March 02, 2012

Saturday Morning Essay: Timing the end of the human race for maximum electoral effectiveness

I recently attended a lecture by Avner Cohen, a senior fellow in nonproliferation studies at the Monterey Institute, who was visiting San Francisco to discuss his book, The Worst Kept Secret (about Israel's nuclear bomb arsenal) at the Jewish Library on Ellis Street. Cohen, an Israeli, was refreshingly realistic about the mega-hyped Iran-Israel-U.S. standoff. His essential point: everyone is bluffing: the Iranians about developing a nuclear weapon, the Israelis about launching a preemptive attack, the U.S. about virtually anything it says or does on the subject.

In the heat and noise about Iran & the Bomb, we often lose sight of the data point that it is the official, consensus opinion of America's spy agenices; the Iranians themselves; the IAEA (the watchdog agency in charge of compliance with the Nonproliferation Treaty); many Israeli experts (including Avner Cohen, who is immersed in this stuff all the time), and generally anyone without a specific agenda to push, that there is no conclusive evidence that Iran is actually trying to build a nuclear bomb. They are enriching uranium, as they are permitted to do under the terms of the Nonproliferation Treaty, but not to the 90%+ level (U-235 or fissile component) necessary to go kablooey.

At the same time, Avner Cohen hardly thinks that there is any kind of solution at hand, because there isn't one. If Israel launches a bombing attack against Iran's enrichment facilities, Cohen estimates that at the very outside such an attack might set back the Iranian program two years, and probably less than that. If Iran is permitted to proceed with enrichment unmolested, then it is probable they will, over time, acquire the means to enrich uranium to the 90% level, and enough Iranian nuclear scientists might survive the current spate of "mysterious deaths" (such as riding in cars which are approached by motorcyclists who attach magnetic bombs near the gas filler tube; hey, it could be a coincidence) to design and build an atomic bomb. It's neither particularly easy nor particularly difficult; you can Google the basic ideas for the two ways of bringing two subcritical masses of fissile material together (U-235 or plutonium) (implosion: Fat Man; gun-type: Little Boy).

Sadly, at this point in history, it's just a little too accessible to anyone, regardless of intentions. Thus, Stephen Hawking's idea that we ought to figure out a way to transport some human DNA to another planet, because he can't see us lasting another one thousand years on this one. Although my go-to comprehensive polymath thinker, Professor Craig Dilworth of Uppsala University in Sweden, author of Too Smart For Own Good, might find such an idea a self-defeating contradiction in terms. Writing about our ancient ancestors in the Upper Palaeozoic, living the good life (if they had only known it) with plentiful game, an unpolluted environment, lots of polymorphous, pre-Santorum sex, leisurely lifestyle, with only an occasional raid by cannibalistic fellow humans to harsh their dolce vita, he notes:

"As intimated in Chapter 4, you could say that we were from the beginning not biologically equipped as a species to handle developing technology, which our eradicating a huge proportion of the genera of the world's large animals when we were still in our hunter-gatherer stage makes clear. If technological development were truly an aid to the survival of the human species, it would not have led to the elimination of a significant part of the population's resource base...Something is wrong with technological development in the hands of humans - but then, you could say, something would be wrong with technological development in the 'hands' of any organism."
If this is true about clubs, stone-tipped javelins and lances, bows and arrows, which were sufficient in the hands of the early Sapiens to bring about the "overkill" of the mammoths and other Big Meat food sources, what do you say about 10-megaton hydrogen bombs? Are humans "biologically equipped" to handle those? I'm going to guess: No. I think it is such considerations which lead to the dour, tentative, perplexed way that people who know the facts about nuclear stand-offs, such as Avner Cohen, wind up talking about the problem. Cohen says, well, maybe there will be a successful revolution in Iran. Maybe negotiation could still bring about a solution. Maybe we can rely on the good sense of the leadership in Iran, who have no desire to see Tehran reduced to a large crater of fused glass. Maybe we can rely on President Obama to lead us out of the wilderness:

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama warned that he is not bluffing about attacking Iran if it builds a nuclear weapon, but in an interview published Friday, Obama also warned U.S. ally Israel that a premature attack on Iran would do more harm than good.
A "premature attack." "More harm than good." And if we wait, it will do more good than harm? (I used to think that Obama's pronouncements made sense at least on the superficial level, but did not stand up to logical scrutiny; now I think he's abandoned even the patina of rationality.) Cohen thought the danger point, this year, was the period in the two months just before the American elections. With the American media pounding the drums for some more bombing, demanding some sort of payback for this dastardly plot in which Iranian agents worked with a Texas used car salesman who contracted with an FBI agent posing as a Mexican drug cartel to assassinate the ambassador from Saudi Arabia a trusted ally which two former United States Senators have sworn in recent affidavits was probably involved in an operational way with the attacks of 9-11...hold on a minute, I need a breather here.

The point is, we need to bomb Iran. Avner Cohen may say it's futile, but that's not the key point. In September and October, the calls for bombing Iran are going to reach a crescendo, Avner said, and if the Israelis attack then, then Republican pressure on Obama to support the bombing raids is going to become overpowering. If the O Man wimps out, the booboisie of America are going to have their answer to the question: can Obama keep us safe? Or does he have the courage and good sense to throw American military might behind an action which could easily spiral out of control, involving the Chinese, Russians and Indians, who support Iran (and its oil supply), all nuclear-armed countries, in the valiant attempt to buy us that less-then-24-months of not having to think that maybe Iran is working on an atomic bomb?

So you can see what Obama means by "premature." He's telling Netanyahu not to bomb just before the November elections, thus forcing Obama's decision in a way which could foul up his reelection chances.

We've come a along way since the Cro-Magnons.

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