Nuke Iran, But In a Limited Way

Brian Doherty points out that Robert Kaplan has (tentatively) advanced the idea that America should get comfortable with the possibility of engaging in a totally reasonable, eminently realistic, exactingly limited nuclear war with Iran.

Kaplan advances this argument by conjuring up the ghost of the still-living Henry Kissinger, and concludes:

The search for certainty, he goes on, reduces us to dealing with emergencies, not preventing them. But for a democracy that needs to mobilize an entire population through patient argument in order to deploy troops for war—and, therefore, requires a good-versus-evil cause to ensure public support—limited wars, with their nuanced objectives, are far more challenging than all-out ones.

We must be more willing, not only to accept the prospect of limited war but, as Kissinger does in his book of a half century ago, to accept the prospect of a limited nuclear war between states.


Yet much as limited war has brought us to grief, our willingness to wage it may one day save us from revolutionary powers that have cleverly obscured their intentions—Iran not least among them.

I think Kaplan is the one who should be called out for “cleverly obscured intentions”. It is rather obvious that Iran’s nuclear-development accelerated (along with North Korea’s) right as the president of the United States warned America about an “axis of evil.” What is obscure about that?

In any case, the other errors in these paragraphs are legion. Let’s take them by phrases.

Through patient argument. -By this Kaplan must mean when executive branch officials claim that the smoking gun may be a mushroom cloud, when they chant weapons of mass destruction, or claim to set a fire in the minds of men, that sort of patient argument. Because Americans tend to take the decision to go to war seriously, they prefer that a war have something to do with their own security. U.N. Resolution 1441 to the contrary, Americans responded to the idea that Saddam threatened them in some way. Exactly how he was going to deliver his incredibly well-hidden arsenal of death to Brooklyn or Jacksonville … well, leave that aside. Stories of human shredders and righteous allies merely add a little “good-guys vs. bad guys” juice. There are plenty of nations that Americans will consider “bad” but not care to invade.

Nuanced objectives -Translation: If all this seems unclear it’s because you are too stupid to understand it. War isn’t about pouring death and destruction on those who would threaten you with real harm, it is just a tool of global management. We don’t have to think of other nations as “evil”, just as suitable candidates for bombing.

Limited war -This has actually been a chimera in American foreign policy debates for a long time. Smart bombs, and advanced air-war tactics as used on behalf of the K.L.A. by the United States in 1999 were synonymous with the idea of a “limited” or “surgical” use of military forces.

Limited nuclear war -Somehow I doubt the destruction of buildings and infrastructure anywhere near the blast will be limited – after all, what’s the point then? And the radiation sickness for the people? Well, that isn’t really limited either. Is there any conceivable scenario in which this *limited nuclear war? would claim less than 8,000 innocent lives. In other words would it kill fewer people than the VRS did at Srebrenica, the massacre that made the Serbian militants into genocidaires?

Save us from revolutionary powers -How exactly does Iran threaten the United States? Apparently this doesn’t have to be argued.

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