There is a belief that the “mutually assured destruction” deterrence that worked during the Cold War will work in Iran. Hillary certainly believes it, which is why she promised that, if Iran hits Israel with a nuclear bomb during her presidency, she will hit Iran with a nuclear bomb. She believes that threat is sufficient to hold Iran back from acting. She thinks this because, if she were in Iran’s shoes, it would hold her back. The satisfaction of having destroyed Israel (if she were Iran), would be overwhelmingly offset by the death of hundreds of thousands, if not millions of her citizens, and the complete destruction of large swaths of her country.
In making this analysis, Hillary shows herself to be a rational actor under Western values. What she hasn’t figured out, though, is that Iran’s leaders don’t show those Western values. There are two reasons why the thought of having nuclear weapons rain down on the Iranian citizenry doesn’t phase faze these leaders. Indeed, the second reason for their insouciance actually has them wanting that nuclear rain.
Reason number one for the fact that Iranians are less impressed than we would be by the threat of a nuclear Holocaust is that they really don’t care about the well-being of their people. And this is where the example of Myanmar becomes interesting. In the aftermath of a devastating cyclone that may have caused the instant deaths of as many as 100,000 people, the military junta is resolute in rejecting aid. This is not because of some misguided sense of (metaphorically) standing on its own two feet. This is because it would rather see up to 500,000 of its citizens dead than risk any weakening of its power. Once you start letting aid workers in, exposing your beleaguered citizens to other ideas and free market products, you’re looking at the beginning of the end of your tyranny.
The bottom line, then, is that tyrants are completely comfortable with mass deaths within their own borders, provided that their political goals are untouched. Indeed, they’ll encourage those deaths if doing otherwise would affect the power structure.
There is no reason to think that the Iranian regime, which is an incredibly oppressive one, and one that managed to engage in a 9 year war with Iraq that saw almost a million die, will weep any tears if its citizens die in the hundreds of thousands or even the millions. In Iran, as in other dictatorships (Mao’s China, Myanmar, North Korea, etc.) the average “citizens” is not a human with rights as we understand it. Instead, he is an object the value of which is measured by whether his existence augments or damages the leadership’s power. If his non-existence does not affect that power or if his non-existence actually increases that power, his life isn’t worth a grain of sand on a big beach.
That is the first reason Iran doesn’t really care about Hillary’s threat to bomb it if it first bombs Israel. The benefits of bombing Israel (fulfilling Koranic requirements, gaining respect in the Muslim world, finding out of your bomb really works, showing the world that nothing will stop you) far outweigh the deaths of a few million of the pawns trapped within your own borders.
If that isn’t bad enough, we get to the second reason why Hillary’s threats are pointless and why (as Israel knows) only preemptive measures will stop Iran from dropping the bomb: The Shia version of Islam that Iran practices is an apocalyptic religion. Iran’s leaders believe that the End of Days will be triggered by the return of the 12 Imam, which will introduce an era of endless peace and harmony.
This apocalyptic vision isn’t actually such an unusual doctrine, and it appears in both Christianity and Judaism. What differs about the Iranian version is that Iran believes that its role is not simply to be a passive, albeit faithful, observer of the End of Days, which is how Christians and Jews approach the subject. Rather, as Ahmadinejad’s speeches and acts demonstrate, Iran believes it is its responsibility to bring about Armageddon — and what could be more Armageddon-like than the fact that Iran bravely destroys the Little Satan (that would be Israel), only to be destroyed in turn by the Great Satan (America). If that doesn’t bring about the return of the 12th Imam, nothing will.
In other words, the threat Hillary now makes as she works the campaign trail, a threat she believes is the type that will paralyze Iran and prevent action is, in fact, precisely the end Iran’s leaders are seeking. It’s not a threat at all. Instead, it’s the desired culmination of Allah’s plans.
Given the very un-Western thought process Iranian leaders go through when they contemplate the nuclear destruction of their country, McCain would definitely be the best candidate to deal with a pre-nuclear Iran. Regardless of his doctrinal strength regarding the finder points of Shia ideology, he understands the nature of dictators, having survived them for so many years in the Hanoi Hilton.
McCain (like Israel, which is staring down that nuclear muzzle) is not going to wait around until Iran has the upper hand and then try sweet words (Obama) or threats and even action (Hillary). I think that McCain would understand, as Israel does, that one needs to act before the crazy nation gets the power, not after.
And if you think I’m exaggerating about Iran’s response to a nuclear Holocaust simply so score points for McCain, just read today’s paper about Myanmar and think about a dictatorship that is not hampered by religious crazies will do to maintain power. You can extrapolate from there by imagining those same dictators working hard to pave the way for the coming Apocalypse.
UPDATE: Speaking of Iran, this analysis about the situation Lebanon is very, very depressing.