Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gerecht v. Basman

1. Gerecht:

2. Me:

I, too, found one of the essential pivots of Gerecht’s argument shaky, to say the least: that a hobbling attack on Iran’s program will likely weaken, or bring down the regime and, to add to that, embolden democratic forces in Iran. That cannot be I imagine, because I can’t know, part of the risk calculus by Israeli policy makers.

The ability of Israel to hobble Iran’s program is ambivalently dealt with by Gerecht. His essay is premised on such capability though he does not venture any opinion on that: “Provided the Israeli air force is capable of executing it, and assuming no U.S. military action, an Israeli bombardment remains the only conceivable means of derailing or seriously delaying Iran’s nuclear program and—equally important—traumatizing Tehran.” Gerecht hedges on this point somewhat by lauding the efficacy of a half successful campaign what I find an odd bit of analysis:

“Any halfway successful Israeli raid could transform the Western approach to the Islamic Republic. An Israeli strike could finally prompt the Western powers to think in concrete terms about what it would mean to allow the Revolutionary Guard Corps nukes.”

I don’t know what Gerecht means by a half way successful campaign because he does not spell out the criteria measuring degrees of success. But it strikes me that what he’s really, at bottom, saying is that any raid at all—which will for a certainty do some damage to Iran’s program—*could* prove salutary by possibly causing the West to think hard and concretely about what it means for the R.G. to have nuclear weapons.

So some problems I find here are:

1.The reference to half successful gives away his argument. That argument is ostensibly premised on the precondition of Israeli militarily capability, but “half successful” renders that qualifying assumption moot.

2. The hedging reference to “could finally prompt” is an awfully fragile and contingent benefit for Gerecht’s dramatic prescription, now, arguably, by his own words, no longer premised on necessary Israeli military capability.

3. Reinforcing that contingent “could” is the plain fact that he, we, have no way of knowing what a raid will prompt Western Powers to think. So contingency and speculation team up to undermine the argument for this benefit. It’s at least just as likely that Iran is pragmatic enough simply to take revenge on Israel for such a raid, and not touch the U.S. for fear of American reprisal, and the Western powers, furious with Israel’s unauthorized raid, will leave to reap its own created whirlwind. So again, I can’t imagine, this fanciful benefit being part of Israeli cost benefit reckoning.

4. Further the articulation of this benefit presumes that America has not thought “...hard and concretely about what it means for the R.G. to have nuclear weapons.” Who is to say so and who is to doubt that it has and is approaching the problem by its own best lights. After all as Gerecht himself says:

“The great merit of the Bush and Obama administrations’ efforts to engage Iran in nuclear negotiations is that they have transformed the discussion about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. The West bent over backwards to be nice to Tehran, to extend carrots rather than sticks. The slow ramping up of Western sanctions has also forced all concerned to be more explicit about the Iranian menace.”

The talk about the benefits of a half successful raid suggests to me a certain tendentiousness in Gerecht. He really doesn’t care if what Israeli military capability can do: he wants an attack. Here is for me, and for him too, his “money quote”:

“Without a raid, if the Iranians get the bomb, Europe’s appeasement reflex will kick in and the EU sanctions regime will collapse, leaving the Americans alone to contain the Islamic Republic. Most of the Gulf Arabs will probably kowtow to Persia, having more fear of Iran than confidence in the defensive assurances of the United States. And Sunni Arabs who don’t view an Iranian bomb as a plus for the Muslim world will, at daunting speed, become much more interested in “nuclear energy”; the Saudis, who likely helped Islamabad go nuclear, will just call in their chits with the Pakistani military.”

Tellingly, he next goes on to ask the question, “So then, does the Israeli air force think it can do it?” but then drifts off into a non answer about what Jeffrey Goldberg observes about Netanyahu and his historian father, and gives his real indifference to that answer away with his too casual comment:

“Israeli hawks may be wrong about what their air force can do, but they express sentiments—where there is a will, there is a way—that most Israelis probably still share.”

I find this kind of shaky, speculative, deeply contingent, presuming and tendentious argument pervades Gerecht’s way too many words. There is, of course, a sober and terrible question to be answered by Israel at the core of his essay: whither strategic patience. But, in my opinion, Gerecht’s rehearsing of the case for an attack is flawed and the bits I have pointed out, as I see them, are of a piece with what’s wrong with what he wrote.

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