28 February 2013

Peter Beinart on Chuck Hagel: deterrence and involvement

The article by Peter Beinart on the brand new secretary of defense only confirmed for me the two things I already knew: that I admire Peter's ability to weave a lot of words into a pretty persuasive story; and that this is one of the reasons to be wary of him. Take for example the five absurd things that Peter has noticed about the whole brouhaha:

  1. It was absurd that at a time when Beijing is clearly America’s greatest geopolitical competitor, the 12 Republican senators on the Armed Services Committee mentioned China a grand total of once during a seven-and-a-half-hour hearing on the challenges of being Defense secretary, and only then because Hagel allegedly had traveled there with a prominent critic of Israel.
  2. It was absurd that during a hearing at which Israel was mentioned 137 times, senators angrily demanded that Hagel retract his claim that lobbying groups that focus on Israel wield disproportionate influence in the Senate.
  3. It was absurd that conservative activists with records of active hostility to gay rights attacked Hagel for being insufficiently supportive of gay rights.
  4. It was absurd that conservative journalists invented a fictitious pro-terrorist organization and demanded that Hagel prove he had never received money from it.
  5. And it was absurd that Rand Paul voted to confirm Hagel after having only hours before voted not to allow a vote at all.
I haven't changed anything in the above quote, just separated the five statements for easier counting.

The marvel of Beinart's writing is that he slips imprecision into the fabric of his logic so elegantly that upon first reading one is left with a feeling of being a live witness to a veritable rain of incontrovertible truths. Well, after a short while one starts to identify some cracks in this impressive wall of verities. Like:
  1. Why mix China and Israel in the same breath? Is China a friend? Is Israel an enemy? Could it possibly be that the senators are worried more about Hagel's stance on Israel and Middle East that that on China? Etc...
  2. What is "disproportionate influence in the Senate" - besides being a rather slavish quote from Mearsheimer and Walt dictionary? Define "disproportionate"?
  3. It is called "politics", dear Peter, and a pol voting or acting against his personal beliefs or promises should hardly surprise a professor of political science.
  4. Now this is what I call a sleight of hand. It is not a conservative journalist that invented the "friends of Hamas" story. Anyway it doesn't matter, since he definitely isn't the one who demanded something from Hagel based on that invention. Oh well, let's call it a genuine mistake.
  5. And for the Rand Paul reference: totally unclear what it has to do with anything. Unless Peter wanted to round up the number of absurdities to five. And there is a good enough explanation to that (fairly common) political zigzag, having little to do with the context of Peter's article.
I don't think a wall with that many cracks would be accepted, even by a very undemanding customer.

But the above isn't really why this post is being written. It was just a necessary word of caution, so to say. Now to the meat of that article. What the author trying to do in it is fairly simple: to force the reader to accept the Iranian nuke as a fait accompli and to learn living with it. And to accept in advance that Hagel is not going to do much about it. Peter uses some historic examples:
But by reminding Americans of the potential costs of preventive war, Hagel was implying that containment and deterrence might be preferable. He was suggesting that if the U.S. can’t stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons short of war, it should make the same tradeoff that Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy made when they allowed the Soviet Union and China to get the bomb.
Of course, on the other hand, he has some pretty harsh things to say about Bibi and the "hawks":
This horrifies hawks for two reasons. First, some of them, echoing Benjamin Netanyahu, claim Iran represents an existential threat to Israel.
Here again Peter displays some impressive prestidigitation. And not only because the relatively sane regimes like ones in Russia and China (at the time discussed) were much less prone to mad decisions. But (and mainly) because not even in the maddest dream would the Iranian leadership consider a nuclear attack on United States.

Israel is another story. Iranian honchos have never minced words about their attitude to that place. And, while I am not totally sure that they are really going for an open attack on Israel that will involve nukes (I am not going to argue with the esteemed chief of Mossad whom Peter quotes with pleasure), I can easily see where an Iranian small nuclear device is inadvertently "lost" near a terrorist training camp, to be smuggled into Tel Aviv.

But even that is not the main point. Here it comes (eventually, but I am still at less than a third of the reviewed article length):

The point is that US, being Israel's buddy, at least for the moment, and not being directly threatened by Iran, could indeed allow themselves the luxury of vacillating between prevention (which Hagel, according to Beinart, rejects) and deterrence and containment, which both Beinart and (according to Beinart) Hagel vastly prefer.

Israel, on the other hand, cannot allow itself to be content with American deterrence and containment. Rather the opposite. And here I have to share the concern that Bibi so frequently and eloquently expresses. Being a public figure and a politico Bibi never goes into the issue of American deterrence and containment where Iran is concerned. But I, being an irresponsible lowly blogger, can:

I don't for a moment disbelieve that in case of a nuclear attack on Israel the might of American military will descend on the mad Ayatollahs and that in a few minutes Iran will be converted into a nicely glassified parking lot. For a simple enough reason: I don't have to believe or disbelieve something I know for sure will never happen. Not a single nuclear device belonging to US of A will be even armed if Iran decides to lob a few nukes at Israel. If we have learned something from history, this is it: aside of a general expression of horror and a few nice (but carefully worded) eulogies, no one will retaliate and everyone will find plenty of good and humane reasons why not to. Exactly as today Peter and many others find plenty of good reasons why "deterrence and containment" are preferable to prevention.

At least in that sad eventuality we could rest assured that Peter will do his considerable best with the eulogy...

As for the general difference between American and Israeli situations, here comes an old but proven joke* (it appears even in Wiki) that applies very well to the situation:
Question: In a bacon-and-egg breakfast, what's the difference between the Chicken and the Pig?
Answer: The Chicken is involved, but the Pig is committed!
We are committed, Peter, and US is involved - with an ever present option to uninvolve itself.

P.S. And for a further proof of Peter's mastery of misleading parallels, here is another quote:
America didn’t go into decline because the Cold War was mostly a struggle between political and economic systems, and in that struggle nuclear weapons didn’t really help Moscow and Beijing.
I wish it were a political and economic struggle between Israel and Iran. But doesn't an expert in political science see the difference between the Cold War and the one we are in? Hard to believe.

(*) Hopefully I don't offend my religious friends by that porcine joke. To make it more kosher: there is turkey bacon these days, accidentally with much lower cholesterol content.


SnoopyTheGoon said...

Peter Putz.

I cringe to see this American-Jew so eager to gain some measly brownie points with the likes of Hagel. Has he made it into Mearsheimer's Righteous Jews list yet?

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Well, I wouldn't call him a putz. He is quite a sophisticated character, not all that easy to break down.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

I think I was doing him a kindness. He found that conformity with the anti-Israel bashing pays nice dividends and I don't mean financially. Not sophisticated and not at all hard to analyze. The very clichoid arguments and ploys he employs in his article attest to that. Putz Putzinsky.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

"He found that conformity with the anti-Israel bashing pays nice dividends..."

Precisely. And this is another proof that he is not that big a Putz.