February 22, 2012

When "Antiwar" Means "Start the Bombing!"

Given the attention it is receiving from those who are nominally opposed to the United States' foreign policy of criminal, aggressive war and intervention, it is understandable that unwary readers will view Peter Beinart's article, "The Crazy Rush to Attack Iran," as strongly opposed to an attack on Iran. And while Beinart's piece may very superficially appear to oppose such an attack, opposition of this kind is no opposition at all. And it is far worse than that: Beinart accepts the entire framework of those whose warmongering he criticizes, and he thus makes an attack on Iran more likely, not less. As I recently observed about a similarly flawed example of faux-dissent: "The propagandists in the media and in Washington are laughing with delight, for they could not ask for more. With opposition and dissent like this, they can begin the next war this afternoon, and nothing will stand in their way."

We'll begin where Beinart does, with his opening paragraph:
The debate over whether Israel should attack Iran rests on three basic questions. First, if Iran’s leaders got the bomb, would they use it or give it to people who might? Second, would a strike substantially retard Iran’s nuclear program? Third, if Israel attacks, what will Iran do in response?
Beinart's article is structured around the answers to these questions. It is a measure of the overwhelming intellectual bankruptcy of our public debate on this (and every other) question that I am compelled to state the following. Read the first question again: "First, if Iran's leaders got the bomb..." If. That is, this entire discussion focuses on a non-existent threat, on a threat that may never exist. With regard to this particular issue, at present and for the foreseeable future Iran represents no threat at all.

That necessarily leads to only one conclusion: to speak of an attack on a nation that represents no threat at all, is to speak of launching a criminal war of aggression. How can we further characterize a criminal war of aggression? We needn't look far for the answer, as I recently had occasion to note. As part of the script for an ad which hopefully would alert the somnolent American public to the true nature of an attack on Iran, I proposed this language:
After World War II, the U.S. was a key member of the Nuremberg Tribunal, which rendered judgment on the crimes of the Nazis. The Nuremberg Tribunal condemned Nazi Germany for waging aggressive war. It called aggressive war "essentially an evil thing," and said that "to initiate a war of aggression ... is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
It is no small historical irony that the U.S. and Israel now consider committing precisely the same heinous crime for which the Nuremberg Tribunal condemned the Nazi regime. Yet somehow Beinart fails to mention this indisputable and hugely significant fact in his analysis. In the rest of his article, Beinart purports to weigh various factors in deciding whether an attack on Iran is advisable in purely pragmatic terms -- but the fact that he is evaluating whether or not to commit the supreme international crime escapes his notice entirely.

If we were genuinely civilized in any meaningful sense, this failure of Beinart's would exclude his article and all similar articles from any and all further consideration. It is obscene to discuss whether committing the supreme international crime is, in effect, "a good idea under the circumstances." This is the perspective of murderers on a mass scale -- of murderers like the Nazis. This is where we are in America today.

There are several additional points to be made about Beinart's article, but I must stress that everything that follows is in the nature of a postscript. For the reasons I've just stated, I consider this entire discussion to be disgusting in a manner that defies description. And the quality of Beinart's analysis is exactly what you would expect from someone who is completely unaware that he is discussing the "advisability" of committing a heinous crime on an international scale.

Beinart is a well-known writer and commentator; he regularly analyzes national and international events. That might lead you to think that he would have formed some first-hand judgments, and that he would have exercised a minimal degree of intellectual independence. But if you think that -- about Beinart, or about any other well-known writer -- you would almost always be wrong. Beinart begins his analysis with a confession of impotence and ignorance: aw, shucks, I don't have "the expertise to answer" these goldanged important questions, I don't have "secret sources." How can you expect l'il ol' me to figure this stuff out? Fear not, for he has a solution to this awful dilemma: "we decide which experts to trust." And which "experts" does Beinart trust? "Experts" from American and Israeli "military and intelligence agencies."

I've written about this phenomenon at great length. Here is how I once summarized the key issues involved:
The continued insistence by virtually everyone on arguing about "intelligence" arises in large part from the reliance on authority that is drummed into all of us, usually beginning in early childhood. In Part II of "Fools for Empire," I set out several notable examples of what is wrong with relying on intelligence in the manner most people do. One of those examples is from Barbara Tuchman, and here's part of what she said (writing about Vietnam in The March of Folly):
The belief that government knows best was voiced just at this time by Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who said on resumption of the bombing, "We ought to all support the President. He is the man who has all the information and knowledge of what we are up against." This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand. It is usually invalid, especially in foreign affairs. "Foreign policy decisions," concluded Gunnar Myrdal after two decades of study, "are in general much more influenced by irrational motives" than are domestic ones.
And in making the connection between that passage and how we are all taught to rely on authority and to obey, I wrote:
To connect Tuchman's argument to my ongoing discussion of the crucial significance of Alice Miller's work, I will rephrase Tuchman's statement, "This is a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand...," as follows: Mommy and Daddy [and usually, especially Daddy] have special, secret knowledge that I can't possibly have or understand, since I'm just a kid. So when it comes to most things, and particularly when really big questions are involved, I have to do what they say. Mommy and Daddy know best. I have to obey them.
About "intelligence" specifically, I offer the following passage from -- let it be noted -- an article published on December 4, 2007, "Played for Fools Yet Again: About that Iran 'Intelligence' Report":
I therefore repeat my major admonition, and give it special emphasis:
It is always irrelevant to major policy decisions, and such decisions are reached for different reasons altogether. This is true whether the intelligence is correct or not, and it is almost always wrong. On those very rare occasions when intelligence is accurate, it is likely to be disregarded in any case. It will certainly be disregarded if it runs counter to a course to which policymakers are already committed.

The intelligence does not matter. It is primarily used as propaganda, to provide alleged justification to a public that still remains disturbingly gullible and pliable -- and it is used after the fact, to justify decisions that have already been made.
In addition to "Played for Fools Yet Again," you can find these issues discussed in detail in "You, Too, Can and Should Be an 'Intelligence Analyst,'" and in the further articles linked in those two pieces.

An additional aspect of these problems must be mentioned, in connection with Tuchman's (and my) argument that reliance on authority amounts to nothing more than "a comforting assumption that relieves people from taking a stand." In the second part of "Fools for Empire," I wrote:
All of the facts concerning Iran's activities lie in plain sight in the public domain. Here's an additional fact: the same is true of the overwhelming majority of information that is allegedly so vital to intelligence work. That is not my contention; it is the observation of Ray McGovern, who worked for the CIA as an analyst.
Two examples from Beinart's article will demonstrate the validity of this argument. Beinart writes: "Start with the first question: whether Iran would be suicidal enough to use or transfer a nuke." I must add -- although Beinart does not -- that would be "a nuke" that exactly no evidence suggests even exists. Beinart then proceeds to answer the question from his fully prone position: he quotes several military and intelligence "experts" for the proposition that "Iran is a rational actor," that "Iran is unlikely to initiate or provoke a conflict,” and so on.

That's funny. That's exactly what I said in an article from May 2007 titled, "So Iran Gets Nukes. So What?" (ha! in fact, this excerpt is from an article almost one year earlier):
Once again, the decision is one of policy and judgment, and the intelligence will have nothing to do with it. Even if Iran had nuclear weapons in five or 10 years [or even sooner], many factors strongly argue against the likelihood that they would ever use them against the United States [or Israel]. There is no evidence to suggest that Iran's leaders are entirely suicidal: any attack that could be traced back to Iran would surely result in the large-scale destruction of that country. They know that, so do we, and so does everyone else. Given our current foreign policy of attacking and occupying any country on earth that our current leaders take a strong dislike to -- whether that country constitutes a threat to us or not -- it is hardly surprising that Iran and other nations want a nuclear deterrence of their own, to protect them from our lethal lunacy. Moreover, it is well-known, despite the fact that it is almost never mentioned in our polite political debates, that Israel has a very sizable nuclear arsenal. I should remind you that Israel is not a signatory to the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and that Iran is. If Iran and Israel both had nuclear weapons at their disposal, that might actually serve to stabilize the Middle East situation, and make a wider regional war less likely. This is not a complicated or controversial thought. It is blindingly logical and straightforward. (Obligatory point for the thinking-impaired: this is not to say that I view a nuclear Iran as a good thing. I don't view it as a remotely good thing that anyone has nuclear weapons, including us. [That is especially true, since we're the only country that has used them-- even when we did not have to, and even when we lied about the devastating human consequences.] I am simply suggesting that the results may not in fact be the End Times calamity that so many assume.)
I arrived at these conclusions -- almost six years ago -- not because I am some goddamned "expert." I made these judgments because I am a reasonably intelligent individual -- like you, and like Beinart (at least perhaps, at least at one time), I looked at the information available in the public domain, and I evaluated the evidence. In brief: I thought about it.

This is what Beinart resolutely refuses to do -- just as Taibbi refuses, just as virtually all public voices refuse to do. Beinart approaches the third question -- "the likely fallout" of an attack on Iran -- in the same manner. He trots out his beloved "experts," who declare that such an attack "would have a 'destabilizing' influence on the region." And: "Meir Dagan, who ran Mossad from 2002 to 2011, warned last year that attacking Iran 'would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program.'” Some of us have been saying all of this for years. In addition to the posts mentioned above, see here and here, as just two examples.

I emphasize again the critical importance of this issue: all of these conclusions are easily available to an "ordinary" individual -- an individual who educates himself to even a minimal degree about what information is publicly available, and then thinks about it. In addition to the overwhelmingly significant fact that you need "experts" for none of this, "experts" will always have agendas of their own, as well as agendas aligned with the institutions with which they are associated. When you choose to rely on military and intelligence "experts," you are asking for disaster. You are asking for the next war. Yes, these "experts" may be offering statements now that you think support the case for opposing an attack on Iran -- but what if they change their minds tomorrow? We don't need to imagine that they might decide to announce: "We just received this vital new intelligence report, with critical new data. We now conclude that Iran will have a nuclear bomb within a month unless we act right now. The bombing will commence tomorrow!" We've seen that scenario, on many more than one occasion in our history. It would appear that everyone has forgotten, or never noticed in the first place.

And Beinart and everyone who approaches these issues in the same way will have no answer. "We're just poor ignorant slobs," they declare. "We have to rely on the experts!" And the next war begins. But the principles some of us have identified over and over again, for many years, will not have changed. The determinations with regard to policy and judgment will not have changed. Yet the "experts" will once again declare that war is the only answer -- and those who so blithely resign themselves to following the dictates of authority will go along. They will obey.

The final obscenity in Beinart's endless string of obscenities is contained in his concluding paragraphs. He states that "I've never seen a more lopsided debate among the experts paid to make these judgments," and then laments:
And who are the hawks who have so far marginalized the defense and intelligence establishments in both Israel and the U.S.? They’re a collection of think-tankers and politicians, most absolutely sincere, in my experience. But from Rick Santorum to John McCain to Elliott Abrams to John Bolton, their defining characteristic is that they were equally apocalyptic about the threat from Iraq, and equally nonchalant about the difficulties of successfully attacking it. The story of the Iraq debate was, in large measure, the story of their triumph over the career military and intelligence officials—folks like Eric Shinseki and Joseph Wilson—whose successors are now warning against attacking Iran.

How can it be, less than a decade after the U.S. invaded Iraq, that the Iran debate is breaking down along largely the same lines, and the people who were manifestly, painfully wrong about that war are driving the debate this time as well? Culturally, it’s a fascinating question—and too depressing for words.
If the subject weren't so horrifying, this would be funny. Who was one of "the people who were manifestly, painfully wrong" about the Iraq war? That's right: Peter Beinart. I wrote about his sickening "regret" that the invasion and occupation of Iraq turned out to be "a tragic mistake" at some length: "The Abominables of The New Republic: Getting Away with Murder."

That Beinart neglects to mention his own role in this history points to the larger error he makes now. Beinart names people like Santorum, McCain, Abrams and Bolton, along with other "think-tankers and politicians" -- but these are not the people driving American policy on Iran. That policy is most significantly being driven by the Obama administration. It is the administration, that is, the executive branch of government, that determines Iran policy. And beyond that, it is the fully bipartisan policy directed toward American global hegemony that drives foreign policy with regard to Iran, and with regard to everything else throughout the world -- as I very recently discussed:
For this is the view of the ruling class: "America is God. God's Will be done."

What they want is dominion over the world. They intend to have it. In pursuit of this aim, as they believe the necessity arises, they will destroy anyone and anything that stands in their way. To describe their behavior as insane is to miss the much more critical point, and to minimize the far greater danger. They know exactly what they're doing. They're hoping that you do not. To date, far too many people oblige them.
But Beinart discusses none of this and fails to mention it even once. Since Beinart is incapable of even identifying the nature of American foreign policy and its goals -- a foreign policy and a set of goals that, in their fundamentals, are fully shared by Democrats and Republicans alike -- he is incapable of opposing it in any meaningful way. And the fact is that he does not oppose it, as his record makes balefully clear. This, coupled with his catastrophic reliance on "experts," means only one thing: when the winds change, when enough "authorities" and "experts" declare that their calculations have altered and that they now think several months of bombing runs over Iran will be "worth it," he'll follow their command. He will meekly agree with their edicts, doubtless with deeply touching "regret" and "reluctance." After all, who is he to question their "expertise" and their "special knowledge"? Once again, he will obey.

So I can only repeat what I said in concluding my analysis of Beinart in 2006:
Beinart and his fellow warlovers are filled with regret now, only because the devastation and horror are so immense they cannot be denied. But most Americans have an attention span measured in months and, in the very best case, perhaps a year. Moreover, the horrors of Iraq still have no reality for most Americans, least of all with regard to how those horrors affect Iraqis. To the extent they are aware of them at all, that awareness will fade quickly enough.

And then the stage will be set for the next war, and Beinart and his crowd will propagandize for it once more. For pity's sake, don't let them get away with it again. Remember, and I mean this literally: they will be getting away with murder.

Just as they did this time, and as they do every time.