18 March 2012

Iran, Nukes, Peace: Part II

In my post yesterday, I established to my own satisfaction that Israel (though not the United States) is rational to be concerned about the possibility that Iran, a country whose leaders do want the destruction of Israel, may be close to accomplishing the development of an atomic device, one that might in turn be implanted into a missile capable of reaching Israeli territory.

This is based largely upon an IAEA report about which we can say that even those who argue with that conclusion use the IAEA's authority for their own selective purposes.

Now the question: so what? I submit that Israel, to its credit, has thought more like an enterprise than a sovereign. A profit-making enterprise wants to solve problems in the lowest cost and lowest risk manner available. The "profit" here is the security and prosperity of Israelis. What is the lowest cost, lowest risk, way of protecting that profit against the threat caused by an Iranian nuke program?

Stuxnet, the computer worm, comes to mind.

That may have set back any Iranian program by about a month.

And yes, something more violent comes to mind too, but it has been a very targeted violence, not aimed at whoever happens to be in the way of a bomb, but aimed squarely at the would-be Oppenheimers or Fermis of Iran, those working to create the threat to millions of Israelis. And, logically, should they be invulnerable?

I wrote about this here. The money quote:

Imagine if, in 1944, the government of Japan had learned what Fermi and Oppenheimer and other scientists working in the US were up to: the creation of a new bomb that could wipe out an entire city in a single puff of radioactive smoke.

Would it have been wrong, would it have been a war crime, for Japanese agents to seek to kill some of the key scientists?

Probably, in your estimation as in mine: not. It would have been a good deal more humane than the way sovereigns in fact do engage in war, that one and others.

For that matter, targeting those who are making the device that may kills millions of your citizens if you don't stop them is remarkably efficient in means-ends terms.

Here as with Stuxnet the only thing to be regretted is that such a measure may do no more than buy some little time.

A longer-term solution, still quite cost efficient, would be for Israel to team up with the Saudis. It could assist them with a nuclear program. After all, the Saudis (who are Sunni) can hardly be expected to sit quietly while the one great Shiite power develops a nuclear stockpile unique to the Persian Gulf region. If persuaded of the necessity, the Saudis, who certainly have the money to do so, could develop a deterremce-capable force next door to Iran. For reasons I discussed yesterday, I would expect them to do so, if at all, quite openly. Deterrence is open, not secretive.

Yes, a Saudi/Israeli alliance sounds unlikely, but so do lots of alliances:
Like the one that stopped Jersey.

So Israel does have options to protect itself short of massive strikes -- with the possibility of a 3d world war -- now under so much ardent discussion.

Again, think about businesses versus sovereigns. Some businesses find themselves in a situation where waste makes sense, if that waste is subsidized by someone else. Suppose hypothetically I'm running a road construction company. The actual traffic needs would be well served by a two-lane road, and I am confident my company can do that inexpensively. But the government that is paying me, for whatever reason, wants a four-lane highway there. Perhaps local interests believe their area will derive prestige from a large highway. So the local interests demand a four lane design, the politicians go along with that, and I am told that my firm can have the extra revenues needed for all four lanes at a larger profit margin than I had expected from two.

Israel is in the position of my hypothetical road construction company. Rationally, if left to their own devices, they would pick the wise and short-of-war route for preserving their own safety. But if a superpower underwrites them, and its chief executive says "I've got your back," Israel may end up in in a position where risking war comes to seem rational.

The United States should stop putting them in that position. Events will be better for Iranians, for Americans, for every nation in the Middle East, and for Israel itself, if the U.S. is less insistent than it has been that we have Israel's "back." We are the ones engaged in the absurd prestige-based subsidy for the four-lane highway.  And the unnecessary third and fourth lanes could do an awful lot more harm in this situation than my too-tame analogy has suggested.

In my recent book, Gambling with Borrowed Chips, I devoted one chapter to the role that fuel prices may have (but probably did not) pay in the financial crisis of 2007-08.

I began that chapter with these words: "I don't plan yet another thumb-sucking discussion of 'energy policy.' Those who care about my personal views know that I believe the U.S. policy of reliance upon foreign sources of crude is a disaster, and depends upon the use of our superb armed forces as security forces for  distant unreliable pipeline and shipping lanes. We can move toward a better way of doing business that won't involve fighting hree wars at a time and, I am confident, in time we will."

In the meantime, since we are committed to keeping open all those readily closed shipping lanes and protecting all those pipelines, we are also commited to cultivating Israel as an ally -- beyond our own best interests, and beyond theirs.

No comments:

Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.