Aug 13

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

Admittedly, last week’s post “We Can’t Be Alllies with Iran...Iran Hates Us!” was light on details. I dismissed the “they hate us” excuse for starting a war because hatred isn’t a reason to go to war.

Reading it, Eric C challenged me, “Do we know whether Iranians hate Americans?” Hmm. I didn’t know, so I looked up the answer. Consider today’s post the research edition of last week’s post.

First up, do American leaders hate Iran? Most American politicians won’t openly admit this. However, if you accuse someone of the most vile accusations imaginable--being a terrorist, using child soldiers, hating freedom, believing in death above life--then even if you don’t say, “I hate Iran”, you still said, “I hate Iran”.

American elected officials have said such things about Iran. Case in point: President Bush in his 2003 State of the Union, when he unveiled the “Axis of Evil”. Pay particular attention to the last paragraph:

Iran aggressively pursues these weapons and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people's hope for freedom.

States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction, these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.

Our enemies send other people's children on missions of suicide and murder. They embrace tyranny and death as a cause and a creed. We stand for a different choice -- made long ago, on the day of our founding. We affirm it again today. We choose freedom and the dignity of every life.

Second, do the American people hate Iran? I couldn’t find a poll that explicitly asked this question. Gallup, though, regularly polls Americans on the question, “Who is our greatest enemy?” This year Iran took home the gold. Gallup says 32% of Americans call Iran our “greatest enemy”, a higher percentage than for any other country. (68% of Americans also didn’t choose Iran.)

Third, according to polling, do Iranians hate Americans? Historically, Iranians have loved America more than any other Middle Eastern nation...a strange position for a nation which allegedly hates us. Since Iranians live in a police state--something I don’t support or deny--most Iranians avoid criticizing their own government, in public or private. So when an outside pollster tries to gauge Iranian attitudes about America via telephone, many Iranians will simply hide their true feelings.

Which means that the best study on Iranian feelings--from the Rand Corporation--has some difficult obstacles to surmount. According to Rand’s survey, a plurality of Iranians do not favor re-establishing a diplomatic relationship with America. Of the polled Iranians, the ones most uncomfortable with the survey were more likely to oppose re-establishing diplomatic relations with Iran.

In fact, the Rand study, while appearing to show that Iranians hate Americans, actually shows their desire to renew a strong relationship with America. Thirty nine percent of Iranians do favor or somewhat favor re-establishing diplomatic relationships with the U.S. Iranians, though, still haven’t forgiven America for the two dramatic interventions into their sovereignty: the installation of the Shah in 1959 and America cutting all ties during the 1979 revolution.

Can we really say Iranians hate us? Not based on any polling.

Fourth, what do journalists who have visited Iran think about “Iranians hating Americans”? Every time a journalist travels to Iran, they return with the same story: the leaders may hate America, but the people do not. First up, Nicholas Kristof speaking to Fareed Zakaria on GPS 360:

“ZAKARIA: So what was your dominant impression, given this access? Because you have been to Tehran, but what felt different about being outside Tehran?

“KRISTOF: Well, as you know, one of the extraordinary things about Iran is how pro-American everybody seems at the grassroots. You go to Pakistan, you go to Egypt, and we pour billions into these places and everybody seems to hate us.

“We go to Iran and everywhere you go, people want to buy you tea or invite you into their homes. It is -- I mean, it's just stunning, the pro-American quality of the country. I think more broadly politically, I was reminded, absolutely, there is still support for the regime, for the government in rural areas, among less educated people, people who don't have access to satellite television.

“But all of the larger social forces seem to me to be working against the government. More educated people, more urbanized people, people who do have international connections just are more and more fed up with the system. They're upset by the economic downturn and they don't really blame the West for sanctions. They blame their own government.”

Nicholas Kristof goes to even further lengths in his column on The New York Times website, but this one quote probably captures the mood best, “this may be the most pro-American nation in the Middle East.” He also doubles down on the fear pervading the society; a fear which makes it seem like normal Iranians “hate” America.

The trend of journalists visiting Iran and discovering--surprise! they don’t hate us--isn’t a recent phenomenon. I just found this article by Tim Cahill for Outdoor magazine through Byliner (via Byliner’s inappropriately titled “Why Iran Hates America”) which--though nine years old--comes to the exact same conclusion as Kristof.

Of course, some comedians have visited the land of ancient Persia as well. And guess what? The Daily Show finds that Iranians generally love America too:

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Aug 07

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

It stuns me the similarities between the language used by kids fighting on a playground and American politicians describing Iran. As I wrote yesterday, in both cases it boils down to, “But they’re so mean...and they hate us too!”

Yesterday, I tackled the first argument. Today, I want to show how silly it is to assume an entire other country “hates” us.

And I don’t have to go far to find someone. When I told my dad my solution to the Iran crisis, he actually brought up the point that Iranians hate us (Americans). My dad lives in southern California, home to the largest Iranian ex-pat population in America, so maybe he has experience with specific people. He doesn’t. My dad has one Iranian-American friend, who doesn’t hate him. My dad has never travelled to the Middle East, and hasn’t talked to an actual Iranian in Iran about the looming crisis.
   
Should we go to war with Iran because of a belief that Iranians hate Americans? Of course not. More importantly, how do we even know this is true? Does anyone have polling evidence that says, ‘Iranians hate Americans?’ And how many Iranians hate Americans? Is it 100%? Greater than 50%? Is it a very vocal minority? Where is your evidence?

Let’s be specific. Do Iranians hate Americans or do Iranian leaders hate Americans? My dad and most pundits, of course, mean Iran’s leaders. And Iran’s leaders have called America the Great Satan and plenty of other terrible things. Does every single Iranian politician hate America? Iran’s President Ahmadinejad has said before that “all Muslims hate America”, but does he speak for all Muslims? All Muslim politicians? Could his viewpoint change if America changed some of their policies?

More importantly, couldn’t Iranians say the same thing about our leaders? As Stephen Walt has written before, if Martians came to Earth and examined the evidence impartially, the bellicose war-like nation isn’t Iran, it’s America. (Read our earlier coverage to get a sampling.) I mean, one of America’s two presidential candidates keeps hinting that if elected he will take military action against Iran unless it agrees to several untenable negotiating positions.

So Iran and America could go to war because the war hawks of each country--who may not represent the majority--say idiotic and dangerous things?

That doesn’t make sense.

Instead, let’s make this argument reasonable. Since the fall of the Shah in 1979, both America and Iran have harmed each other’s citizens and violated each other’s sovereignty, as I wrote about yesterday. As a result, some citizens of each country “hate” citizens of the other. Let’s admit it, some Americans hate Iran. And definitely some Iranians hate America. When politicians--in each country--talk in extreme war-like terms, they cater to this minority.

This hatred, born out of ignorance and maintained because some people just want enemies to hate, exists in both America and Iran.

Acknowledging this fact has huge ramifications. Once we admit that some Americans hate Iran--a phrase few politicians will ever admit themselves--it empowers us. The best way to describe the situation with Iran isn’t, “because they hate us”, it’s “because we hate them.” And suddenly, by switching the subject and the object, the onus switches from Iran’s nuclear program to our own feelings about Iran. We have the power to change the relationship.

And once we realize that we control our own emotions--whether our country truly “hates” another country, which seems silly when you think about it--we can change our actions. As the schoolyard analogy showed, hatred can turn to friendship very easily. And this process has repeated itself throughout the 20th century as historical animosity turned into cooperation. Just look at Europe: France and Germany; France and England; Italy and Germany; Germany and everyone else; even now, Russia is closer to the E.U. and N.A.T.O. than at any time in its history. One of Mitt Romney’s big gaffes this year was referring to Russia as America’s “number one geo-political foe”. They’re not anymore.

Past hatred doesn’t necessitate future hatred. It doesn’t even rule out future friendship. So let’s get rid of the idea that Iran “hates us”, and start figuring out how to improve the relationship between our two countries.

Aug 06

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

Last week I unveiled my solution to the Iran problem. In short, most people think that America and Iran can never become allies. I think we can. I think America could make Iran one of our greatest allies in the Middle East if we wanted to.

My critics don’t really have a compelling reason for why this can’t happen. If pressed, their arguments boil down to what a child said in my post last week, “Iran is so mean, and they hate us.” Today, I want to look at that first point, “Iran is so mean”.

Of course, academics and pundits don’t just call Iran mean; they dress it up with complicators (hostile intentions, duplicitous actions, most severe security threat) or exaggerations (greatest threat to the free world), but the grade school retort of “Iran is so mean to America,” basically sums up their position.

And in one sense, the critics have a point. Look at the following Iranian actions over the last thirty five years:

- In 1979, Iranians took over a hundred Americans hostage, and held them for two years.

- In 1988, Iranian ships attacked American ships, kicking off a mini-war.

- From 2003 to 2010, Iran funded Shia extremists in Iraq with explosively formed penetrators, one of which likely killed one of my best friends from college.

- Iranians constantly threatens Israel with annihilation, and Iran funds Hezbollah which conducts terror attacks on Israel.

- Iran says it wants to eradicate Israel.

Looking at that list, it is easy to label Iran hostile or duplicitous (though evil is still a stretch).

But let’s look at a different series of events, American involvement in Iran. Do these events qualify as “mean” or hostile?

- In the 1950s, America overthrew the Iranian parliament to install an American friendly dictator, the Shah.

- In 1979, after the Shah fell, America instituted trade embargos against Iran.

- During the 1980s, America backed Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war, even as Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons in attacks on Iranians.

- In 1988, America sunk multiple Iranian ships during Operation Praying Mantis, killing thousands of Iranians.

- Most recently, America may have supported the terrorist group MEK and may have launched a cyber-attack dubbed “Olympic Games” using the Stuxnet worm.

This arguments comes courtesy of a lecture we attended a few months back by General Stanley McChrystal. He hoped the audience would come to the same conclusion as he did: Iran has plenty of reasons to distrust Americans.

Arguably, we started the fight.

Historical amnesia causes both sides to label the other hostile, and ignore their own hostility. Most Americans don’t remember or even care that America overthrew Iran’s democratically-elected government in the fifties. (How would Americans feel if China installed a dictator in Washington D.C.?) Most Iranians don’t believe their government supports terrorists as America alleges. (Do any Americans believe the CIA supports terrorists as Iran alleges?)

What will solve this crisis is a move past simplistic language, and the humility to admit America’s own mistakes when dealing with Iran. A few weeks back, an On V guest post used the phrase, “the blame America first crowd”. The other side of the coin is the “never blame America” crowd who, like a delusional sports fan who believes their franchise can do no wrong, pretends America is the first perfect nation. Admitting America has wronged Iran isn’t “apologizing for America”; it’s acknowledging our human fallibility. No person, and indeed no nation, is without sin.

Iran is mean. So is America. So are plenty of countries. Let’s stop hyping and exaggerating the threat Iran poses, and solve this problem once and for all.

Jul 31

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

In second grade, Eric C and I went to war.

Our nemesis was “Big Joe”, the biggest kid in our grade. The issue wasn’t land rights or trade negotiations, but the finer points on handball and what properly constituted a legal “under-doggy”. (He accused us of cheating.) If someone had asked us (Eric and I) in second or third grade, “Will you ever be friends with Joe?” I would have said, “No, he is mean and he hates us.”

Two years ago, Big Joe was a groomsman in my wedding. What the hell happened?

In short, we found common ground. Our dad coached football at San Clemente High School--the high school Eric C, myself and Joe would attend in a few years--so we had that in common. And our dad had coached Big Joe’s older brother in wrestling and football. Another thing we had in common. All three of us loved football and knew how to play football, and we lived near each other too.

Noting all these points of similarity, in fourth grade, after a period of detente in which most major tensions had thawed, Joe said that we should go to a one of our dad’s football games sometime. So I invited him to join Eric C and myself to go to a junior varsity football game Thursday after school. (When Eric C saw Joe waiting with me, he was shocked. I told him Joe’s brother played football for our dad. He said, “Cool” and that was that.) We had a great afternoon on the sidelines, throwing footballs to each other and watching the game.

We became best friends after that.

Since this is a post about Iran, the trite next paragraph would say, “As bad as it seemed, some elementary school kids found common ground and become friends. So we don’t need to go to war with Iran.” That really is trite, but as the Clausewitzians would say, conflict is conflict; maybe we can find something valuable in this story.

As I wrote last week, I value unique solutions to the Iran problem, especially ones that break out of the stale triumvirate of diplomacy, sanctions or war. Bringing them up again doesn’t evolve the conversation. And none of them will likely work, as Bernard Finel mentioned in a post I linked to last month.

To solve the problem, America’s decision-makers need to (clichedly) think outside the box. Right now the “Iran box” has diplomacy on side one, sanctions on side two and war on side three. The fourth side of the box is “do nothing”. As long as policy makers, pundits, politicians and academics phrase the problem as, “How do we stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon?” we are stuck inside the box. Until we destroy this box, we will have the spectre of war looming over our relationships in the Middle East.

So let’s just reframe the question.

Like, “How can we rehabilitate our relationship with Iran?” Or, “How can we develop a positive and friendly diplomatic relationship with Iran?” Yes, friendly. In the 20th century, several countries with severe historical animosity gradually set aside their differences and created strong alliances. For example, virtually every country in Europe. (More on this in a follow up post.) It can happen again.

Like myself and Big Joe, America and Iran could find common ground on issues from oil to Afghanistan to Iraq to the Persian Gulf.

Next, American politicians who truly want peace should develop the domestic political support to change the relationship. Ideally, President Obama--backed by think tanks and opinion articles--would start a campaign to improve America’s relationship with Iran.

Then we commit to that relationship. That’s a much harder task, I know, but much easier than stopping a sworn enemy from developing nuclear weapons using only diplomacy, sanctions and the threat of war.

As children, Eric, Big Joe and I didn’t get along because we didn’t view the problem right. We argued over dodgeball and ignored the gigantic areas of common interest we had. If we had redefined the problem--how can we become friends?--the situation would have been solved much sooner.

We see the immediate counter to this analogy: war and international diplomacy are more complicated than kids fighting on a schoolyard. Yes, they are. At the same time, the principles are the same. Two sides disagree and start fighting. One of our goals at On V is to connect violence and war to larger philosophical concepts. Sometimes analogies--the old tool of philosophy--perfectly capture real world problems, which is why we have compared war to bar fights, globalization to curling, and counter-insurgency to brand management.

America desperately doesn’t need another war. And we don’t need a war to rehabilitate our relationship with Iran like it took with Germany and Japan during World War II. We just need the courage of both our citizens and politicians to stand up and say, as lame as it sounds:

Let’s restore diplomatic relations with Iran. Let’s become friends again.

Jul 30

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

According to Israel and America, Iran isn’t just opposed to America’s interests in the Middle East. Iran isn’t just a rival power in a regional battle for hegemony. It turns out Iran is actually...

Evil! (Please read “evil” as if you were imitating Dr. Evil.)

I mean, Israel’s President Shimon Peres called their leaders evil, Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Syria-Hezbollah-Iran nexus evil, and Iran was an inaugural member of President Bush’s Axis of Evil. But probably most importantly, Tucker Carlson has called Iran itself straight-up evil.

So let’s go to the tape, how evil is Iran, the nation Mitt Romney calls our, “most severe security threat”? Since we can’t define evil in a vacuum, let’s compare Iran to another not-so-random nation in the Middle East.

Consider the following two countries, asking yourself, which is more "evil"?

Both country A and B surreptitiously supported insurgents in Iraq.

Both country A and B surreptitiously support insurgents in Afghanistan.

Both Country A and B have access to vast amounts of oil and natural gas.

Country A is an monarchy with no democratic elections.

Country B is an Islamic republic that cannot elect its Supreme Leader, but elects its President and legislature, though vote rigging definitely occurs.

Country A enforces sharia law on its streets.

Country B does not.

Wealthy millionaires financially support Al Qaeda in Country A.

In Country B, none do.

17 of the 20 hijackers on 9/11 were from Country A.

0 were from Country B.

The last two comparisons should give it away: Country A is Saudi Arabia, Country B is Iran.

Comparing the two countries, I can’t help but ask, what is so bad about Iran that Saudi Arabia doesn’t already do? Iran crushed elections in 2009, but Saudi Arabia doesn’t even have elections to crush. Iran had “Neda” a symbol of oppressed Iranians, but Saudi Arabia doesn’t even let women drive. Iran’s military supports Hezbollah financially, but Saudi Arabia birthed Al Qaeda and wealthy Saudis currently support terrorist organizations. Not to mention, Saudi support for authoritarian governments like Bahrain, Qatar and Yemen encourage regional insurgents that eventually spawn international terrorism.

Yet Saudi Arabia supplies America with oil. Because of that and its friendly relationship with the U.S., it gets a pass and America might go to war with Iran. Would America go to war with Saudi Arabia if it developed nuclear weapons?

Some realist foreign policy academics have suggested that in a true recalculation of America’s interests around the globe, that Iran, not Saudi Arabia, would be the smarter choice for an American ally. This is a vital point to inform the debate over Iran, America and nuclear weapons. And tomorrow it will inform my solution to the Iran problem.

Jul 25

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

I hate a lot of things about the debate over Iran’s nuclear program. I hate the exaggerations of Iran’s threat to America. I hate that no one mentions the costs of military intervention. But of all the things I hate about the debate, I hate one thing above all: the complete lack of unique solutions to the problem.

If pundits and politicians--specifically American Senators--are to be believed, America has three options with Iran: 1. Go to war. 2. Continue negotiations or 3. Sanctions. We--America/Israel/Europe/Iran--have way more options than that, and if we don’t, we need to find them.

Before our break, I did a post on “Unique Takes on War with Iran”. Today’s post is a more important sequel to that post--not just unique viewpoints, but unique solutions to the Iranian nuclear problem. And in the spirit of unique solutions, next week I plan to roll out my solution.
   
1. “Influencing Iran: A Fourth Way” on the Small Wars Journal

This Small Wars Journal article proposes a semi-non-violent or ”non-kinetic”--more aptly non-military--way to discourage Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons: degrade their electronics via cyber attacks so their society can barely function. I don’t think the U.S. has the capabilities to do this right now, and such an operation would backfire if Iran could trace it back to the U.S. Even if this can’t influence our debate on Iran, it does point to how warfare could look in the near future.

2. “Using Religion to Restrain Iran’s Nuclear Program” on Stephen Walt’s Blog

Nina Tannenwald writes that the U.S. should harness, “moral and religious norms as a source of nuclear restraint”. If the U.S. could use religion (ironically someone else’s religion) to prevent war, I am all for that. (Ironic, to clarify, because America’s primary religion, Christianity, barely constrains America from starting wars. The more religiously minded politicians in America--being blunt, conservatives--openly advocate war.)

3. “Five Tips for Obama on Nuclear Negotiation with Iran” on Time

In this article, Trita Parsi gives five “lessons” to help U.S. diplomacy with Iran, and they all make sense. American negotiators should especially heed lesson number two to, “Broaden the agenda beyond the nuclear program”. We need a dialogue with Iran on as many fronts involving as many people as possible. The more connections we can make with Iran, the less chance we will blunder into a war. However, Parsi’s first point is as correct as it is impossible to implement, “Don’t allow the domestic politics to define your strategy”. So yes, this solution is basically “continue diplomacy”, but it is a much more expansive diplomacy than the U.S. has so far pursued.

4. “Where Congress Can Draw the Line” on The Atlantic

James Fallows makes a plea in this article (whose date I can’t find, but I believe it comes from the late Bush administration) that the U.S. Congress could stop war with Iran if it specifically passed a resolution forbidding war with Iran. His advice is as timely now as it was then, but it will never happen with the current Republican congress. In fact, most recent resolutions on Iran have gone in a completely opposite direction, making war more likely, not less.

5. “Preventing a War: What You Can Do” on Stephen Walt’s Blog

Stephen Walt--who I keep linking to in my Iran posts because we completely agree on this issue--has a simple, and not very novel solution: sign an online petition. I don’t think it will work, but if politicians do listen to voters, maybe it has a chance. Unfortunately, too many Americans want war with Iran, a different issue.

6. “Why Iran Should Get The Bomb” by Kenneth N. Waltz on Foreign Affairs

Always willing to push the envelope, Kenneth Waltz’s most recent Foreign Affairs comment certainly fits the bill. I love this “solution” because it wildly redefines the problem. For Waltz, power “begs to be balanced”, so a nuclear Israel threatening the rest of the Middle East is a much bigger problem than a beleaguered Iran trying to get a nuclear weapon. While personally, I think the world needs to move towards the goals of the Global Zero campaign (more in a future post), at least Waltz is trying to avert another disastrous war in the Middle East that probably won’t even solve the problem.

Jun 11

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

At On V, we ascribe to the “Jim Rome Theory of Pontificating”. For the uninitiated, Jim Rome, a sports talk show host, tells his listeners to “have a take.” So don’t call him and say, “I like the Lakers.” He has thousands of listeners who could say that. Tell him something unique. Propose a novel trade idea. Explain why you hate a player with new statistics to back you up.

Have a take.

In our last “On V Update to Old Ideas”, I praised Thomas J. Bounomo’s Small Wars Journal article “Changing Iran’s Cost-Benefit Analysis of its Nuclear Program” because it put forward--in my words--“a unique solution to the crisis”. To be clear, I don’t necessarily agree with a unique take just because it’s unique, but I appreciate articles, blog posts or op-eds that do more than just say, “I agree” or “I disagree”. But that doesn't provide new ideas or takes.

In the case of Iran, I don’t find much use for articles that simply say either, “We should attack Iran” or “We shouldn’t attack Iran.” So I want to gives props to the articles, posts, or op-eds which evolve the debate about Iran. (As a side note--though I cannot analytically prove this--I believe compared to the Iraq War, the debate over war with Iran has had many more thoughtful pre-war ideas.)

1. “In Iran Standoff, Netanyahu Could Be Bluffing” by Jeffrey Goldberg

Though he has since distanced himself from this article, I still appreciate Jeffrey Goldberg’s initial Bloomberg View column that speculated that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was bluffing. While it is probably more wrong than right--Netanyahu could be both bluffing and serious at the same time--it does explain the paradox of the seeming inevitability of Israeli air strikes that never actually materialize.

2. Iran Wants War by Internetocracy

This graph pretty much sums up why Iran does not present a “Germany a la World War II” threat to the U.S.:

It also completely debunks the idea that to deter Iran the U.S. will have to devote considerable resources to the Middle East. We already do. (H/T to Battleland.)

3. “Top Ten Media Failures in the Iran War Debate” by Stephen Walt

We quoted this Stephen Walt article in our post evaluating Iran’s military. While I have a healthy dose of fear about the IRGC, Walt rightly points out that militarily, Iran cannot approach the American armed forces. (To clarify our point, the U.S won’t lose a war with Iran, but we could lose thousands of soldiers and billions in military equipment.)

But Walt makes another excellent point about the lack of media coverage about Iranian civilians casualties in any hostilities. Walt rightly asks, “What about the human beings?” Eric C would and has argued that the American media almost completely ignored Iraqi casualties during the opening months of the Iraq war. The U.S. should remember, as war looms, that innocent people will die.

4. “Walt Still Doesn’t Get It (Iran)” by Bernard Finel

I’ve linked to Stephen Walt a lot in this series, which is a bit surprising because, as a liberal idealist in foreign affairs, I tend to mostly disagree with him. But not on Iran. Bernard Finel, though, makes a compelling argument that the problem with Iran has more to do with domestic politics than the compelling international relations logic of deterrence.

Basically, it doesn’t feel very good. As he says, “muddling through or living with risk” aren’t policy options the American people want to embrace. Compare those policies with, “go to war and win”; they don’t look very attractive. That’s why, according to Finel, the Iraq war started and why an Iran war will likely follow it.

5. “Sanctions Will Lead to War” by Trita Parsi

Trita Parsi generally writes well on Iran and I completely agree with his take that sanctions will probably do more to start war than prevent it with Iran. His logic makes sense; sanctions isolate a country and signal to it that it should prepare for war. Preparing for war makes war more likely. Parsi specifically uses the Iraq example (which we discussed here) and though analogies don’t always work, it probably does in this case.

6. “China’s Fast Growing Middle East Problem” by Michal Meidan

Michal Meidan describes the inevitable problem of China’s economic: soon it will start making enemies. As Meidan says, “as China’s commercial ties to the Middle East increase, it will inexorably become more involved in the region’s politics.” Thus any war with Iran will affect China, and China’s decisions will affect the outcome.

7. “Like U.S. Hezbollah Caught in the Middle of Israel-Iran Conflict” by Andrew Exum

Andrew Exum’s article describing how Hezbollah will be “caught in the middle” of an Israel and Iran war speaks to the difficulty of predicting how war will play out. Perhaps Hezbollah really will sit out of an Iranian counter-attack, severely diminishing one of Iran’s counter-strike options (and ironically diminishing one of the more commonly cited reasons for war). Or maybe it will launch missiles. In either case, a war with Iran is more likely to be messy and global than contained and localized in the Persian Gulf.

8. “This Week At War: Iran’s North Korea Scenario” by Robert Haddick

I don’t usually agree with Robert Haddick, but comparing Iran with North Korea might might make more sense than comparing Iran to Iraq, World War I or World War II, which I mentioned here. He paints a picture where sanctions cripple the economy, and Iran remains isolated. It therefore pursues nuclear weapons with even more vigor, while becoming a police state.

Jun 05

When Michael C told me about Molotov Mitchell and his video defending the Ugandan law to execute homosexuals, I kind of shrugged. I told him he was probably exaggerating. (A note on verbiage: Eric C and I stopped using the term “capital punishment” because we hate politically correct euphemisms.)

Then I watched the video.

The next morning I called Michael and told him that we had to write about this guy and this video. Instead of writing a dozen posts on this subject, we agreed to limit it to one post each, highlighting a handful of points. Here are my thoughts:

1. We refuse to debate the “Kill the Gays” bill.

As Raymond Gaita makes clear in this “Philosophy Bites” episode, you can judge a society by what it chooses to debate. Gaita made the point about torture, child abuse and slavery; we would extend it to killing homosexuals for their religious beliefs.

For us, a law that doesn’t just make it illegal to commit a homosexual act but makes it punishable by death is beyond the pale. We won’t discuss or debate it. Period. We will be a better society for it.

2. Christianity is, at its core, non-violent. Molotov Mitchell is not.

We grew up in Orange County. During our sophomore year of high school, the WWJD bands--acronymically asking, “What would Jesus do?”--became really popular. While a bit overly simplistic, the question can provide moral guidance.

Take, for instance, violence. Jesus constantly, consistently and thoroughly promoted non-violence, in both word and deed. (Though we’ve assiduously avoided discussing the issues of Christianity and violence so far on the blog, we’ll briefly touch on it here today.) Jesus lowered Peter’s sword and went willingly to his own torture and death. Jesus told us to turn the other cheek, that those who lived by the sword die by the sword, and to love our enemies. Jesus declared, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Most appropriately, Jesus stopped a crowd from stoning an adulteress to death, famously counseling, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”

Molotov Mitchell promotes violence, supports the Uganda “Kill the gays” bill, and teaches Krav Maga. His production company released a movie about killing abortionists in February. He savagely mocks and despises his enemies.

What would Jesus do? Nothing Molotov Mitchell does.

3. The scariest part? This guy is crazy charismatic.

Not to take this post off the rails, but watching one of Mitchell’s video, you understand how autocrats seize power. The style of the video, the soundtrack and video effects, and just sheer vocal charisma, Mitchell charms the viewer. You almost agree with him because of his rhetorical abilities. He should have a radio or TV show.  It wouldn’t surprise me if he becomes very popular and influential--in an Ann Coulter sort of way--in the future.

None of this changes the fact that his ideas scares the crap out of me.

4. Finally, can we stop citing Leviticus?

Twenty-nine seconds into this video, Mitchell says that the bible is anti-homosexual, and cites Genesis 9.6, Leviticus 20.13 and Exodus 22.19.  

Seriously?

Yes, people still cite the Old Testament to condemn homosexuality, and to be fair, the Old Testament is anti-homosexual. But it’s anti- a lot of things. Leviticus and Deuteronomy forbid the Israelites from...

...eating shellfish. (Actually, Michael C is allergic to shellfish so he’s cool with this rule, but I love shrimp, crab, lobster, prawns and oysters. Hell, I eat snails.)

...eating pork. (Hmm, bacon.)

...mixing meat with diary products. (And we love Beef Stroganoff! And cheeseburgers.)

...letting a man with a broken penis or testicles into church. (How do you find out?)

...wearing clothes made of wool and linen. (I’m doing it right now.)

...allowing Ammonites into church. (To be fair, no one does this anymore.)

And it allows slavery of non-Israelites, and the stoning to death disobedient sons, non-virgin brides and adulterers. Women are unclean after giving birth or having a period, and to atone for sins, you must sacrifice animals. Finally, you can’t shave. Leviticus 19:27, “Do not cut yourselves or shave the front of your heads for the dead.” And yet, pictured right here, Molotov Mitchell does not have a full beard. Uh oh!

Mitchell asks the viewer, in his video, to find the passage where Jesus abolished the law. And frankly, I don’t want to wade into thick, murky theological issues--we’ve mostly avoided this issue on the blog so far--but I will point out that if we have to execute everyone in America who doesn’t follow the laws of Moses, whose going to do it? (Makes you wonder, which executioner in Rwanda will “cast the first stone”?)

If only someone came to forgive us of our sins. And forgive those of others.