Tuesday, April 11, 2006

AARONOVITCH ON HERSH, VDH ON AHMADINEJAD

(Ah, Blogger. Manages to chomp bits out of my posts and then won't let me edit them. Grrrr... So only the one post today - if it actually gets through to the Blogger servers that is.)

Writing in today's Times, David Aaronovitch takes issue with Seymour Hersh's New Yorker article - "Let's calm down. Messianic Bush isn't about to rain down nukes on Iran." Here's a snippet:
[I]f everyone knows that Mr Bush is Count Dracula, then everyone also knows that the British PM is his fly-nibbling Renfield. “There is a wild card in this,” added Hersh, “and this is what I’m hearing here in Washington, and that’s one Tony Blair. One does not know what Tony Blair, despite his political troubles of today, would do if directly pushed by the President on this issue.” So Mr Blair could be about to commit Britain to supporting a US nuclear strike on Iran.

[The BBC's John Humphries, yesterday morning]JH: “And finally to Jeremy Bowen, our Middle East editor, what do you make of all this, Jeremy?” “Well, John, Seymour Hersh’s sources are very good. Now the question is are they telling him the truth or is this some kind of disinformation operation?”

How Bowen knows whether Hersh’s sources for this are good or not is anyone’s guess. As well as the unnecessarily reticent House member, there are in the article, as described by Hersh, the following: a former senior intelligence official, a government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon, one former defence official, one military planner, one high-ranking diplomat, a senior Pentagon adviser on the war on terror, a discouraged former International Atomic Energy Agency official, a former high-level Defence Department official, one recently retired high-level Bush Administration official, one former senior UN official, a senior Israeli intelligence official, a European intelligence official, another diplomat in Vienna and a Western ambassador there. Some offer the most sensational information, and others just give punchy quotes of great narrative usefulness.

The problem here is that we simply have to take Hersh and his judgment on trust. This is awkward, because he’s done a lot of good stuff in his career, and some pretty bad stuff. And there’s no way at all of knowing which this is. It just seems a pity that with so much at stake, not even his “formers” are prepared to speak on the record.
Which is pretty much the way I felt about the article.

He also echoes my thoughts from a previous thread when he writes:
My own uninformed guess is that there’s a lot of contingency planning going on about Iran, just as we plan for the unlikely eventuality of an avian flu pandemic, and that you can drive yourself crazy with the implications of ever having to use military action against such a complex and important country, just as you can with speculating on how we will bury 500,000 flu fatalities. Someone in a room somewhere needs a plan for every possibility — the rest of us need to deal with the likely world. Hersh reminds us that “there is a Cold War precedent for targeting deep underground bunkers with nuclear weapons”. My point is that we didn’t use it.
Quite.

Doughnut Boy Andy in the comments pointed out that Iran needs to know the US is serious. If the Iranian regime had any lingering doubts about the measures the US is prepared to take to prevent Iran developing nukes, in a round-about way Hersh has helped by letting them know, albeit via several anonymous sources. However, I can't believe the Iranian regime hadn't already considered the prospect of a US strike with tactical nukes.

Whilst the storm over this calms down, here's a piece from VDH on Ahmadinejad's miscalculation:
So for all the lunacy of Mr. Ahmadinejad, it is time for him to sober up and do some cool reckoning. He thinks appearing unhinged offers advantages in nuclear poker. And he preens that unpredictability is the private domain of the fanatical believer, who talks into empty wells and uses his powers of hypnosis to ensure his listeners cannot blink.

Iran, of course, is still an underdeveloped country. It seems to profess that it is willing to lose even its poverty in order to take out one wealthy Western city in the exchange. But emotion works both ways, and the Iranians must now be careful. Mr. Bush is capable of anger and impatience as well. Of all recent American presidents, he seems the least likely to make decisions about risky foreign initiatives on the basis of unfavorable polls.

Israel is not free from its passions either — for there will be no second Holocaust. It is time for the Iranian leaders to snap out of their pseudo-trances and hocus-pocus, and accept that some Western countries are not merely far more powerful than Iran, but in certain situations and under particular circumstances, can be just as driven by memory, history, and, yes, a certain craziness as well.

Ever since September 11, the subtext of this war could be summed up as something like, “Suburban Jason, with his iPod, godlessness, and earring, loves to live too much to die, while Ali, raised as the 11th son of an impoverished but devout street-sweeper in Damascus, loves death too much to live.” The Iranians, like bin Laden, promulgate this mythical antithesis, which, like all caricatures, has elements of truth in it. But what the Iranians, like the al Qaedists, do not fully fathom, is that Jason, upon concluding that he would lose not only his iPod and earring, but his entire family and suburb as well, is capable of conjuring up things far more frightening than anything in the 8th-century brain of Mr. Ahmadinejad. Unfortunately, the barbarity of the nightmares at Antietam, Verdun, Dresden, and Hiroshima prove that well enough.

So far the Iranian president has posed as someone 90-percent crazy and 10-percent sane, hoping we would fear his overt madness and delicately appeal to his small reservoirs of reason. But he should understand that if his Western enemies appear 90-percent children of the Enlightenment, they are still effused with vestigial traces of the emotional and unpredictable. And military history shows that the irrational 10 percent of the Western mind is a lot scarier than anything Islamic fanaticism has to offer.

So, please, Mr. Ahmadinejad, cool the rhetoric fast — before you needlessly push once reasonable people against the wall, and thus talk your way into a sky full of very angry and righteous jets.
For all the bluster (if you dare us, we can and shall be madder than you), there's some very valid points in it. Worth a look.

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