The paradox of non-interventionism in a nuclear world

…Or, The giant sucking sound of American power standing down in a matter of months.

Presidential candidate and Congressman Ron Paul was interviewed this past weekend by Tim Russert on MSNBC. The interview demonstrated two things, 1) the MSM do not like Ron Paul and, 2) Paul should never be President. Russert asked a question about what he (Paul) would do if Iran invaded Israel. I’m not exactly sure what that means, and Paul probably wasn’t either. Rather than ask for clarification, Paul gets in two sentences, one coherent and one almost coherent, before he goes off the rails:

REP. PAUL: “Well, they are not going to. That is like saying that Iran is about to invade Mars. They have nothing, they don’t have an army or a navy or an air force. Israelis have 300 nuclear weapons, nobody would touch them… It is an impossible situation.”

The second sentence is “almost coherent” because “about to invade” wasn’t in the question. If Paul can contemplate this invasion at some future date, after he’s withdrawn all American power elsewhere in the world, he should answer this question: “What will you do when an alliance of Islamists, some armed with nuclear weapons, does attack Israel?” The follow-up would be, “Would your opinion be different if Israel did not have nuclear weapons? If so, why?”

The third sentence is simply ignorant. Here’s the army, navy and air force Iran doesn’t have.

The Iranian military consists of the army, air force, navy, and a Revolutionary Guard force. Officially about 8% of the country’s GDP accounts for defense. This number does not include several arms purchases made in the early 90s. Most recently it is believed that the rising national debt is curtailing some arms acquisitions. Total active duty armed forces numbers 513,000, while reserves add another 350,000.

The Iranian Conventional Forces – 2/18/2005

“Iran is now the only regional military power that poses a significant conventional military threat to Gulf stability. Iran has significant capabilities for asymmetric warfare, and poses the additional threat of proliferation. There is considerable evidence that it is developing both a long-range missile force and a range of weapons of mass destruction. It has never properly declared its holdings of chemical weapons, and the status of its biological weapons programs is unknown. The discoveries made by the IAEA since 2002 indicate that it is likely Iran will continue to covertly seek nuclear weapons.”

– Iran’s Developing Conventional Military Capabilities, Center for Strategic and International Studies, 12/8/2004

Even though Paul is wrong about Iranian armed forces, he holds a narrowly legitimate position that Iran is not about to invade Israel – narrowly as in parsing the meaning of “is.” It is quite another position to say Iran does not threaten Israel, which is where Paul went with his answer. The Congressman should therefore be sure to explain why he is certain that Amahdinejad isn’t willing to commit a nuclear suicide bombing of Israel, and provide a list of Middle East wars to obliterate Israel in which only one Islamist country was the aggressor. The Iranians would have help from Syria, probably Egypt and certainly Hamas & Hizballah, whom they fund. Armed forces are somewhat fungible.

Maybe Ron Paul is right. It’s just too scary for Iran to attack Israel. If so, they might be looking for proxies to physically invade Israel. No need for Iranian boots on Israeli soil. Egypt, Hamas, Hezballah and Syria are already in position, and if Iran were going to hit Israel with a nuke (rocket propelled or otherwise) those entities could depend on getting a heads up. Perhaps Iran will not have a nuclear weapon for three years, perhaps for ten, but when they get one we know who the first target is.

Still, maybe Amahdinejad does realize an attack on Israel would be the end of Iran. Maybe he also cares. Maybe the little wanker is just blowing off steam when he repeatedly threatens to kill all the Jews. We do have an estimate that Iran would suffer very badly should any conventional attack appear to be succeeding, or if an attack was nuclear.

If a nuclear war between Israel and Iran were to break out 16-20 million Iranians would lose their lives – as opposed to 200,000-800,000 Israelis, according to a report recently published by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), which is headed by Anthony H. Cordesman, formerly an analyst for the US Department of Defense.

The report cites Israel’s Arrow missile defense system as an obstacle facing a possible Iranian strike and says that it could shoot down most of the missiles. Israel, on the other hand, would be capable of hitting most of the Iranian cities with pinpoint accuracy due to the high resolution satellite imagery systems at its disposal.

The Arrow missile defense, by the way, is jointly funded by Israel and the US. Given its defensive purpose it seems like a non-interventionist might actually approve. And what about that satellite imagery from the Israeli satellite launched by those pesky interventionists, the Russians? Maybe Israel is also asking Russia for details on the Iranian air defenses and nuclear development, also Russian interventions. I suppose Russia wouldn’t keep intervening if we stopped, though, would they?

Another scenario presented by the report includes Syria joining the bandwagon in case of a war and lobbing missiles with chemical and biological warheads into Israeli cities. According to the report, up to 800,000 Israelis would be killed if that were to happen. Syria, however, would be forced to grapple with the deaths of approximately 18 million of its citizens were Israel to respond with its nuclear arsenal.

Israel, the report says, would launch a nuclear attack on Cairo and additional Egyptian cities, and would destroy the Aswan Dam if Egypt joined the fray.

But, back to the interview (emphasis mine). Russert brought up something Paul said on CNN:

MR. RUSSERT: This is what you said about Israel. “Israel’s dependent on us, you know, for economic means. We send them” “billions of dollars and they,” then they “depend on us. They say, `Well, you know, we don’t like Iran. You go fight our battles. You bomb Iran for us.’ And they become dependent on us.”

Who in Israel is saying “Go bomb Iran for us”?

REP. PAUL: Well, I don’t know the individuals, but we know that their leaderships–you read it in the papers on a daily–a daily, you know, about Israel, the government of Israel encourages Americans to go into Iran, and the people–I don’t think that’s a–I don’t think that’s top secret that the government of Israel…

MR. RUSSERT: That the government of Israel wants us to bomb Iran?

REP. PAUL: I, I don’t think there’s a doubt about that, that they’ve encouraged us to do that. And of course the neoconservatives have been anxious to do that for a long time.

If that’s true, and if we were convinced Iran was getting an A-Bomb, (Note, you should be very skeptical about that recent NIE that Iran is not working on a nuke – start here) why would we wait for Israel to ask us? We’re more likely to ask them to do it.

Remember Osirak? Remember the Israelis took out a Syrian nuclear site in September? (Emphasis mine.)

Israel’s decision to attack Syria on Sept. 6, bombing a suspected nuclear site set up in apparent collaboration with North Korea, came after Israel shared intelligence with President Bush this summer indicating that North Korean nuclear personnel were in Syria, U.S. government sources said.

Can you say “Axis of Evil, JG” (Did the Israelis have Syrian air defense secrets in aid of this raid? If so, I’ll bet they came from those intervening Russians.) In any case, Israel is perfectly capable of bombing Iran themselves.

But, let’s say Israel would ask us to bomb Iran as a practical humanitarian gesture, because Israel doesn’t have “conventional” bunker busters, and they don’t want to use a nuke. Do we refuse to lend them an experimental “Divine Strake” (not operational) or three?

Those are some practical questions about instantaneous non-interventionism Congressman Paul did not have time to address. What he did have time for, though, was to broadly hint that he agrees with Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s recent book, “The Israel Lobby.” Here is a starting point for critiques.

In itself, this would be disturbing, but if you combine it with some of Paul’s other activities, it is more worrisome yet.

Dallying with white-supremacists, anti-semites and “truthers” is only circumstantially related to Paul’s qualifications, and apparently only tangentially related to his beliefs. But the question is reasonable nonetheless, “Is this cluelessness, pandering or evidence of phraseological osmosis – Perhaps the result of breathing too much of the air in the same room with Alex Jones, or of writing too many articles for the American Free Press over the years, a journal founded by Holocaust denier and anti-Semitic Willis Carto?”

Non-interventionism as a principle does not require one to hint broadly about Zionist conspiracies when asked about an attack by fanatics intended to destroy an ally. It does require some thoughtful discussion of how the vacuum of a precipitous (or otherwise) American withdrawal from the world stage could be realistically managed. It requires a clear explanation of how the United States can avoid preemptive military action in a world where Iran has nuclear weapons, while still cleaving to the libertarian principle that one legitimate power of government is defense of its citizens.