mweiss

Why Nuking Tehran Won't Stop Terrorism

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A friend of mine and I are having a debate about how to stop terrorism. I argue in favor of Piekoff's "End States that Sponsor Terror". He raises some excellent counter points. Funding for Al Qaida's attacks is small enough not to require a government purse and could be splinter groups. He refers to a 'franchise' of Al Qaida groups. He believes the target is not a country but an ideology. I think he's right about that point. Here's what he said:

"That's the major fallacy of the argument, that the funding comes from nation states. What AQ does really doesn't require that much money. It mainly comes from private parties, usually incredibly rich from oil profits, but also from other businesses. There's also just petty crime and the drug trade, like you see the Taliban doing in Afghanistan, where they force farmers to grow poppies for the opium market.

They don't run a major standing army. They provide some logistics and act as an intelligence clearinghouse, but pretty much anyone can set up an AQ "franchise." People talk about the 9/11 attacks like they were some sort of amazing operation that required national resources to pull of, but stop and think for a moment about what it was: four teams of five men each who had been trained to seize planes and then fly them to individual targets. All you needed to do was make sure four of them knew enough to steer a flying plane into a building and then get them to all start their hijackings at the same time. They didn't need to be taking orders from a central base or be in communication. Just 20 guys with a some basic flight knowledge and a schedule to keep.

This is why thinking of fighting terrorism like you would a standing army makes no damned sense. AQ is dedicated to overthrowing pretty much every current government in the Middle East; they attack Saudi Arabian government targets as well as Western ones. We could bomb Riyadh tomorrow and it wouldn't inspire the Saudis to get any tougher on AQ, because they're already trying to fight them in order to preserve their own power. This isn't a simple case of them being proxies for nation states; they represent a truly transnational, stateless threat. It's best to think of them like the Mafia. They have private supporters and represent only their crazed religious philosophy. They may set up camps and stuff, but they're a diffuse threat which can't simply be bombed into submission, because they're an embodiment of an idea.

Think of it this way: suppose I said that right-wing militias were a threat to national security and decided that bombing a few of their meetings would send the message that they could no longer operate. What do you think would happen? Would that discourage them at all? Of course not. Their antigovernment views would be proven and seen as justified by more people. Support for them would grow. As moves against them became more obvious and violent, more people would see them as the only defense against a power-crazed regime. If you somehow wiped out entire militia groups, new ones would spring up in their wake, completely independent of the original members, because the meme of fighting the government would take hold in the population.

That's what we're fighting here: a meme, an idea. The idea that Western democracy and capitalism and religion exist only to destroy their culture and remake them into something they don't want to be. Radicalism grows where people are unhappy, and the sad truth is that the governments of the Middle East just aren't equipped well to deal with their societal problems. When populations feel helpless, they seek some sort of answer to their problems, and AQ offers the comfort of an absolutist worldview. Just follow us, they say, and we'll set the world right. Follow us and we'll get rid of the bad guys that hold you down and let you feel happy and safe.

That's why I keep saying that this dream that bombing the right target will somehow end this is just a chimera. We've been bombing them for ten years. All AQ does is turn around and tell the Arab world that it proves we just want to exterminate them all. If we're ever going to beat this meme, we have to somehow make it irrelevant. If the majority of the population is happy and satisfied with their lives, then AQ's message will become meaningless. The key to that is trying to make the governments of the Middle East less corrupt and less hated by their own people. Unfortunately, our need for oil has led us to turn a blind eye to some terrible governments over the years, so most people there really don't believe that America can be trusted at all. That's why I always bitch about any time that the US betrays its own moral code for the sake of "security." We can't lecture other countries about the need to follow the rule of law and why illegal torture is unacceptable when he clearly violate it ourselves. The only way we can ever prove that we are, in fact, better people is that actually BE better people. Otherwise, we're just one more group of thugs out to rob the weaker guy on the block, and all the guns in the world won't help you if everyone is trying to knife you in the back."

So if we can't bomb these terrorists out of existence, then we have a really difficult, long-term problem. A problem that can only be rectified by out-spawning them and increasing the non-Muslim population, spreading rational ideas and reeducating Muslims. I don't see that happening to a great enough degree however.

I'm beginning to think there is no solution that ends happily for this situation.

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Quick factual correction: the farmers are not forced. Drugs are very lucrative crops, which is why farmers in Columbia and Afghanistan gladly grow them, protected by warlords.

Of course, this is because all other crops have been subsidized to death by several social-democrat states who "need their farmers". Good luck growing corn or cotton competitively, without child labour and extremely good soil.

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The target is most definitely an ideology, but Peikoff's and other Objectivist arguments center on the premise that by taking down the countries most responsible for propagating the ideology, you remove the spine from the ideology. The argument is that the Islamic Republic of Iran (and to a lesser extent Saudi Arabia) is the embodiment of what the ideology of Islamism is driven to accomplish: a religious state governed by Sharia law. It is not merely a sponsor of terror but a symbol of their goal, and its ideological backbone. Destroy the state that is the embodiment of the ideology (through whatever means necessary, whether bloodless coup or nuclear weapons; as philosophers and not military generals, they usually refuse to do much speculation) and you will cut out not only any financial support that Iran gives to terrorists, but also the backbone of the terrorists' ideology, because you will have proved that their ideology doesn't work. While there would certainly still be plenty of Islamists floating around in the aftermath, they would be much less of a threat because they would no longer have that central rallying point to work towards.

There are two components to a totalitarian ideology. You have to come up with a coherent philosophy. The Islamists definitely have that, and there's not much we can do to destroy the meme, as your friend says, especially as it is explicitly wedded to religious faith and it does not pretend to be secular and rational, as Communism and Socialism do. We cannot defeat it by proving that it doesn't deliver prosperity or that people living under it lead miserable lives, because Islam doesn't even pretend that those are its goals. But a totalitarian ideology can only gain adherents through persuasion without getting hold of some kind of military force. That means the power of government, which means that as long as we keep those powers out of Islamist hands, Islamists will never be more than a nuisance. Of course, there are also the attempts to seize power through democratic means. These are much more difficult to counter, especially in a mixed society where Islam can join in the wars between pressure groups and gain favors that way. But that ultimately depends on our own commitment to our society, not on any military force.

I've laid out the Objectivist argument, but to be honest with you, I'm not sure how completely I subscribe to it. On the one hand, they have a point in that there wasn't really any Islamic terrorism before the Iranian revolution of 1979. On the other, I don't think anyone can argue that Islamists are as solidly wedded to any single country as well as the Communists were to the USSR. To boil it down to essentials, I think bringing Iran down would help, but doubt we have the political or military reach to do it right now and I don't think it would render Islamists as harmless as killing the USSR did to the Communists.

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The target is most definitely an ideology, but Peikoff's and other Objectivist arguments center on the premise...

...I've laid out the Objectivist argument...

There is no "Objectivist" position on how to fight the war on terrorism, nor on anything else so specific and concrete. The only thing Objectivism has a position on is what Objectivism is, and that has already been decided by Ayn Rand. Different individuals may apply the principles of Objectivism for guidance in some concrete instance, but in the end their judgment's in those instances are their own, and not the official or unofficial position of Objectivism.

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Apparently Dr. Peikoff wrote a big article on the topic on how to fight the war on terrorism:

"End States That Sponsor Terrorism"

http://www.capitalismmagazine.com/index.php?news=2635

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To boil it down to essentials, I think bringing Iran down would help, but doubt we have the political or military reach to do it right now and I don't think it would render Islamists as harmless as killing the USSR did to the Communists.

A few megatons over Tehran and perhaps elsewhere would effectively level Iran and, as far as I know, missiles or B-2 Spirits could deliver them and return safely. Politically it would stir up a big mess of America-hatred (more so than already exists) but I'm not sure that would actually do anything to the US. The UN are notorious for lacking the cojones to accomplish much of anything.

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To boil it down to essentials, I think bringing Iran down would help, but doubt we have the political or military reach to do it right now and I don't think it would render Islamists as harmless as killing the USSR did to the Communists.

A few megatons over Tehran and perhaps elsewhere would effectively level Iran and, as far as I know, missiles or B-2 Spirits could deliver them and return safely. Politically it would stir up a big mess of America-hatred (more so than already exists) but I'm not sure that would actually do anything to the US. The UN are notorious for lacking the cojones to accomplish much of anything.

The UN should not even exist, so saying that it's notorious for lacking anything is without point.

Level Tehran and level Mecca.

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The target is most definitely an ideology, but Peikoff's and other Objectivist arguments center on the premise...

...I've laid out the Objectivist argument...

There is no "Objectivist" position on how to fight the war on terrorism, nor on anything else so specific and concrete. The only thing Objectivism has a position on is what Objectivism is, and that has already been decided by Ayn Rand. Different individuals may apply the principles of Objectivism for guidance in some concrete instance, but in the end their judgment's in those instances are their own, and not the official or unofficial position of Objectivism.

OK, perhaps I should say that I've laid out the argument as I understand it from the words of prominent Objectivists: from a speech Peikoff gave somewhere which I saw on YouTube, from Brook's advocacy on the issue, and from the book "Winning the Unwinnable War" by Brook, Journo and Epstein.

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To boil it down to essentials, I think bringing Iran down would help, but doubt we have the political or military reach to do it right now and I don't think it would render Islamists as harmless as killing the USSR did to the Communists.

A few megatons over Tehran and perhaps elsewhere would effectively level Iran and, as far as I know, missiles or B-2 Spirits could deliver them and return safely. Politically it would stir up a big mess of America-hatred (more so than already exists) but I'm not sure that would actually do anything to the US. The UN are notorious for lacking the cojones to accomplish much of anything.

I know, but I didn't include it because I don't think the political will exists *inside* America for such a strike, neither among the populace nor the political class.

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To boil it down to essentials, I think bringing Iran down would help, but doubt we have the political or military reach to do it right now and I don't think it would render Islamists as harmless as killing the USSR did to the Communists.

A few megatons over Tehran and perhaps elsewhere would effectively level Iran and, as far as I know, missiles or B-2 Spirits could deliver them and return safely. Politically it would stir up a big mess of America-hatred (more so than already exists) but I'm not sure that would actually do anything to the US. The UN are notorious for lacking the cojones to accomplish much of anything.

The UN should not even exist, so saying that it's notorious for lacking anything is without point.

Level Tehran and level Mecca.

I am in full agreement, level the bastards!

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The only goal should be protection of Americans, which means protection of their individual rights, which means their right to do whatever they choose as long as they don't infringe upon anyone else's right to do the same. Period.

If I were president, I would give this speech on national television:

My fellow Americans, from this moment on, the relationship between our nation and any other shall be based on the following statement: "As long as your country peacefully coexists with ours, engaging solely in mutually beneficial interactions such as trade, we will peacefully coexist with you and not intervene in your internal affairs in any way. The minute you harm, threaten to harm, or otherwise violate the rights - as we define them - of any American anywhere in the world, or aid anyone in doing so, we will destroy you by the most effective means available to us." Thank you and good night.

I think it would make a good Super Bowl commercial.

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"That's the major fallacy of the argument, that the funding comes from nation states.

Not sure about AQ, but in the case of Hezbollah and Hamas the funding does come from nation states. So that is not a "fallacy."

What AQ does really doesn't require that much money. It mainly comes from private parties, usually incredibly rich from oil profits, but also from other businesses. There's also just petty crime and the drug trade, like you see the Taliban doing in Afghanistan, where they force farmers to grow poppies for the opium market.

I agree, it doesn't require that much money to recruit and use suicide bombers. However, those small sums of money that are used should be confiscated because these groups are involved in murders, but they are not, because their nations harbour them.

Just 20 guys with a some basic flight knowledge and a schedule to keep.

Did you read the 9/11 commission report? These guys had been trained all over Iran, Afghanistan, etc. If those states did not provide a society in which they could train, raise their funds, recruit members (which are all public things which would be illegal in a non-Islamist country) then they wouldn't have been able to get off the ground.

they represent a truly transnational, stateless threat.

Clearly not true (and I don't think the issue is just Al Queda. The US has been attacked for years my Islamist groups including Hezbollah). If they were a stateless threat then what's stopping us from entering Pakistan and hunting them down? Or Iran? Will the Middle Eastern governments gladly begin hunting down AQ within their borders? Or allow US planes in to bomb them? These "stateless entities" don't receive any support from a state right, so I'm sure Iran will just let us come in and do that.

Think of it this way: suppose I said that right-wing militias were a threat

Suppose I said the South was a threat and we burned Atlanta to the ground. Suppose I Nazism and fascism were threats and we leveled Dresden with massive bombing campaigns. Suppose I said militant imperialism was a threat and we firebombed Tokyo and dropped nukes on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

That's what we're fighting here: a meme, an idea. The idea that Western democracy and capitalism and religion exist only to destroy their culture and remake them into something they don't want to be. Radicalism grows where people are unhappy, and the sad truth is that the governments of the Middle East just aren't equipped well to deal with their societal problems. When populations feel helpless, they seek some sort of answer to their problems, and AQ offers the comfort of an absolutist worldview. Just follow us, they say, and we'll set the world right. Follow us and we'll get rid of the bad guys that hold you down and let you feel happy and safe.

They don't think that way when they see the futility of their world view.

That's why I keep saying that this dream that bombing the right target will somehow end this is just a chimera. We've been bombing them for ten years.

Not really. We've been building roads and having tea with them for 10 years.

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Good retorts, Duke!

I'm all for nuking these nations, one by one. The objections some people have is what to expect from China or the Soviet Union. I too, would be concerned that they aren't going sit idly by and watch us nuke their allies. This is a conundrum which I think has more merit than my Liberal buddy's arguments above, to which you so adroitly responded.

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