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Does anyone know Trump’s goal in Syria?

by Eric Ferguson on April 20, 2018 · 1 comment

Do the general dress Trump like this to make him feel more manly when sitting in front of the Big Board?

Do the generals dress Trump like this to make him feel more manly when sitting in front of the Big Board (that’s a Doctor Strangelove reference)?

When I ask if anyone knows Trump’s goal in Syria, that begs the question, does Trump know? Don’t think too hard. The fact Trump hasn’t laid out the goal strongly suggests he has no idea. We might also gather that as most likely because this is Trump. Remember Trump’s Razor: the stupidest explanation is most likely to be right. That causes me to conclude the fake field marshall hasn’t the first clue.


Sure, you can make guesses as to the goal in Syria. Feel free. Say whatever you infer the goal to be, but I have my response already: you’re inferring, so you don’t really know (though FWIW, this seems plausible, that #RPOTUS wants to make it look like his tweets mean something, and maybe keep Fox New viewers happy).


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Why not attack Iran

by Eric Ferguson on March 14, 2012 · 0 comments

I’m really not trying to be flippant about a war, but the sales campaign for an American and/or Israeli attack on Iran reminds me of anecdotes I heard about Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), called “Star Wars” by opponents. The anecdotes involved physicists or rocket engineers or some such category of persons (forgive the vagueness, but I’m remembering back almost 30 years) who made a game out of coming up with ways to defeat SDI. Their point was that the ways to defeat it were not merely much simpler than the system they had to defeat, but numerous.

Those stories came to mind when the reasons attacking Iran is a bad idea came quickly. There are enough that even before going in depth on any of them, you’re thinking “are we seriously thinking about doing this?” Incredulity has to give way to reality: we are. Well, some of us are. Some of us can think of a bunch of reasons attacking Iran is a lousy idea. I’ve elaborated more than I intended, but the point remains that when the reasons something is a bad idea come quickly when you first ponder the question, that’s a sign it really is a bad idea.
There’s one thing I did go into in depth about recently, that Iran has good reason to want its own nukes. I won’t repeat the whole thing, so the gist is Iran faces multiple threats from nuclear nations, including us. If Iran decides it needs its own bomb, then it’s going to pursue it despite sanctions and even despite attacks to slow it down.

There’s no thought to “then what?” If bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities doesn’t stop the program, or even slow it down significantly, then what? The neocons (yes, it’s the same bunch who sold the war on Iraq) haven’t answered that.

Iranian facilities will be hard to wipe out. If the answer to what happens if an attack fails is a sustained bombing campaign, has Iran not been hardening, hiding, and dispersing their nuclear facilities? If that won’t work, then what’s left? A nuclear attack? Great, prove they needed their own bomb, and prove it to everyone who might be on our bad side. An invasion and occupation? I suspect that’s what will be required to stop Iran’s nuclear program. Anyone ready to repeat Iraq in a country three times the size? And as long as I brought up the neocons…

These are the same people who sold the war on Iraq. The neocons aren’t necessarily wrong just because they were wrong on Iraq … so terribly, horribly wrong … and I can’t think of what they got right … but if they’re the people presented as experts, and we’re supposed to trust that they’ve thought this through and analyzed everything, seems like reason enough to say “no”. That these are the people (besides the GOP presidential candidates) Obama was referring to when he talked about the people who don’t consider the seriousness of starting a war, and don’t have to pay the price, should get even the Sunday morning interview shows rethinking things. Yeah, should.

Can we deal with one crisis at a time? It seems a good rule of them to never create a crisis, because crises tend to come unbidden anyway. An objection I had to invading Iraq was we were already at war in Afghanistan. We’re still there, in case anyone didn’t know, but in terms of new crises, I’m thinking of Syria. Syria has an actual crisis, a “people are being killed right now” crisis, a “something has to be done right now” crisis, and American conservatives are obsessed about — Iran?

Same question about Yemen as Syria by which I mean it has a crisis too. Maybe not as immediate as Syria, but actual Al Qaida are holding territory and the country could collapse into multiple civil wars, yet American conservatives are obsessed about — Iran?

Is it good for Israel? Speaking of Syria, it just amazes me that these people obsessed with Israel, and the Israeli government itself, are so intent on attacking Iran when there’s a civil war right-fricking-next-door. The Syrian government might not attack Israel to unite the country, or undermine the opposition, or draw the Arabs into a different war so they don’t intervene in Syria? This isn’t the crisis, but Iran maybe getting a bomb, maybe literally just one bomb, that’s the crisis?

Iran will retaliate, or do the neocons just think Iran will accept the inevitable and give up? Iran doesn’t have the same conventional forces we do, and probably can’t even hit back directly at Israel, but they increase their support of terrorist groups and attack inside Israel and the US. They could increase the support for the Syrian government. They could support insurgencies against governments we support. They could crack down harder on domestic opposition. Let’s look at that last one…

This could end the democratic opposition movement. I don’t see an attack having a good outcome for the opposition. Even the people who carried photos of the murdered Neda and defied the Basiji militia will be inclined to rally around the government when their country is attacked. The government may take the chance to delegitimize the opposition, if they don’t lose all restraint about throwing opponents in prison. If you want regime change, and you’re going to undercut the people who marched in the streets of Tehran, then who do you expect to become the next government? Will those fabled “Iranian moderates” of Iran-Contra fame materialize?

Everybody better get their own bomb. I realize the point is to make the point that if you try to make your own bomb, you’ll be attacked. The lesson however might be that we’ll attack people who don’t have their own bomb — so get yours before the missiles come your way because funny thing, nobody attacks nuclear-armed nations. There are good non-nuclear reasons not to attack Pakistan and North Korea, but guess which explanation every dictator in the world is likely to seize upon?

Weren’t we supposed to get worked up about the deficit? Funny how self-proclaimed deficit hawks think no amount of money is too much when they get to indulge their inner war hawk. And their outer war hawk. The cost of Iraq is very roughly already a $trillion. That’s more than was allocated for TARP. More than the Recovery Act. It’s also much less than an invasion of Iran is likely to cost, yet American conservatives are ready to get into a conflict with no real idea of where it goes and no thought about spending the money. Well, maybe we can trim a few million from food stamps. That should pay off the national debt.


Iran has good reason to want nukes

by Eric Ferguson on March 9, 2012 · 4 comments

During a Senate hearing last week on the situation in Syria, Sen. Bob Corker gets his turn to question witnesses, and does he start with questions, or make a statement about Syria? No. He instead says he can’t understand why that hearing isn’t about Iran. Why isn’t there a hearing about Iran every week he asked. Sure, forget the country with actual it’s-already-happening crisis. We’ve got Iran to bomb!

Though we don’t need a C-SPAN addiction to get an idea of why Iran might think having a bomb of its own is a good idea. Look at this map, paying particular attention not to Iran, but to the countries around it. If the reason it would be reasonable for Iran to be enriching weapons-grade uranium as quickly as possible isn’t obvious, I’ll elaborate after the jump. Click the map to enlarge.

Keeping in mind the open threats to attack Iran coming from American conservatives, look at Iran’s northeastern border and notice Afghanistan, with something like 80,000 American troops. Iraq just has some thousands of state department staff and private security contractors to guard them, probably only slightly worrying, but across Basra in Kuwait, a bunch of US bases. Across the Persian Gulf in Bahrain, a US base. Across the Persian Gulf in Qatar, another US base. Across the Southeastern border with Pakistan, some unknown number of secret US bases. On the Northwest border is Turkey, which has several — I hope you know where I’m going — US bases. Think Iran might feel we have them surrounded?

We’re not the only nuclear nation threatening to bomb Iran. A couple countries away to the West is Israel, which seems to be wavering between waiting for US permission to launch an attack and just attacking without permission. If you’re Iran though, that’s not all the nukes you’re staring at.

Pakistan doesn’t just have some unknown number of Americans, but it has bombs of its own. It also has an unstable government, and Sunni extremists who not only might someday take over the government, but also have a hobby of attacking Pakistan’s Shiite minority. If you’re a neighboring Shiite majority country, does that make you nervous?

Though US troops withdrew from Iraq, Iraq is still there along with the long hostility between Iranians and Arabs. Across the Persian Gulf is the Arabian Peninsula with a bunch of Arab nations hostile to Iran. Iran is bigger than any of them, but bigger than all of them put together? At the other end of the Caspian Sea is nuclear Russia, not particularly hostile now, but historically, the Soviet Union and the Russian Empire looked at Iran as this place getting in the way of their warm water port. The countries in between, though no longer part of the Soviet Union or Russian Empire, are still referred to by Russia as “the near abroad”. Major power with nukes looks at your border as their sphere of influence — feeling nervous yet?

If you’re Iran, you’re looking at that map and noticing you have a problem with everybody bordering or close, plus two nuclear nations openly threatening to bomb you. Why would you not want a bomb?

Not that there aren’t reasons to oppose getting your own bombs, like proving the warmongers are right in what they say about you, and scaring someone else enough to turn you into an atomic target. Developing a bomb could bring on severe economic sanctions and the regime does want to stay in power. Are those enough reasons to override what that map is telling you?

I don’t know. I do know that the map and the problems over the border don’t change if we imagine a different regime. Even if the Iranian regime ceased to be theocratic, even if stopped being Muslim, imagining that only the non-Muslim minority got to participate in government and they chose the build the most American-style secular democracy imaginable, the threats mostly remain. Maybe the Iranian-Israeli threat-down stops, maybe American conservatives get over their hysteria — maybe. Or maybe Iran remembers that the last time they had a democracy, the US government overthrew it. Everywhere else in the neighborhood — nothing changes.

What that tells me is even if the government changed, Iran would still be thinking about getting its own bomb. The incentive provided from the proximity and hostility of nuclear nations won’t have gone away. The threat from more numerous Sunnis won’t have gone away, nor the hostility of the more wealthy Arab nations across the Gulf. In other words, changing the Iranian government won’t change geography.

I imagine the conservative response would be that without the theocracy, Israel and America wouldn’t be thinking about attacking, so therefore the “any government would want a bomb” argument doesn’t hold. Fine. Let’s pretend Israel and America go away. You’re the Iranian government, as secular and democratic and peace-loving as you like. You don’t look at Russia and Pakistan, especially Pakistan, and still think having your own deterrent might be a good idea?

If that’s so, then even invading Iran and imposing a new government, whatever it’s form, will only delay the building of an Iranian bomb, because no imposed changes are going to change geography. The only way to stop a bomb being built, if any Iranian government would trust us that much, is to put Iran under the US nuclear umbrella. That means we promise to treat a nuclear attack on Iran like an attack on us and retaliate.

Skeptical that could happen? Me too.