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Liberal Hawk Poised to Swoop Down on Iran

September 21, 2012 ·

A prominent disarmament and nonproliferation advocate gives his surprise endorsement to an attack on Iran.

A prominent disarmament and nonproliferation advocate gives his surprise endorsement to an attack on Iran.

On Wednesday (Sept. 19) I posted about how disappointing award-winning Washington Post reporter Dana Priest's recent nuclear-modernization series (parts 1 and 2) was. I had thought she was poised to investigate the need for it, as well as for nuclear weapons themselves. After all, that's what she had done in the past with the U.S. intelligence and classified activity system, as well as CIA detention sites overseas.

Turns out that, for whatever reason, Ms. Priest felt compelled to sound the alarm about what she calls "the decrepit, neglected state of the aging nuclear weapons complex," apparently in order to drum up funds for it, like, yesterday! She writes that federal officials and many outside analysts maintain:

Failing to act before the end of next year … is likely to mean that there won’t be enough time to design and build the new systems that would be required if the old arsenal is no longer safe or reliable. 

Tuesday, September 18, brought another, comparable disappointment. Historian Dan Plesch is the Director of the Centre for International Studies and Diplomacy at University of London's School of Oriental and Africa Studies. You can tell where he's stood on issues by the titles of some of the pieces, alone or with others, he's written for publications like the Guardian and the New Statesman: What a mess our military has made, Making the Middle East nuclear-free, and Occupy London is reviving St Paul's history of free speech. And, in May of this year: Disarmament is more practical than we are conditioned to think.

Tuesday's piece, written with Martin Butcher and Ian Shields, is posted at esteemed British progressive site Open Democracy and is titled Reconsidering war with Iran. I only just realized that the title is a play on the title of a lengthy paper he wrote with Martin Butcher which was published exactly five years ago (September 2007): Considering a war with Iran (emphasis added).

One who had read neither piece and only knew Plesch's reputation from his other work would naturally be puzzled. What's being reconsidered? Previous counsel to attack? To refrain from attacking? Neither seems comprehensible in light of Plesch's reputation as a nonproliferation and disarmament advocate. Hold that thought for the moment.

The authors concluded the earlier piece thusly:

If the attack is “successful” and the US reasserts its global military dominance and reduces Iran to the status of an oil-rich failed state, then the risks to humanity in general and to the states of the Middle East are grave indeed.

The two world wars of 1914-18 and 1939-1945, the creation of nuclear weapons, and the advent of global warming have created successive lessons that humanity and states cannot prosper or survive long unless they hold their security in common -- sharing sovereignty and power to ensure both survival and prosperity.

A “successful” US attack, without UN authorisation, would return the world to the state that existed in the period before the war of 1914-18, but with nuclear weapons.

The self-styled realists argue that this is an inevitable and manageable world, the naivety of imagining a nuclear armed world without nuclear war is utopian in the extreme.

Obviously, in 2007 Plesch and Butcher were opposed to attacking Iran. Let's now turn to the recent Open Democracy piece, which, at first, I thought was seemed simply to be presenting a scenario:

This article (drawing on open source material) will challenge the notion that America will not attack first, and demonstrate that the US has the wherewithal to destroy the Iranian military capability. 

They write:

Conventional wisdom is that the US is unable to, or unwilling to risk, a pre-emptive attack and that Tehran is calling all the shots. 

However:

The US military, and likely political, readiness for a war using minimum ground forces indicates that the current seeming inaction surrounding Iran is misleading. The United States retains the ability – despite commitments to Afghanistan – to undertake no notice major military operations against Iran that could remove Iran’s ability to retaliate and remove the regime’s ability to function at all.

The enthusiasm with which Plesch and Butcher made their case was somewhat disconcerting. But, after all, this was Open Democracy. Certainly they weren't suggesting an attack was advisable. Let's jump ahead to the authors' conclusion (emphasis added).

America certainly has the firepower to undertake such a mission, and could do so with little or no warning or additional build-up: this would be Shock and Awe on a new scale, while the advantages of a successful campaign  – which we believe to be very highly likely – outweigh the potential disadvantages of either doing nothing or prevaricating.

… The US military machine, particularly for high-technology, full-spectrum conflict – as epitomised by air power – offers a President the option of an overwhelming advantage through the use of military force: this remains a viable option that should not be disregarded.

Where, you may be asking, is the disarmament and nonproliferation advocate Dan Plesch in this picture? In fact, his views may be a symptom of his commitment to nonproliferation, if not disarmament in this case. Just as liberal hawks supported invading Iraq both to divest it of supposed WMD and to free its people from a tyrant, Plesch is countenancing an attack on Iran to abort another -- thus far imaginary, like Iraq's --nuclear-weapons program.

But nonproliferation was never intended to be used as a pretext to attack another state. It only convinces the state that's attacked, as well as its neighbors, that their security depends on acquiring arms commensurate with the attacking state. It's disturbing to see someone whose previous work has been on behalf of peace sign on to such a project.

CORRECTION

On September 26, Dan Plesch wrote us:

The authors oppose an attack on Iran, this piece is written to demonstrate that from within the US government the perception is that war is a far more viable option than is usually recognised and the article is written to explain that perspective”. Plesch commented that anyone familiar with his work would recognise this and that he has had several Iranians commend him for putting in the public domain an all too real scenario. Plesch added that people should note that the US and UK publics re-elected Bush and Blair despite the war in Iraq, so that the precedent is that even a disaster on the scale of Iraq need not have electoral consequences. Wiser counsel must prevail to stop war but wishful thinking over ill thought through disaster scenarios is worse than useless.