When I read this on Glenn Reynold’s blog this morning, I could hardly believe it. In response to an Ed Morrissey piece on Austrian weapons sold to Iran ending up with the insurgents in Iraq, the Professor drops his normally mild mannered personae and advocates hitting the Iranians with targeted assassinations:
I don’t understand why the Bush Administration has been so slow to respond. Nor do I think that high-profile diplomacy, or an invasion, is an appropriate response. We should be responding quietly, killing radical mullahs and iranian atomic scientists, supporting the simmering insurgencies within Iran, putting the mullahs’ expat business interests out of business, etc. Basically, stepping on the Iranians’ toes hard enough to make them reconsider their not-so-covert war against us in Iraq. And we should have been doing this since the summer 2003. But as far as I can tell, we’ve done nothing along these lines.
The outrage from all the usual suspects had to have been anticipated by Reynolds. He’s too experienced in the ways of the blogosphere not to have realized the second he wrote those words about assassinating “radical mullahs” and atomic scientists that a full blown blogswarm wasn’t in the offing. Sure enough, leading the pack of finger waggers and tsk-tskers is the number one hysteric in the blogosphere:
Just think about how extremist and deranged that is. We are not even at war with Iran. Congress has not declared war or authorized military force against that country. Yet Reynolds thinks that the Bush administration, unilaterally, should send people to murder Iranian scientists and religious leaders—just pick out whichever ones we don’t like and slaughter them. No charges. No trial. No accountability. Just roving death squads deployed and commanded by our Leader, slaughtering whomever he wants dead.
How Lambchop managed to wangle a column at Salon is a mystery. They obviously haven’t been reading his shallow, calumnious, hate filled rants toward conservatives and Bush supporters. His generalized assaults on people who disagree with him are wildly beyond the pale of decency and common sense – coarse, exaggerated, full of laughably simplistic analysis coupled with nauseating, moralistic lecturing. Lambchop is a Calvinist without the redeeming belief in God’s mercy.
“Cartoonish,” Goldstein correctly avers:
What I do find repugnant, however, is people like Greenwald(s) who hide their immense contempt for â€œthe values of this countryâ€ behind pieties and outrage offered in bad faith, a rhetorical position intended to keep those who are trying to puzzle through difficult issues on the defensive, making them endlessly â€œproveâ€ they arenâ€™t â€œrogueâ€ elements in the war against Islamism. And for all of Greenwaldâ€™s(â€™s) constant carping about how Bush supporters â€œroutinelyâ€ label the loyal opposition â€œtraitors,â€ he is fairly quick to insist that those who float the idea of covert warfare tactics are somehow hostile to individual liberty, freedom, representative government, and rule of law.
Lambchop’s absolutist, unyielding, unbending logic when it comes to anything the United States might do to protect itself does not carry over into criticizing the barbarians who violate every known international codicil that relates to establishing comity between nations. Nor does his resolute moral compass allow him to take the enemies of civilization to task for trying to achieve their goal of, if not destroying us, most certainly grievously injuring our interests and killing our citizens.
And we have no acknowledgement from Lambchop about Iran’s declaration of war against the United States on November 4, 1979 when they violated his precious international law, international tradition, and the rules of civilized behavior by attacking United States soil, capturing our diplomats, torturing them, and holding them hostage for more than a year. That, my dear sock puppet, is an act of war as surely as anything that has occurred in the international arena since the end of World War II. The fact that you choose not to recognize it as such is immaterial. For someone who pretends to be “reality based,” Lambchop’s concept of what is real seems to depend entirely on what he believes – which puts him in the same league as the holy rollers, the evangelicals, and other conservative Christians he takes such delight in savaging on a regular basis.
Leaving aside Lambchop’s bloviations, is it ever morally permissible to act like a barbarian to defeat a barbarian?
Conventional wisdom says no, that once started down that road we lose our identity as a nation and become exactly what we are fighting. I don’t know about that. We did some pretty horrific things in World War II to defeat Japan and Germany and managed to maintain our democracy while retaining a certain moral authority in the world left over from the Wilsonian era. The fact that we appear to have lost some of that authority today says more about the rest of the world’s refusal to acknowledge the threat of radical Islamism than it does about any actions we’ve taken to fight that menace.
By its nature, war is barbaric. I find it curious that absolutists like Lambchop somehow believe there is a “civilized” way to fight and win. We don’t target civilians. We don’t bomb cultural or religious symbols. We don’t behead our captives. Torture is a stain on our honor but it is apparently not a widespread problem. How much more “civilized” should we be? Idiots like Lamchop won’t be happy until we start warning the jihadis we’re coming because surprise attacks are barbarous.
From a purely practical standpoint though, Reynold’s proposal won’t work. Mathew Yglesias gets it about right:
I mean, how is this going to work? We’re talking, presumably, about the clandestine branches of the same intelligence agencies who can’t decide what the state of the Iranian nuclear program is, don’t know where Iran’s nuclear facilities are, and are unsure who, if anyone, in the Iranian government is responsible for Iranian weapons winding up in Iraq. Nevertheless, Reynolds believes they have an off-the-shelf plan for placing assassins in close proximity to key Iranian nuclear scientists. But not only for doing this, but for doing it quietly! American agents are infiltrating Iran killing Iranian scientists and religious leaders and none of them get caught. How? Are there really dozens of Farsi-speaking ninjas working for the CIA? I was going to compare this to a fun-but-stupid movie like The Bourne Identity but the point of that movie (and its sequal) is actually that if you somehow did build a hyper-competent utterly secret government agency it would likely become a cesspool of corruption and abuses of power.
Actually, I’m pretty sure our Special Forces boys, if tasked with specific targets, would probably have the capability to carry out a couple of missions. After that, I daresay the Iranians would increase security to the point that the question of assassinations would be moot.
And, at the risk of agreeing with Lambchop, how do you define “radical” mullah? You don’t get to be a mullah in Iran without possessing some fairly radical views like opposing the existence of Israel. How radical is too radical? What factors or beliefs do your base your targeting criteria?
Lamchop highlights the Executive Order outlawing assassination, something every President since Ford has followed. And if you lift that stricture, why target some obscure mullah? Why not go for the gold and kill Khamenei or Ahmadinejad? For the same reason no President has lifted the Executive Order on assassinations; what goes around, comes around. We kill one of theirs, don’t you think they’d do their damndest to kill one of ours?
And I’m not sure targeting atomic scientists is such a good idea either. The Iranians have had help from a number of countries including North Korea, Pakistan, and there is some evidence that former Russian scientists have also worked on the Iranian nuclear program. Besides, would it really do any good? Would it really cause the program any damage? Would it really make the mullahs think twice about helping the insurgents in Iraq? I doubt it.
I understand Reynold’s frustration with our inaction regarding Iran. We’ve dithered for 28 years about working to establish a genuine democratic movement there. It’s not like we haven’t done it before. One need only look at Poland or the former Czechoslovakia where we clandestinely set up a democratic facade for potential reformers that allowed for an indigenous movement to sweep those countries when the time was right. Of course, that type of operation takes patience and a lot of spade work.
The problem has always been that anything we do to Iran will result in counter measures that have the potential of hurting us even more. And anything we do to Iran will enormously complicate if not totally doom our efforts in Iraq. Fighting a Shia insurgency against our occupation along with war against the Sunnis and al-Qaeda would be a disaster. If Professor Reynolds believes that assassinations of the kind he is suggesting won’t set off the Shias in Iraq, he should read some recent speeches from al-Sadr where he warns against any American actions against Iran. And of course, the political situation – already tenuous – would go to hell in a handbasket. Forget about the Shias sharing power with the Sunnis or Kurds at all. In fact, that turn of events would make staying in Iraq a complete exercise in futility.
I too wish to avoid a generalized conflict with the Iranians. But assassination isn’t the way. And I believe that despite the sabre rattling by the Administration in sending 3 carrier battle groups to the Gulf, they too wish to avoid military action because of the consequences domestically and in the Middle East. In fact, it appears to me that the Administration may be willing to allow the Iranians their enrichment program, hoping that the technical problems they have been experiencing will continue while working to undermine the regime from the inside.
Short of war, that’s the best we can do.
Hugh Hewitt applauds Reynold’s idea while drawing a conclusion about Hizbullah:
Note that Hezbollah hasn’t kidnapped any Israeli soldiers lately. There’s a reason.
Nasrallah has his own reasons for not tweaking Israel’s tail at the moment, not the least of which is that he needs his militia to assist him in his efforts to overthrow the Siniora government and not trying to fight off Israel’s retaliation for such an act. For the last several months, Hizbullah has been trying to show that they are good Lebanese citizens who only want what they believe they deserve; increased representation in the Lebanese cabinet. Of course, that’s a crock. But that, plus the UNIFIL force have kept Hizbullah from any confrontations with Israel recently.