Thursday, February 01, 2007

War with Iran

A number of voices are calling for war with Iran, predicated mostly on the perceived imminence their acquiring the capability to build nuclear weapons. Even (urk!) John Edwards has spoken in favor of "keeping all options on the table"--an especially chilling "all" since our preemptive use of nuclear weapons is one of the options which is being seriously discussed.

I don't have sufficient expertise, nor have I conducted sufficient research to offer specific advice. But I have some general advice as a philosopher:

Be skeptical, regardless of your ideological or political leanings. We're talking about war, not whether we should spend $50 on a new sweater. Do not depend on any single source to form your opinions on this matter. Especially do not trust any source--such as the Bush Administration--which has proven itself time and again to be unashamedly mendacious or indifferent to factual accuracy and intellectual integrity. Do look at a number of opinions, but don't just count up opinions and weigh them by the perceived authority of the source. You want to look at many opinions to be sure to get all the facts which substantiate those opinions. Always, always, always, get the facts.

Several important points in this issue are, at least to some degree, matters of truth, susceptible to rational analysis.

Does Iran pose a "mortal" or existential threat to Israel? The answer to this question is not at all obvious or trivial. Yes, Iran, like many other Islamic countries, has expressed an active, deep-seated hostility to Israel; in other news, Earth orbits Sun. This hostility has been around for a long time, it's an issue of concern, but does it justify a war? A preemptive war? A preemptive nuclear war?

Some commentators have pointed out that Iran has made diplomatic overtures to the United States which have been peremptorily rebuffed by the Bush Administration. Have you seen these reports? Have you evaluated their plausibility or accuracy?

How close is Iran really to acquiring nuclear weapons? What facts support the varying opinions?

Would Iran, by virtue only of being armed with nuclear weapons, truly pose an immediate threat to Israel? Can we draw a comparison with the case of Pakistan and India, whose mutual animosity seems comparable to the animosity between Israel and Iran, who are both armed with nuclear weapons, and who have not (yet) used them?

Does Iran have a legitimate case for acquiring nuclear weapons? How does the Bush Administration's obvious, implacable and (in some cases) irrational hostility and provocations towards Iran affect the Iranian government's thinking? Given that nuclear weapons are probably the only way to deter the kind of U.S. aggression we have seen in Iraq (cough North Korea cough), how plausible is a self-defense argument?

We're mired ass-deep in Iraq precisely because we as a nation were insufficiently skeptical of the unscrupulous and mendacious Bush Administration and a supine press. Don't let them fool you again. They may be right about Iran, they may be wrong, but they are definitely not trustworthy.

Many of the authors on my blogroll have written about this issue. Most are liberal, some are conservative; check them all out. Even if you disagree with their ideological biases and only skim their opinions, look at the facts they present. And then make up your own mind.

I'm not asking you to come to any particular conclusion. I am, however asking, exhorting, demanding that you get the facts and think about this issue.


  1. Slate yesterday had a trio of good primers on Iraq/Iran. The best was Fred Kaplan's.

  2. Here's Weisberg on engaging Iran.

    Kaplan on the Bush Administration's cockamamie "Ally with Shia in Iraq and Sunnis everywhere" strategy.

    And Young on the Syrian wildcard.

    Probably the best Middle East analyst that's not Juan Cole is Spencer Ackerman.


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