Today marks 73 years since the outbreak of the Second World War, so in honor of a conflict that finally dragged the United States and many other nations out of the depression at the mere cost of over 55 million killed over the course of six years and a day, I turn to flogging someone wanting to start a Third.
Charles Krauthammer, the Washington Post’s go-to warmongering columnist, last Thursday tried to demolish the idea deterrence ever works. Yes, he does admit not going nuclear against the Soviet Union during the Cold War was the right call, but even after taking an exception to the rule he makes a weak case.
In arguing Israel has no option but to attack Iran over its potential to acquire nuclear weapons, Krauthammer recycles Cold War hysteria at length (while denying the logic was ever applied to the Soviets). I won’t indulge much:
America is a nation of 300 million; Israel, 8 million. America is a continental nation; Israel, a speck on the map, at one point eight miles wide. Israel is a “one-bomb country.” Its territory is so tiny, its population so concentrated that, as Iran’s former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has famously said, “Application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” A tiny nuclear arsenal would do the job.
Excuse me, but what on earth is he talking about? This website allows the user to see the blast radius of various nuclear devices, and the Tsar Bomba (i.e: the most powerful human-produced nuclear explosion in history) 50 megaton blast still isn’t enough to engulf the whole of Israel’s populated area. Seems a large swath of nuclear strikes would be necessary to take out Israel in one day.
Krauthammer’s logical failures are endemic in his writing. He lumps Iran and Al-Qaeda together:
The classic formulation comes from Tehran’s fellow (and rival Sunni) jihadist al-Qaeda: “You love life and we love death.” Try deterring that.
Yes, let’s try deterring Shi’a Iran from following the path of Sunni Al-Qaeda. These two factions are basically the same right? Sunni and Shi’a never come to blows? I hate to break it to Mr. Krauthammer, but we should be so lucky. Al-Qaeda and its Taliban allies are known for killing multiple suicide bombers in group hugs pre-mission and violating cows and donkeys.
But the failure of logic is most palpable with one question: what about the Palestinians, Syrians, Egyptians, and Jordanians? Even without an Israeli counterattack, would the Iranians really think these nations and peoples surrounding Israel would not suffer horribly from the nuclear after effects? Would these nations feel inclined to retaliate? I tend to think so, and that brings the core issue: how could it be that Iran wouldn’t think twice about striking a nation armed with Jericho ballistic missiles, Dolphin submarines armed with Popeye Turbo cruise missiles, and IDF F-15s and F-16s slinging nuclear gravity bombs? Israel has the full “nuclear triad,” specifically arranged for second-strike capability. Does anyone really think Israel couldn’t (and in the case of having been struck by Iran first, wouldn’t) blast Iran out of existence? How isn’t this the textbook definition of MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction), the foundation of nuclear deterrence? But don’t take my word for it. Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defense Minister, doesn’t believe the Iranian mullahs would use nuclear weapons after acquisition.
One can write off Charles Krauthammer as just another hothead. After all, none of what I just wrote is news to the U.S. military or the IDF. But the decision to go to war is made by politicians in this country. Neither presidential candidate has served in the military, and the pressure to “do something” about Iran is intensifying. Obama has called the scenario of Iran possessing nuclear weapons a “game-changer.” Indeed it is–but all the downside would be on Iranian leaders. Tehran almost certainly knows the bulk of Israel’s hundreds of nuclear weapons are already pointed at them. Should they test a weapon and announce to the world their intentions, the U.S. would likely task part of its nuclear arsenal against Iran. That arsenal includes 450 Minuteman ICBMs, 14 Ohio-Class submarines each armed with 24 Trident D5 SLBMs, plus B-1, B-2, and B-52 nuclear-armed bombers. Yeah, good luck with that.