Alliance or Enablement?

Glenn Reynolds links, with praise, to an article about Hillary Clinton claiming that she would go to war with Iran if they attacked Israel.

Clinton further displayed tough talk in an interview airing on “Good Morning America” Tuesday. ABC News’ Chris Cuomo asked Clinton what she would do if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons.

“I want the Iranians to know that if I’m the president, we will attack Iran,” Clinton said. “In the next 10 years, during which they might foolishly consider launching an attack on Israel, we would be able to totally obliterate them.”

It is, of course, a good thing from time to time to remind folks that an attack on one of our allies is something that we would retaliate against. To that extent, I have no issue with what Clinton said.

Still, one thing that I think bears mentioning is that the tone of her response is a little too aggressive for my taste, considering that Clinton isn’t talking about retaliating against an attack on the United States, but rather Israel. For one thing, I’m a little disappointed that Clinton didn’t take GMA to task for the premise of the question. Namely, the fact that Iran doesn’t actually possess any nuclear weapons to attack Israel with.

Secondly, I find it a little problematic that Clinton offered an unequivocal commitment to “obliterate” Iran in the event that Iran attacked Israel. What if Israel attacked Iran first? Would we back them unequivocally then? No matter what the cause or reason for Israel’s attack?

I am all for having alliances with nations who share our values and interests, and I don’t have too much of a problem with providing defensive commitments for those countries. But we do need to consider the tone and nature of those commitments. Clinton is hardly alone in her aggressive defense of Israel–it’s a pretty common consensus inside the Beltway, and it bears a lot of similarity to our overtures of support in the event of Taiwanese independence and other similar situations. But I do wonder at what point, that our willingness to defend an ally enables them to be more aggressive. If we firmly supported Israel, but without the unequivocally aggressive stance, to what extent might that encourage Israel to seek a more diplomatic rapprochement with other Arab nations? Maybe some, maybe not at all–I’m just thinking out loud about the issue right now, and my thoughts aren’t fully formed on this.

Still, I suppose I find these statements troublesome because, quite frankly, the United States has its own interests in the Middle East, and not all of those interests coincide with Israel’s. Consequently, I feel like there’s a possibility that statements like this make supporting our own interests more problematic.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, National Security, , , ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. anjin-san says:

    Hillary seems a mite too eager to show how tough she can be.

    What does “obliterate” mean? Are we going to slaughter tens of millions of people if their government does something stupid?

    Note to Hillary. Engage brain before speaking…

  2. Richard Gardner says:

    I guess she doesn’t follow the recommendation of that other great New Yorker, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt, “Speak softly and carry a big stick, and you will go far.” I’ll admit that times are different today as it is difficult for America to speak softly with the rest of the world listening for whispers.

  3. Translation: “I would likely stop a man from raping my wife, but i am afraid to say anything. The rapist might be a buddy and if i say something about it now it might make my wife dress more provoctively or she might not defend herself.”

  4. Trickster says:

    I like your analysis, but there’s a mistake–she didn’t say she would obliterate Iran, she said “we would be able to” do that. That’s a horse of a far different color.

  5. Mithras says:

    I suppose I find these statements troublesome because, quite frankly, the United States has its own interests in the Middle East, and not all of those interests coincide with Israel’s.

    Anti-Semite.

  6. Beldar says:

    The problem you’re trying to put your finger on is suggested by this line, Dr. Joyner: “Iran doesn’t actually possess any nuclear weapons to attack Israel with.”

    Sen. Clinton’s premise gives away the issue that is currently on the table, which is: What, if anything, will the United States (and, perhaps, the rest of the western civilized world + Australia) do about Iran’s on-going quest to acquire nuclear weapons?

    She’s already previewing deterrence as her strategy for when they have nukes. That bespeaks an incredible lack of seriousness about preventing them from getting them.

    I don’t have a good answer as to how we should prevent them from doing so. All we seem to be doing is a continuation of weak multilateral diplomacy that can’t get traction because Iran won’t take the possibility of military intervention seriously. Iran won’t take the possibility of military action seriously because it believes, reasonably enough (based on opinion polls and the MSM’s conventional wisdom) that a Democrat will be elected in Amerca in 2008, in which case — as Sen. Clinton, the Democratic “hawk” has just proven — America will not take that possibility seriously either.

    If you believe in existential questions — and living near Washington, D.C., within at least fallout range of a weak nuke or dirty bomb, you damned well better — how many more reasons do you need to vote against the Democratic nominee and in favor of the grumpy old war veteran who sings “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb Iran”?

  7. Beldar says:

    Bah. Someone will inevitably fail to pick up on my last inference, and insist that I’m arguing/angling for war no matter what. So let me be explicit:

    When McCain says, “Here’s the ultimatum. With whoever else will go along, even if that’s nobody, we’re going to take action unless you stop,” the Iranians, remembering Saddam Hussein in 2003, might believe him.

    If they don’t, then they will have decided where the chips ought fall.

    Of course, it might get McCain impeached if they don’t blink; maybe even if they do. I can’t project all the details; finesse would be required. But this theme, or variations on it, are the only ways I see this being resolved short of Iran becoming a nuclear weapons-bearing, terrorist-supporting rogue state.

  8. Beldar says:

    Alex. Not James. Sorry.

  9. Bithead says:

    Glad to see I’m not the only one who does that, Beldar. (Chuckle)

    And the remainder of your comments, as usual, are spot on.

    But there’s a factor we’re missing here.
    I’m not sure I share James’ concerns with her aggressive tone. First of all, the aggression seems called for, given Iran. Anything less than a “Hands off, or you’re molten glass’ will be taken as an open invitation. Well, it would be worthwhile with anyone but Clinton, which is the second point. Can we trust her NOT to toss caveats in once things start rolling? I think we all know better than that.

    As usual, Clinton has concerns other than the stated, for playing the line she is… such as mollifying the Jewish vote, who has until now, had no reason other than Barrack Obama, to vote for Hillary Clinton. Of course, they might, with a little strain, be forced to remember that she’s a known pathological liar, and that thereby her statements are to be taken with a shaker of salt.

    And there’s the rub; The Iranians know this, too.

  10. Bithead says:

    Afterthoughts:

    The Democrats, you see, have a long an undistinguished history of empty rhetoric on Israel, that in the end, nobody pays any attention to here in the states, much less in the world at large. Take for example her statements as regards “Standing with Israel against Terrorism”, from her website, posted last fall sometime:

    “Hillary Clinton believes that Israel’s right to exist in safety as a Jewish state, with defensible borders and an undivided Jerusalem as its capital, secure from violence and terrorism, must never be questioned.”

    Note, please, the phrase “an undivided Jerusalem as its capital”. While this seems a rather hard line, nobody here in the states even noticed it. Also unmarked is the idea that this position matches AIPAC’s position on the matter, word for word. I guess they were too involved in watching her fellow Democrats like Jimmy Carter, auctioning off that “undivided Jerusalem ” to the highest bidding Palestinian terrorist group, to notice.

    Or perhaps the reason nobody noticed it we’re sick to death of having to parse everything she says, anymore.

    I suspect in the end, that all this counts for nothing.

  11. Dave Schuler says:

    Deterrence is a topic I’ve revisited from time to time over at my place if for no other reason than that the policy is languishing from lack of attention. I think that Sen. Clinton’s statement is a positive move considering that lack of attention.

    There’s no lack of people who either actively oppose our deterrence policy, deny its reality, or deny its practicality, all of which IMO weaken the effectiveness of the policy and makes it rather more likely that a nuclear attack will actually take place.

    Deterrence through threat of massive retaliation is a lousy policy but, unfortunately, it’s the only tool at hand. It’s sort of like the elephant repellant—it’s worked so far. Why experiment to determine if it’s necessary?

  12. Pug says:

    Wonder if she might consider running it by Congress before we “totally obliterate them”? I hope she doesn’t make this decision at 3 AM when she is exhausted and prone to screw up.

    She has also decided we will defend Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the UAE.

  13. dutchmarbel says:

    She explained to Keith Olbermann:

    In addition, if Iran were to become a nuclear power, it could set off an arms race that would be incredibly dangerous and destabilizing because the countries in the region are not going to want Iran to be the only nuclear power. So I can imagine that they would be rushing to obtain nuclear weapons themselves. In order to forestall that, creating some kind of a security agreement where we said, ‘No, you do not need to acquire nuclear weapons if you were the subject of an unprovoked nuclear attack by Iran the United States and hopefully our NATO allies would respond to that as well.’ It is a theory that some people have been looking at because there is a fear that if Iran, which I hope we can prevent, becoming a nuclear power, but if they were to become one, some people worry that they are not deterrable, that they somehow have a different mindset and a worldview that might very well lead the leadership to be willing to become martyrs. I don’t buy that, but I think we have to test it. And one of the ways of testing it is to make it very clear that we are not going to permit them, if we can prevent it, from becoming a nuclear power, but were they to become so, their use of nuclear weapons against Israel would provoke a nuclear response from the United States, which personally I believe would prevent it from happening, and that we would try to help the other countries that might be intimidated and bullied into submission by Iran because they were a nuclear power, avoid that fate by creating this new security umbrella.”

  14. Michael says:

    Someone tell me what Iran gains from using nuclear weapons against Israel. Even without the threat of retaliation, what reason would they have for using Nukes?

  15. Bithead says:

    Here again, Michael, you’re making the very fatal mistake of attributing modern logic to a group of very 14th century thinkers.

    And Dave; I supopse I’d think it was a positive development too, if I could trust the woman to do as she says for the reasons she implies.

    Do you really think we can?

  16. Michael says:

    So I can imagine that they would be rushing to obtain nuclear weapons themselves. In order to forestall that, creating some kind of a security agreement where we said, ‘No, you do not need to acquire nuclear weapons if you were the subject of an unprovoked nuclear attack by Iran the United States and hopefully our NATO allies would respond to that as well.’

    What exactly does Mrs. Clinton think Iran is going to be telling other nations once they have nuclear weapons? They’ll be saying “Hey, sign on with us and we will protect you from a nuclear attack by Israel or the United States”. That is how a nuclear power gains hegemony.

  17. Michael says:

    Here again, Michael, you’re making the very fatal mistake of attributing modern logic to a group of very 14th century thinkers.

    And you have yet to prove that they are 14th century thinkers.

    Even still, nobody ever did anything without a reason, even in the 14th century, so what is the reason why Iran would attack Israel with nuclear weapons?

  18. Hal says:

    Strange how no one has brought up the 200+ nukes that Israel has here. I mean, really. It’s almost laughable to think that Iran would want to actually initiate an attack on a country with 3 orders of magnitude more nuclear weapons than it may – may! – develop some day, not to mention the means and the ability to deliver them – something that will take Iraq even longer to develop than the bomb itself – not to mention the fact that Israel will have half a century of serious technology in all three of these areas ahead of whatever paranoid fantasies one has of Iran.

    I mean, really. Israel’s own nukes are more than enough of a deterrent and any saber rattling from the US armchair generals on the right is just that – saber rattling.

    Geebus. Get a grip.

  19. Michael says:

    Strange how no one has brought up the 200+ nukes that Israel has here.

    Where did you get that figure from?

    not to mention the means and the ability to deliver them – something that will take Iraq even longer to develop than the bomb itself

    I seem to recall they’re working on a missle that could reach our allies in Europe, surely Israel is closer than that.

  20. Bithead says:

    Even still, nobody ever did anything without a reason, even in the 14th century, so what is the reason why Iran would attack Israel with nuclear weapons?

    Their very 14th centruy Religion.
    Do you really need this explained?

  21. Hal says:

    I seem to recall they’re working on a missle that could reach our allies in Europe, surely Israel is closer than that.

    Again, do your homework. First, it’s not just carrying feathers, it has to carry a nuclear bomb which isn’t trivial. Second, the bomb actually has to survive and do what a bomb is supposed to do. These two things are amazingly non trivial and to think that they are requires quite a bit of naiveté wrt the technology required.

    Building rockets which do nothing is enough of a technological feat. Building rockets that can carry nukes is a far greater task. Building nukes that will a) fit b) work in these rockets is even more work.

    And even if you somehow cast all that aside with a brush of illogic, you still have to figure out how they Iranians are going to look at 200+ nukes with far more advanced delivery and means and say “see, we have 1!”. Sure you can think they’re completely irrational actors and will do it anyway, but quite frankly then all this talk of deterrence via mass retaliation is completely irrelevant and nothing more than saber rattling as well given that an irrational actor won’t give a sh*t what you’re going to do in retaliation.

    Consequently, this kind of discussion is kind of like sitting around with the dudes on saturday night, puffing bong hits and playing strategy board games.

  22. Dave Schuler says:

    And Dave; I supopse I’d think it was a positive development too, if I could trust the woman to do as she says for the reasons she implies.

    It’s a positive development in any case since it puts the issue of deterrence on the table. That’s got to be done regularly to maintain the vital psychological component of the tactic.

  23. Bithead says:

    It’s a positive development in any case since it puts the issue of deterrence on the table. That’s got to be done regularly to maintain the vital psychological component of the tactic.

    I know… but again, that only works when you’ve got someone laying it on the table, who can be trusted to lay it on the line when the time comes.

    Obama doesn’t qualify by that meaasure, far as I can see, and HRC most CERTAINLY doesn’t qualify. So, in either case, where does that leave deterrence?

    I do take your point, that the subject gets brought up and discussed, and I suppose I could take it that both Democrats being exposed as incompetant to the task base don their mindsets is a positive thing as well, assuming we react to the information.

    Doesn’t do much for my comfort level, though, frankly.

  24. anjin-san says:

    Just out of curiosity, when was the last time Iran attacked anyone?

  25. DavidL says:

    Mrs. Clinton threatens to nuke Iran? So what.

    She has a problem. The effectiveness a threat is not based on shrillness, or which Mrs. Clinton excels, but rather on credibility, of which the the Clintons have none. With the Clintons everything has a price. The mullahs have every reason to believe that any nuclear retaliation can be bought off by suffient sized donation to the Clinton Library.

  26. Pug says:

    Just out of curiosity, when was the last time Iran attacked anyone?

    I believe they occupied the city of Herat in what is now Afghanistan in 1856-1857. They definitely invaded Afghanistan and Punjab and sacked Delhi in 1738-1739 and mounted an excursion against the Uzbecks in 1740. They also occupied Oman from 1736-1744.

    These are a hostile, warlike people.

  27. Bithead says:

    Prior to their rise in the late 30’s, when was Japan involved with an attack on anyone?

    Obviously, there’s a discnnect here you’ve not considered.

  28. Michael says:

    First, it’s not just carrying feathers, it has to carry a nuclear bomb which isn’t trivial. Second, the bomb actually has to survive and do what a bomb is supposed to do. These two things are amazingly non trivial and to think that they are requires quite a bit of naiveté wrt the technology required.

    Actually building Uranium “plug” style bomb is frighteningly trivial. Delivery of such a bomb is also trivial, as you don’t need anything more than a simple chemical explosive and conventional trigger. Fusion bombs are amazingly complex, implosion-fission bombs are also very complex, but simple Uranium plug bombs are about as simple as it gets.

    ure you can think they’re completely irrational actors and will do it anyway

    Haven’t I consistently been the one saying that the _are_ rational actors and should be treated as such by any serious foreign policy?

  29. Hal says:

    Delivery of such a bomb is also trivial, as you don’t need anything more than a simple chemical explosive and conventional trigger.

    Again, this is simply not taking everything into account. The frighteningly trivial bomb you discuss is essentially impossible to deliver by anything other than a plane – certainly not a rocket. The reason why you need technically advanced fission bombs is precisely because you need to get them onto a rocket and travel great distances. Fusion bombs are a red herring.

    Further, any bomb is going to have a certain probability of failing. With newbie technology such as the Iranians may develop one day, that probability is going to be rather close to 1. Which means you need a lot of bombs to have any credible chance of doing anything with them.

    Haven’t I consistently been the one saying that the _are_ rational actors and should be treated as such by any serious foreign policy?

    Yes, you have, but the issue is that you’d have to be an amazingly irrational actor given the realities. At best, Iran can attempt to build some deterrence with nukes, more psychological than anything else. Certainly the ability to lob them at Iraq (not likely any more, although with US troops there….) or at Saudi Arabia or the once and future Kurdistan would be far more valuable strategically than anything directed at Israel.

  30. Michael says:

    Prior to their rise in the late 30’s, when was Japan involved with an attack on anyone?

    1874
    1875
    1894
    1895
    and 1904

    Just to name a few.

  31. Michael says:

    Again, this is simply not taking everything into account. The frighteningly trivial bomb you discuss is essentially impossible to deliver by anything other than a plane – certainly not a rocket.

    And why is that?

  32. Michael says:

    Their very 14th centruy Religion.
    Do you really need this explained?

    Yes, please do explain. Are you saying that _any_ Islamic country is governed by “14th century” thinkers, and present an immediate threat to those around them? Or is Islam in Iran more irrational than Islam elsewhere?

  33. Hal says:

    And why is that?

    Because what you’re talking about is essentially the technology in Little boy. To give you some perspective, Little Boy weighed in at 4,000 kg – of which only 64 kg was uranium. Now, if you think that the Iranians are going to produce anything that’s going to life 4,000 Kg and deliver it to Israel, then I think you’re smoking something.

  34. dutchmarbel says:

    I don’t think Iran is a serious threat and even if it was Israels nuclear weapons are alledged to be heavy enough to do the job themselves. So yes, it is sabel-rattling, not a prediction of the future. But she had to answer the question what she would do *if* Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, not wether she thought is was likekely.

    I think there are plenty of people who are afraid of Iran and what it might do, so it is nice to make them feel safer, to feel there is an appropriate strategy and that the bad guys will get whacked.

  35. Michael says:

    Little Boy weighed in at 4,000 kg – of which only 64 kg was uranium. Now, if you think that the Iranians are going to produce anything that’s going to life 4,000 Kg and deliver it to Israel, then I think you’re smoking something.

    But how much of that 4,000 kg was necessarily part of the fission component, and how much of the weight was the bomb’s casing itself?

    For example, the American W9 nuclear artillery shell weighed only 364 kg, well below the Shahab-3’s 990 kg capacity.

  36. Hal says:

    I think there are plenty of people who are afraid of Iran and what it might do, so it is nice to make them feel safer, to feel there is an appropriate strategy and that the bad guys will get whacked.

    Well, I suppose. Seems rather silly to think that a nation with 200 nukes is unable to take care of themselves. It seems much more that it’s a kind of self centered-ness that believes the US has to do everything and perpetuates the literally bonkers notion that Iran is somehow a threat to the US.

    Sure we all want to feel safer. But some ways of doing so have the effect of making things worse.

  37. Hal says:

    But how much of that 4,000 kg was necessarily part of the fission component, and how much of the weight was the bomb’s casing itself?

    If you’re really interested, there’s a lot of decent stuff out on the web. But the point isn’t that, given sufficient technology, Iran wouldn’t be able to do some really amazing and nasty stuff. The point is that doing this stuff takes an awful lot of work that just doesn’t spring from brow of Zeus. And even if you have the knowledge from some nefarious actors, you still need an awful lot of experience to put it into play because you’re dealing with some amazingly complicated stuff that requires 10’s of thousands of person years to develop. It just isn’t that simple. If it was, believe me, we’d be living in a libertarian’s paradise where everyone walked around with nuclear bombs strapped to their hips like a pair of six guns. The second amendment would demand it.

  38. Bithead says:

    Yes, please do explain. Are you saying that _any_ Islamic country is governed by “14th century” thinkers, and present an immediate threat to those around them? Or is Islam in Iran more irrational than Islam elsewhere?

    Well, let’s put it this way;
    How many others are screaming that they’ll wipe Israel off the face of the map?

  39. Mikee says:

    I am amazed that the point of your article has been missed by each and every commenter. The Israelis might “seek a more diplomatic rapprochement with other Arab nations,” absent US support.

    Would that “rapprochement” somehow manage to change the desire of so many state and non-state actors to obliterate Israel and kill all the Jews therein? What “rapprochement” would you suggest with such adversaries, since there has been and will be no change in their stated aim of destroying Israel?

  40. Hal says:

    What “rapprochement” would you suggest with such adversaries, since there has been and will be no change in their stated aim of destroying Israel?

    Guess you’ve missed the news, eh?

  41. Michael says:

    Well, let’s put it this way;
    How many others are screaming that they’ll wipe Israel off the face of the map?

    Well, lots of them did not 50 years ago, so are all of them irrational 14th century thinkers?

    Or is it just that your definition of “Irrational 14th century thinker” is “Someone who wants to destroy Israel”? What makes Israel so special in relationship to the 14th century?

    To me, your logic doesn’t follow.

  42. Michael says:

    Would that “rapprochement” somehow manage to change the desire of so many state and non-state actors to obliterate Israel and kill all the Jews therein?

    Would it be too much to ask for you to list the “so many” actors that want to destroy Israel?

    Guess you’ve missed the news, eh?

    Not exactly a new stance, Hamas said they wouldn’t block a peace deal, but they also said they wouldn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist.

  43. Michael says:

    Well, lots of them did not 50 years ago

    And, as a side note, Iran was not one of them.

  44. Hal says:

    Not exactly a new stance, Hamas said they wouldn’t block a peace deal, but they also said they wouldn’t recognize Israel’s right to exist.

    Um, actually, you’re not quite correct on this point

    Earlier in Jerusalem, Carter said that Hamas is prepared to accept the Israel’s right to “live in peace” within 1967 borders.

    “There’s no doubt that both the Arab world and the Palestinians, including Hamas, will accept Israel’s right to live in peace within the 1967 borders.”

    Hamas has previously claimed all of what is now Israel and the West Bank and Gaza, and its charter calls for the destruction of Israel. Meshal did not address whether the group would consider changing it. But his comments were one of the strongest Hamas statements in favor of a two-state solution.

    I’m pretty sure, given the dynamics, that they couldn’t simply come right out and say it in black and white, but this is essentially saying the same thing.

  45. Michael says:

    Earlier in Jerusalem, Carter said that Hamas is prepared to accept the Israel’s right to “live in peace” within 1967 borders.

    That’s what Carter said. What Hamas is saying is different. Perhaps they both took the same statement to mean different things.

  46. Hal, surely it is begging the question to assume that any nuclear device Iran might deploy against Israel would necessarily be missile-delivered. Does anything rule out delivery by more difficult-to-detect means, such as sealing the device into the ballast of a trawler and sailing it into Haifa? There’s the added element of at least some level of plausible deniability in this approach.

    Further, an entity that can create a reliable, boosted-fission implosion warhead is a very long way down the road to thermonuclear devices. If you want to MIRV your warheads, then some very clever design is needed to stuff a Teller-Ulam radiation implosion bomb into the reentry vehicle. But if you’re happy with One Big Bomb then life becomes easier (not easy, mind, but are we sure that Iran is not in possession of Chinese or Pakistani thermonuke designs?)

  47. Hal says:

    I heard Carter on that commie NPR program All things considered last night and he said that they made sure to write it down in black and white so that there would be no disagreements as to what the words meant.

    It’s quite clear that they are within a gnat’s hair of eliminating the last weasel point if Israel is ready to.

    Hamas will not recognise Israel but will accept a Palestinian state on Palestine territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the Islamic militant group’s exiled leader said today.

    The statement by Khaled Mashaal in Damascus amounted to a tacit acceptance of Israel’s right to exist alongside a Palestinian state, but without explicit recognition. Hamas has previously called for the destruction of Israel, which occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem in the 1967 war. Israel later declared the entire city of Jerusalem as its capital.

    ….

    “We agree to a (Palestinian) state on pre-67 borders, with Jerusalem as its capital with genuine sovereignty without settlements but without recognising Israel,” Mashaal said.

  48. Bithead says:

    Um, actually, you’re not quite correct on this point

    Um, actually, he is.

    JERUSALEM —Washington Times- Hamas said yesterday it was prepared to accept a Palestinian state within 1967 borders, but contradicted a statement by former President Jimmy Carter that it would accept Israel’s right to exist if that was the will of the Palestinian people.

  49. Bithead says:

    Or is it just that your definition of “Irrational 14th century thinker” is “Someone who wants to destroy Israel”? What makes Israel so special in relationship to the 14th century?

    To me, your logic doesn’t follow.

    Explain to me the logic of the suicide bomber.
    And yes, I’m answering your question.

  50. Hal says:

    Does anything rule out delivery by more difficult-to-detect means, such as sealing the device into the ballast of a trawler and sailing it into Haifa? There’s the added element of at least some level of plausible deniability in this approach.

    Well, anything is possible. I doubt that any “plausible deniability” would be sufficient, though. Within approximately 10 minutes of such an event, Iran would become a glass covered shell. There would be no way to prevent that, and I can’t think of anyone who’d think there would be any other outcome of such a scenario.

    But if you’re happy with One Big Bomb then life becomes easier

    Not so. Again, probability is not your friend here. Even with the US’ vastly superior technology, I think we have a .3 or .4 probability of a dud, which is why any strike contains enough warheads to ensure high probability. Now I seriously doubt that anything a first time nuke builder would build would even have a 60% chance of going off. Much less if it’s in a rocket (high acceleration is not an environment conducive to the sensitive technology required to do such deeds). So if they have one bomb, then everyone who knows what they are talking about would simply smile and laugh. Psychologically, it would be pretty great, but practically it’s laughable.

    And that is assuming they could get this one bomb up in the air to anywhere beyond a 500 foot radius of the launch.

  51. Hal says:

    Um, actually, he is.

    Hmm… Who you gonna believe? Everyone else or Rev. Moon?

    Geebus, no wonder you’re addled.

  52. Hal, I think you overestimate the willingness of a liberal democracy like Israel to respond in kind to a nuclear attack. Witness its reluctance to truly take on and defeat Palestinian terror. The cornerstone of deterrence is your enemy’s belief that you mean what you say. It’s why we had launch-on-warning and a fail-deadly posture with ballistic missile subs. There is a rational and humanitarian argument that responding to a nuclear attack would simply be to compound the tragedy by massacring more innocents. I am not so sure this would not win out against massive retaliation, especially if the link between an attack and a state sponsor would not be unequivocally established. This is the real danger of rationality vs. irrationality.

    By one bomb, I meant one bomb per bus, not one bomb total.

    As for the reliability of nukes – where are you getting your numbers from? A nuclear weapon is not a particularly sensitive piece of equipment (very few moving parts, and none of those much less robust than the fuses in a conventional bomb, which seem to go off just fine). We don’t get failure rates even as high as 10% for things like satellites, which are much more delicately constructed. What sort of fizzle rates did we get during tests? The British had a bad run in their thermonuke tests at Woomera, but they got it right in the end (and then the US shared warhead designs). The Iranians aren’t first time nuke builders. Others have done most of the heavy lifting for them. If the Chinese could go from fission to fusion in a matter of months in the Sixties, I see no reason to be sanguine today.

  53. Hal says:

    I am not so sure this would not win out against massive retaliation, especially if the link between an attack and a state sponsor would not be unequivocally established.

    Well, you’re entitled to your opinion but I think that the overwhelming evidence is to the contrary. No use arguing about it, unless you’re trying to push for rationality losing.

    By one bomb, I meant one bomb per bus, not one bomb total.

    I think you seriously underestimate what it takes to even build one bomb.

    where are you getting your numbers from?

    The US government.

    We don’t get failure rates even as high as 10% for things like satellites, which are much more delicately constructed.

    Again, I think you severely underestimate what’s involved in creating a nuclear explosion.

    If the Chinese could go from fission to fusion in a matter of months in the Sixties, I see no reason to be sanguine today.

    I think you completely misunderstand the underlying technology.

  54. Michael says:

    Not so. Again, probability is not your friend here. Even with the US’ vastly superior technology, I think we have a .3 or .4 probability of a dud

    We never even tested a gun-type device before dropping Little Boy on Hiroshima, because the scientists involved were so sure that it would be successful.

    Explain to me the logic of the suicide bomber.
    And yes, I’m answering your question.

    Suicide bombers are just like aerial bombers, they deliver the bomb, but they don’t choose when or where or how to deliver it. Truman’s logic mattered, not the Enola Gay’s crew.

  55. Bithead says:

    Hmm… Who you gonna believe? Everyone else or Rev. Moon?

    Geebus, no wonder you’re addled.

    What spectacular open-mindedness.

    Oh, wait, I know… You must be getting a different link. I see the credit being given to one Joshua Mitnick, with secondary credits going to one Nicholas Kralev, bth of whom directly quoted AlJezera.

    Oh, I see. You don’t trust a paper because of it’s ownership? Yet, you’ll defend the honor of Pinch Suzberger, I’ve not a doubt in the world.

    Well, whatever. Here’s a few others making note of the same statement.

    Care to try again?

  56. Hal says:

    We never even tested a gun-type device before dropping Little Boy on Hiroshima, because the scientists involved were so sure that it would be successful.

    Dude, we don’t use these type of weapons. If the Iranians want to build Little Boy then they will have to find some way to deliver a stunningly huge payload – even accounting for advances in technology. I don’t think you appreciate what it takes to lift a payload through a ballistic trajectory of any distance. Further, the issue with reliability is largely with the radiation damage on the components. There is a non trivial bombardment of sensitive electronics which are required to produce the weapons we have. This has a non-trivial effect on the probability of the system working.

    If you want simple stuff that’s reliable, you can’t lift it without heavy bombers. If you want small sophisticated stuff, you have advanced technology involved which is going to take a huge beating from the radiation involved – and that’s if you have the technology and experience required.

    Apples. Oranges. Rocks. Category errors don’t help.

  57. Bithead says:

    Suicide bombers are just like aerial bombers, they deliver the bomb, but they don’t choose when or where or how to deliver it.

    Possible, though doubtful. But of greater import to the discussion, what does the bomber think he’s gaining by his act since he’ll be dead?

  58. Hal says:

    Care to try again?

    Dr. B, it’s pointless arguing with you.

  59. “I think you completely misunderstand the underlying technology.”

    I hope not. I may not be a bomb designer, but I have a fairly strong background in physics and electronic engineering (i.e. postgraduate level). I would be hard pressed to describe the exact equations governing radiative transfer in the Hohlraum of a Teller-Ulam bombcase, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what it means. I think you severely overestimate how hard it is to construct a fission weapon. The list of nations that are capable of building an implosion-type fission weapon is long. Brazil could do it. Argentina could do it. South Africa did it. Pakistan has done it. Getting your hands on the fissile material is the hard part. After that, any nation equipped with one of A Q Khan’s designs and de minimis machining technology could build one. Thermonukes are harder, but thus far no nation with boosted fission weapons that really wanted hydrogen weapons has failed to make one. I would really appreciate a cite that gives the 30-40% failure rate for US nuclear weapons that you state.

  60. Bithead says:

    Dr. B, it’s pointless arguing with you.

    Well, when you don’t have your facts in order, that’s true.

    You don’t.

  61. As for radiation damage, Pu239 is an alpha emitter with a low rate of spontaneous fission. The radiation environment that satellites must endure is significantly more severe. Plutonium is metallurgically complex, to be sure, but that can be mitigated with the admixture of gallium.

  62. As for radiation damage, Pu239 is an alpha emitter with a low rate of spontaneous fission. The radiation environment that satellites must endure is significantly more severe. As a rule of thumb you can put twenty times as much mass into LEO as GEO, so weight constraints on satellites are huge. Yet they manage to be placed up there with monotonous regularity and last for years.

    Plutonium is metallurgically complex, to be sure, but that can be mitigated with the admixture of gallium.

  63. Bithead says:

    Gillies:

    I think you severely overestimate how hard it is to construct a fission weapon

    Frankly, I think so, as well. Particularly, given the ‘keep trying to we get it right of we drop dead’ mentality that they seem to be operating under.

    It’s all for allah, of course.

  64. Michael says:

    If the Iranians want to build Little Boy then they will have to find some way to deliver a stunningly huge payload – even accounting for advances in technology.

    In the late 1950’s the US had developed the 364kg W9 and the 110kg W33 nuclear artillery shells, which used the gun-method. Again those weights are well within the payload capacity of Iran’s Shahab-3 rockets.

    But of greater import to the discussion, what does the bomber think he’s gaining by his act since he’ll be dead?

    When you’re planning strategy, you don’t worry about what the soldier’s motivations are, you assume they’ll follow orders, so you worry about the motivations of those giving the orders. Iran, as far as I can see, has no motivation for using nuclear weapons against Israel.

  65. Michael says:

    Dude, we don’t use these type of weapons.

    We don’t use these anymore, but we did use one in combat, and we did test 3 other designs, and for a long time we had a rather large stock of them.

    We don’t use them because plutonium can be made on demand while Uranium must be mined and enriched, and you need a relatively large amount of it for what you get out, and it doesn’t scale well. None of that means they can’t be made or used by Iran.

  66. Hal says:

    I have a fairly strong background in physics and electronic engineering

    Same here, so we can be dueling Physicists/EE.

    Getting your hands on the fissile material is the hard part.

    No, there are a lot of other hard parts to do. Again, define your problem. If it’s building a stationary bomb, then give me a three story house and I could build it. If it’s something mobile, then things get harder, but you’re extremely limited in your delivery ability because of the weight. If it’s something you can shoot over in a rocket, then it’s pretty darn hard to accomplish.

    I would really appreciate a cite that gives the 30-40% failure rate for US nuclear weapons that you state.

    Well, I’m going to have to withdraw my claim as I can’t find documentation for it. Consider it toast, since I can’t back it up. Still, the point is that there is a non-zero probability of things going wrong in any of the number of sophisticated pieces that all have to work – even for the US. Which is why we have a zillion bombs and why people are getting very touchy about the US not having tested due to the NPT, not to mention our aging stockpiles. A country like Iran isn’t going to have anywhere near the probabilities we have.

    But still, since I have no doc to back it up, I guess we’ll just have to assume they’re supermen and they have 100% chance with their single missile. And in that case, you either assume they are completely irrational because the retaliation would be devastating or you assume that they’re rational and wouldn’t perform a first strike. If you assume they’re irrational then no deterrence is going to matter. You can tell them you’re going to turn Iran into a glass parking lot and it doesn’t matter to the irrational actor. Which brings me to the only actual point I’ve been trying to make until we got sucked into insanity. If you believe they’re irrational, then all this talk is simply war porn and playing stratego. It’s posturing and puffing up the chest. If your desire is akin to Kristol to whack ’em before they get the bomb and do the irrational, then I’m sorry but my opinion is you’re a loon and there’s really nothing to discuss. If you believe they’re rational, then we’re again just pushing war porn and playing stratego.

    It’s all silly, given Israel can take care of their own interests and don’t need our help in deterrence at all.

  67. Hal says:

    Again those weights are well within the payload capacity of Iran’s Shahab-3 rockets.

    Again, where do you think they’re going to get this technology. It doesn’t spring from the brow of Zeus. It took a major industrial power decades to do this. Other than AQ Khan, who do you think is going to give this to them?

    Can we really just stop this? I’m simply not arguing that there is technology to do this. I’m simply arguing it takes time and effort which you seem to have a firm belief is just not the case. That’s great. I can’t argue with someone who believes there’s essentially zero barrier to sophisticated nuclear weapons and we’re all just waiting on death’s door for the feather to drop in Iran and they can start swarming over nuclear tipped ICBMs (which apparently are trivial to make).

    It’s like I’m reliving the 80’s all over again.

  68. Michael says:

    Which brings me to the only actual point I’ve been trying to make until we got sucked into insanity. If you believe they’re irrational, then all this talk is simply war porn and playing stratego.

    Ah Stratego, now there was a fun game. I should go out and buy that again.

  69. Hal says:

    Well, okay. I guess we’re all living on the edge of destruction and civilization is about to end in the next few years.

    Have fun in the survival shelters.

  70. Michael says:

    It took a major industrial power decades to do this.

    It took the US 6 years (1939-1945) to produce and use a uranium bomb from scratch. It too another 7 years (1945-1952) to produce a 346kg device of the same yield, for a total of 13 years.

    The Iranian nuclear program started in 1953 (with US help, btw), they had a uranium research reactor by 1967. In 1996 Iran was given plans for the constructions of a uranium conversion facility by China.

    I know that this technology takes time and effort, I’m simply arguing that Iran isn’t starting today from scratch, that there has already been considerable time and effort put into their development on nuclear technology. With a concerted national effort, Iran could probably develop a gun-type bomb less than a decade from now, possibly in only a matter of years. Though they would be hard-pressed to produce them in any large quantity.

  71. Gabriel Hanna says:

    If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in possession . . . application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.–Former Iranian President Rafsanjani

    We do not worship Iran, we worship Allah. For patriotism is another name for paganism. I say let this land [Iran] burn. I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world.–Ayatollah Khomeini, Paymaha va Sokhanraniyha-yi Imam Khomeini (“Messages and Speeches of Imam Khomeini”) published by Nur Research and Publication Institute (Tehran, 1981)

    Yeah, deterrence should work just fine on a theocratic government whose highest officials speak of Iran becoming a nuclear shahid.

    Those who put their faith in deterrence are forgetting something else.

    Suppose Iran doesn’t put a bomb on a missile, but instead hands it to Hezbollah, who puts in on a truck and blows it up in Israel. Who do we nuke? Are you telling me the UN is going to say, well obviously it was Iran, go right ahead?

    Suppose six months later we can prove to the UN’s satisfaction that Iran was responsible? Do we nuke Tehran then, in cold blood?

    Won’t those in the West who opposed war in Afghanistan look for any possible out? They can impeach the evidence, or plead that innocent civilians in Tehran not be forfeit for the actions of a government they are not responsible for. Can you honestly see President Obama or President Hillary doing that? Even President McCain might hesitate to do such a thing.

    Is there not the possibility that Russia and China would say, no matter how strong the evidence, that it’s not strong enough–and might they not use their nuclear arsenals to deter the US?

    This isn’t the Cold War, where it was all going to be over in hours and ICBMs coming over the pole might as well have a return address stamped on them.

  72. newscaper says:

    Its nothing but posturing, particularly stupid at that –*any* president would have a hard time doing the “massive retaliation” thing on behalf of another country while we are untouched, particularly in the absence of a formal NATO type agreement.

    We need a president who acts tough when needed, because she *is* tough, not one who tries to *act* tough (and perhaps too much so) just because she thinks the polls will show its expected.

  73. Seerak says:

    We have been able to obliterate our enemies for a long time. But that does us exactly no good if we are not morally willing to do so when the time comes.

    Without that moral certitude, all our weapons are just so many shiny piles of wasted metal.

    So Clinton’s posturing is just that — posturing. When even the Republicans lack such conviction, what makes you think the Democrats would?

  74. Bithead says:

    When you’re planning strategy, you don’t worry about what the soldier’s motivations are, you assume they’ll follow orders, so you worry about the motivations of those giving the orders. Iran, as far as I can see, has no motivation for using nuclear weapons against Israel.

    Nice dodge. But it’s doesn’t mesh.
    Why do kids as young as 6 start signing on to be suicide bombers? What’s their motivation? What is the motivation of their families for promotion of the idea?

    Clue: If they don’t care if they die, they must be working toward something they believe is BEYOND death, no?

  75. Michael says:

    Nice dodge. But it’s doesn’t mesh.

    It wasn’t a dodge, it was getting us back on track. Tangents about why suicide bombers don’t care about dying are irrelevant to the discussion of Iran’s possible military actions.

    Unhappy 6 year olds don’t decide whether or how to deploy nuclear weapons.

  76. Bithead says:

    It wasn’t a dodge, it was getting us back on track. Tangents about why suicide bombers don’t care about dying are irrelevant to the discussion of Iran’s possible military actions.

    Quite the contrary; they are central to it.

    Irrational is in the eye of the beheader, Mike. within the context of the west and it’s values that word gets used often enough, and certainly they look and irrational, by our cultural POV. Not, however, by theirs.

    The point you’re dancing around so furiously is that of the mindset of the radical islamist. You do remember the 72 virgins bit, right? they don’t really care, how many die, so long as their goal is had.

    A relative handful of these will ruin your whole day, as we have already discovered. A government run by such zelots with a few nukes at their disposal, will screw up an entire weekend.