Wednesday, April 05, 2006

VDH on the Iranian bomb

I am still officially on hiatus for a couple of more weeks, but a short post seems in order. This evening I attended a lecture by Victor Davis Hanson, the classicist and historian who also writes about current affairs. I've been reading articles and books by Hanson for three or four years now, and he has become one of my favorite writers on national security, war, and politics. He's both an idealist and a realist, which means he can be both inspirational and intellectually bracing. (I found him to be as interesting and worthwhile in person as he is in print.)

This evening his realist side was much in evidence. He was talking about preemptive war and whether such a thing can ever be justified to protect a free society. Much of the evening was spent discussing Iran. From the Iranian side, pursuing nuclear weapons has lots of advantages, if they can avoid getting the stuffing bombed out of them by the US and/or Israel (the only folks who can in fact do anything about it). The Europeans and the Arab League -- people who could actually be threatened by Iranian nukes on intermediate-range missiles -- would love to have the Iranian nuclear program stopped, but are unable to make any credible threat of force on their own. So they privately hope the Americans and the Israelis will take care of things, after which they will dutifully condemn yet another example of disgraceful Yankee/Zionist warmongering. Because of this and a lot of other foreseeable fallout, the costs of bombing Iran to cripple or destroy the nuclear program would be extremely high. The Iranians know this, and so they think they can play the game (intimidate now, concilliate now, delay and confuse, all the time telling the scientists to hurry it up) until Bush is out of office and the Iranian bomb is a fait accompli. And once that happens the rules change, and Iran is in a much more favorable position in a hundred ways.

Here's Hanson's forecast, as I heard him: Maybe the whole multilateral / EU / Russia / China / UN / talk-talk approach might work, or an internal peaceful political change could take place in Iran, but don't bet on it. Eventually, it will probably be necessary to bomb the Iranians to prevent them from going nuclear. But the political costs of that would be very, very high. (Some of these costs would be imposed by people who would privately be delighted by an attack. Life is not fair.) In the end, the US and Israel may not be able to muster the political will to proceed. (Hanson said the Bush probably had the will to do it, but not the ability to articulate and persuade that would be necessary.) So Iran will in the end likely get the Bomb. People will say, "Dang. Now we'll have to deal with Iran like we deal with Pakistan." Only it will turn out that Iran is not Pakistan, and the situation will be very bad indeed.

It was a depressing picture, in part because I found it very plausible.

Afterward I was chatting with a political scientist I know. I said that in some ways, Pakistan is more of a worry to me than Iran. I made an analogy (which I am sure is not original with me, though I've forgotten where I heard it). When I was a kid, I read science fiction books like the Barsoombooks by Edgar Rice Burroughs, which portrayed societies that had shining cities of super-science, with hordes of barbarians with swords roaming outside the gates. In other words, you had the weird combination of advanced technology and primitive barbarism, cheek-by-jowl. Pakistan is like that -- a country with missiles and nukes, yet which has large districts that are essentially lawless, not at all under the control of the central government. I find that combination particularly scary.

And my poli-sci friend said, "Well, in Iran the barbarians with swords are actually running the cities. Now that's scary."

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Public (Lack of) Service Announcement

If you want to be a real first-magnitude blogger with zillions of visits, then you need to blog very regularly. New content all the time -- every day, or many times a day if you can manage it -- is the key to blogging fame and fortune. This is easier if your blog has mulitple authors, or if you tend to write short and punchy posts with one point to make and maybe a couple of links. On the other hand, if there is just one of you, and you like to write long wandering essays with interesting twists and connections, and if you also have an intellectually demanding day-job and several other important hobbies, then it's hard to keep up a high posting rate. I'm lucky to post two solid pieces in the same week.

All of which is by way of announcing a brief hiatus in blogging here at Zeroth Order Approximation. I have one or two other projects that are demanding more than routine attention, and of course there are always classes to be taught and papers to grade and all that sort of thing. My plan is to take about three weeks off and return toward the end of April.

Please do not imagine that I am tired of this business! I have lots of stuff yet to say, about global warming and the ethics of rhetoric and how I was once mistaken for a devil worshiper, just to mention three random unfinished pieces on my hard drive. For all my friends who are regular readers, my apologies, and I'll meet you back here soon. For those of you who have just dropped by and don't know what might be worth reading, I've prepared a list of not-entirely-stinky posts from the last couple of months:
  • The pieces on "Well-tempered numbers" and "Cultural wisdom" -- the first about music and mental arithmetic, the second about the philosophy of engineering -- have attracted more readers than most. (I had occasion to reflect on the first piece the day before yesterday, when I happened to be playing with a Russian slide rule. I have occasion to reflect on the second one every single blessed day.)
  • Two posts (here and here) inspired by the Samuel Alito confirmation hearings pretty well express my present views on the judiciary, abortion and American politics.
  • My essay entitled "Enigma" (which was one of my all-time favorites to research and to write) is holding up pretty well, especially in light of the information in (and reactions to) the many captured documents and recordings from Iraq that are now being released.
  • I thought my recent post on "Fear" said something worthwhile about our "litigious society".
  • The sermon on prayer that I posted here did not, perhaps, entirely miss the point.
And of course the archives are available over to the right, including a few "favorite posts".

Back after Easter. Take care.