The difference between the Soviet Union and Iran

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.

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  • Charles Martel

    I’ve been hoping for years now that the Chinese, who don’t give a dam about political correctness, would lob a nuclear-tipped calling card down that hidey hole that the 12th Imam is residing in.

    This would be followed by a polite letter to the Iranian mullahs: “Dear Sirs, please to let us know when 12th Imam ascend from hole so we can bow before him. Until then, down yours!”

  • highlander

    Exactly so, Book.  The situation with Iran is utterly different from that with the Soviets.  The Soviets at least were sane.

  • Ymarsakar

    Well, one aspect is the same. The Left were allied with the Soviets then and they are allied with Iran now.

  • David Foster

    In addition to being atheists, the Soviets also believed in an inevitable historical process which would result in the triumph of their system. Given this, they had no incentive to want to bring an end to history.

    Also:  the fact that there was no nuclear war during the Cold War era does *not* p rove that the deterrence system was inherently stable. Maybe we were just lucky. It’s entirely possible to play 12 rounds of Russian Roulette with a 6-barrel pistol and still be alive at the end of the 12 rounds.

    Related post–Deterrence:

  • Charles Martel

    Red Army officers in WWII used to play a variant of Russian Roulette called “Russian Cuckoo.” At the end of a long day of slaughtering Nazis, Red Army officers would retire to the living or main room of an occupied German farmhouse and get rip-snorting drunk. Then they’d turn out the lights and each one would hide behind a piece of furniture. After a few moments, one of them would stand up in the dark and yell out “Cuckoo!,” at which the others would draw their pistols and fire in the direction of what they thought was the source of the sound.

    Fortunately the old Soviet Union had a huge population and the Red Army was happy to mint new officers whenever needed.

  • tejas

    This administration scares me (when they’re not ticking me off). They can’t be as stupid as they act, so one can only assume they want Iran, North Korea, and others to hurt us, and our true allies.
    Many of the progressives think the Earth would be a better place with fewer humans………. is their ultimate goal?

  • tejas

    arrggh! I meant, is this their ultimate goal?

  • Danny Lemieux

    Then again, maybe the 12th Imam is already here, happily ensconced and partying-up in Washington, D.C.

  • BrianE

    The Iranian threat was discounted by the media as a political construct by W.  That and the principal of self-preservation is firmly bedded in the core of every person and there is no frame of reference to think that any religion could be as self-destructive as the Iranian version.
    In my financial advising days, I struggled to define risk to my clients. I would explain how risky a certain investment might be, but invariably their response focused on the returns– “but its gone up so much”. Even if they had suffered through previous losses, sooner or later, the lure of profit overshadowed the pain of previous loss.
    Risk can only described in the context of negative experiences, and even then the human mind has a way of tempering previous pain.
    Even the holocaust is receding into legend, and apparently now only a subset of Jews- those living in the potential epicenter of their own annihilation seem to recognize the risk. One would think American Jews would be sympathetic to their brother’s plight.
    “Am I my brother’s keeper?” seems to be the operative response.