Search results for the tag, "Deterrence"

February 15th, 2007

Assumptions About the Iranian Threat

Many assume that a nuclear Iran, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, presents an unacceptable threat to Israel and to the United States. But as Cato scholars Justin Logan and Ted Carpenter argue in a recent op-ed, Ahmadinejad is, in fact, a rational actor and thus deterrable through conventional means—which both Israel and the U.S. possess in overwhelming quantities.

First, let’s contextualize Ahmadinejad’s holocaust-denying, holocaust-promising MO. Recent reports indicate that Tehran is increasingly criticizing Ahmadinejad, who may consequently be removed from office before his term expires. Moreover, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, wields the real power behind the regime, and his deeply odious ideas notwithstanding, he’s a moderate compared to Ahmadinejad.

Second, despite its bomb-making activities in Iraq, Iran has never passed chemical or biological weapons to Hezbollah or other client organizations. The reason is historically based: if Iran were to attack Israel—which it’s far likelier to do than attack the U.S.—it would surely suffer “mutually assured destruction.” In short, the fear of retaliation keeps fanatics in check.

Indeed, as Logan and Carpenter conclude, “Never in history have leaders made a decision that was absolutely certain to destroy their own country in a matter of hours. Until someone can come up with definitive evidence that Iran is the first such country, we must work from the assumption” that Ahmadinejad is deterrable.

May 1st, 2005

The Prewar Evidence (or Lack Thereof): Saddam Hussein’s Collaboration with Terrorists and His Deterrability

Saddam Hussein

This isn’t a 404 error; the page you’re looking for isn’t missing. I just moved it—in fact, I created a microsite for it.

October 11th, 2004

Al Qaeda Never Was Iraq

Conventional wisdom holds that 9/11 “changed everything.” And so, in the second presidential debate last week, George Bush maintained that “it’s a fundamental misunderstanding to say that the war on terror is only [limited to] Osama bin Laden.” Is it?

Nearly all agree that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, constituted a watershed, since never before had one day claimed the lives of more American civilians—and on U.S. soil, in our political capital, Washington, DC, and our spiritual capital, New York City—and in peacetime. As such, 9/11 exposed a festering wound, rousing Americans to the acute reality of what could happen if powerful weapons fall into the hands of those with no scruples about using them and no sympathy for those they slaughter.

Hawks argue that this unforeseen crucible gives every reason to assume worst-case scenarios—September 11, 2005, when terrorists let loose anthrax during rush hour at Grand Central Station; September 11, 2010, when terrorists detonate nuclear devices in Times Square, Harvard Square and Capitol Hill—these horrors are no less implausible than September 11, 2001, when terrorists synchronously hijacked four jetliners, full of fuel and innocents, and flew two of them into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon. This new era thus rightly shifted the U.S. national security posture from preempting probabilities to preventing possibilities, and counsels casus belli on a lesser standard than imminence. Threats now need only to be “gathering” (Bush’s word) or “emerging” (Kenneth Pollack’s).

Yet rather than exploit our national tragedy to lump all threats together, strategic discrimination should supersede moral clarity. We must distinguish between Al Qaeda, a highly adaptable, decentralized, clandestine network of cells dispersed throughout the world, whose assets are now essentially mobile, and rogue states, which comprise institutions of overt, bordered governments with, as writer Matt Bai puts it, capitals to bomb, ambassadors to recall, and economies to sanction.

Whereas fanatical fundamentalists hate “infidels” more than they love their own lives, secular nationalists love their lives more than they hate us. Whereas suicide bombers are bent on martyrdom as a means to copulate with 72 virgins, Baathists focus on their fortunes here and now. Whereas Osama’s ilk is simply undeterrable, thus justifying the aforesaid shift, Saddam was always eminently deterrable, and failed to warrant such change.

Military historian Victor Davis Hanson remains unconvinced. “While Western elites quibble over exact ties between the various terrorist ganglia, the global viewer turns on the television to see the same suicide bombing, the same infantile threats, the same hatred of the West, the same chants, the same Koranic promises of death to the unbeliever, and the same street demonstrations across the world.” Terrorists and tyrants with (or building) unconventional weapons are different faces of the same diabolical danger.

Alas, such views are all-too familiar, and evoke the alleged communist monolith of the Cold War. As Jeffrey Record observes in a 2003 monograph published by the U.S. Army War College, American policymakers in the 1950s held that a commie anywhere was a commie everywhere, and that all posed an equal threat to the U.S. Such conceptions, however, blinded us to key differences within the “bloc,” like character, aims and vulnerabilities. Ineluctably, the Vietcong—like the Baath today—became little more than an extension of Kremlin—or Qaeda—designs, thus leading Americans needlessly into our cataclysm in Southeast Asia, as in Iraq today.

Unpublished Notes

The Baathists are not fundamentalists . . . [T]hey are much more concerned with building opulent palaces on the bodies of those they murder. That’s why Osama Bin Laden thought Hussein to be a[n] infidel.”[9]

“History did not begin on September 11, 2001.”[10]

American responses to 9/11 echoe the fear of the McCarthy era

Surrounded by enemies, most of whom still seek its destruction, Israel has endured 9/11-like carnage regularly since 1948. Insulated by two vast oceans, the United States of America, history’s strongest superpower, can also wither it.

“As evil as Mr. Hussein is, he is not the reason antiaircraft guns ring the capital, civil liberties are being compromised, a Department of Homeland Defense is being created and the Gettysburg Address again seems directly relevant to our lives.”[11]

“[N]ew threats . . . require new thinking.”[12]

The convention that war is just only as a response to actual aggression is outdated, conceived in an era of states and armies, not suicide bombers.[13]

While deterrence worked against the Soviets because as atheists, they valued this life above all, deterrence is vain against the fanatical fundamentalists of Al Qaeda, who see the here and now as a mere means to heaven.

9/11 shifted U.S. war policy from erring on the side of risk (as the world’s invincible superpower) to erring on the side of caution (as the world’s conspicuously vulnerable superpower).

[9] Chris Matthew Sciabarra, “Saddam, MAD, and More,”, December 18, 2003.

[10] Jim Henley, “The Best We Can Do,” Unqualified Offerings, March 2, 2003.

[11] Madeleine K. Albright, “Where Iraq Fits in the War on Terror,” New York Times, September 13, 2002.

[12] George W. Bush, Speech, United States Military Academy, West Point, New York, June 1, 2002.

[13] Michael Ignatieff, “Lesser Evils,” New York Times Magazine, May 2, 2004.

January 23rd, 2004

“The Man Who Speaks to You of Sacrifice”

Osama bin Laden

A version of this blog post appeared on Dollars and Crosses (January 7, 2004) and in the Hamilton College Spectator (January 23, 2004).

Earlier this year Saturday Night Live ran a skit on Islamic terrorists, who Osama bin Laden has just dispatched to martyr themselves for Allah—and for the 72 dark-haired virgins that await them in paradise. When somebody asks the bin Laden character why he isn’t sacrificing for the cause, he fumbles over his words, screams out something about Allah, and proceeds to dispatch another group of martyrs to die—in his stead.

Indeed, since the start of the Second Gulf War, whenever we heard from Saddam Hussein, he invariably exhorted friends, Romans and countrymen to fight the infidel—to sacrifice in the cause of a greater good. And yet, when we found him last night, the ex-dictator was in disguise and hiding, crouched in a six-by-eight-foot spider hole. Sure, he had a pistol, but even at this point of no return, he refused to martyr himself.

Ayn Rand explains, through Elsworth Toohey in her novel The Fountainhead (1943). “Don’t bother to examine a folly—ask yourself only what it accomplishes. . . . It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. . . . The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.”

Social theorist Chris Sciabarra draws the political implications. “Hussein, bin Laden, and other leaders of Islamic terrorism are fully capable of sacrificing their own people; they most assuredly do not wish to die themselves.” (Stalin, too, was a physical coward, terrified of death and gunfire, even of flying in airplanes.) It is therefore reasonable, Sciabarra continues, “that pointing a nuke at Baghdad”—the U.S. Cold War policy of mutually assured destruction—“can still have the required effect of keeping Hussein in check . . . Why would he have so many tunnels and escape routes under his various castles if living were not a priority?”

Addendum (11/24/2004): “For all the talks of virgins, paradise, and beautiful suicides, most of those who survived American firepower in Fallujah chose to run, hide, or be captured. After all, suicide is for young zealots, not pudgy men to whom life has become altogether too dear with its money, fame, and women in the here and now” (Victor Davis Hanson, “Misplaced Metaphors,” National Review Online).

Addendum (5/4/2011): True to type, when Navy Seals raided the million-dollar compound where bin Laden was hiding, they found him in a room on an upper floor, while his operatives tried to fight off the Seals on the first floor. Asks Christopher Hitchens, “Has there ever been a more contemptible leader from behind?” “Not for him,” Hitchens wrote years earlier, “the baring of the chest to the Crusader-Zionist bullets.”

Addendum (4/27/2012): While publicly calling for young men to join his holy war, bin Laden was privately advising that his son decamp for the prosperous kingdom of Qatar (Peter Bergen, “The Last Days of Obama bin Laden,” Time).

Addendum (8/30/2012): More details from the moments before U.S. bullets brought justice to the alleged prophet: “Searching bin Laden’s neatly organized room, Owen [a Navy Seal] found two guns—an AK-47 and a Makarov pistol—with empty chambers. ‘He hadn’t even prepared a defense. He had no intention of fighting. He asked his followers for decades to wear suicide vests or fly planes into buildings, but didn’t even pick up his weapon. In all of my deployments, we routinely saw this phenomenon. The higher up the food chain the targeted individual was, the bigger a pussy he was.’”