9/6/2012—I read today another call for an attack on Iran. This one was coyly entitled “Do You Believe?” by Abby Schachter in the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle and purported to be just a series of questions. But the import was clear enough—“Do you agree that Israel should be more concerned about Iran’s nuclear capability than the Obama Administration seems to be?”
Needless to say, nothing in the column suggested that the Obama Administration was anything but very concerned about the possibility of an Iranian bomb. What Schacter was criticizing was the unwillingness of the Obama Administration to give a clear signal that it will bomb Iranian weapons and nuclear facilities at some point at which Iran demonstrates the capability to build a nuclear weapon. That is what Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls a “red line” in the column, thus indicating Israeli intention to attack Iran.
But, let’s go beyond willingness to attack Iran for a moment. Let’s ask what consequences such an attack would produce and, conversely, what an Iranian bomb would mean?
The consequences of an attack would plainly be awful. Obviously, Iranians would die, but clearly so would Israelis and many others in retaliation. The Iranian government would become the heroic leader of the Muslim world. Muslim moderates would support Iran and the cause of democracy and any other Western oriented reforms, such as individual liberty and the rights of women, would be undermined.
All this might be worth it if an attack guaranteed that there would be no Iranian bomb. But, plainly that would not be the case. Saddam Hussein redoubled his efforts to develop a nuclear bomb after an Israeli attack on a reactor in 1981 and Iran would obviously do the same. But now, the entire Iranian people would support such efforts. It would be obvious that the US only attacks countries without nuclear weapons and not those like North Korea that have them. An endless repetition of attacks would have to follow.
Still, even all that would be worth it depending on what Iran would do with a bomb. Schachter meant to suggest that Iran would bomb Israel with a nuclear weapon as soon as it had the capability. That is the point of a quote like, “the existence of the Zionist regime is an insult to all humanity.” (Or for that matter a cartoon in the same issue with an Iranian leader stating that “All Jews should be killed and Israel annihilated” with a silhouette of a Nazi leader in the background.)
But is this so? Such a position suggests that Iranian leaders would risk a massive Israeli nuclear response to an attack that would kill millions of Iranians and destroy Iran as a functioning society. Are they madmen?
Plenty of Americans seem to believe the answer to that question is, yes. They are religious fanatics who would be happy to sacrifice their own people and country in order to carry out a religious obligation.
Perhaps this is so. But I remember other instances in which Americans were told that human life means nothing to some particular society. We were told this about the Japanese in WWII. We were told this about the Chinese in Korea. And about the North Vietnamese. It turns out that plenty of soldiers are willing to die to defend their countries. But I think we can all agree today that human life means a great deal to a Japanese or Chinese or Korean parent.
I don’t believe that human life has no meaning to the Iranian leadership. And I don’t know of any reason that anybody else believes that either. Yes, there are suicide bombers. They are willing to die for their cause. But I don’t see them taking their parents and children with them.
The Soviet Union promised to bury us. And aimed thousands of nuclear weapons at us. But we did not attack. We lived in uneasy peace. We did threaten war to keep nuclear missiles out of Cuba. But in retrospect, were we right to do that? The Soviet threat is now gone. No war had to be fought to end it.