Monday, January 12, 2009

We'll Meet Again. Only no. No we won't.

Seems the newsmedia's come down with an acute case of postmodern fatalism over the past 24 hours (speaking of fatalism, it is with profound embarrassment to I admit to having Google'd "song at the end of Dr. Strangelove" for the title to this post. In my defense, I kinda remember it had the words "meet" and "again" in it...anyway...). Exhibit A is this profoundly terrifying (although not so profoundly terrifying) story in the New York Times about what seems like a serious attempt by Israel to obtain American permission for a strike on Iran's nuclear capacity. 

The article does its anti-journalistic best not to differentiate between innuendo and intention--between discussions that were expressly hypothetical ("so what if we were to maybe attack Iran at some point in the future? Would you help us out?"), and the expressly actionable ("we're attacking Iran next Tuesday. You in?"). "Israel Considers Attacking Iran" isn't a six-column front-page-of-RCP blockbuster--not like "US Rejected Aid for Israeli Raid on Iranian Nuclear Site," for instance.

So what to make of this. "Holy fuck, we barely avoided World War III" is a natural, if unreasonable response--hell, you don't have to look that far down the page to find the article exposing its own deep irresponsibility:

White House officials never conclusively determined whether Israel had decided to go ahead with the strike before the United States protested, or whether Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel was trying to goad the White House into more decisive action before Mr. Bush left office.
So the story isn't that Israel actually wanted to attack Iran--only that it was testing America's tolerance for such an attack. Or that it was testing America's commitment to containing Iran. Or that it was trying to exact some kind of a concession vis-a-vis American control of Iraqi airspace in the hypothetical event that Israel actually did feel a need to attack Iran. All are possibilities. The Times bloggeristically (horray for neologisms!) ran with the most sensationalistic (not to mention apocalyptic, given the story's implied difference between "bunker busting bombs" and "conventional weaponry. Last I checked, unconventional weapons were either 1) chemical agents or 2) nukes. Hmmm...) of these. Indeed, for a moment or two I thought I was reading the first, honest-to-God "mankind-at-the-brink"-type story since this barely-remembered (by me, at least--I was like what, 14 at the time?) fiasco.

Moving on to pages two and three it becomes obvious that the story has nothing to do with an actual Israeli military threat to Iran, and everything to do with the complexities that arise when Israeli and American security interests diverge. The article handles these issues well--it's just unfortunate that the Times has given an invaluable boost to the argument that Iran should be allowed to develop nukes for legitimately self-defensive purposes...

This week's other non-brush with destiny: this mindbloggling article in Slate about--among a host of other issues--the halacha of nuclear war. Unfortunately, the halachic basis for possessing nuclear weapons--that nuclear leverage in the prevention of nuclear war is kosher while the actually use of nukes is not--is undermined when opposing nuclear powers are aware of the halacha of nuclear war, since wielding the nuclear gun is useful only when there's a realistic chance of your firing it. I'd argue that it's equally irresponsible to wield the nuclear gun if you're not prepared to use it as when you are--that both amount to blackmail, and that, in some deeply perverted sense, gambling with millions of innocent human lives should actually mean gambling with millions of innocent lives, rather than maintaining the cheap, possibly deadly veneer of decisiveness. 

So there really is no such thing as halachic nuclear war, although there is such thing as an empty nuclear diplomacy that is incidentally halachic. Embedded in this is the idea that cyclical violence--based as it is on the self-perpetuating, self-justifying logic that provides something as unnatural as violence (most of us aren't violent people, I don't think...) with anything even resembling a moral basis--is deeply immoral even if, paradoxically, the alternative is to cede power to whoever was immoral enough to exercise violence in the first place.

Not sure what the Rabbis had to say about the latter half of that statement, or the the following, vaguely postmodern dilemma: remain on a suicidal moral high ground, or accept that civilization can't exist without a certain acknowledged measure of barbarity. Things to remember this week...

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