Sunday, April 09, 2006

Attacking Iran

It appears that the Bush Administration is making plans to attack Iran. According to a story in the New Yorker, Bush is looking to make a name for himself, and sees an opportunity to do so by freeing Iran from the Muslim fundamentalists that control the country.

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”

Apparently, Iran's nuclear development facilities are under seventy-five feet of rock and reinforced concrete. Conventional weapons stand a low chance of destroying these facilities. To accomplish this task, the Bush Administration is apparently considering the use of tactical nuclear bunker-busting bombs.

On issues such as this, there is one group of pundits who I immediately put under moral suspicion. Those are people who are common citizens -- people like me -- who claim to know exactly what should be done. These types of decisions require special knowledge. That special knowledge is available only to those who have a high level of security clearance. These people who are making claims about the best strategy or tactics do not have that special clearance. They do not have access to the information they must have in order to make an informed decision. Yet, they declare themselves fit to tell us what should be done.

We can certainly make claims about certain aspects of such a plan. For example, if the Bush Administration believes that an attack on Iran will cause the people to rise up and overthrow their government, then he is almost certainly wrong. When attacked, nations instinctively rally around their leaders – as America did after 9-11. The moral quality of that leadership appears to be irrelevant. There is a strong tendency among any people when under attack to say that it is wrong to question the current leadership no matter what. Indeed, Bush himself has sought to capitalize on those sentiments by suggesting it is tantamount to treason to question his judgments.

Attacking a country tends to solidify its current government, not weaken it.

Typically, these people who claim to know exactly what should be done are people who look at the limited information available and finds a few of them who are saying what the speaker wants to hear, If they are disposed to be against such an attack, they will immediately endorse the ‘evidence’ given to them by speakers who seem to be anti-war. If they are in favor of such an attack, they will select to listen only to those who speak favorably of such an attack. They will cherry-pick their evidence the way that the Bush Administration cherry-picked its intelligence regarding Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction.

The only people capable of making an informed decisions as to what to do are those people who have access to all of the information. We must leave it to those individuals to gather all that they know and all they can find out, and to choose the best course of action.

Here is where we run into problems.

The Bush Administration has proved itself to be incapable of looking at any set of evidence and coming to a rational conclusion based on that evidence. Instead, the Bush Administration has shown a tendency to decide upon a policy first, and then to sort through the evidence to find that which supports their policy. Everything we have heard about the Bush Administration’s decision to attack Iraq suggests that it made the decision shortly after the attacks on 9-11. Then, the staff went to work trying to find a justification for that attack. Any piece of information that could be used to justify the attack was embraced. Any information that questioned the legitimacy of such an attack was cast aside.

The Bush Administration is made up almost exclusively of people who have abandoned reason and rationality. They prefer to listen to the voices in their head, which they either attribute to God or to their own intellectual infallibility. This is an administration that has forsaken reason for faith. They not only shun reason, they denigrate reason and those who follow their dictates. They think that their voices from God gives them the intellectual certainty they need to rewrite the reports of established scientists and intelligence agents. We cannot expect an intelligent decision based on a reasoned evaluation of the evidence from these people.

These people are not entirely rational.

Bush's invasion of Iraq was a faith-based initiative. Then again, so was the attack on 9-11. The funny thing about faith-based initiatives is that they seldom turn out the way that the people of faith expect them to. When it comes to making reliable predictions, people of reason, though they are far from perfect, still tend to have a far better track record than people of faith.

If the Bush Administration is follows its established habits, it has already penciled in a date for the attack. Any pretense towards negotiation and diplomacy are just that -- a show designed to prevent the people from protesting that which is actually inevitable.

If we allow this to be a discussion of whether Iran is or is not a threat -- and when Iran will or will not become a threat -- then we are arguing in the dark. None of us have the information we need to support our desired conclusion. If, instead, this becomes a debate as to whether the Bush Administration has the ability to handle the crisis competently and should be trusted to make the right decisions, I think that we have enough evidence on which to form a reasoned, intelligent, and informed decision.

If we allow this to be a debate over whether we should or should not attack Iran, we are all arguing in the dark. Regardless of the conclusion each of us comes to, none of us has the information we truly need to reach a conclusion others should trust. However, when it comes to the issue of whether the Bush Administration has the capacity to make an intelligent decision based on available evidence, we have a lot of the types of evidence we need to make a reasoned conclusion.

One important conclusion that all people should draw from this is that, in the future, the person to whom we give control of our nuclear weapons should be somebody capable of making rational decisions based on a reasoned assessment of available evidence.


Anonymous said...

While I may not be an expert in nuclear science, I do know enough about physics to know that the only way a nuclear bunker buster will penetrate any deeper then a conventional weapon is if it uses nuclear propulsion. this means that they would either be setting of a nuclear explosion in the jet (essentially making it a suicide mission), or if the bunker buster itself had a nuclear-powered propulsion device. This would put a significant amount of radioactive particles into the upper atmosphere, many of which would inevitably migrate to Europe, and possibly to the U.S.

Alonzo Fyfe said...


It is true that the nuclear bunker buster will not penetrate any further than a conventional warhead.

However, a nuclear warhead at that depth is reasonably expected to do significantly more damage than a conventional warhead.

Clearly, a nuclear warhead has a significantly larger blast radius than a conventional warhead. That blast radius extends out in every direction -- including down.

As for the effects of the radiation, a nuclear-tipped bunker buster in Iran will do far less damage than any nuclear weapons test carried out in Nevada. It is reasonable to believe that the effects outside of Iran will be quite minimal.

I am not, of course, arguing in favor of using such a weapon. I do often argue, however, in favor of making decisions based on an accurate understanding of the facts.