Wednesday, April 12, 2006
Billmon on what a "surgical" nuke strike on Iran would mean:|
This is just a snippet, read the whole thing.
I've been trying to picture what the world might look like the day after a U.S. nuclear strike on Iran, but I'm essentially drawing a blank. There simply isn't a precedent for the world's dominant superpower turning into a rogue state – much less a rogue state willing to wage nuclear war against potential, even hypothetical, security threats. At that point, we’d truly be through the looking glass.
One can assume (or at least hope) that first use of nuclear weapons would turn America into an international pariah, at least in the eyes of global public opinion. It would certainly mark the definitive end of the system of collective security – and the laws and institutions supporting that system – established in the wake of World War II. The UN Security Council would be rendered as pointless as the old League of Nations. The Nuremberg Principles would be as moot as the Geneva Conventions. (To the neocons, of course, these are all pluses.)
Nuclear first use would also shatter (or at least, radically transform) the political alliances that defined America's leadership role in the old postwar order. To the extent any of these relationships survived, they’d be placed on roughly the same basis as the current U.S. protectorate over Saudi Arabia – or, even worse, brought down to the level of the old Warsaw Pact. They would be coalitions of the weak, the vulnerable and the easily intimidated.
In other words, the current hegemony of American influence and ideas (backed by overwhelming military force) would be replaced by an overt dictatorship based – more or less explicitly – on fear of nuclear annihilation. U.S. foreign policy would become nothing more than a variation on the ancient Roman warning: For every one of our dead; 100 of yours. Never again would American rulers (or their foreign counterparts) be able to hide behind the comfortable fiction that the United States is just primus inter pares – first among equals. A country that nukes other countries merely on the suspicion that they may pose a future security threat isn't the equal of anybody. America would stand completely alone: hated by many, feared by all, admired only by the world’s other tyrants. To call that a watershed event seems a ridiculous understatement.
But I can't even begin to guess what such an event would mean in immediate, tangible terms (other the creation of a large, radioactive hole about 200 miles south of Tehran). It’s entirely possible the near-term consequences wouldn't appear as cataclysmic as you might expect from such a world-shaking event – except, of course, for those poor souls unlucky enough to be living near or downwind from one of Iran's suspected nuclear weapons facilities.
Yes, the price of oil could go to $150 a barrel, and yes, Iran could retaliate with a terrorist offensive that would light Iraq and the Persian Gulf up like Roman candles. We can't rule out a major attack on American soil. (A recent report based on Saudi intelligence sources claims the al-Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps – probably the most capable terrorist support organization in the world – already has a box on its organizational chart labeled "North America.")
But, barring another 9/11, or a worldwide financial meltdown, the day after a nuclear strike on Iran might not look that much different than the day before, at least to the folks back home. The impact on oil prices – and even more importantly, on prices at the pump – might be containable, at least in the short-term, if the Straits of Hormuz remain open and the strategic oil reserve does what it's supposed to do. (Very big ifs, to be sure, but not impossible ones. Neither of the last two wars in the gulf turned into the energy catastrophes everyone had feared when they started.) Financial markets might actually rally if Wall Street judges the strike to have been a "success." As for an Iranian-backed terror offensive in Iraq, at this point you have to wonder if anyone would notice.
For most Americans, then, the initial impact of war with Iran could play out in the same theatre of the absurd as the first Gulf War and the opening phases of the Iraq invasion – that is to say, on their living room TVs. And if there's one place where a nuclear first strike could be made to appear almost normal, or even a good thing, it's on the boob tube.
After all, the corporate media complex has already shown a remarkable willingness to ignore or rationalize conduct that once would have been considered grossly illegal, if not outright war crimes. And the right-wing propaganda machine is happy to paint any atrocity as another glorious success in the battle for democracy (that is, when it's not trying to deny it ever happened.) Why should we expect something as transitory as a nuclear strike to change the pattern?
Let's be honest about it: For both the corporate and the conservative media, as well as for their audiences, an air campaign against Iran would make for great TV – a welcome return to the good old days of Desert Storm and Shock and Awe. All those jets soaring off into the desert twilight; the overexposed glare of cruise missiles streaking from their launch ships; the video game shots of exploding aircraft hangers and government buildings, the anti-aircraft tracers arcing into the night sky over Tehran – it would be war just the way we like it, far removed from the dull brown dust, raw sewage and multiple amputees of the Iraqi quagmire.
And to keep things interesting, we’d have the added frisson of nuclear weapons – a plot twist that would allow blow-dried correspondents to pose in borrowed radiation suits, give Pentagon flacks the opportunity to try out new euphemisms for killing people, and encourage retired generals to spice up their on-air military patter with knowing references to blast effects, kilotons, roentgens and fallout patterns.
What I'm suggesting here is that it is probably naive to expect the American public to react with horror, remorse or even shock to a U.S. nuclear sneak attack on Iran, even though it would be one of the most heinous war crimes imaginable, short of mass genocide. Iran has been demonized too successfully – thanks in no small part to the messianic delusions of its own end-times president – for most Americans to see it as a victim of aggression, even if they were inclined to admit that the United States could ever be an aggressor. And we know a not-so-small and extremely vocal minority of Americans would be cheering all the way, and lusting for more.
More to my point, though, I think it's possible that even something as monstrously insane as nuclear war could still be squeezed into the tiny rituals that pass for public debate in this country – the game of dueling TV sound bites that trivializes and then disposes of every issue.
We’ve already seen a lengthy list of war crimes and dictatorial power grabs sink into that electronic compost heap: the WMD disinformation campaign, Abu Ghraib, the torture memos, the de facto repeal of the 4th amendment. Again, why should a nuclear strike be any different? I can easily imagine the same rabid talk show hosts spouting the same jingoistic hate speech, the same bow-tied conservative pundits offering the same recycled talking points, and the same timid Beltway liberals complaining that while nuking Iran was the right thing to do, the White House went about it the wrong way. And I can already hear the same media critics chiding those of us in left Blogostan for blowing the whole thing out of proportion. It’s just a little bunker buster, after all.
Why should anyone or anything change? When a culture is as historically clueless and morally desensitized as this one appears to be, I don’t think it’s absurd to suppose that even an enormous war crime – the worst imaginable, short of outright genocide – could get lost in the endless babble of the talking heads. When everything is just a matter of opinion, anything – literally anything – can be justified. It’s only a matter of framing things so people can believe what they want to believe.
This is just a snippet, read the whole thing.