2012-03-05

Three Votes Away

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by Tim Widowfield

The parable of the burning trees

English: Park County, CO, June 27, 2008 -- Saw...

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Once there was a man who lived in the woods. His cabin was surrounded by 51 trees, one of them, a large oak so close that its spreading branches shaded the roof. He lived there happily for many years. Eventually, there came a season so hot and so dry that when the sparks from a nearby campfire flew in and touched them, the trees practically exploded into flames. The man watched in horror from his kitchen window as the trees were consumed, one by one. Finally, the firemen arrived and put out the conflagration, but not until 48 trees had been destroyed.

Relieved, the man wiped his forehead and vowed to take preventive measures immediately. So the next morning he called his insurance agent. “I need to protect myself and my property,” he said. “How much will it cost for full flood insurance?”

Religious privilege over personal rights

This past week the U.S. Senate barely voted down an amendment to a highway bill that would have allowed employers to opt out of paying for their workers’ insurance for any medical service they believe is “contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer or other entity offering the plan.” (For those who aren’t familiar with the crazy American system, the most common way we get health coverage here is as a benefit from our employers. The recently passed Affordable Health Care act mandates coverage, which has brought the issue to the forefront.) In the media, it was mostly framed as a debate about birth control, with the right wing calling it a freedom-of-religion issue.

But the truth is the law was so vaguely worded that it would have permitted an employer to deny funding for any procedure, any drug, anything at all if he or she has religious qualms. If your boss is a Jehovah’s Witness, he might opt not to pay for your husband’s blood transfusion. If he’s a Christian Scientist, he might not want to help pay for your children’s vaccinations. Does he have moral objections about your upcoming heart transplant? Then maybe you should pay for it out of pocket. His “conscience” trumps your health.

The meaning of the parable

The 51 trees represent the smallest majority vote possible in the Senate. The 48 burned trees are the Senators (3 Democrats and 45 Republicans) who voted to privilege religious beliefs over personal human rights. The cabin is our secular republic. So who is the man in the cabin? That would be Dr. Robert M. Price, aka The Bible Geek.

In the same week that the Senate reminded us how close we are to a Congress with a voting majority that would gladly send us down the path toward a Christian theocracy, can you guess what Price’s most recent “Zarathustra Speaks” essay is about? If you answered “the erosion of the wall between church and state,” or perhaps “the theocrats who hate our Constitution,” you’d be wrong. No, the title of March’s essay is: “Are We at War with Islam?

This was also the same week in which a viable presidential candidate in a major, national political party (albeit in the far-right wing of that party), ex-Senator Rick Santorum (don’t Google that name!) said that John F. Kennedy’s landmark speech on the separation between church and state made him want to “throw up.”

So in these precarious days in which we barely thwarted another assault on our secular state, Dr. Bob comes to this conclusion about radical Muslims:

I guess this means that we can face the nasty prospect of a war, not on behalf of our religion (especially since “we” don’t have one), but against a religion, radical Islamism. We find it terribly hard to believe this, because we prefer to think we live in a more enlightened age. And we do. The trouble is, they don’t.

Fear and loathing — The state of American media

Let me be clear here. I respect Dr. Price as a scholar of biblical studies and theology. He’s a warm, intelligent, and erudite man. I’ve learned a lot from him. I own several of his books and never miss an episode of his great podcast. Nor do I think that radical Islamists pose no challenges to Western civilization. They do. It’s just that there are fires closer to home that we need to attend to.

And even if the threat from abroad were as immediate as Price imagines, the solution need not be war, war, and more war. Unfortunately, the right-dominated media in my country — fueled by wealthy puppet masters, driven by egomaniacal hate-mongers on TV and radio, and sustained by terrified white people who should know better — has been banging the drum for war against Iran in particular and Islam in general for over a decade now.

While Price is out shopping for flood insurance and stocking up on sandbags, the last few trees have begun to smolder again. In the meantime, every Republican candidate except one (namely Ron Paul, who was recently booed at a Republican debate for quoting the Golden Rule) has been threatening retaliation on Iran — not if they do something we disapprove of but before. Anyone who objects to yet another useless war is in their estimation guilty of “cowardly appeasement.”

Keep the torch lit for us

Insane politics has become an alternative lifestyle in my country. Untethered from reality its practitioners float from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis. They seethe with rage over the “socialist” in the White House, or whatever today’s talking point happens to be. They believe that Iran is seconds away from building a nuke, shipping it to Cuba, and launching an EMP attack against the U.S. I swear I’m not making this up.

These delusional beliefs begin to make sense if you get a steady diet of conservative disinformation. Listen to it long enough and you’ll start to believe that global warming is a hoax and that Newt Gingrich is a man “full of ideas.” Sadly, even an intelligent bible scholar with two PhDs is not immune to the effective propaganda of the right.

And while I would like to tell you that the people who think this way are just a fringe minority here, the truth is they could win the election in November. All it would take is a rise in the unemployment rate and a jump in the price of gasoline. If that happens, I ask the rest of the world to take good care of civilization and remember us — the first modern, secular republic — fondly.

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41 Comments

  • pearl
    2012-03-05 14:22:51 UTC - 14:22 | Permalink

    Tim, I’m hoping after Rush L.’s latest unconscionable attack that some hopeful ‘conservative’ candidates are deemed as cowards for not standing up with integrity the way Obama and others did.

    As far as Iran, a week ago Chris Hayes addressed this on his show, “Up”. He had some poignant words near the end of this segment:

    http://video.msnbc.msn.com/up-with-chris-hayes/46530655#46530655

    • 2012-03-05 15:21:57 UTC - 15:21 | Permalink

      Thank you for that link, pearl. I’m afraid the lessons of Iraq were forgotten even more quickly than were the lessons of Vietnam.

  • 2012-03-05 15:25:39 UTC - 15:25 | Permalink

    Thanks, Tim. Excellent post. You touched all the bases. We know the characters, and you are so right. – From the far left: Hawaii.

  • 2012-03-06 01:15:30 UTC - 01:15 | Permalink

    A lady outside the hall where the Constitution was being written: “And what sort of government do we have, Mr. Franklin”?

    Benjamin Franklin: “A Republic, madam, if you can keep it”.

    Indeed.

  • 2012-03-06 02:19:51 UTC - 02:19 | Permalink

    I would recommend avoid the phrase “puppet masters” in an essay, unless it is about marionettes.

    Cheers! richgriese.net

    • 2012-03-06 02:41:43 UTC - 02:41 | Permalink

      Hi, Rich.

      How about “those who pay the piper” (hence those who call the tune)?

  • 2012-03-06 13:15:39 UTC - 13:15 | Permalink

    At the risk of putting myself on the wrong side of the fence again, I’d like to suggest a “devil’s advocate” consideration. In my view, the war in Iraq was a mistake and a failure based on two errors. One was the conviction that Saddam possessed WMDs. Yes, the Bush administration was guilty of doing some cooking of the evidence (and I was no Bush sympathizer), but I believe it was in the interests of supporting a conviction they truly had. The second error was in thinking that once Saddam was eliminated, Iraq could become a peaceful functioning democracy. Given the highly sectarian divisions within Islam, that was a foolish expectation. The whole enterprise was doomed to failure. (As an aside, however, suppose that the Americans had discovered that Saddam did indeed have WMDs and secret plans to wield them—even if only in a strategy of threat—against Israel or other neighbors? I wonder what difference that would have made in the evaluation of the wisdom of invading Iraq, despite any failure of wishful democracy resulting from it?)

    In any case, are the same conditions present in the Iran situation? We can’t be sure of some things, but the anti-war outlook, like that of Chris Hayes, rarely if ever raises doubt that the Iranian regime is indeed aiming to develop nuclear weapons. It would be the height of naivete to simply believe their protests that they are not; intelligence on the matter is far more efficient than it was in Saddam’s day. Given the frequent declarations by Ahmadinejad that Israel should be wiped off the map, the world—not to mention Israel—has every reason to be alarmed. Hayes talks about learning the “lessons of Iraq” but can and should every new crisis be judged and governed solely by past ones? Yes, past lessons need to be taken into account, but going entirely by that principle would be a short-sighted policy. Each situation needs to be evaluated on its own merit. Besides, there are past lessons that could lead us to a very different conclusion.

    In 1939, how many were lamenting that when Hitler, contrary to WWI’s treaties, retook control of the Rhine region in 1936, Britain France and America did not move in and check his expansionary ambitions, or any longer believed his earlier words that he had no such ambitions? We would very likely have been saved the misery and death of the Second World War and solidification of the Soviet Empire. How many have lamented that the UN did not step into Rwanda at the signs of impending genocide? An interesting case: how many in Iran condemned Israel’s bombing of Saddam’s nuclear facilities in 1981, which prevented him from developing a bomb which would almost certainly have been used by him in the Iran-Iraq war of the mid 80s? (Someone once remarked that if the Israelis had not taken out Saddam’s nuclear program, Tehran could have become a radioactive cinder several years later.)

    The past has many lessons to give us. If we limit ourselves to choosing only those lessons which comport with our particular philosophies, we risk fooling ourselves. Don’t get me wrong. I am not an advocate of automatically going to war with Iran. But I am not an advocate of ‘peace at any price.’ Yes, a lot can go wrong, and It often does. They say that war plans go out the window once the conflict starts (as the Kaiser painfully found out in 1914), but I don’t think we do ourselves a service by the blind adoption of holier-than-thou pronouncements by such as Chris Hayes. Checking Hitler in 1936 would not automatically have been “a criminal act.”

    Finally, we do not sit in the crosshairs like Israel does. If they, out of fear and instinct for self-preservation (whether we at a safe distance think it’s realistic or not) launch a pre-emptive strike, we need to take into account the position they feel themselves in. It’s not as though they haven’t been warned by the Iranian regime itself. Once again, however, they will bear the brunt of the world’s condemnation—and who is to know how much it would have been justified—but to paraphrase a well-known saying, they may feel that it is better to be judged by 12 than nuked by 6.

    Just some thoughts. A discussion or debate is never well-served by having everyone supporting and talking on only one side of it. (And I hope Neil—and Tim—will bear with me this time as well.)

    P.S. I am as alarmed and disgusted at the state of American politics as anyone else. Hopefully it is beyond the realm of the possible that someone like Rick Santorum could become President. Bush and his first A-G (can’t recall his name at the moment) would look positively secular in comparison. And it is very unfortunate that extreme fundamentalism and extreme war-mongering seem to go hand in hand. That alliance can obscure the less extreme realities of some issues.

    • 2012-03-06 15:30:23 UTC - 15:30 | Permalink

      Just one question for now till I return home and regular routines . . . . Earl, you write:

      It would be the height of naivete to simply believe their protests that they are not; intelligence on the matter is far more efficient than it was in Saddam’s day.

      What intelligence sources are you referring to with respect to Iran’s nuclear program?

    • 2012-03-07 01:18:08 UTC - 01:18 | Permalink

      Earl: “We can’t be sure of some things, but the anti-war outlook, like that of Chris Hayes, rarely if ever raises doubt that the Iranian regime is indeed aiming to develop nuclear weapons.”

      You wrote many things above that I think deserve to be addressed, but this one deserves special attention.

      First, it would seem to me that the reasonable outlook of any human being would be “anti-war.” War should always be the last resort, when all other means fail. It has always been my contention that too many “deep thinkers” in today’s Western governments (especially in the English-speaking countries) have chosen to view war as just another instrument of policy, just another tool of diplomacy, albeit an extreme one. But war is not a tool of diplomacy. War signifies the failure diplomacy.

      Second, the charge that people like Chris Hayes “rarely if ever raise the doubt” about Iran’s intentions is nonsensical. This is in fact the very crux of the debate. Are they or are they not trying to develop nuclear weapons? Anti-war libertarians, liberals, and leftists are the ones asking the question. After all, before we flush another trillion dollars and risk setting the entire Middle East ablaze, it might be nice to know for sure. The right has already made up its mind. When we point out the fact that our intelligence agencies haven’t come to a conclusion, right-wing commentators and politicians roll their eyes and say, “Of course they are.” True believers are unencumbered by doubt.

      Finally, the underlying assumption that war will somehow magically solve the problem is very troubling. The question we always need to ask, is: “Then what?” So we start bombing their facilities. “Then what?” They close off the Persian Gulf. “Then what?” We escalate and start attacking all military targets. “Then what?” Other countries in the region choose sides and get involved. “Then what?” Israel gets involved.

      Where does it end? Is there any way to stop the escalation once we start? The right always likes to point to the “lack of will” in the 1930s and to make fun of Chamberlain’s statement about “peace in our time.” Yes, this is one lesson in history. But as you say, there are many lessons to learn. Consider the Great Powers on the eve of the First World War. How could one assassination cause so much trouble? And along the way, as we read about each country mobilizing its forces, streaming to the borders, executing their war plans, we think, “Why can’t they just pull back and stop it?” But they could not stop the escalation. Diplomacy failed. Common sense failed. Millions died. And for what?

      So yes, let us please raise doubts.

    • 2012-03-07 01:51:26 UTC - 01:51 | Permalink

      Earl: “They say that war plans go out the window once the conflict starts (as the Kaiser painfully found out in 1914), but I don’t think we do ourselves a service by the blind adoption of holier-than-thou pronouncements by such as Chris Hayes. Checking Hitler in 1936 would not automatically have been ‘a criminal act.'”

      Indeed, since Germany had violated the terms of Versailles, the allies could have confronted Hitler then and there. But the question before us is not war based on broken treaties and clear belligerent intent. It is instead the new and controversial doctrine (greatly loved by the Neocons) of preemptive war. What you call “blind adoption of holier-than-thou pronouncements” others would call “following the law” or “not engaging in war crimes.” Because lest we forget, the entire basis of the Nuremberg trials was that “to initiate a war of aggression . . . is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”

      I don’t see embracing violence, especially preemptive wars of aggression, as a sign of strength. Reliance on war and the threat of war has made us weaker, not merely because of the waste of lives and treasure, but because other countries in the world now distrust our intentions. Are we truly interested in regional stability?

      I highly recommend the following essay by Mark Perry: “The answer is always Clausewitz”.

  • yesmyliege
    2012-03-07 06:44:49 UTC - 06:44 | Permalink

    “Finally, the underlying assumption that war will somehow magically solve the problem is very troubling. The question we always need to ask, is: “Then what?”’

    If I am not mistaken, you already have the answer to that question. Israel has preemptively destroyed a nuclear facility in Syria in 2007, and also destroyed one in the same fashion in Iraq in 1981. At that was the end of the story on each occasion.

    I don’t think you need to equate a preemptive surgical strike with “embracing violence, especially preemptive wars of aggression”, especially when it comes to Israel. As far as I can tell, “preemptive wars of aggression” is a tactic used exclusively and repeatedly against Israel, not by it.

    • 2012-03-07 10:01:22 UTC - 10:01 | Permalink

      yesmyliege: “As far as I can tell, ‘preemptive wars of aggression’ is a tactic used exclusively and repeatedly against Israel, not by it.”

      Apparently the Six-Day War doesn’t count? Tell me, if the Arabs had been first to attack suddenly in 1967, if they had acquired large territorial gains, and if they continued to occupy those territories, would that have been a “preemptive war of aggression”? I just want to be clear on the definition.

      As far as expecting Iran in 2012 to behave as Iraq did in 1981 and Syria did in 2007 — that’s wishful thinking. Iran is a very different society, with a much larger population and a bigger economy. The results would be completely unpredictable.

    • 2012-03-07 16:56:55 UTC - 16:56 | Permalink

      Sorry, but my curiosity has got the better of me here. Which war against Israel was a “preemptive war of aggression”? 1956 when Israel invaded Egypt? 1967 when Israel attacked her neighbours (an act of war since admitted by prominent Israeli military and political leaders as an unprovoked attack on Israel’s part)? 1973 when Egypt recovered the Sinai that was lost to it in the 1967 unprovoked attack by Israel?

      Or do we have to go back to the 1940’s when Israel by its own historical record we can see had no intention of abiding by UN General Assembly declarations? (UN General Assembly declarations, keep in mind, have no legal force — as is clear from the fact that Israel has condemned and rejected probably all General Assembly resolutions concerning Israel ever since!)

  • 2012-03-07 10:14:32 UTC - 10:14 | Permalink

    I have no objection to raising doubts, Tim. You can raise doubts as to whether Iran is developing nuclear weapons. I can raise doubts as to whether the Iranian regime of religious nutjob Ayatollahs is being truthful when they claim they are not in the process of developing nuclear weapons. (Ever heard of the doctrine that it is OK to tell lies if it is in the service of Islam?—Compare Eusebius’ infamous similar remark for Christians.) Again, don’t restrict yourself to allowing doubts only in the direction in which your sympathies lie.

    Yes, war is very dangerous. But so is waiting around for an enemy who has declared he thinks you should be annihilated to reveal whether he has been bluffing or not. Yes, not going to war is the preferable default. War does signal the failure of diplomacy. But whose fault is the “failure”? If Iran is telling the truth, why wouldn’t it want to show it by making their nuclear facilities open to international inspection? If it is telling the truth, why would it want to risk a pre-emptive strike from Israel by denying the world that proof? Frankly, I think my doubts are more justified than your doubts.

    I, too, fear very much the possible escalation. I’m not eager for another war. I am simply arguing the principle that “no war at any price” is never been the only legitimate way to go. If we wait until there is “no doubt”, that certainty will be achieved only by Iran actually developing and using nukes. (Of course, the other way to resolve it is for Iran to agree to full inspections, but it refuses.) You are asking Israel to put a gun to its head with possibly one or more bullets in the chambers and pull the trigger. After all, some claim there might be no bullets at all.

    My understanding of Nuremberg would be somewhat different from yours. The principle was surely that launching an *unprovoked* war of aggression is the ultimate criminal act. If a man accosts you on the street, shouts at you that he is going to beat you within an inch of your life, and in that moment you take the first punch and knock him out, are you guilty of “aggression,” a “criminal act”? In my city several years ago there was a court case in which a man had been in his apartment, two men he knew pounded on his door and broke it down, literally shouting that they were going to kill him. He happened to own a gun (loaded, illegally) which he grabbed, and not waiting to find out if they actually were about to take his life shot one of them to death. He was hauled into court, prosecuted for murder. Within the first 5 minutes, the judge dismissed the case. I wonder why.

    Obama appeals for more time to allow sanctions to “work.” (What he means, of course, is time enough for him to be reelected before a pre-emptive strike or all-out war could interfere with that.) But what is meant by sanctions “working”? Will the Iranian rulers reach the point where they meekly throw in the towel, destroy their facilities and beg the world’s forgiveness? I doubt it. Sanctions truly injurious to Iran’s well-being will be met by angry vindictive counter-measures which will produce their own escalation and possible war (they are already threatening to do so).

    There is no easy way out of this. Personally, I too would have used the gun on a man threatening to kill me. And all the philosophical considerations in the world, or threats of prosecution, would not have deterred me.

    • 2012-03-07 12:05:06 UTC - 12:05 | Permalink

      If I may summarize your points — and please correct me if I’m wrong:

      (1) The Iranians are probably lying, since Islam allows it, so we should probably attack them.

      (2) The only reason Obama says he wants sanctions to work is so that he has enough time go to get reelected. Otherwise he would attack them.

      (3) Obama’s sanctions won’t work, but if they do work, they won’t work the way expect them to, so we should probably attack them.

      (4) Left-wing pundits who counsel caution and working within the framework of international law are in fact merely offering “holier-than-thou pronouncements.” If they were honest with themselves and us, they’d agree that we should probably attack them.

      (5) Ahmadinejad’s strident anti-Israeli rhetoric is just like somebody knocking down your front door and rushing into your house, so we should probably attack them.

      Of the all the actors involved in this tragedy on the global stage one gets a free pass. We must understand that they “sit in the crosshairs.” They act, understandably, “out of fear and instinct for self-preservation.” They have “every reason to be alarmed.” Everyone else’s motives are suspect. The president wants to keep his job. The pundits are naive. The Iranians are bellicose liars.

      Look, I fully admit that in North America my viewpoint is probably in the minority. So take comfort in the fact that you’re in the majority. And we can both take comfort in the fact that nobody in power on any side gives a damn about what either of us thinks.

      By the way, it now appears that talks are going to resume.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/07/world/middleeast/iran-agrees-to-inspection-of-secret-military-site-report-says.html

  • 2012-03-07 16:28:50 UTC - 16:28 | Permalink

    Earl, i asked about intelligence sources seriously because you appeared to be suggesting knowledge of something completely new to me — intelligence reports of some kind that warn of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. All I have ever read about is the annual National Intelligence Estimates that are presented annually to Congress and the IAEA findings — all unanimous in their conclusions that there is no evidence that Iran has had any nuclear weapons program since 2003. E.g. http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MF10Ak06.html

    All I ever read about is fear and “what if” scenarios from the mainstream media and political establishments of the U.S. and her allies. Your views are hardly a “devils advocate” position — they are the conventional wisdom of the mainstream media and political powers in the West today.

    At high school history classes I came to understand that when a political leadership wants to wage war they first create an atmosphere of fear among their own people in order to win popular support for the bloodshed they are about to inflict. We learned of Hitler and little powers doing this. But since I left high school I have seen the same technique repeatedly used by US. Is it possible WE are the bad guys sometimes?

    Your point of view is a repeat of all I regularly hear from the politicians and mass media. It is from the same perspective as your earlier arguments: — all fear, “what if” scenarios, stereotypical assessments of dark-skinned mid-eastern moslem peoples, and no obvious interest in investigating the facts and details behind all the government and media reports.

    I am reminded — and I said it before — of debates between an Israeli point of view and a Palestinian point of view. One side is all fear and what-if and pre-traumatic stress of the imaginary, while the other is simply about the facts of day to day life on the ground.

    • 2012-03-07 16:36:04 UTC - 16:36 | Permalink

      Forgot to mention that Iran has never threatened anybody in the region so trying to draw parallels with Hitler seems bizarre. And that quote about wiping Israel off the map is going to go down in history as one of the greatest perversions of malicious propaganda in western history, surely. Do you know what was actually said? Have you read the speech? Do you know the political position of the one who said it? Do you have any reason apart from “what certain western governments and respected media tell you” that this was a call for genocide?

      • 2012-03-08 02:11:08 UTC - 02:11 | Permalink

        I don’t have quotes in front of me, of course, but my memory is surely not that bad that there is any question that Ahmadinejad voiced the opinion more than once that Israel ought to be destroyed in one way or another, that it had no right to exist. When you couple that with the refusal to agree to any outside inspection on the matter of whether they are developing nuclear weapons, what is the natural conclusion to draw? It is not only biased media or wacko evangelicals who would draw such a likely conclusion. That conclusion is not a perversion, it is simply a natural one to make. Why should we wish to argue for an opposite conclusion, and on what basis? Simply that we are supposedly not in the position of having “no doubt”? Or because we have an innate suspicion of everything the media and western govts. claim because they are always viewed and judged as deceptive and evilly self-serving to the exclusion of all else? I’m afraid I don’t have quite that bleak an opinion of Western culture. But nor do I have stereotypical prejudices against Moslems or “dark-skinned” peoples. (Not sure where that came from.) I simply pointed to a policy I have read about in the past that in Islamic ‘law’ it is permissible to mislead if the perceived interests of Islam are thereby supported, and I drew a parallel with Christian policies (voiced as recently as the 19th century) that misleading others was permissible under similar circumstances (and Christians are not generally dark-skinned or from the Middle East). Is there reliable information that I am mistaken on that point of Islamic law?

        My parallel with Hitler was limited. That bellicose expressions, whether marching into a neighbor’s territory or looking to all the world like one is developing WMDs, ought not to be simply overlooked and allowed when one has good reason to feel threatened, simply because of some supposed principle that one should never be allowed to take drastic measures to prevent serious anticipated aggression against oneself.

        Just because aspects of my point of view happen to be shared with those of wacko evangelicals neither equates me with them on some general level, nor merits having my opinions simply dismissed by association. That would be very short-sighted. We all have doubts, and as Tim says that’s a good thing. But neither is he party to what Leon Panetta knows, and yet he is willing to assume his own point of view on the basis of incomplete information and impressions. We all tend to do that, but if we allowed ourselves to come to conclusions and decisions about what ought to be done only when we had absolute certainty about something or absolute trust in its source, we’d never lift our little fingers. All I have been trying to do here is to object and point out that the Chris Hayes point of view has its flaws and perils, and that these ought not to be ignored and unargued simply because some don’t subscribe to them and are not willing to debate on the basis of giving all points of view due consideration.

        Tim will have to forgive me (or maybe he won’t) if I say that I don’t think he handles disagreement too well. I dismissed his ‘summary’ of my point of view with an acknowledgement that he had more or less got it right, but I trust that the facetiousness of that acknowledgement was evident. He rendered my arguments extreme and simplistic, with more than an ad hominem tinge. Much of it was on a level, let’s say, of the anti-abortionist saying to the pro-choicer that, oh well, I guess you advocate by law ending every pregnancy that was not specifically intended, permitting the killing of babies that are minutes away from emerging from the womb, while calling a collection of cells that might be terminated by a morning-after pill as “murdering a child.” That was the tone of much of his ‘summary.’

        • 2012-03-08 03:31:15 UTC - 03:31 | Permalink

          Earl: “Tim will have to forgive me (or maybe he won’t) if I say that I don’t think he handles disagreement too well. I dismissed his ‘summary’ of my point of view with an acknowledgement that he had more or less got it right, but I trust that the facetiousness of that acknowledgement was evident.”

          There is nothing to forgive. You are entitled to your perspective. My intent was merely to show how your earlier statements could be construed by someone who did not know you have a more nuanced position.

          For example, you stated earlier that you thought that the Iranian regime was lying and reminded me that Islam condones lying if it helps the cause. Someone might read that and think, “There is no basis for diplomacy with any Islamic nation if it’s impossible to trust them.” To me that sounds rather intemperate, if not downright dangerous.

          I was hoping you would elucidate your more nuanced position.

          Earl: “He rendered my arguments extreme and simplistic, with more than an ad hominem tinge.”

          I intended no insult. I apologize. I was trying to summarize your points and take them to their logical conclusions, and probably went too far. However, I am still concerned with the impression I get from your posts that the actions of all actors in this drama are suspect — the Iranians are probably lying, Obama is trying to get reelected, and the pundits don’t know what they’re talking about — except the Israeli government. If this impression is wrong, please say so.

          Let’s recall that within Israel itself, discussion about policy is permitted. After Netanyahu’s AIPAC appearance on Monday, Knesset member Daniel Ben Simon called his speech “one of the most dangerous ever delivered by an Israeli prime minister.” In America, of course, all politicians are required to say that we will always support Israel no matter what. No criticism of policy is tolerated. In a healthy relationship, people can swear to be friends, agree upon goals, but disagree — or at least express concerns — about policy.

          Do you agree that we should keep open the possibility that the Israeli government is posturing for internal political reasons (viz., the upcoming elections in Israel), just as the Iranian government is posturing for internal political reasons? Do you at least give Obama some credit for trying to calm everyone down?

          Earl: “We all have doubts, and as Tim says that’s a good thing. But neither is he party to what Leon Panetta knows, and yet he is willing to assume his own point of view on the basis of incomplete information and impressions.”

          My point of view is that we do not know. As far as I can tell, this is the truth. We have our suspicions, but we do not know. Further, I am uncomfortable with resorting to war on suspicion and unfounded fear. I hope most people would feel this way, but perhaps I’m naive. In this case, I don’t mind being naive. It helps me sleep at night.

          Earl: “All I have been trying to do here is to object and point out that the Chris Hayes point of view has its flaws and perils, and that these ought not to be ignored and unargued simply because some don’t subscribe to them and are not willing to debate on the basis of giving all points of view due consideration.”

          I have no quarrel with that. I hope you have felt that you can express your opinions freely here on Vridar, and I appreciate your candor, even if in matters of foreign policy we appear to disagree completely. And whenever you think I’ve crossed the line, please let me know.

  • 2012-03-08 05:35:36 UTC - 05:35 | Permalink

    Of course Israel is posturing, though that does not mean that they have no intention of following through if things get more dire in their eyes. There is even an outside possibility that Iran is entirely posturing, and is indeed not developing nuclear weapons (though sorry to say, I doubt it). But sometimes posturing can be carried too far. It is said that Saddam ‘postured’ in not making it clear that he did not have WMDs, accompanying his denials with counter-indicators, because his cojones demanded it in the face of his neighbors. To his misfortune, the U,S. called his bluff and invaded unnecessarily. If Iran is doing the same thing, they have no one to blame but themselves if the Israelis react to that bluff. (Of course, it will be Israel who will be accorded the full blame.)

    Some of Netanyahu’s posturing may be aimed at checking Iran’s ambitions and getting more cooperation from their regime and perhaps an abandonment of any nuclear program (though once again I doubt that will happen).The U.S. swears undying allegiance to Israel’s protection for much the same motive and hope. That’s legitimate diplomacy and always has been. You may say that such diplomacy has its perils in that it could slip out of control and fullfil itself. But there is an opposite peril on the other side. Without threats and a certain amount of brinkmanship, the ‘enemy’ can take you for a toothless tiger and feel emboldened to continue its course. Chamberlain came back from Germany in 1938 blubbering about Hitler’s guarantees and “peace in our time.” A year later the Nazis invaded Poland.

    (As for Obama, I was not particularly criticizing him for being cynical, having one eye on his own re-election. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Needless to say, I am a 100% Obama supporter; the Republicans have become a joke, and a dangerous joke.)

    The threat is not equal-sided. Israel would have no reason to attack Iran if Iran did not threaten its survival. Iran, OTOH, has declared an ideological position in favor of Israel’s destruction, accompanied by disturbing indications that it is developing nuclear weapons, even in the absence of any prior threat by Israel to its own survival.

    Incidentally, I heard an interesting interview on PRI’s “The World” last night. With an ‘ordinary citizen’ of Tehran, who confirmed that the sanctions were certainly pinching the general Iranian economy and ordinary citizens like him who were also losing jobs. He was asked did he blame the West for that situation. He said no, he blamed his own regime and criticized it for being so pig-headed (not his word) about its claimed nuclear program ‘for peaceful purposes’ and refusing inspections. Why do we need more electrical power? he asked, and suggested he did not believe their claims. (Ironic, isn’t it, that Iranians think their govt. is lying and some in the west adamantly defend the preferred possibility that it is telling the truth!) Needless to say, the interviewee asked that he not be identified.

  • Evan
    2012-03-08 08:26:10 UTC - 08:26 | Permalink

    I can bet that Netanyahu’s gift to Obama will not be a huge international incident in the West and people won’t describe Jews as insane warmongers driven to fight by their religion’s dictates.

  • yesmyliege
    2012-03-08 09:23:52 UTC - 09:23 | Permalink

    “Apparently the Six-Day War doesn’t count? ”

    You must be joking.

    Surrounding Arab nations cooperatively mass troops along Israel’s border. Nasser (from your own reference) says “Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight.” And you call that a war of aggression by Israel? WTF?

    • 2012-03-08 10:10:31 UTC - 10:10 | Permalink

      It’s a great deal more complicated than that. If you read up on the conflict I think you’ll agree that neither super power thought the war was inevitable or necessary.


      [May 1967:] “The Soviet Union and the United States urged Nasser not to go to war. Nasser publicly denied that Egypt would strike first and spoke of a negotiated peace if the Palestinians were allowed to return to their homeland and of a possible compromise over the Strait of Tiran.

      On the morning of June 5, Israel launched a full-scale attack on Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. In three hours, at least 300 of Egypt’s 430 combat aircraft were destroyed, many on the ground as the pilots did not have time to take off. ”

      (http://countrystudies.us/egypt/36.htm)


      “Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban wrote in his autobiography that he found ‘Nasser’s assurance that he did not plan an armed attack’ convincing, adding that ‘Nasser did not want war; he wanted victory without war.’

      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Origins_of_the_Six-Day_War#The_drift_to_war)


      So back to my question. If the Arabs had attacked first, taken large swaths of territory, and continued to occupy them, would that have been a war of aggression?

    • 2012-03-08 11:23:52 UTC - 11:23 | Permalink

      Israel Air Force Commander General Ezer Weitzman: Israel “faced no threat of destruction” but the attack on her Arab neighbours was justified so that Israel could “exist according the scale, spirit, and quality she now embodies.”

      Menahem Begin : “In June 1967, we again had a choice. The Egyptian Army concentrations in the Sinai approaches do not prove that Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

      Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Chief of Staff: “I do not think Nasser wanted war. The two divisions he sent to The Sinai would not have been sufficient to launch an offensive war. He knew it and we knew it.”

      New York Times, 1997: “Moshe Dayan, the celebrated commander who, as Defense Minister in 1967, gave the order to conquer the Golan . . . [said] many of the firefights with the Syrians were deliberately provoked by Israel, and the kibbutz residents who pressed the Government to take the Golan Heights did so less for security than for the farmland . . . [Dayan stated] ‘They didn’t even try to hide their greed for the land . . . We would send a tractor to plow some area where it wasn’t possible to do anything, in the demilitarized area, and knew in advance that the Syrians would start to shoot. If they didn’t shoot, we would tell the tractor to advance further, until in the end the Syrians would get annoyed and shoot.

      And then we would use artillery and later the air force also, and that’s how it was . . . The Syrians, on the fourth day of the war, were not a threat to us.’”

  • 2012-03-08 12:55:10 UTC - 12:55 | Permalink

    Earl: I don’t have quotes in front of me, of course, but my memory is surely not that bad that there is any question that Ahmadinejad voiced the opinion more than once that Israel ought to be destroyed in one way or another, that it had no right to exist.

    Neil: Sorry Earl, but you misread me badly. What I said was that what much of the western mainstream media has been reporting (and that some political leaders have repeated) is a propaganda lie, a mistranslation.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/jun/14/post155

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahmoud_Ahmadinejad_and_Israel#.22Wiped_off_the_map.22_controversy

    http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article12790.htm

    One is reminded of the war that broke out over the “misleading” translation of the famous Ems telegram. It does happen and we are no more immune from such mistakes as we were then.

    It is simply a matter of prudence not to swallow without question things we read in the news media or that we hear from our political leaders. And that is not about having “an innate suspicion of everything the media and western government’s claim” as you indicated. This is an offensive dismissal of an argument that is in fact based on reading of two or three specialist accounts of the speech and an English translation of the full speech.

    Nor is it some naive willingness to take A’s statements at face value. I loathe A for enough reasons and don’t need a trumped up accusation to add to the list. His bambi-eyed protestations that he protects political freedoms in his country are obscene distortions of his government’s domestic outrages. But I also have enough nous to understand A is not the one with his finger on any futuristic nuclear trigger even if there were no misunderstanding in the West.

    Earl: When you couple that with the refusal to agree to any outside inspection on the matter of whether they are developing nuclear weapons, . . .

    Neil: Iran’s regime has many major faults but this is not one of them, and actually quite missed the point of what the U.S. is demanding of Iran. Hilary Clinton has made it clear that even if Iran submits fully to intense international inspections that it would make not a whit of difference to U.S. policy on this matter: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/27/us/politics/27clinton.html?_r=1

    So Iran’s compliance is not the issue; the U.S. does not care if Iran fully complies with inspections.

    But on compliance, do look at the facts here, too. The IAEA has repeatedly reported Iran’s cooperation with inspections:

    http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/features/chain-reaction-how-the-media-has-misread-the-iaeas-report-iran

    http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/news/2007/workplan_heinonen.html

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2008/02/12/us-iran-nuclear-iaea-idUSL1283850220080212

    http://in.reuters.com/article/2009/02/22/idINIndia-38148320090222

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/5346524.stm

    http://www.isis-online.org/publications/iran/IAEA_Iran_Report_15September2008.pdf

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/03/06/us-iran-nuclear-parchin-idUSTRE8250BQ20120306

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/09/26/AR2009092601359.html

    (One is reminded of those bizarre claims that have emerged since the Iraq war that Saddam had forbidden inspectors into his country or limited their movements when this was in fact the direct opposite of the truth.)

    Earl: That conclusion is not a perversion, it is simply a natural one to make. Why should we wish to argue for an opposite conclusion, and on what basis?

    Neil: On what basis? On the basis of exercising our democratic freedoms to use the information freely available to us (NIE and IAEA reports, our educated knowledge of the peoples and governments on both sides) and, if necessary, holding our democratically elected leaders – and a media that generally releases uninvestigated/unquestioned/unchecked government press-releases as “news” — to account. Sometimes some politicians have been known to whip up public fear through misinformation. Sometimes when a politician says something that conflicts with what I know to be true from personal experience or studies of a situation, I check the claims out before accepting them at face value. Such an approach has justified itself several times now, in particular over the Iraq war.

    Earl: Or because we have an innate suspicion of everything the media and western govts. claim because they are always viewed and judged as deceptive and evilly self-serving to the exclusion of all else? I’m afraid I don’t have quite that bleak an opinion of Western culture.

    Neil: Earl, this is an entirely gratuitous and false reading into what I said. I by no means “have an innate suspicion of everything the media and western governments claim because they are always viewed and judged as deceptive and evilly self-serving. . .” I actively demonstrated my encouragement and support for my own Australian government (led by a party I am opposed to) risking war with Indonesia by undertaking a military operation in East Timor. There are many international and national programs of western governments I wholeheartedly support. Self-interest is not an “evil” at all. The media is not always “deceptive”. But we do have responsibilities as citizens of democracies to inform ourselves as fully as possible of issues of concern.

    Earl: But nor do I have stereotypical prejudices against Moslems or “dark-skinned” peoples. (Not sure where that came from.) I simply pointed to a policy I have read about in the past that in Islamic ‘law’ it is permissible to mislead if the perceived interests of Islam are thereby supported, and I drew a parallel with Christian policies (voiced as recently as the 19th century) that misleading others was permissible under similar circumstances (and Christians are not generally dark-skinned or from the Middle East). Is there reliable information that I am mistaken on that point of Islamic law?

    Neil: It came from the academic studies of “orientalism” as part and parcel of the historic way western societies think and speak about “orientals”. Most of us are unaware that our views and statements about these people are not consistent with the way we view others. This is not always necessarily “negative”. There can be as much a tendency to romanticize and give every benefit of the doubt to some orientals while demonizing others. Either way they are spoken of in terms that make them a little more angelic or a little more demonic than we would accord our thoughts on others “more like us”. (Ironically in pre-war times it was not uncommon for westerners to idealize the Arab and demonize the Jew, a process that has been reversed since WW2.)

    You speak of Islamic law. But we don’t judge our fellow Christians as all hating their families or being willing to sacrifice the world or lives of others for their faith – though some individuals really are like this. We assess them as persons and how we find them as persons and nations as nations. I have known too many people of the Islamic faith – and even spent much time in Islamic countries — to judge any of them by such simplistic techniques. But one can learn much by simply exploring the available authoritative histories and cultural and political studies of such peoples, too.

    Iranians are no more willing to do anything that will guarantee their own obliteration by Israel and the U.S. than are any other people in the world. If anyone doubts this I question their appreciation of the fact that they are as equally human as anyone else.

    (Case study: In Australia a few years ago our political leaders whipped up national hatreds of refugees coming to our shores by solemnly declaring that they had attempted to blackmail our naval forces by threatening to drown their own children in the sea. I know whole peoples simply don’t act like that and knew immediately this was a falsehood, but the media and politicians repeated it endlessly. It took some years before an official inquiry uncovered that it was all a series of falsehoods and disinformation and misinformation. But by then the damage had been done. It demonstrated that sometimes western peoples are quite prepared to think of orientals as less than human (demonized) — or other times as more than human (angelicized).)

    Earl: But neither is he party to what Leon Panetta knows, and yet he is willing to assume his own point of view on the basis of incomplete information and impressions.

    Neil: Leon Panetta himself has said flatly that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon. And this is consistent with the NIE and IAEA reports. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-3460_162-57354645/panetta-iran-cannot-develop-nukes-block-strait/

    (We have the privilege and attendant responsibilities of not living in a closed society where all we can do is simply trust our leaders while they keep us in the dark.)

    We saw the war-aims change in Iraq when the WMD issue was demonstrated to have been false. We are seeing the same shift in demands on Iran now that intelligence reports and international inspections give no evidence that Iran is attempting to build a nuclear bomb. But we also see ongoing media repetitions of old information that has been established to have been false.

    There is much to be said, but I would hope you don’t presume to “know” what I would say if I had more time and space. I have attempted to keep to certain specific points raised.

  • 2012-03-08 16:00:11 UTC - 16:00 | Permalink

    Case study #2: In a recent post I had to confess that I was wrong in my older belief of a certain narrative of how the white civilization came to displace the black one in Australia. This went quite against all my philosophical views of many years, but I could not deny the facts and methods used. One, maybe two, protested vigorously here against my shift, but I defended my change of position. I reject any imputation that I am somehow stuck in a particular philosophical bind when it comes to matters of historical inquiry. And current affairs are little more than a more problematic quest for historically valid arguments.

    There are many books on the market that cite example after example of historical myth, or things contemporaries thought were true but have since proven to be myths. One of the most hated by my own father was the revelation that Winston Churchill hired an actor to deliver one of his most famous war-time speeches on radio because the great man was simply too exhausted to deliver it himself. I mean that he hated the fact that this was revealed — he declaimed that there are some things that we should never know, that it is wrong to reveal such heartbreaking information to the people of the day.

    There are many such myths in history that have been exposed over the years. One was the myth in 1967 that Israel was being threatened by Arab armies secretly preparing for a surprise attack to destroy Israel — above I quote key Israeli figures who belie that belief of that day. Another was the myth that Iraq was developing WMDs despite many parties and individuals at the time loudly but vainly trying to alert the world to the evidence that this was a falsehood. In fact much, if not most, of the world did listen and agree, and this led to historical international demonstrations of multiple millions in an effort to stop a war. Since then, notice the change of tactics of a significant number of the neo-con party who were responsible for that old falsehood. We should be alarmed, not reassured, that many of the same figures who are now declaring the same unsubstantiated fear-mongering over Iran are now doing the same all over again with respect to Iraq.

    It is not a matter of political philosophy (unless your political philosophy has scant regard for oriental lives) but a matter of getting the facts on the table and seeking the most rational, the most evidence-based and most-humane solution conceivable. If that means we were wrong then so be it, and so we must respond accordingly. But does anyone really in their hearts want to incinerate thousands of lives on a “just in case” scenario?

    Maybe some of us really do.

  • 2012-03-09 06:35:49 UTC - 06:35 | Permalink

    Allow me one more (hopefully final) comment on this, and in particular in response to some inferences that my views are an expression of philosophically driven naivety or knee-jerk antipathy to western governments on principle.

    This implication is rubbish. My views are an extension of my studies over many years of the histories of great powers. America is not morally exceptional in history as any study of history can demonstrate, but acts in the world no differently from the way other great imperial powers have acted in the past, whether Britain, France, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Austria-Hungary, Russia . . . go back to the Persian empire if you will. History demonstrates some very stable themes of how these powers behave when confronted with signs of independence within or on their borders. Such indicators even from little states send ripples of great fears that the status quo is facing serious threat unless such signs of independence are quashed. Such great powers are thus always engaged in war after war after war.

    American world history is no different in this from the history of any other imperial power in history.

    Usually such powers contribute some good to many of those they dominate, too. Better laws (often ending some local barbarisms), communication systems, rock ‘n’ roll music.

    Such powers usually begin their slide downhill when their costs of maintaining their dominance steadily mount as the benefits of that domination wane. That is exactly what is happening today with the U.S. in the world, and one of the factors underlying their increasing efforts to re-establish control over independent pockets. Iran has been a thorn in America’s flesh ever since its people overthrew the Shah whom US-UK imposed after undermining a democratically elected government in 1953.

    I mentioned the way one sees changes in publicly stated war aims. This, to me, is a sure indicator that the publicly stated war-aims or publicly announced foreign policy goals are not the real ones. What is said in public changes with what will sound plausible to the intended audience. In Iraq, it mattered not that Sadam Hussein even agreed on the eve of the invasion to go into exile; his declarations were quashed from public attention by US determination to invade; when there were no WMDs to be found, the aim then became the establishment of democracy; when it was discovered there were no plans to institute a stable self-governing Iraqi government, the stated aim came to be to root out terrorist factions, and on it went — until the costs clearly outweighed any further hopes of benefit. But the US had achieved its principle objective. A lesson had been delivered to the world: don’t attempt to defy America or you will end up like Iraq. Mission accomplished. Sure American leaders would have liked a cleaner and more respectable image of American success, but what must be must be.

    We are seeing the same with Iran. Iran opened its sites to inspection — it is, after all, a signatory to the NNPT — so it was announced that this was not the issue; there is no evidence for Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon since 2003, so this is no longer the issue. When one sees flip-flops in public announcements of the rationale for one’s foreign policy goals, but no change in their foreign policy actions, then one is justified in looking for something behind the public statements as to the real goals. Iran’s independence threatens to support a wider independence in the region through her support for Shia peoples in Iraq, Bahrain, Syria and Lebanon.

    This is intolerable to powers whose primary need is for control of the largest broccoli-growing region in the world.

    The world is getting smaller and just as we once saw regionally and then nationally-based movements for democratic changes and influence in the state powers, I’d like to think that we are on the cusp of seeing comparable movements internationally. Imagine if what happened in nineteenth century in many regions of the world could be repeated on an international scale in coming generations and we begin to see genuine historical changes that will put an end to the old assumption of the need for imperial powers to continue to dominate through war after war as they have done historically.

  • 2012-03-11 06:19:59 UTC - 06:19 | Permalink

    Birth control is not healthcare. Like the v-word that ends with gra (which I won’t type because it would probably catch the spam filter) Its a recreational drug. It facilitates a recreational activity. Health coverage should not cover v that ends with gra nor birth control. It should be out of pocket.

    • 2012-03-11 06:47:14 UTC - 06:47 | Permalink

      No, it’s healthcare.

      In the real world, which you may not be privy to if you get your news from the Right, you would have found out that many women take oral contraceptives to balance out their hormones and thereby reduce their risk of cancer.

      Oral contraceptives are used in dysfunctional uterine bleeding, in polycystic ovarian disease, unremitting dysmenorrhea or painful periods, in female hirsutism, in women who have had premature menopause due to autoimmune ovarian failure, in women who have had ovarian failure after their pituitary or hypothalamic tumors have been radiated or removed, in women who have lost both their ovaries to infections, tumors or cysts, in women with endometriosis, in Turner’s Syndrome (to prevent osteoporosis and to induce breast development and menstrual cycles).

      http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-03-09/news/bs-ed-rush-letter-20120309_1_ovarian-failure-unplanned-pregnancy-ovarian-function

      People engaged in recreational sex with random partners tend to use condoms, for obvious reasons. On the other hand, people in committed, monogamous relationships tend to use the pill.

      And if you had any idea of what you were talking about you’d also know that the health insurance providers told the Obama Administration, “Yeah, we’ll gladly pay for contraception,” which left people of “conscience” off the hook for paying for it. Why would they do that? Because it’s much, much cheaper for them in the long run. The cost-benefit analysis shows that it isn’t even a close call.

      If the right wing would take a breather from their non-stop, misogynous slut-shaming and read up on the facts, maybe they’d keep quiet.

  • 2012-03-11 06:21:19 UTC - 06:21 | Permalink

    Birth control is not healthcare. Like the v-word that ends with gra (which I won’t type because it would probably catch the spam filter) Its a recreational drug. It facilitates a recreational activity. Health coverage should not cover v that ends with gra nor birth control. It should be out of pocket.

  • 2012-03-13 14:46:49 UTC - 14:46 | Permalink

    My comments about attitudes toward media and govts. were not specifically directed to you, Neil, and I am sorry that you took them as personal attacks. That was not my intention. In stating my own position, it naturally entails a rejection or questioning of views that lie opposite to them.

    At the heart of the matter, I cannot believe that either the U.S. or Israel would take the drastic step of going to war against another country, much less to bomb them unprovoked, unless it perceived a direct threat to either itself or to an ally in the region. (Britain declared war on Germany in 1939, not because it had been attacked by Hitler, but because the invasion of Poland spelled an unacceptable act within larger geopolitical interests and spelled the likelihood of future aggressions.) Yes, the U.S. does not like the Iranian regime, but the risks of attacking Iran to subsequently learn that there was indeed no nuclear weapons program (as opposed to merely being wrong about thinking there was, as in Iraq), leads me to reason that the U.S. does believe that there is. Nor, I’m afraid, do I believe that Leon Panetta would clearly deny something that the administration he is a part of has declared to be the case, so I am suspicious of that quote.

    If Iran truly does not have a nuclear weapons program, then Israeli intelligence is a farce. Would Israel really attack Iran if it did not perceive such a threat, given the upheaval that would erupt in the region that would be entirely directed at herself? You would never convince me of that. (Besides, Iran to my knowledge has denied access to key nuclear facilities, it has not opened up everything to international inspection.)

    Did Israel perceive no threat at all in 1967? Despite your quotes, I think too much has been made of them. Isolated incidences of settler provocation does not change the overall picture. I can easily believe that Israel, whether the threat was critically imminent at that particular moment or not, realized that sooner or later such an attack would be made. Nasser wasn’t that coy. And 6 years later, that attack did come, which Israel beat off only with great difficulty. So they decided to go ahead in June of 67 and take the opportunity to llaunch a pre-emptive strike.

    I think you confuse changing objectives as a war proceeds with what is intended from the start. That the entire WMD justification was from the start a deception by the American govt. I do not accept. But when that reason was proven invalid, naturally spin-doctoring would follow, emphases would change. That was inevitable. But it does not have to spell deception from the outset.

    Maybe I’m really being naive, but I simply don’t share the jaundiced views that some here espouse. Would America, for example, really have wanted a regime change in Syria when what would follow would no doubt prove detrimental to Israel’s interests (just as the Egyptian revolution promises to do)? That doesn’t make sense to me. I have no doubt that the picture we are getting from Syria is slanted, for various reasons. But I don’t really care what the proportions of those for or against Assad are, or the nuances of forces operating in Syria, Assad is unmistakeably guilty of crimes against humanity, and ought to be lynched in the public square. Even if a minority, peaceful demonstrators against a regime have rights and I don’t blame the media for playing up the slaughter.

  • 2012-03-13 16:15:03 UTC - 16:15 | Permalink

    At the heart of the matter, I cannot believe that either the U.S. or Israel would take the drastic step of going to war against another country, much less to bomb them unprovoked, unless it perceived a direct threat to either itself or to an ally in the region.

    I have read (and studied) enough of the many wars in British and United States history — nineteenth and twentieth centuries — to know that “we” are not always the good guys, nor that all of those “we” have portrayed as the bad guys really are so bad. I do not accept government or media reports at face-value. We enjoy opportunities now to investigate what is said in a way that was all too rare some years ago.

    And the more history I have studied the more I do see the United States today acting in the world no differently from other dominant powers of the past. Of course every war in its own time is seen as a clearly transparent issue of right versus wrong, of security versus insecurity, etc. But how many wars in hindsight ever retain their strong contrasts of black and white? And the hinder they get the greyer the vast majority of them look.

    To that extent we can learn from history. I don’t mean we presume every war is fought for reasons other than the public declarations, but that we have a right to be cautious and test the public declarations against the broader spectrum of information available. I should also add that I have little doubt that many (not all) public figures and reporters do sincerely believe what they are saying at the time. But what we understand from a deeper understanding of how society works is that individuals are not the ones making the history. They are often the expressions or public face of larger and more complex powers, groups, influences.

    I do not believe there is any reason to see the United States (or any country) as exceptional in its ways of relating to the world. Dominant powers do have different factors to consider than those impacting smaller powers, of course.

    I consider it naive for anyone in any country to embrace a conviction that one’s own country would never be the “bad guy” in the world or act from anything other than transparently righteous and justifiable motives.

    Did Israel perceive no threat at all in 1967? Despite your quotes, I think too much has been made of them.

    Why is too much made of them? What is the evidence otherwise? Or is 1967 still too recent (and pivotal?) for us yet to contemplate that even this war involved factors that were really not so black and white as the political leaders and media of the day declared? (Diaries and subsequent confessions do sometimes inform us that those the public trusted were not so pure in their speeches as was widely thought at the time.)

    Maybe I’m really being naive, but I simply don’t share the jaundiced views that some here espouse.

    The alternative to naivety does not have to be jaundice. It is not either-or but the impression I have is that you are setting up either-or extremes of view. (I didn’t take personal offence at your remarks, by the way.) Extremes of view seem to me to rely fundamentally on what each believes or has some conviction about one’s government and country. I think it is unrealistic and naive to “believe” that one’s own country would never wage a war that would one day be seen as unjust and evil, just as it is unrealistic and naive to “believe” one’s own country or government would never wage any other kind of war.

    But the middle ground usually can only be reached by accessing information that is now ready at hand in the political speeches and mainstream media, but that is nonetheless authoritative and valid.** Democracy and the internet are beautiful opportunities that are all too rarely exploited by us as well they could be.

    We are the actors in history. It is not easy for us to step outside our world and look down from a neutral position and attempt to see our actions from outside our current consciousness and make-up. It does mean one has to familiarize oneself with information, contemporary and historical, that will broaden our understanding and self- and national-perceptions.

    It is so easy for us to kid ourselves as individuals about the reasons for our behaviour. How much more susceptible are we as small parts of larger social forces? Those larger social forces to which we are attached are a part of our personal identity and we have as much psychological “need” to see our larger identities as “right” as we do our personal ones. Perhaps when it comes to the part of our identity over which we have less personal control we have an even stronger need to see it as “right”.

    ** Post script:
    It is not always necessary to swat up on extra information. Once one does a certain amount of this one soon becomes more attuned to the way political pronouncements are made: the things that are not said, the way something is said, how what is said today compares with what was said last week, etc.

    • 2012-03-13 18:57:04 UTC - 18:57 | Permalink

      Corrected my “not ready at hand” to “now ready at hand” in the above.

      As for purity of motives in our engagement with Iran in particular, does anyone really believe deep down that our leaders and the forces shaping policy behind them must necessarily be any more pure than they were in 1953? Or has anyone who has studied a history of US-UK relations with Iran (even from the days it was called Persia) fail to detect a certain continuity of policy and if so, what it might be?

  • 2012-03-14 09:53:37 UTC - 09:53 | Permalink

    Thinking more about this statement of belief:

    At the heart of the matter, I cannot believe that either the U.S. or Israel would take the drastic step of going to war against another country, much less to bomb them unprovoked, unless it perceived a direct threat to either itself or to an ally in the region.

    The more I think about this the more I realize I completely agree. Where I differ is in the subtext. I doubt any nation has gone to war “unprovoked”. Even Hitler’s wars were provoked by the way Germany was treated and suffered in the wake of the WW1, and staged a Gulf of Tonkin incident on the border of Poland to provide the opportunity of public appeal to provocation.

    And certainly great and imperial powers have always felt threatened by even the smallest rumblings of independence, of losing control, and so it is very often the most powerful that feel compelled so constantly through history to wage wars on small states that threaten to start a ‘domino effect’ if they are allowed to assert full independence.

    Iran really does pose a threat to American interests that feel it is necessary to dominate the Middle East, but its threat is not the bomb, as is made clear by all the intelligence and IAEA reports, and other public statements by public officials. Management of public opinion is another question and has had a fascinating history of its own since the beginning of the twentieth century.

    There’s nothing “anti-American” about this. I have had a strong fascination and love of American history (as much as with British and German history through the past 200 years). It is not “anti-American” to recognize the common history, the common nature, that nation shares with other powers of the world. I don’t think we do our nations any favours, however, if we rely on faith that they are somehow exceptional in their moral goodness. Once we think like that we need to examine what our greater world means to us personally, psychologically.

  • 2012-03-20 11:25:13 UTC - 11:25 | Permalink
  • 2012-03-22 19:15:31 UTC - 19:15 | Permalink

    So it is not clear that Iran really has been uncooperative in talks and it is at least arguable that the charges of lack of cooperation are themselves provocations: Details of Talks with IAEA Belie Charge Iran Refused Cooperation.

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