Post-peace hipster follicle-farm John Bolton is the latest contestant in the New York Times' "Who can write the insanest Strangelove shit about scary Persians?" sweepstakes, with an entry that concludes we must bomb... something somewhere. But if you pan this stream of consciousness long enough, a gold nugget turns up.
Quick as he is to clamor for military action by American service members whose uniform he's never worn, Bolton was a late entry in this Times bonanza, having to compete with Tom "Why not arm ISIS against Iran?" Friedman and David "I know anti-Semitic vermin when I smell it" Brooks. But Bolton knows how to surpass those mealy-mouthed neo-liberals, because he never stopped being the kid who brings his own Risk board to the party and leaves his capacity for introspection at home, under the bunk bed, nestled next to his Cobra Commander and a pile of flies' wings pulled cleanly from their thoraxes.
There's plenty of crazy, predictably, in a Bolton op-ed titled "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran"—an op-ed in which he argues, incoherently, in the third paragraph that
but by the tenth paragraph, he's all nah:
But nestled in this pile of belligerent lettuce is a meaty blackened chunk of wisdom that Bolton does his best to bury. Israel, you see, already has nuclear weapons, and has managed not to annihilate all of the declared existential enemies that share its neighborhood—and prevailing weather patterns. But Iran—Iran!—is different, you see:
Ironically, perhaps! Because for all its militarist bluster and willingness to level villages and expand territory to pursue its dead-end enemies, Israel basically gets what it wants without having to irradiate its near abroad. Israel gets what it wants, at least in part, because it is a nuclear power, as the U.S. just recently acknowledged. There is no faster way to become a big swinging phallus on the international scene than to acquire the capability to flatten your enemies in a wink. Just ask all the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
This is what the geostrategic kids call "deterrence," an analog to the theory of "mutually assured destruction"—the notion that if I have a bomb, and you have a bomb, you won't use your bomb, because then I'll use my bomb, and we'll all be dead, and only Joffrey Baratheon will survive long enough to enjoy some plutonium-infused pie and wine in the post-attack detritus.
To Bolton, it goes without saying that the U.S. and its allies—current nuclear powers like Israel and the U.K., and possible future nuclear powers like Saudi Arabia and Egypt—want nukes for defensive deterrence, to assure their enemies that any attacks will be met with an apocalyptic response. But, he asserts, "Iran is a different story"!
Different... how? He never explicitly says how. Only that they have nuclear "ambitions." He implies that these ambitions are different from the U.S.'s and Israel's. He implies that Iran, in other words, is not interested in deterrence, is not interested in becoming a great power, is not interested in playing the realist game of Risk. He implies that Iran, in short, wants to be able to strike first, to kill all our friends in the region—even if most of the climatic winds in, say, Israel and Iraq move in a westerly direction, and would likely carry the fallout of a nuclear strike right back towards Tehran and Qum and Isfahan.
Bolton, in short, thinks a nuclear Iran would be different from all the other nuclear powers that have come before it because he thinks Iran is run by crazy brown Muslim people whose hatred for Jews and Americans and American allies is far stronger than their own love of life. His argument depends on an unfortunately widely held blanket belief that Iranians are fucking bonkers and not interested in traditional statecraft.
To this simple calculation of the problem, Bolton—co-captain of the Iraq War's pep squad—has a simple solution:
The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel's 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required... Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran's opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.
Yes, because attacks on Saddam Hussein, combined with vigorous American support for Iraq's opposition, aimed at regime change in Baghdad, worked so magnificently. Syria, too, has really learned its lesson with weapons of mass-destruction. Good call, Bolton.
Let's not forget: Iranian leadership is bonkers, as far as that goes. Its regime jails and tortures dissidents—like most of the other nuclear powers. It promulgates a religiously inspired exceptionalist ideology—like most of the other nuclear powers. It has a profound anti-Semitism problem—like most of the other nuclear powers.
Should we trust Iran with a nuclear program? No. We shouldn't trust any nation-state with a nuclear program. Especially not a nation-state that, however committed to deterrence, cedes prime op-ed space and political influence to an imbalanced mustache-waxing war addict.
[Photo credit: AP Images]