Don't you think that a nuclear exchange in the Middle East would harm the US?

I seem to be on a “pick on the Grumpy Old Man” kick. So I think that I should stress that I read the Grumpy Old Man on occasion because I think he is unusually fair-minded for a political blogger.

But a recent statement that the Grumpy Old Man made left me wondering what in the world he was thinking.

Does the possibility that Iran might acquire a nuclear capacity pose a risk to Israel? To some extent, yes, especially when first-strike capacity will at least initially outweigh second-strike capabilities, thus giving an advantage to the nuclear offense. Does it pose a risk to the United States? Not particularly


Does the Grumpy Old Man really think that a nuclear exchange in the Middle East would not harm US security?

Let us imagine the following scenario. Iran has nuclear weapons and it is going through a rough patch domestically. Let us say that to take their people’s mind off of their troubles some leaders like Ahmadinejad starts spouting out the rhetoric against Israel. Let us say he starts saying all that crowd pleasing stuff like “why don’t we wipe Israel off the map.”

Let us say that at 2:00 in the morning the Israeli Prime Minister is awakened and told that it looks like Iran is preparing to launch its missiles. Let us say that the majority of his advisers are advising him to launch now to stop the Iranian launch, but a minority of his advisers think that it is some kind of exercise. Let us say that the Israeli Prime Minister is told that he has only 3 minutes to make up his mind before it is too late.

If I were the Israeli Prime Minister I would have a heart attack on the spot.

But joking aside, the point of the matter is that the decision to launch is going to be up to the Israelis. And the decision to fire off the big one is only going to be as good as their intelligence and their decision makers. But the results of that decision are going to affect the US in a big way.

We could reverse the scenario. What if it was the Israelis who were talking tough about Iran and the Iranian leader got woken up in the middle of the night?

A lot of people try to pooh-pooh these types of fears by saying that the Soviet Union and the US managed to get along just find while pointing nuclear weapons at each other. Why should Israel and Iran be any different?

But even if one grants that Israel and Iran are similar to the US and the Soviet Union (which I do not), we should not be reassured. There were numerous times during the cold war where it almost became hot even as late as the time of Reagan.

One thing the Grumpy Old Man does not seem to understand is how much the US policy in the Middle East is dictated by the fear that the Israelis will use their nukes. As the Chieftain of Seir points out, America never gave much in the way of military aid to Israel until they had the bomb. Then we started shipping over just about everything they wanted.

For a while this policy worked pretty well at keeping Israel’s finger away from the little red button. As long as Israel was confident that their conventional arms were enough to guarantee their safety, the US did not have to worry about Israel setting the whole Middle East alight. If Iran gets the bomb, that will all change….

I have said in a previous post that if Iran were to disappear off the face of the earth, that would only marginally improve US security. But I did not say that because I believe Iran to be a marginal threat. I just think that there are far bigger problems facing us.

It is going to be a rough decade.

2 Responses to “Don't you think that a nuclear exchange in the Middle East would harm the US?”

  1. “Fair-minded”? Hmm. Perhaps I’d better practice my irascibility exercises more often.

    Fair enough. If Iran and Israel both had first-strike capability and not much in the way of second-strike resources (and in Israel’s case, not much hope of surviving a successful first strike), the region would get even more dangerous. Is that a reason for strong efforts to deal with Iran (preferably by rapprochement), and even to impose a solution in Israel-Palestine? Perhaps.

    To wage unprovoked war? Not IMHO.

    The effect of the Israeli bomb on US policy is an interesting notion. I’ve long thought that the Israel-Egypt deal was motivated in part by Israel’s ability to blast apart the Aswan Dam, thus flooding the inhabited part of Egypt.

    Still and all, if one can do anything with bayonets but sit on them, one can’t rationally do much with nukes except sit on them. How likely Israel would be to use its nukes if it didn’t think it faced imminent annihilation, I don’t know. At least Caroline Glick doesn’t run the place.

  2. Ape Man says:

    I was not taking issue with your assertion that we should not attack Iran, only with one of the ways in which you justified that idea.

    To my mind, the US has no good choices and we should not pretend that any course of action is going to be costless.

    As for unprovoked war Iran, that depends on your definition of unprovoked. If you believe that Untied States had cause to go to war with Afghanistan because they sheltered al-Qaeda, then I think you must concede that Israel has cause to go to war with Iran because of their support for Hezbollah. If you believe that US had legal cause to go defend Saudi Arabia from Iraq, then the US has legal cause to take Israel’s side against Iran.

    Granted, that is not how people are jusfying going after Iran. But you should not pretend that Iran has been sitting around minding their own business. It is a documented fact that they have been trying to assault Israel and the US through proxies for years. The real injustice is that Lebanon has had to take the beating for Iran.

    Having said that, I don’t believe that attacking Iran is going to make either Israel or the US more secure in the long run. Just because you can legally justify something does not mean that you should do it.

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