove insufficiently different from the Republicans, so that they won't want to dismantle the siege engines that Bushco has surrounded the US Constitution with, and will continue many other tyrannical policies "because we need the power to fight $CURRENT_EXTERNAL_THREAT".

#130 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 10:10 AM:

I should attribute that second quote to heresiarch @ 128, so there's no chance of misattribution.

#131 ::: Total ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 10:19 AM:

TNH @ 72:

An air assault's possible, but the obvious Iranian reaction is to shut down the Gulf of Hormuz to shipping, which would cripple the world's oil production. They've been reminding everyone of that fact recently.

#132 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 10:24 AM:

Blocking the Strait of Hormuz with even a supertanker isn't exactly an easy scenario; the shipping channel is two miles wide and fairly deep. Patrol ships from several navies (including the USN) watch ships there carefully and any acting strangely would no doubt be investigated.

Should one actually sink in the narrowest area, I suspect we'd find out how much explosives it would take to completely destroy a supertanker fairly quickly.

#133 ::: Total ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 10:24 AM:

but the obvious Iranian reaction is to shut down the Gulf of Hormuz to shipping, which would cripple the world's oil production. They've been reminding everyone of that fact recently.

Which of course people had already mentioned. Oops.

#134 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 10:25 AM:

heresiarch #128:

Yep. I'd say that the sort of stereotyping and dismissing you're pointing out against Southern and Midwestern Evangelicals is pretty much the Democratic Party's answer to the Southern Strategy. Carefully thought out policies are nice, but identity politics work well for winning elections, if not for improving your country. And a necessary part of identity politics is defining who "them" is. Whether that's the rubes in flyover country or the blacks, that "them" is essential for getting identity politics to work.

As far as "civilized world," I took that to be about technology and wealth, not morals. The question is whether there will come a point where the rest of the rich, powerful countries come to fear us enough to worry about defending themselves against us. My guess is that never attacking or seriously threatening any of those countries is a pretty good way to avoid that. But if lots of first-world countries come to fear us enough, they damned well can have nukes and missiles and bioweapons and enough other stuff to make screwing with them expensive, very quickly. Countries that can mass produce computers and precision machinery can also do 1940s-era cutting edge technology.

If someone decides to try to take us down, it surely won't be a direct military attack, but rather a false-flag attack that cripples us and expends our retaliation on some unsavory but innocent country. One day, nukes go off in the financial districts of Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, and the isotope ratios point to North Korea as a likely source of at least some of the materials used.

I suspect that's vanishingly unlikely, because you, as an attacker, would have to be very damned sure we wouldn't figure out who was behind the attack, and they'd also have to believe that a global financial collapse, the environmental destruction involved in a nuclear exchange with some framed country, and the emergence of a poorer, less powerful, but still extremely well armed and dangerous country (another Russia on the world stage, perhaps) running on paranoia and rage would be worth it.

#135 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 10:43 AM:

Bruce #129:

There are two big reasons not to expect Obama to reverse direction on the antiterror powers of the president claimed post-9/11 by Bush:

a. Those extra powers are going to be in the hands of Obama. He presumably trusts himself to use great power, and may well be able to think of useful things to do with those powers, which he sees as worth doing.

Some of that is likely to be stuff we'd rather not see done. Will the Obama administration and the Democrats really be less likely to use the widespread surveillance of Americans for political gain than Bush and the Republicans were? I'd sure like to believe that. But the history of the Clinton administration's stance on surveillance, along with the FBI files scandal, doesn't encourage a lot of confidence.

b. Any terrorist attack will likely be blamed on the administration in power. If Obama turns off the widespread use of spying on Americans, and then some nutcase blows up another building and kills several hundred people, he's going to be held responsible by the public, media, and voters.

I keep thinking that this dynamic is part of why the current administration has been so gung ho on antiterror measures--he was in charge when the first attack hit, and so he pretty much could not afford to be seen as anything but fanatically devoted to fighting terrorism. Had he advocated a more measured response (putting a stop to torture and illegal wiretapping, urging careful consideration of the issues before passing the Patriot Act, etc.), the Democrats could have and would have attacked him for being weak on fighting terrorism, and they would definitely have used the fact that his administration failed to stop the attacks. By taking a harder line on antiterror policy than the Democrats would be willing to take, he could push them away from that as an issue.

#136 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 11:38 AM:

Call me squeamish, but even the very hypothetical discussion of ways that we could successfully invade Iran is making me deeply uncomfortable. I know that the people who are taking part in that conversation don't actually want what they're saying to happen, but the way it comes across to me reminds me of the Joker's line about how nobody panics when everything's going according to plan, even if the plan is horrifying. It's like as long as we have a good plan, invading would be just peachy.

Nancy #125: Does it imply that sanctions are a dangerous policy because they reduce connectivity?

Sanctions are a dangerous policy because they kill massive numbers of people in about the most horrific ways imaginable.

In general in this whole discussion I want to remind people, even though I'm sure no one's forgotten, that we're talking about the lives of millions of real live people who won't be real live people anymore if what we're talking about happens.

#137 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 11:46 AM:

I think everyone's in agreement that trying to invade Iran is a Bad Idea; it's much larger than either Iraq or Afghanistan, has more population, and not ideal terrain (neither does Afghanistan) for our ground forces. We don't have the men to fight wars in three different countries simultaneously either.

Bombing? Bomb what, where? The Iranians have been digging, and digging deep. No doubt some of those sites are decoys, and others underneath locations we would not want to bomb. Neither we nor the Israelis have the capability to hit everything with a 100% certainty it was destroyed, and anything less would just cement Iranian belief that they MUST get a nuclear weapon program to stop us from trying it again.

None of this precludes Bush & Co. thinking it would be a really great idea to bomb them, though.

#138 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 12:07 PM:

If Obama turns off the widespread use of spying on Americans, and then some nutcase blows up another building

Oh dear Ghu.
Look, what stops things like this is not widespread surveillance, it's investigation based on evidence. There was probably enough evidence, before OKC, to have picked up at least one of those guys; there was certainly enough that they could have brought in soem of the 9/11 hijackers (expired visas, at the least).

What widespread surveillance is most likely to do is keep people from trusting the government - they'll avoid reporting suspicious activities, because they'll end up being investigated too, even if they've never done anything. (Consider the stories about laptops and cameras being confiscated and their data copied for investigation, from people returning from trips abroad, no matter where they went or how long they were out of the country.)

#139 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 12:15 PM:

PJ Evans @138:

It doesn't matter that widespread surveillance doesn't stop these things. What matters is that there is a perception that it does, and the idea that any president that abandons it is "soft on terror". Then if something happens, he'll be blamed for having stopped surveillance.

This is CYA stuff, pure security theater. No relation to reality.

#140 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 12:19 PM:

Bruce Cohen @ 129: "In fact, one of my fears right now is that Barack Obama and his advisors, colleagues, and choices for appointment to high office will prove insufficiently different from the Republicans, so that they won't want to dismantle the siege engines that Bushco has surrounded the US Constitution with, and will continue many other tyrannical policies "because we need the power to fight $CURRENT_EXTERNAL_THREAT"."

Indeed--I consider forcing Obama to renounce and dismantle the security apparatus Bush built to be the number one priority and duty of the netroots come his inauguration. Withdrawal from Iraq and passing a national healthcare plan both have constituencies broad enough that I think they'll happen (in some form or another) no matter what, but the netroots are the only ones really concerned about repealing the massive increases in state power of the last seven years. It is something that only we are willing to fight for, and it is something that we must fight for.

albatross @ 134: "Yep. I'd say that the sort of stereotyping and dismissing you're pointing out against Southern and Midwestern Evangelicals is pretty much the Democratic Party's answer to the Southern Strategy. Carefully thought out policies are nice, but identity politics work well for winning elections, if not for improving your country. And a necessary part of identity politics is defining who "them" is. Whether that's the rubes in flyover country or the blacks, that "them" is essential for getting identity politics to work."

It seems to me that the "them" that has worked most effectively to unite Democrats are Bush, Cheney and their particular brand of nihilistic neo-conservatism, not the rubes in flyover country. As much as I hear Republicans telling me that all Democrats hate Christians/Southerners/rednecks/etc., I rarely encounter liberals of Adrian's sort--for every liberal I hear bemoaning the incorrigable stupidity of those jingoistic rednecks, I hear several who are busy figuring out the particular constellation of cultural and economic issues that is distorting their world view and how to bring them around to our point of view. (And I regularly hear liberals like fidelio saying, well, actually, I am one of those rednecks, and I vote Democrat--what does that do to your theory?) Democrats simply don't play identity politics with the same fervor and determination as Republicans.

#141 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 12:28 PM:

heresiarch@140

I would not want to underestimate the difficulty in passing any sort of reasonable national healthcare plan. I suspect it may actually be HARDER than getting substantial dismantlement of the security theater part of the security apparatus.

#142 ::: Lance Weber ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 12:32 PM:

Nancy Lebovitz @125: Does it imply that sanctions are a dangerous policy because they reduce connectivity?

Let me respond with Barnett's glossary entry on Disconnectedness:
"In this century, it is disconnectedness that defines danger. Disconnectedness allows bad actors to flourish by keeping entire societies detached from the global community and under their dictatorial control, or in the case of failed states, it allows dangerous transnational actors to exploit the resulting chaos to their own dangerous ends. Eradicating disconnectedness is the defining security task of our age, as well as a supreme moral cause in the cases of those who suffer it against their will. Just as important, however, by expanding the connectivity of globalization, we increase peace and prosperity planet-wide."

#143 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 12:36 PM:

Adrian, although I am a hillbilly and not a cracker, I do have friends who can be described as such, and I'll thank you to lay off the use of the sort of generalized ethnic slams you wouldn't tolerate if they were applied to persons of color within your sight/hearing.

Fair enough, I'll drop the terms, and I apologise for the first use, which was kind of gratuitous. But if the aforesaid persons of colour were voting for Bush in large numbers I might have a couple of generalisations to dispense all the same. When an oppressed group has been conned into getting behind the dominant one and enabling it, to the detriment of their own interests, effectively colluding in their own oppression, I reckon there comes a time when one might as well stop making excuses for people.

If you read Joe Bageant with any care at all, he doesn't make many bones about the fact that we're not too stupid to notice such remarks and be offended by them--which doesn't help your coalition building very much.

I thought he used the term himself, it's been a while. Maybe one of those reclamation of language things, never could get on with that stuff. And for a Brit resident in Japan, coalition building would be a little ambitious. I put my observations out here because there are people (like you) who may condescend to give them a good kicking if I'm wrong about something.

It's very hard to accept that your best interests lie in joining up with people who are determined to despise you for being what you are.

It's the behavior (voting for Bush) rather than the innermost essence I have a problem with. Hate the sin, love the sinner, as I believe they sometimes say in those parts.

I can be more blunt about the extent to which I find your comments along these lines both offensive and (in terms of political tactics) stupid, but I'm trying to live up to the local standards of civil and constructive discourse here.

Wouldn't want anyone to lose their vowels on my account.

#144 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:01 PM:

Nancy --

There's the rub. It comes down to how the thing is done, and with what timing, and it will with any timing retain the character of being plausibly deniable as economic necessity. (Which means anyone who wants to can lie about the motivations involved.)

On the subject of Iran, I do wish is was easier to repeatedly publically describe the fixated neocons publically as sore losers; they had bought and paid for the Shah, and greatly disliked the whole hostages thing. It still bothers them, and they still want to convert Tehran into smoking rubble and millions of dead to convey that opposing the spread of the empire's profits is a very bad idea. That's why those theocrats have power in Iran; enough people wanted to kick out the puppets of empire. Same as Cuba, really, despite the differing ideologies. The minions of the empire take it very personally and hold very long term grudges in ways that have nothing to do with their economic self-interest or any plausible goal of public policy.

#145 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:09 PM:

PJ #138:

You're preaching to the choir. But look, we've had seven years of fanatical preaching that we must all snap our fingers constantly[1], each time we walk down the street, to keep the elephants away. Lots and lots of people believe it. If you stand up, convince everyone this is foolishness, and then an elephant gets loose from the zoo and stomps someone flat, all those people will be convinced that you are to blame for getting the victim to stop snapping.

[1] Snapping to keep elephants away is something described in a couple WW2-themed alternative history books by Harry Turtledove. I'd never heard of this expression before that, but it fits perfectly.

#146 ::: John Mark Ockerbloom ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:10 PM:

"Indeed--I consider forcing Obama to renounce and dismantle the security apparatus Bush built to be the number one priority and duty of the netroots come his inauguration."

Indeed ditto. I still think that on this crucial issue, we'll be better off with Obama than with McCain, but Obama disappointed me greatly with his FISA vote. And I'm discouraged that while lots of "netroots" folks see the crucial issue of pulling the US away from elected (for now) dictatorship and back towards a republic, lots of other folks offline don't seem to see this.

Is anyone keeping a good list of folks in Congress who are standing up for constitutional limits, governmental openness, the Geneva conventions, and accountability? (And recording the specifics of what they do?) Because I'd like to take some effort to support them, whether they have a D or an R after their name. (The EFF and the ACLU are a couple of the groups that cover parts of this beat, but I'm not aware of either of them having current voting-record guides.)


#147 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:12 PM:

heresiarch@140: I rarely encounter liberals of Adrian's sort--for every liberal I hear bemoaning the incorrigable stupidity of those jingoistic rednecks, I hear several who are busy figuring out the particular constellation of cultural and economic issues that is distorting their world view and how to bring them around to our point of view.

Have they come up with anything? I did read Bageant's suggestions, ISTR it involved years if not decades of hard canvassing and social reintegration. And quite a lot of travelling - apparently liberals tend to move out of those areas for some reason.

And I regularly hear liberals like fidelio saying, well, actually, I am one of those rednecks, and I vote Democrat--what does that do to your theory?

Yeah, like I said "100.00000% of people from a redneck background vote for Bush every time".

I feel like *I'm* being stereotyped now. Probably an instructive experience, actually.

#148 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:12 PM:

Adrian Smith @ 143: "Fair enough, I'll drop the terms, and I apologise for the first use, which was kind of gratuitous."

No, it was not "kind of gratuitous." It was out-of-the-blue inflammatory stereotyping, which you knew when you used it. (A good rule of thumb here is when you feel the need to apologize to any actual people who might accidentally wander into your field of fire, you're trucking in fallacious stereotype.) I really can't imagine any good motivation for your comment--it reads like you were either looking to start a fight or get a pat on the back for being so risque.

"It's the behavior (voting for Bush) rather than the innermost essence I have a problem with. Hate the sin, love the sinner, as I believe they sometimes say in those parts."

A good way of communicating that sentiment is by saying something like "Goodness, those Appalachians vote for Bush a lot! I sure don't like that." Note how in the preceding example, you aren't accusing people you don't agree with of being ignorant sister-fuckers. It helps build trust. The turn of phrase you chose communicates more of a "hate the sin, note how it flows inexorably from the base nature of the sinner" approach.

#149 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:23 PM:

Adrian Smith @ 147: "Have they come up with anything? I did read Bageant's suggestions, ISTR it involved years if not decades of hard canvassing and social reintegration."

Oh, it's going to be hard, now is it? Hm--might as well not even try then.

"Yeah, like I said "100.00000% of people from a redneck background vote for Bush every time"."

Did I claim that you said that? Goodness, all these words suddenly appearing in my mouth--what to do with them all?

#150 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:35 PM:

heresiarch:
Back it off a little, will you? Apologies are hard. People do them poorly, even when they mean well.

And, as you can see, attacking someone for an inadequate apology doesn't usually result in a better one. It just pisses them off, and then where is this communications thingie that we all seem to value hereabouts?

Adrian Smith:
Your language and the breadth of your brush are distracting from, if not detracting from, your message. You might want to look to that.

And it's difficult to believe, but a good, categorical and unqualified apology actually garners one more respect.

All:
There's a lot of tension in this matter, as ethan pointed out so well at 136. Don't take it out on one another, please.

#151 ::: lalouve ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:36 PM:

I think everyone's in agreement that trying to invade Iran is a Bad Idea; it's much larger than either Iraq or Afghanistan, has more population, and not ideal terrain (neither does Afghanistan) for our ground forces. We don't have the men to fight wars in three different countries simultaneously either.

Also, it would be an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation, which, repulsive as their human rights record is, hasn't in fact attacked the US. It may be considered a bad idea for that reason, too.

#152 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:47 PM:

Adrian Smith--Thank you for plainly identifying yourself as a non-resident foreigner. It's helpful to have that on the record, in case any other hillbillies wander through here and wonder if they're being insulted (again) by a fellow American.

You are not, for the record, being stereotyped. You are being called down for using rude and insulting language that openly displays unpleasant prejudices. Regrettably for progressive American politics, such prejudices and such language are often heard from people who would be quick to describe themselves as liberals, with the result that their targets, instead of being giving any hope of having their concerns (which do indeed extend beyond race and religion) addressed, are given further reason to believe that the GOP is their only hope, despite the evidence to the contrary which is indeed apparent to them. Given the choice between people who will talk to you, instead of people who talk at you or about you...

However, heresiarch is right--you knew you were being rude. Please stop; you're not impressing anyone in a good way. Those of us who have to go out and build the necessary coalitions are not finding you helpful.

By the way, since you aren't from around here, so to speak, "hillbilly", "cracker", and "redneck" are not terms that would show 100% overlap on a Venn diagram. When you use them as if they did, the impression you make is one of ignorant arrogance, which may not be what you had in mind.

#153 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:48 PM:

heresiarch@148: No, it was not "kind of gratuitous." It was out-of-the-blue inflammatory stereotyping, which you knew when you used it.

"Kind of gratuitous" was understatement. It doesn't always work, though I live in hope that fidelio may have caught it.

I really can't imagine any good motivation for your comment--it reads like you were either looking to start a fight or get a pat on the back for being so risque.

I have trollish impulses sometimes, when I sense certain tensions in people's attitudes, certain resonances.

I can keep them under control most of the time.

A good way of communicating that sentiment is by saying something like "Goodness, those Appalachians vote for Bush a lot! I sure don't like that."

Bit...insipid, though, isn't it?

#154 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:52 PM:

abi @ 150... There's a lot of tension in this matter

The surprising thing is that it took so long for a political discussion to turn the way it did.

#155 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:54 PM:

Adrian Smith @153:
I have trollish impulses sometimes[...]I can keep them under control most of the time.

Try. Or better yet, succeed. Participation in this community is predicated on good faith.

Bit...insipid, though, isn't it?

If it's boring, may I suggest recasting it in verse?

#156 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 01:55 PM:

Why, yes, it is insipid, which makes the potential for sarcasm all the greater.

I'll stop, though. I believe I've made my point, and MLers ought not to encourage MLers to give in to the urge to live under bridges and get killed by irritated billygoats.

#157 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:04 PM:

Yeah, well. Sorry, everyone.

#158 ::: Joel Polowin ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:11 PM:

Imprison, or imprison not. There is no "try".

#159 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:24 PM:

Judge me by my clichés, do you?

#160 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:25 PM:

abi @ 155... may I suggest recasting it in verse?

'verse' is 'vers' in French, pronounced 'vair', and yes, 'vers' is also the plural of 'ver', which is the French for 'worm'. Not sure what I'm getting at, but I thought (wrongly?) that I should mention this.

#161 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:25 PM:

Lalouve, if morality could be relied upon to enter into the planning discussions we'd all be so very much better off than we are. As it is, we're reduced to arguments based on practicality, which, as ethan notes, is horrifying.

#162 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:40 PM:

abi @ 159... "Judge me by my daguerrotypes, do you?"

#163 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 02:43 PM:

The reason I bring up possible scenarios for an Iran invasion is that I think the main argument against such an invasion should be "its wrong" rather than "it won't work". Because for an "it won't work" argument to fail, the other side does not need to put up a plausible plan that will work, just a plan that sounds like is plausible and will work. And I don't know about you, but I would oppose aggressive war (and invasion of Iran would be aggression, nothing defensive about it) even if you win.

Here is a power point presentation by Dr. Zoltan Grossman that lays out some geographic, political, historical and ethnic background on Iran. (Warning, this is a long presentation). But it think it may offer some real insight as to the long term thinking and planning behind the U.S.'s attitude towards Iran, which I think complements Hersch's insider baseball nicely.

http://academic.evergreen.edu/g/grossmaz/IranWar.ppt

#164 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 03:00 PM:

The problem with couching the argument against attacking Iran as "it's wrong", is that the man responsible for deciding to do so doesn't think it's wrong at all. He's already named them as one of the "Axis of Evil" and is quietly amassing (questionable) evidence that they're up to no good in the region, not to mention trying to create a program that may one day possibly be used to make an atomic weapon.

So, just standing somewhere and shouting "it's wrong" may sound good, but it won't make one iota of difference to Bush, because he's already decided "it's right". Once that point has been reached, all that's left is to try and argue how difficult if not downright impossible it is to attempt in the first place.

#165 ::: Gar Lipow ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 04:13 PM:

Umm don't think any arguments will work with Bush. You want to turn public opinion strongly enough against it that elite opinion doesn't want the domestic trouble it will stir up.

#166 ::: Jacob Davies ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 05:03 PM:

I also meant to note earlier, in re: restraining the US, that I don't think any of the major developed nations are in such a position of moral superiority as seems to be taken for granted in the conversation. Germany and France are the 3rd and 4th largest arms exporters in the world, after the US & Russia, and France still takes a rather proprietary interest in its ex-colonies. Britain clearly has no standing: you might remember that they invaded Iraq right alongside the US, and that was under a fairly reluctant Labour government. The Tories, who seem likely to form the next government, would have been absolutely gung-ho for an invasion. And the British love a nice war - the nostalgia for the almost-disastrous Falklands War transcends political boundaries. Spain was right there alongside the US too; Italy cooperated even if they didn't participate in the invasion.

What does that leave? Scandinavia? Japan?

And that's just recent history. Look back more than a couple of decades and most of the Europeans were still engaged in various exciting adventures involving killing a lot of brown people, at least into the 60s.

It's not that the US isn't worse. It is, and has been at least since WWII, in terms of how many disastrous interferences it has attempted, and how badly they turned out. And it's not that most Europeans are not (now) smarter about the morals and practicalities of invading other countries than most Americans; they are. But I think there's a belief among a lot of liberal Americans right now that WWII cured Europeans of all illusions about the use of military force and turned them into a bunch of pacifists, when in fact they retained a great enthusiasm for colonial adventurism for decades past that.

What finally turned the tide was less a great moral awakening and more the reality that in a world awash with AKs, RPGs, and explosives (the unfortunate consequence of both sides bribing proxies in the Cold War, along with those lovely profitable arms sales) you just can't win when you're fighting people in their own country. Their capacity to absorb casualties is much greater than yours, and the costs of your participation are huge while theirs are basically zero.

Europeans learnt this the hard way and mostly gave up on the idea of military interventions. The US is the last place left (except maybe Russia) with pockets deep enough to pay for that kind of thing, with an army big enough to take on the task, and a public willing to support it, at least for a while.

I think the US is learning that it doesn't actually have deep enough pockets for this kind of thing either, nor do Americans have the stomach to see soldiers killed and maimed for no appreciable gain. Hopefully when we've all learnt that lesson we can work out some less destructive ways to promote democracy and freedom and stuff. But I wouldn't take the fact that Europeans learnt it earlier as evidence of their innate moral superiority, rather just that they reached the limits of their ability to dominate other countries earlier than the US.

#167 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 05:34 PM:

Only the Duchy of Grand Fenwick and the Tiny Twenty alliance of micro-nations, with its terrifying Q-bomb deterrent, can preserve world peace by reining in the dominionist depredations of America.

#168 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 06:48 PM:

albatross@145 Snapping to keep elephants away

(Snaps fingers)

Nope. Doesn't work. Bush and Cheney are still in office...

#169 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 08:18 PM:

Michael #168:

If only they'd known about this in Florida eight years ago....

#170 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 08:49 PM:

My dad told me an amusing story of where the term "redneck" came from. It was the name given to striking Socialist mineworkers in West Virginia; they wore red kerchiefs as a badge of membership in the union. My wife, a Hungarian, also wore a red kerchief in the Pioneers, the Communist version of the Scouts.

So really, rednecks were Communists.

I find that so incredibly bizarre.

Something I've always wondered, fidelio (re your Venn diagram in @152): I know what a redneck is, because ethnically I'm pretty close to that. And I know what a hillbilly is, because my paternal grandmother's family are from Tennessee and we all grew up putting the emphasis on the first syllable, as is proper (we have a great-great aunt who lives in a shack, smokes a pipe, and plays a mean banjo -- no kidding! I met her once when I was very young and she was five years older than God even then! I believe she must have died, or else she's eleventy-one now, like Bilbo. Which is, of course, possible.)

But what's a cracker? Besides a tasty, salty, high-carbohydrate snack, I mean.

#171 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 09:13 PM:

I'd like to thank the non-USA posters in this thread who shared their candid comments (except for the hasty overgeneralizations about rural Americans of Scots-Irish descent).

#172 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 09:31 PM:

we all grew up putting the emphasis on the first syllable

Of what? "Redneck," "hillbilly," or "Tennessee"? The first two, I place the emphasis on the first syllable too.

I'm not sure that etymology for "redneck" is true. The OED traces it to 1830: 1830 A. ROYALL Southern Tour I. 148 This may be ascribed to the Red Necks, a name bestowed upon the Presbyterians in Fayetteville. I'd bet it stems from the sunburned necks of farmers.

"Cracker" is an insulting word for "white," usually implying "poor white." The OED implies that it stems from an old (1509) English use to mean "braggart or boaster," and that a certain group of white people living in the South as early as 1766 were called "crackers" because they were braggarts (1766 G. COCHRANE Let. 27 June (D.A.), I should explain to your Lordship what is meant by crackers; a name they have got from being great boasters; they are a lawless set of rascalls on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, the Carolinas and Georgia, who often change their places of abode.).

#173 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 11:18 PM:

I'd like to thank the non-USA posters in this thread who shared their candid comments

I'd like to thank fidelio for his response to mine - patient, instructive and non-escalatory. Class.

#174 ::: Meg Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: August 05, 2008, 11:57 PM:

The US is too big, too rich, too belligerent, and far, far too well armed, for other countries to feel sanguine about "stopping" it.

I'd put a query around "rich", quite honestly. The US dollar has been nearly at par with the Australian dollar for months now - and our economy is about 1/15th the size of the US economy. If the US is still rich, it's only on paper, and the bills are coming due. I'd say the current superpower is China (although they're being very polite about not making it obvious yet) and the US is an empire in decline.

The underlying problems causing the decline aren't likely to be arrested any time soon, mostly because they've been solidified into the infrastructure, and far too many powerful bodies have a vested interest in seeing them continue (for example, have a look at your medical system, and compare it with the ones in other countries of comparable living standards. Ditto your social service infrastructure). Changing the political party in power doesn't appear likely to be making any great difference, since from what I can see, the political parties in the US are busy converging on what they see as the middle ground[1]. Said middle ground is actually to the political "right" of where the majority of US citizens would probably place it[2], but neither party is going to move politically "left" without a lot of coaxing.

Meanwhile, the US economy is tanking (at least part of the reason the price of oil is so high is because we're forced to buy in US dollars, rather than in a stronger currency - I have a strong suspicion the price in Euros or equivalent would have remained pretty damn constant once conversion factors were added in) and the money is running out. The US has been living on credit and borrowed time for at least twenty years now (since the Reagan days) and the bills are coming due.

If I were going to put money on any one nation stopping the US in its tracks and preventing a potential war, I'd put it on the Chinese. All they'd have to do is ask for prompt payment on those invoices, thanks.

[1] Not that this is any different to anywhere else in the world, I should admit.
[2] Just like the rest of the world, again.

#175 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 12:34 AM:

#164:

trying to create a program that may one day possibly be used to make an atomic weapon.

Why, that could someday be used to attack cities full of civilians! No civilized nation could possibly countenance such a program!

...Does anyone else feel like they must have accidentally stepped into an alternate reality whenever they see a USAn climb up on a moral high horse on the subject of nuclear weapons?

I'm from the USA, and if there's anyone in the world with a truly epic lack of moral authority on that particular issue, it's us. Designed them, built them, attacked cities full of civilians with them (in an - admittedly successful - attempt to end a conventional war by an essentially terrorist act), then built more of them than anyone else on Earth... this would seem garden-variety supervillainous, if not for our subsequent policy of "nuclear weapons for me but not for thee", which I don't think even the most audacious supervillains would consider attempting (if only because anyone who thought *that* would work could never have built a functional doomsday device in the first place.)

#176 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 01:07 AM:

trying to create a program that may one day possibly be used to make an atomic weapon

Or may possibly never be used to create a weapon. Certainly Iran's years away from creating any such thing, if in fact it intends to do so.

(I wouldn't blame Iran if they do want nukes. The track record of US in the last ten years is pretty much in favor of 'having nukes prevents you being attacked'.)

#177 ::: Alex ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 01:36 AM:

Iran is between Iraq and a hard place!

#178 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 01:49 AM:

If I were going to put money on any one nation stopping the US in its tracks and preventing a potential war, I'd put it on the Chinese. All they'd have to do is ask for prompt payment on those invoices, thanks.

I don't think they'd do that - the US can in principle print trillion-dollar bills with Reagan on them or what have you, and inflate their way out of the debt, although the knock-on effects would be considerable. What they could do is start selling their treasuries, or even just stop buying them. But then they'd lose all their trading privileges, and they need to keep their economic development going or people will start to get unhappy.

Righties tend to get a bit apres-nous-le-deluge on any Euro who makes with the schadenfreude about the American situation, and it makes sense to an extent. We may all be careering downhill strapped together toward some economic mystery destination, some cthuloid cusp on a curve with a million axes. Fasten your safety belts.

#179 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 01:59 AM:

Still, Chris, I'd say that having fewer rather than more supervillains in the world with nuclear weapons is generally a good thing. The idea that the US is a rogue nation doesn't make that any less true.

#180 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 06:59 AM:

So, Chris,

If you feel the atomic destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima were "terrorist acts", what do you feel about the firebombing of Tokyo or Nagoya? How about Dresden and Hamburg? Yokohama? Were they all "terrorist acts" too, and if they weren't, what was the difference in your mind?

Personally, I find anyone calling the Nagasaki/Hiroshima bombings "terrorist acts" remarkably lazy about that particular time in history. The choices were invasion, letting Japan starve in the hopes they'd surrender, let the Soviets invade them, or the A-bombs. Which one would you have preferred?

#181 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 07:01 AM:

Meg Thornton @ 174 -
The US is too big, too rich, too belligerent, and far, far too well armed, for other countries to feel sanguine about "stopping" it.

I'd put a query around "rich", quite honestly. The US dollar has been nearly at par with the Australian dollar for months now - and our economy is about 1/15th the size of the US economy. If the US is still rich, it's only on paper, and the bills are coming due. I'd say the current superpower is China (although they're being very polite about not making it obvious yet) and the US is an empire in decline.

Query if you like - but you'd be wrong. America still has huge - vast - natural resources (including energy - despite all the crying and wailing, there is still large reserves of oil in the US - they're just currently not cost-effective to dig out of the ground, or locked up behind "don't drill" laws, plus coal, and some of the largest sources of alternative energy - solar and wind - in the world*). While the public education system may be crumbling, there are still excellent schools in the US - and what are largely regarded as some of the finest higher learning institutions in the world. And while a lot of the manufacturing may have been shuffled offshore, the names building most of the computers in the world - and nearly all of the design specifications - are still American (Intel, Apple, Dell, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard). If Microsoft was a sovereign country, it would be 61st in terms of GDP, displacing Libya (Exxon-Mobil would be 18th, displacing Sweden). Keep in mind - the 2007 GDP of the US was 13.8 trillion dollars - the next closest was Japan at 4 trillion (China is at 3 and some change).

As for the Chinese - the Chinese have pretty massive systemic problems of their own. They are growing too damn fast, they have been unable to keep up with infrastructure maintenance and creation, and their laws and regulations are hampered by a justice system that is, frankly, all but dysfunctional in most parts of the country (the common refrain I hear from people living there is "you never go to the cops - they cannot help, and may well make things worse). Their huge trade surplus is due in part to very low wages, and in part to a deliberately undervalued currency (the renminbi ought to be trading around 2 - 3 per dollar, not 6 - 7 like they currently are, according to the World Bank)

Meanwhile, the US economy is tanking (at least part of the reason the price of oil is so high is because we're forced to buy in US dollars, rather than in a stronger currency - I have a strong suspicion the price in Euros or equivalent would have remained pretty damn constant once conversion factors were added in) and the money is running out. The US has been living on credit and borrowed time for at least twenty years now (since the Reagan days) and the bills are coming due.

The US economy, by official figures, is growing, but slower than previously, and slower than anticipated. It's not healthy, and I'm certainly not interested in making huge frivolous purchases, but it's also not some creaking, doddering old fool that's about to pitch face-first into the grave.

If I were going to put money on any one nation stopping the US in its tracks and preventing a potential war, I'd put it on the Chinese. All they'd have to do is ask for prompt payment on those invoices, thanks.

If the Chinese do this, they will be committing financial suicide. The Chinese call due all of the US paper they are holding - what happens next? There are several options, and all of them are bad for the Chinese.

*T Boone Pickens can see it, and is spending a whole chunk of money investing in wind power.

#182 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 09:47 AM:

there is still large reserves of oil in the US - they're just currently not cost-effective to dig out of the ground, or locked up behind "don't drill" laws

Most of them are actually locked up in oil company leases. There's not that much in the way of previously-unknown oil fields. (I'll grant there may be some, but the geology requirements make it pretty sure that the oil cos have already gotten leases.) Oil shale doesn't count, nor does anything that's too deep to reach with a drill.

The 'don't drill' laws are based on environmental concerns - I take it you weren't around Santa Barbara in 1969, or Prince William Sound - and are what keep tourist areas and wildlife refuges from turning into the polluted messes that most oilfields appear to be.

#183 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 10:13 AM:

hmm...

...before I bother replying, PJ - are you intending for your tone to be snarky and dismissive?

Because it's how you're coming across, and I want to make sure that is, in fact, how you intended to sound before I compose (or fail to) a reply.

#184 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 10:15 AM:

Serge @ 162

** Strikes heroic pose, pushing cape back over shoulder **

"Judge me by my archetypes, please!"

#185 ::: Sylvia Li ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 06:03 PM:

Scott #181: The US economy, by official figures, is growing, but slower than previously, and slower than anticipated. It's not healthy, and I'm certainly not interested in making huge frivolous purchases, but it's also not some creaking, doddering old fool that's about to pitch face-first into the grave.

The trouble with the US economy isn't its total size. As you note, that is still growing. The problem is with its internal structure. The wealth distribution mechanisms that created the American middle class have been subjected to a thousand cuts over the last thirty years, and they are now at the point of falling apart. Under the stresses that we can see coming, there are certainly going to be some catastrophic failures.

When you say it's not healthy, that's an understatement -- it is extremely sick. The metaphor can't be carried through to predict "death" mainly because economies don't die unless all the people do, and that's not going to happen. When economies change radically, though, lots of people aren't able to keep up.

#186 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 06:32 PM:

Scott - no, it was the way you implied (to my mind at least) that there's a lot more oil and all we have to do is drill everywhere, including the places that are currently protected by law (generally with reason).

Better idea: require the oil companies drill on their existing unexploited leases, or lose them. Mining companies can't sit on leases forever; why should oil companies get to do that?

#187 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: August 06, 2008, 08:22 PM:

I have to agree with Scott -- the US is still amazingly wealthy. The US, in a combo of luck (choosing the good land) and savagery (stealing it, once chosen), got a stockpile of riches (arable land, mineral wealth, etc.) that even *we're* having trouble blowing all at once. But we're spending our capital, and have been, with few exceptions, since WWII. And since Reagan, it's accelerated. Or in other words, give us time.

Mind you, I have optimistic days where I believe we can stop spending an obscene amount of money on the military, take climate change seriously, and (handwave, handwave) actually become a sustainable force for good. Just not often.

#188 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2008, 07:05 AM:

The Iranians have been digging, and digging deep.

They've got Balrogs?

#189 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2008, 09:05 AM:

188: oh, nice crossover.

Crude oil! All folk desired it. It could be burned like timber, and laid like flagstones; and DuPont could make of it kevlar, lighter and yet harder than tempered steel. The Americans dearly loved it, and among many uses they made of it HTPE, polythene, which you saw strewn upon the shore. Bilbo had a corslet of kevlar plates that Thorin gave him...it was also known as Gulf-gold, or black gold.

But, alas, we drilled too deep, and woke an ancient evil...

#190 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2008, 12:10 PM:

Sustained applause.

#191 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2008, 12:26 PM:

190: thanks! Actually might work that up into a story. What if... the resource curse were an actual curse? Kind of a metaphor for modern resource wars, like Machikha Nash was a metaphor for Soviet Communism in Declare? Eventually, any deep drilling or mining operation wakes telluric spirits, which cause humans to become bloodthirsty and greedy. (Too obvious?)

#192 ::: Wakboth ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2008, 12:40 PM:

Sylvia Li at #185: "When you say it's not healthy, that's an understatement -- it is extremely sick. The metaphor can't be carried through to predict "death" mainly because economies don't die unless all the people do, and that's not going to happen. When economies change radically, though, lots of people aren't able to keep up."

Funnily enough (for sufficiently grim values of funny), one of the big problems the US middle class is struggling with is the health care.

#193 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2008, 02:28 PM:

Wakboth @192: Roll a pandemic into the picture and the resulting view is not at all amusing.

Add CDC's so-called planning and the fact that a good portion of our population is getting its' medical care from ERs -- there is no way we're going to be able to stop the disease from spreading. By the time the powers that be realize we've got a problem it will be too late.

#194 ::: Kelly McCullough ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2008, 05:44 PM:

Ajay @ 191

That sounds like a very cool story idea.

#195 ::: Chris ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2008, 09:31 PM:

#180: War has been defined as an act of violence intended to compel the enemy to fulfill your will. Isn't terrorism similarly an act (usually but perhaps not necessarily of violence) intended to terrify the enemy until they fulfill your will?

Nuclear weapons were *unknown*; the Japanese couldn't have known how many we had or where we could or would deliver them. (In fact, IIRC, we had just the two; but would you have risked that in the Japanese's shoes?)

Whether ending the war by terrorism was better or worse than ending it by conventional warfare would have been (incidentally, I don't see *any* form of diplomacy on your list, which is odd considering how many wars end in cease-fires of one sort or another) is a good question for an alternate historian. In our timeline the US went for the nuclear plan and it worked. But in order to judge the act accurately, don't we need to discard our 20/20 hindsight and sit on the actor's shoulder, with only limited human knowledge/guesses of how the act is going to turn out? We don't even know the envelope of all possible outcomes for *that* plan, let alone for all possible plans that could have been tried.

I didn't intend to reflexively condemn the act by describing it as terrorist, only to point out that that was, in fact, precisely what it was: the deliberate infliction of terror. Whether and when it can be right to do an evil deed in a good cause is one of the great unresolved questions of morality; but trying to pretend that your deed isn't what it is seems unlikely to help.


#179: Say what you will about MAD - you're alive to say it. It worked - and continues to work - *well enough to survive*, which is all we usually get in this screwed-up universe.

And I think portraying any world leader as a "supervillain" is a real stretch. Saddam, to take a highly nonrandom example, didn't want a fight with the US because he knew approximately what was likely to happen. He was a *rational* (well, mostly rational - a bit paranoid, but in his position, who wouldn't be?) selfish ruthless son of a bitch, not the Joker.

Imagine the Joker trying to rise through the ranks of, well, pretty much anything, and you'll see why his backstory is so sketchy - the Joker doesn't make sense, and not just in the obvious way. Someone that crazy couldn't successfully gain and hold that kind of power.

The Joker has henchman. Why? What could possibly induce someone to work for the Joker? *And* not frag him at the first opportunity? (And if enough henchmen try, even if they fail, you're back to running out of henchmen.)

#196 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: August 07, 2008, 11:26 PM:

Chris (#195): What could possibly induce someone to work for the Joker?

Health insurance? (Hmm, single-payer as an antidote to supervillainy....)

#197 ::: Pocketeer ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2008, 04:36 AM:

ajay @ 189 & 191

Wonderful stuff. I'm intrigued.

But, also, I'm being reminded of an Isaac Asimov essay - "The Ring Of Evil" - that I chanced upon in a second hand collection. It begins:

"My wife, Janet and I, on occasion, drive down the New Jersey Turnpike through a section of oil refineries where the tortured geometry of the structures stands against the sky, and where waste gases burn off in eternal flames, and where a stench reaches us that forces us to close the car windows. And as we approached it once, Janet rolled up the windows, sighed, and said, 'Here comes Mordor.'"

#198 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2008, 05:17 AM:

One of the news rumours that actually makes me hopeful is the one about US Special Forces already being in Iran.

Of course it depends what they're doing, but the timing feels off for anything more than on-the-ground recce. And what that means is that the US military is getting their own information. They're not relying on one of the TLA operations whose reliability has been called into question.

If the rumours are true it is a stupidly provocative move, but not out of proportion to what Iraq may be doing in Iran.

Trouble is, it still ends up depending on the military standing up and refusing the orders of the lying bastards in the White House. And nobody seems all that willing to challenge them.

If treason prospers, none dare call it treason.

#199 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2008, 08:14 AM:

Serge @ #160: 'verse' is 'vers' in French, pronounced 'vair'

Aha! The truth is out: Cinderella's slippers were not pantoufle de vair, as the popular myth would have you believe, nor yet pantoufle de verre, as Perrault claimed, but pantoufle de vers! (And who but a fairy godmother could give such a gift?)

#200 ::: Lori Coulson ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2008, 10:54 AM:

Paul A. @199:

Thanks alot -- Nervous System Central just fired up the old 1950s ballad:

"Poetry in motion..."

Today's earworm brought to you by Making Light.

#201 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2008, 01:03 PM:

What could possibly induce someone to work for the Joker?

abi on her How to run a revolution in five easy steps post: Lone heroes and villains are for comic books. You change the world by getting other people involved, so your effort grows from insanity and love, through organization and into movement.

I've been thinking about supervillains a bit recently and can't help thinking that the way to make supervillainy work* should be to make it open source. But I've probably drifted off topic, and haven't finished thinking about this yet anyway.

* For certain values of work. There's an open source superhero story too - disaster strikes, regular people download powers in repsonse, and save the day!

#202 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 08, 2008, 04:10 PM:

Neil Willcox @201: [..] the way to make supervillainy work should be to make it open source.

The Puppetmaster, in the first Ghost in the Shell movie (not necessarily a villain in the classic sense).

#203 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2008, 07:18 AM:

@195 - as I said I'm thinking about supervillains. Where the Joker gets his henchmen from is a difficult one. Christopher Davis @196 of course answers the question "Where does Lex Luthor get his henchmen from?"

(If we're talking about Supervillains as World Leaders Lex Luthor is a better example than The Joker. Nevertheless, when I feel the need to describe heads of state in hyperbolic terms, I prefer "Bond Villain")

Rob Rusick @202 - As something of an anime dillettante I'm pleased to say I've seen Ghost in the Shell, but had entirely forgotten it until you reminded me. Time for an anime night I think...

#204 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2008, 10:25 AM:

"What I’d really like to know is why the civilized world hasn’t stopped us."

I've been asking this question since February 2003. It's probably the most puzzling thing about current events that I can think of. That Rumsfeld somehow managed to escape arrest in France last year is just one of the items on the list of things that make me wonder who's writing this goddamn story.

#205 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2008, 10:33 AM:

#204

I think somewhere along the line we slid into the Trek mirror universe. Or they're invading ours. Either way, not good.

#206 ::: guthrie ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2008, 11:26 AM:

Neil Willcox #201- downloading superpowers in emergencies? there's a story or three in there somewhere.

#207 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: August 10, 2008, 08:19 PM:

guthrie @206: Dial H for Hero? As is, wouldn't quite fit the bill, but it could be adapted/updated.

#208 ::: sherrold ::: (view all by) ::: August 11, 2008, 03:26 PM:

"What I’d really like to know is why the civilized world hasn’t stopped us."

Watching the Russian vs. Georgia grudge match, it seems clear that no one will be stopping Russia, whether they think Russia is in the wrong or not.

Honestly, if Nazi Germany and Japan had restricted themselves to smaller enemies, who knows how long they could have continued to wreck havoc before they were stopped. (Hmm. There are so many published WWII alternate histories, that one may already be published somewhere!)

#209 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: August 13, 2008, 07:55 AM:

Guthrie @206 - There's half a dozen stories straight away. Following the axiom that conflict creates drama, we make downloading superpowers illegal and it'll run and run. (When I'm done thinking about supervillains, I'll either be blogging an essay or writing a story or two.)

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