In his excellent post about the myriad flaws in the administration’s probable (and inchoate) containment plan for Iran, Max Boot makes a very important point, one I’ve somehow missed when reading others on the same subject. He argues that Leftist nostalgic for the realpolitik of the Cold War, which saw us learning to live uneasily alongside a nuclear Soviet Union, can be replicated here:
Those policies worked against the Soviet Union, but no one should have any illusions that they provide a painless fix to the threat posed by Iran. In the first place, even with the Soviets, there were a few moments when nuclear war was a serious possibility. Remember the Cuban Missile Crisis? There is no guarantee that a replay with Iran — say a Lebanese Missile Crisis — would be resolved so peaceably. Moreover, even if we avoided World War III, containing the Soviets was hardly bloodless — it cost the lives of nearly a 100,000 American soldiers in Korea and Vietnam.
Well, there is that, but there’s also a more abstract problem, and that is the nature of the nuclear opponent. The Soviet Union was made up of political ideologues who dearly wanted power in this world. Power, after all, is a thing of the real world. This meant that a certain pragmatism infused all of the Soviet efforts. They were willing to play nuclear chicken with us, but the Soviets were not personally inclined to be the ones driving off the cliff.
How different are the Iranians. They are not ideologues, they are zealots. They’re orientation isn’t this world, it’s the next. They are aiming for Armageddon. Their particular world view demands a man-made conflagration as a prerequisite for the coming of the 12th Iman. As far as they’re concerned, the game of chicken is won if everyone drives off the cliff.
This profound ideological difference between the Soviets and the Iranians is why containment is foolish at best and suicidal at worst. The mutual deterrence strategy that characterized the Cold War worked because each side, ultimately, wanted to live. The Soviets may not have cared about the bodies strewn in their paths, but they cared a great deal about their own power and about having a base over which to lord it. Personal nuclear immolation didn’t factor into their plans.
How different are the Mullahs, who see their job on this earth as destructive — of others and of themselves. So what if they start a nuclear war? When everything is dead and gone, the truth faith will still hover over the dust.