Tuesday, June 16, 2009

More on Country vs. Citizens

A reader named Joe writes about to the previous post.
Greenwald has responded, without mentioning you, in an update. I wonder what
your response to that update is.

So here goes.

First, I doubt Greenwald read me and decided to argue without attributes. That would be petty, and I don't have reason to think him petty. More likely, to my mind, is that he noticed how very flimsy his arguments were, and tried to fix things. Not very convincingly.

Second, Greenwald has no facts. Indeed, he has dug up a quotation, but it doesn't say what he says it does. Iran is a largish country, about four times the size of France with less than twice the population, so there must be substantial areas (many of them desert) where there are no civilians to be killed in bombing raids; it may well be that's where the Iranians have put some of their nuclear installations. (I don't know this for a fact, but Greenwald doesn't know the opposite). The quote he brings says that if Iran was bombed, and if its regime tried to fight back, things could get ugly. Which is probably true, but brings us to the main point.

The idea behind using military means to stop a nuclear weapons program is to block horrendous loss of life even at the cost of limited loss of life.

Michael Walzer, probably the best-known teacher of Just War theory in our generation, addresses this question directly when he tells of deliberations confronting the Allies during World War II. According to their information, the Germans were transporting heavy water from Norway to Germany, and the only way to stop the shipment entailed the certain killing of all the Norwegian civilians on board. With hindsight we know that the Germans didn't even have an active nuclear program, but the Allied decision makers operated on the data they had, not the full story we have. So they killed innocent Norwegians to block a German nuclear program which they were convinced would have caused vastly greater suffering.

I have no doubt that an attempt to block an Iranian nuclear program will indeed cause some death of innocents. If one assumes that the Iranians will retaliate wherever they can, some of the innocents will be Israelis, others will be Europeans, some will be Argentinians, and probably some will be Americans. Almost all will be civilians, because unlike whoever attacks them, they will never have the intention to hit military targets; civilian ones are so much easier. Remember, the Iranian Mullahs and their proxies have been killing innocents ever since they reached power in 1979; many of them at the behest of one Mir Hossein Moussavi, who was the prime minister.

Unlike the Iranian Mullahs who kill indiscriminately, and used to send tens of thousands of their own children to die storming Iraqi troops, the Americans and Israelis, the only two countries which might conceivably attack Iran, never aim intentionally at civilians; should the need arise to attack Iran, they will certainly not be aiming at those demonstrators in Teheran. Not.

Readers of this blog will attest that I have never called for an attack on Iran, not once. Nor am I now. The best option, I've always thought, is for the Iranian people to change their ghastly government; this may be about to happen but probably isn't. The second best option is for the Iranians to change their minds as the result of negotiations. This will not happen, alas. The third option is for the rest of the world to enforce such harsh sanctions that the Mullahs back down: but this will have to hurt the Iranian populace, and is very unlikely to work anyway. The fourth option is to negotiate with the Mullahs with drawn weapons. The experience with Saddam in 1991 indicates that won't work either. The fifth option is to use military force.

It's a bad option, and it might not even work. But is allowing those murderous Mullahs to wield nuclear weapons preferable?

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