Keller’s Blindness

by BILL SIEGEL September 17, 2012

Bill Keller's September 9, 2012 New York Times piece "Nuclear Mullahs" typifies a recent wave of reasoning that allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons is the best outcome available. This thinking, while deliberative, was predictable years ago when President Obama and Hillary Clinton masked a rigid unwillingness to then confront the reality of Iran by pontificating how a nuclear Iran was "unacceptable." Keller, along with icon academics such as Kenneth Waltz, unravels the thinking that allows such an understandable but irresponsible position.

The essential conclusion is that living with a nuclear Iran is preferable to a "pre-emptive war" against Iran. Keller reluctantly grants the assumption that the regime has decided to pursue such weapons and that diplomacy and computer viruses won't stop it in time. The familiarity of the status quo without a US/Israel attack beats out the unpredictable consequences from the "lethal rage" feared to be unleashed from Iran, the unprovoked "victim."

This thinking is the result of the "Control Factor," that part of our minds charged with ensuring the world we perceive has us in control when, in fact, we are not. One of the many dangerous maneuvers the Control Factor employs here is that the Iranian regime is "just like us" which allows us to imagine that we then need only act in ways that would cause us to act the way we wish of it.

Should Iran become nuclear, Keller expects it to act like a responsible partner in the world community because the threat of retaliation will keep it in check as it has done with North Korea. After all, India and Pakistan have not even gone to war since they both became nuclear.

Mutual Assured Destruction is relished because it seemingly stopped a US-USSR nuclear war. It did not, however, prevent decades of exhaustive proxy wars or an expensive arms race which nonetheless gave little sense of stability. The US can ill afford to launch decades of that again.

Nor was MAD tested against a religiously motivated tyranny that dutifully seeks to bring about the chaos and world horrors necessary to facilitate the return of its missing Mahdi. While presuming the regime is not "suicidal," Keller conveniently ignores the very real End Times aspirations of a powerful supremacist theology.

Nor is automatic retaliation so likely today. If Iran demolished Israel to any degree, one can easily imagine the Obama-Clinton voices calling for a "measured" response if not pleas to avoid what would then be a "senseless" escalation; little to gain from any retaliatory act. If Keller is afraid of the rageful Iranian response now, imagine what "mother of all wars" he would be predicting then.

Construing the regime as "just like us" has been important for diplomats, academics, think tank and media figures etc. whose relationships with Iranian associates are built on such foundation. Consequently, however, we were led astray for a decade by the ridiculous mantra "Change regime behavior, not the regime." Incredibly we take the regime at its word when it comforts us that it has not advanced it nuclear program while we recklessly disregard its words and acts when it makes clear its intentions to destroy the US and Israel. (Keller simply says it is "hard to believe" it wants to exterminate Israel). Keeping alive the hope that one day the regime will drop this imagined negotiating façade and accept "reasonable" terms with the responsible world community has been more important than understanding the regime's own constitutionally commanded efforts to spread globally through all means.

Keller argues that a nuclear Iran will not set off a regional race because while the Saudis admittedly may seek such weapons and Turkey and others have unstated "strong reasons" not to, Egypt is broke. Perhaps he has missed how Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has been reportedly discussing with Iran the creation of nuclear plants. Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has long advocated making Egypt a nuclear power and such desires are already spreading through the region regardless of Iran's advance.

Part of projecting "us" onto "them" is the notion that since we fear our own power, Iran will not look to any type of first strike. Indeed, the regime's Shiite theology has some history of barring "offensive Jihad," the aggressive commencement of war in non-Muslim lands. Yet in 1986, even before Ayatollah Khomenei issued his still active fatwa to develop all kinds of WMD, Iran's Islamic Propagation Organization cited the (albeit minority at the time) view that offensive jihad becomes permissible if an Islamic government clearly has overwhelming power to be "sure to win." Under this spreading view, a nuclear Iran would certainly qualify.

Consequently, a nuclear Iran would not only represent a political and military change in the balance of power in the region. What Keller and others miss is that it would cause a theological change in the balance of objectives. Allowing a nuclear Iran would itself create a license for their use.

The core element of this "willful blindness" lies in Keller's framing the choice between a nuclear Iran and a "pre-emptive war." To the contrary, the regime declared war decades ago and has prosecuted it effectively ever since including through terror, sabotaging the US in Iraq, assisting al-Qaeda, and establishing a front within our borders. An attack on its nuclear assets would be anything but unprovoked.

The Control Factor has us ignore Iran's words and deeds comforting ourselves that if the regime's never ending push comes to shove, our military superiority will protect us. We reason that since our strengths are asymmetrical, we need not fight, much less honor, the war declared. Such might be acceptable if we truly kept Iran in an ineffective status but it is illogical, perhaps suicidal, to then allow Iran to equalize power with us on the presumption that its behavior when less powerful will continue as some mere low grade nuisance.

The simple conclusion that should have been reached years ago is that we are already in a war to the end with Iran (as well as with the Muslim Brotherhood and related entities) and the only responsible action is to fight- no matter the consequences, no matter how frightened we may be about the potential unleashed "rage" in response- until we have won. There is no real choice for Keller to endlessly deliberate while our advantages erode. All else may "feel" appropriate but will necessarily lead to worse disaster down the road.

Bill Siegel is the author of The Control Factor- Our Struggle to See the True Threat published by Hamilton Books.

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