On Iran's nukes and analogies
Now that the Sunday morning talks shows have come and gone and the Sunday papers are read and thrown in for recycling, the talking heads have gotten everybody and their Aunt Bessie hot and bothered over the Iranian nuclear program. Perhaps the most incendiary talking head is our friendly neighborhood imperialist Niall Ferguson in the Sunday Telegraph:
The origins of the Great War of 2007 - and how it could have been preventedObviously, Ferguson likes analogies. So let's play his game. Why is Munich 1938 the proper analogy instead of, say, China 1964?
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Under different circumstances, it would not have been difficult to thwart Ahmadinejad's ambitions. . . . [military] strikes against Iran's were urged on President Bush by neo-conservative commentators throughout 2006 . . . But the President was advised by his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, to opt instead for diplomacy. Not just European opinion but American opinion was strongly opposed to an attack on Iran. . . .
So history repeated itself. As in the 1930s, an anti-Semitic demagogue broke his country's treaty obligations and armed for war. . . . As in the 1930s, too, the West fell back on wishful thinking. . . .
The devastating nuclear exchange of August 2007 represented not only the failure of diplomacy, it marked the end of the oil age. Some even said it marked the twilight of the West. . . .
In 1964 China was considered just as radical and unstable and irrational as Iran is today. In fact, probably more so. The Great Leap Forward had just ended, which consumed 25-60 million lives. The split with the USSR had come a few years previously as well because Khrushchev thought Stalin wasn't all that and a bag of chips, with Mao accusing the Soviets of "counter-revolution". China condemned Khrushchev's actions in the Cuban Missile Crisis as "capitulationism" and didn't give a damn that Khrushchev thought Mao's advice would have led to nuclear war. China had also just finished up a brief border war of its own with India in 1962 and supported communist rebels throughout Southeast Asia including Vietnam where the US was digging in for a war of its own.
And yet when the US had the chance to bomb Chinese nuclear facilities to forestall a nuclear China in 1964, it refused.
The bases for direct action against Chinese Communist nuclear facilities were explored in April 1964 in a paper by Robert Johnson of the Department of State Policy Planning Council, which paper it was apparently decided should form the basis for any subsequent consideration of the subject. . . .If we could live with a nuclear China which was seen as a very grave threat to world peace and security in the early 1960s, then why can we not do the same with a potential nuclear Iran? Let's be clear: I neither relish nor welcome a nuclear Iran. However, the risks of bombing the country strongly exceed the potential benefits in my book.
The major conclusion of the paper is to the following effect:"It is evident . . . that the significance of a [Chicom nuclear] capability is not such as to justify the undertaking of actions which would involve great political costs or high military risks."This conclusion appears to be based on the observations summarized above regarding technical feasibility, impermanence of effect, and political difficulty, and, very importantly, on arguments to the effect that the near and medium term consequences in Asia of a Chinese nuclear capability will be small, and that direct threat to the US will be very small.
So tell me why this is Munich 1938 and not China 1964?