Saturday, September 29, 2012


Peter Beinart's Sloppy History

I read Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu's recent speech in the UN. I liked it very much and to say it outclassed our President's apologia pro vita Islamica is to damn it with faint praise. Not everyone liked it, however, including the fading boy wonder, Peter Beinart, who writes about the speech here.

Netaznyahu's position is that mutual assured destruction (MAD), which is credited with keeping the Cold War from ever getting nuclear hot, won't work with Iran. Unlike the Soviets and Chi-Coms, they are not rational actors in Tehran; and indeed they look upon the assured retaliation for an Iranian nuclear strike on Tel Aviv, and perhaps on Israel's capital, Jerusalem, as well, as the thing necessary to return the 12th Imam and assure Islamic supremacy over all the world.

As far-fetched as that sounds, I believe it is all true. That is, Iranians in charge believe it, not that the 12th Imam will return after Israel nukes most Iranian cities in retaliation for its first strike on Israel. Iran is willing to take the hits, however. Iran will not be prevented from using a nuclear weapon because of its assured destruction thereafter. MAD won't work on Islamic extremists who, on a microscale, are willing to end their own life merely to kill one or two Israelis with a car bomb or a bomb vest, or to kill other Muslims with whom they disagree for that matter. Because MAD won't work, Israel has to prevent Iran from getting the fissionable materials for an atomic weapon.

Beinart's  piece is titled "Bibi's Botched History Lesson" but rather than talk about the gist of the talk, as one would expect would be appropriate given the severity of the problem, a looming second Shoah, Beinart dabbles ineffectively in revisionist history on minor points Netanyahu made. Behold.

Netanyahu approvingly cited NATO, whose charter “made clear that an attack on one member would be considered an attack on all.” According to Bibi, “NATO’s red line helped keep the peace in Europe for nearly half a century.” Yes, but NATO established a red line against Soviet attack. If the USSR invaded West Berlin, to use the most often-discussed scenario, the United States would be obligated to come to West Germany’s defense. What NATO self-consciously did not do was draw a red line against a Soviet bomb.

Peter says "Yes, but..." to Bibi's abbreviated history of the Cold Car but then quibbles that it is not an exact fit to current events. Wow, way to catch Netanyahu botching history, Peter. You da man!

But when the NATO charter was signed in April, 1949, the Soviets were about 4 months from exploding their first atomic bomb. (Our intelligence services thought it would be much later, wrongly, as usual). There really was no time to formulate a preventative strike on the USSR's nuclear bomb making. There were two military powers then, America and the USSR. We had nuclear weapons and had used them but under Truman, after the victory over Japan, we had developed an illogical, short-term destructive aversion to using them again. We were not going to prevent the USSR from getting a nuclear weapon, NATO or no NATO. But none of Beinart's criticism indicates that Bibi got his Cold War history wrong. Let's move on.

Netanyahu may believe that NATO’s policies of containment and deterrence won’t work against Tehran because its leaders—unlike Stalin and Mao—are bloodthirsty tyrants who sometimes speak in messianic, apocalyptic terms. But people whose historical memory extends beyond breakfast should remember that NATO’s “red line” was not the equivalent of preventative war; it was the alternative to preventative war.

This is either poorly written or poorly thought out. I think the latter. We wouldn't strike the USSR or China to prevent them joining the nuclear club, but we would strike their cities massively if they used a weapon against any NATO member nation. How is that policy of massive retaliation not the equivalent of a preventative war, that is, preventing them from attacking NATO by threatening retaliation? It is the equivalent, Peter, not the alternative. It's just not preventing them from attacking by nuking their bomb making facilities so that they have no nuclear weapons with which to attack. Whether we attacked the USSR or China before they acquired nuclear weapons to prevent that from happening or we attacked them only after they actually used the weapons, we're still attacking, and we're attacking (or threatening to) in order to prevent a Communist attack on NATO nations. It is preventative war both before or after the other nations get nukes, both are designed to prevent a nuclear attack. The only difference, and it's a minor difference, is in the timing, before they acquire or after they use the acquired weapons. Saying the meaningless timing makes such an attack the "alternative to preventative war" is sloppy thinking at best. There's more, unfortunately.

Similarly, Netanyahu told his U.N. audience, “President Kennedy set a red line during the Cuban missile crisis.” Yes, but Kennedy also conducted secret diplomacy with Nikita Khrushchev, which led not only to the Soviets ceasing their nuclear missile construction in Cuba, but to the U.S. removing its nuclear missiles from Turkey.

Again with the "Yes, but..." So rather than botching the Cold War history, Netanyahu gets it right but doesn't mention what Beinart thinks he should have mentioned. Well, if Netanyahu had been delivering a lecture in history to students, rather than giving a policy speech at the UN, he might have mentioned Kennedy's shameful 'tit for tat' through back channels with Gromyko. But that detail of history is pretty moot now that we won the Cold War more than 20 years ago; and it is clearly not applicable to the threat of a nuclear Iran because there are no back channels to exploit diplomatically. There is no 'tit for tat' Israel can give to prevent the Jew hating Muslims in Tehran from destroying Israel. The whole point of the speech was that what worked in the Cold War won't work against Iran. Was Beinart not listening?

So after saying the Netanyahu got his Cold War history right, Beinart pretends Netanyahu has been in error and was in even greater error later in the speech by Beinart's saying:

But Netanyahu’s deepest misreading of the cold war is more subtle.

Yeah, so subtle only the giant intellect of Peter Beinhart can see it. Lord knows no one else actually versed in history can. But what is the subtle misreading? Beinart talks about the correctly anti-Communist Republicans as if they were fools (and before 1972 there were plenty of rabidly anti-Communist Democrats who were also correct in their opposition to that evil philosophy). Peter, I don't know if you've been keeping up on current events but we won the Cold War. We won it because we did a lot and sacrificed a lot in order to win it. The Soviet Union did not crash and burn in 1989 because of enmity with Tito or the Chi-Coms or differences between the Stalinists and the Leninists or Tortskyites, but because we showed resolve with actions. We showed that we were willing to prevent the spread of International Socialism with troops and weapons and many thousands of dead and maimed Americans and that we were willing to pay the fiscal price for weapons that the USSR just could not match. I'll get to Beinart's dangerous naivete about Islam at a later date. Let's just look at what he says next.

None of this is to suggest that Netanyahu is wrong to worry about a nuclear Iran. Where he’s wrong is in forgetting that Israel’s foe is one particular regime, influenced by ideology, to be sure, but also representing various national traditions and interests.

So, not wrong again in the main tenant, but wrong to think Israel's foe is more than just Iran? This is both a straw man argument and utterly trivial. Does Israel not have deadly earnest enemies other than Iran? Of course they do. Are these serious enemies Muslim? Of course they are. But is the nearest existential threat to Israel Iran with a nuclear weapon? Yes, of course. So, did Netanyahu say anything to indicate that his focus for the speech was with Islam in general rather than Iran in particular? Well, no he didn't, which is why Beinart's criticism is merely straw man here. Jeez Louise, Beinart, can you not say something directly about the speech which is worthy of our consideration and commensurate with the threat of a second Holocaust?

The short answer is no.

By turning Israel’s foe from a nasty government into a demonic ideology, he’s forgetting that even the most evil of regimes (Stalin’s Soviet Union, for instance) have rational security concerns, and that understanding them is critical to keeping the peace.
 The whole point is that the Soviets were rational but that Iran is not, because of the crazy 12th Imam belief (and an implacable desire to kill all Jews (just like the NAZIs had)). Where we could and did rely on MAD to prevent an attack after the Communists developed nuclear weapons, we can't do that with Iran because MAD won't deter them.

If Benjamin Netanyahu really understood the history of the cold war, he’d realize that he’s treading the path of those American leaders whose grandiose ideological formulations concealed their deep ignorance of the countries against which they waged war.

Well, the ignorant Americans with grandiose ideological formulations Beinart is now so disdainful of managed to prevent nuclear war 66 years and win the Cold War and break up the Soviet Union to less threatening detritus. Not bad for ignoramuses. I'd much rather be led by them than by the oh so preciously 'smart' current lefty intelligentsia as evidenced by Beinart, and I'm sorry to say, our soon to be lame duck President as well. Beinart and Obama wouldn't together amount to a pimple on McNamara's butt, much less a microscopic protuberance on Winston Churchill's ass. When Netanyahu is forced (by the West's irrational and feckless inaction) to take the regrettable, but required, steps rightly to prevent a nuclear Iran, I'm thinking he'll be more regarded as Churchill than any other Prime Minister still around. Anyone care to bet against me?


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