May 05, 2008

Hillary's obliteration of Iran

"The Lord's my shepherd
says the Psalm,
but just in case...
we better get a bomb."
-- Tom Lehrer, "Who's Next?"

The new rules of sound-bite campaigning require a candidate to answer all questions which pertain to war with responses that meet two criteria: (1) They must sound decisive when replayed, and (2) they must be blood-drenched and Neanderthal. Anything else just doesn't sound American enough.

By this standard Hillary Clinton's promise to obliterate Iran if Iran launched a nuclear attack on Israel was clearly appropriate. A few muted bleats were heard from Iranians, who objected to a suggestion that 75 million people should be vaporized without at least a more nuanced discussion of the point. This is a silly cavil; the whole point of campaigning is that it doesn't allow any kind of nuanced discussion. Barack Obama tried that with his "we would respond appropriately" stuff. Barry, Barry. You just don't get it.

There are, to be sure, nuances to the subject. For example, I would be willing to bet, and have so wagered in saloons and other gaming establishments, that Israel would not need our help. Israel has on hair-trigger alert "The Samson Option," which has been described at great length by Seymour Hersh in his book of the same name and by Israeli historian Avner Cohen. (Samson, rather than endure humiliation at the hands of his Philistine captors, yanked on his chains and pulled the whole temple down on himself and thousands of his tormentors.) Some estimates of Israel's nuclear arsenal run as high as 400 nuclear weapons, which can be delivered by bomber, submarine and Jericho missile. No country with a rudimentary nuclear capacity could possibly disable an Israeli retaliatory strike, meaning: Israel would obliterate Iran. And could they do this with thermonuclear weapons? One must tread delicately here to avoid cultural stereotyping, but what do you think? Hint: of the Nobel Prizes for Physics, 47 have been received by scientists of Jewish ancestry, including Albert Einstein, Wolfgang Pauli, Niels Bohr, Max Born, Richard Feynman, and Emilio Segre, and this does not include non-Prize winners Robert Oppenheimer, who ran the Manhattan Project, and Edward Teller, the father of the H-bomb.

Further, while I'm plunking down good money on the bar, I would bet the following: the Israeli government's arsenal of nuclear weapons is superior to that of the United States, in terms of accuracy and speed of deployment. Why do I surmise this? Because they have to be. Let's face it, for all its vaunted power and self-adulation, the USA has an amazing capacity for building things that don't work. Recall the performance of the Patriot missile during Gulf War I. These missiles constituted our "fail-safe" umbrella over Israel and Saudi Arabia against Saddam's rickety old Scud missiles. The Pentagon claimed at the time that the Patriots were "94% successful." This was successively scaled down until the General Accounting Office admitted the "success rate" was probably 9%. The Israeli Defense Force estimated the rate at 2%; indeed, in one incident in Tel Aviv, 3 Patriots misfired, fell back to earth and destroyed 4,156 apartments, killing one Israeli and injuring 44. The IDF tactfully suggested that less damage would have been done to Israel if the Scuds had simply been allowed to land where they would, but thanks, you meant well, and mazeltov on your missile system.

Thus, if you were an Israeli strategic planner, how much would you rely on the USA as your main line of deterrence? For all its fulminating, the USA remains a country whose president made a paper airplane out of a specific, written threat of a terrorist attack a month before it happened. I have no doubt that Hillary Clinton would have done a much better job than that, but Israel is not counting on America to dissuade Iran from nuclear attack. And as for Iran, one must wonder what suicidal notion would have to seize the leadership before it patched together an A-bomb and wheeled it over to Israel to explode.

"Nuclear opacity" is the official name for deniability in Israel. Hillary is following their lead in assuming a maternal role in deterring Iran. The ayatollah, meanwhile, knows what the real score is.

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