Monday, October 29, 2007

When Krugman Starts Making Sense To a Libertarian

.....You know the world is completely upside down. In today's Times, the bane of lovers of free markets questions why, exactly, we should fear Iran. Money quote:

Yes, the Iranian regime is a nasty piece of work in many ways, and it would
be a bad thing if that regime acquired nuclear weapons. But let’s have some
perspective, please: we’re talking about a country with roughly the G.D.P. of
Connecticut, and a government whose military budget is roughly the same as

This line of questioning is closely related to the fifth of my recent questions for neo-cons and theo-cons, to wit:

Why would it ever be rational for Iran to try to nuke us (or provide a terrorist
with a nuke) if it is a virtual guarantee that we will always have way more
nukes? In other words, if a nuclear attack on Israel or the US would result in
the complete obliteration of Iran, why would Iran ever attempt such an attack?
If, in fact, they are developing nukes, isn't it more logical that they are
developing those nukes purely as an attempt to get leverage against us (and
prevent us from attacking them)? If you agree that it is irrational for Iran to
attack us, but believe that Ahmadinejad is irrational (because he wants to bring
about the Apocalypse), do you realize that Ahmadinejad has very limited power in
Iran's theocracy?

Of course, the fear is frequently cited as being more one of Iran giving terrorists a "suitcase nuke" that would then be exploded in the middle of Manhattan. Presumably, in this scenario, Iran would do so with the irrational expectation that we wouldn't find out it was they who supplied the suitcase nuke. The other problem with this scenario, though, is that the concept of a "suitcase nuke" being used by terrorists is far-fetched, at best (at least at current technology levels). Moreover, for Iran to develop an effective "suitcase" nuke would require a level of investment far beyond Iran's capability (you know, the whole GDP of Connecticut thing), and even farther beyond the capability of an independent terrorist organization. As for the so-called "dirty bomb" scenario, well, you don't need a nuclear program to achieve that end- you just need access to a modern hospital.

The other line of argument is often that Iran would have no qualms about taking out Israel. This line of argument also fails, though. First, while I tend to support much of our support of Israel, the fact is that we aren't Israel, and if any other country knows how to take care of itself militarily, it's the Israelis. Second, at this point nuking Israel would probably be about as rational as nuking the US itself- to think at this point that the US wouldn't respond to a nuclear attack against Israel with a nuclear attack of its own would be silliness beyond even the capability of Ahmadinejad (who, again, isn't as powerful within Iran as the neo-cons would have us believe anyways).

In actuality, we know that Ahmadinejad is quite unpopular in Iran, primarily because he has caused an economic disaster and has undone much of the social progress Iran had been making before he was elected . The thing is, the more we rattle our saber at him, the more opportunities he has to say that he is standing up against imperial aggression, and the more Iranians are able to get distracted from the domestic mess he has created. Moreover, our saber-rattling doesn't exactly help the image of America as bully, meaning the developing world is driven more and more into the Chavez/Ahmadinejad camp.

Alas, the fear-mongering will continue because, as Orwell wrote:

"Every war when it comes, or before it comes, is represented not as a war but as an act of self-defense against a homicidal maniac. "