June 16, 2010

The Casual Bloodthirst of a Delusional War Fetishist

In the June 21st issue of The Weekly Standard, editor William Kristol and Jamie Fly of the Foreign Policy Initiative, make an especially powerful effort to lock down as unassailable Mr. Kristol's well-deserved reputation as one of the stupidest people working in media today.  If that sounds harsh or inaccurate, I promise you it isn't; every quote in the cartoon above, for instance, is genuine, and his most recent oeuvre clearly illustrates that Mr. Kristol has learned nothing from his repeated ineptitude.

One of the biggest cheerleaders in recent years for the use of U.S. military force abroad - particularly in the Persian Gulf - William Kristol has repeatedly demonstrated both a casual bloodlust and a deep callousness for the civilian populations of the nations he wishes to invade, the American military personnel tasked with his fantasy missions, and their families.  This self-styled thinker of big ideas owes his entire career to the fact that he is the scion of Irving Kristol, the "godfather of neoconservatism", and Gertrude Himmelfarb, a noted social conservative.  The Standard has a tiny circulation - under 90,000 - and has been a consistently weak financial performer that has survived only because of charitable support from the right wing for which it serves as a vocal figurehead.  Worst of all, however, is the fact that Mr. Kristol has been - without exaggeration - almost universally wrong about just about everything on which he has pontificated.

The latest effort in this record of tragically consistent failure is a column entitled - apparently without irony - A Period Of Consequences.  In it, Messrs. Kristol and Fly argue that not only should the United States be gearing up to invade Iran, but that we really ought to be ignoring both recent experience in the Middle East, as well as obvious realities:
And one routinely hears how very, very dangerous any use of military force against Iran would be.

Would it be so dangerous? That is a debate the country needs to have, publicly and frankly, before it’s too late

Critics of military action against Iran argue that it would open up a third front for American forces in the Middle East. Our troops would be at risk from Iranian missiles. Iran would block the Strait of Hormuz (causing oil prices to skyrocket) and use its terrorist proxies Hamas and Hezbollah to carry out attacks well beyond the Middle East, including perhaps on the U.S. homeland

Yet if we carried out a targeted campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities, against sites used to train and equip militants killing American soldiers, and against certain targeted terror-supporting and nuclear-enabling regime elements, the effects are just as likely to be limited.

It’s unclear, for example, that Iran would want to risk broadening the conflict and creating the prospect of regime decapitation. Iran’s rulers have shown that their preeminent concern is maintaining their grip on power. If U.S. military action is narrowly targeted, and declared to be such, why would Iran’s leaders, already under pressure at home, want to escalate the conflict, as even one missile attack on a U.S. facility or ally or a blockade of the Strait would obviously do?

Some in Washington seem resigned to letting Israel take action. But a U.S. failure to act in response to what is perhaps the greatest threat to American interests in decades would be irresponsible. Israel, moreover, lacks our full capabilities to do the job.
Even a cursory read of these statements reveals them to be wishful thinking rather than anything approaching serious, empirical analysis.  The only way, for example, the regime in Teheran would fail to respond strongly to a U.S. attack is if it believes that exhibiting weakness to other nations and its citizenry would be beneficial.  Given the recent willingness and success the country's rulers have had in putting down protests and uprisings using repressive force, it's pretty hard to take this line of "reasoning" seriously, although for William Kristol, it's at least consistent with his track record.

Secondly, while last year's post-election protests confirmed that there is a significant level of distrust and dissatisfaction directed at the government in Teheran, that fact is a far, far cry from the people of Iran favoring an attack or invasion by a foreign power in order to provide "regime decapitation."  Imagine for a moment, if the Chinese, the French, the U.N. or any other conservative political boogie man had invaded the U.S. in 2000, having judged turmoil over presidential election results as a signal that a change in leadership would be not only beneficial, but welcomed by Americans.  The idea that citizens of the United States woudln't drop their domestic differences to focus on such an external threat is ludicrous, and it is even more ludicrous when applied to Iran in light of the U.S.'s terrible history of involvement in that country, as well as our ongoing problems in neighboring Iraq.

Even if one finds these counterpoints about Iran's reaction unconvincing, there remain significant inconvenient truths on the American side of the equation.   For one, U.S. forces are stretched perilously thin by years of war in both Iraq and Afghanistan, so much so that stop-loss policies were introduced and recruiting standards have been lowered repeatedly.  On top of that, until 2009, the fiscal impact of those wars was hidden by the fact that they were funded off-budgetPresident Obama (largely) ended that practice early in his administration, and with the effect of these conflicts on the health of America's balance sheet within easy view, it is pretty hard to imagine deficit-sensitive Americans supporting Mr. Kristol's adventurism, even if they weren't increasingly fed up with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Simply put, unless a military draft is instituted in concert with a massive, national financial windfall and widespread collective amnesia about not just the false pretenses under which people like William Kristol argued for the invasion of Iraq, but the actual experiences of our forces there and in Afghanistan, the idea that the U.S. could, or would, attack Iran in any but the direst of circumstances is wholly untethered from reality.  (And despite what Mr. Kristol might like to pretend, the current situation regarding Iran's nuclear program doesn't meet that criterion.)

Of course, none of this matters if you're a neoconservative military fetishist like William Kristol, let alone one who has made a very comfortable living being repeatedly and glaringly wrong.  His career is sustained not by the quality of his work but by the largesse of the political interests he serves, and he gives voice to his factually vacant bloodthirst only because he is secure in the knowledge that someone else will always bear the cost and the injury of the policies he advocates.  Mr. Kristol has yet to meet a war for which he won't cheerlead, no matter the shameful cost to the United States or the people of other nations, and he should be not only studiously ignored, but scorned.

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