Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Two Minutes Hate

No peeking, now: How many times in this 523-word Fox story* do you suppose Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- the incarnate spawn of Satan there, staring lustfully at his "Crude Behavior"  -- is mentioned?

a) 0
b) 1
c) 5
d) 10

Did I not just get done saying "no peeking"? Yes, your correct answer is "a," none. Why waste space explaining what the illustration has to do with the text when -- you know, Iran! At least it isn't the file photo of Ahmadinejad in a lab coat, wandering among tall scary tubes, that appeared on the front page Feb. 20, Feb. 15 and Jan. 12.**

As Fox turns up the heat for war, it's no surprise to see Ahmadinejad on the Two Minutes Hate list. But let's not put all the blame on Fox here -- at least, not until we check in on the discussion of rational-actor theory over at the National Review Online. Here's the kickoff:

He (the chairman of the Joint Chiefs) has described Iran as a “rational actor.” I write in my column, “Really? Hope he’s right. A lot hinges on that . . .”

Here is an afterthought: Is anyone who regards the mullahs’ Iran as a rational actor really and truly a rational actor, or a rational thinker, himself?
(Yes) At a minimum, would it not be prudent to consider Iran an irrational actor, and act accordingly? (No) What could it hurt? (Your own national interests; why do you hate America?) But to underestimate Iran’s irrationality — that could hurt a lot.

Will somebody hook Bill Buckley's rapidly spinning body up to the generator and have done with it? "Rational" doesn't mean friendly or deferent or inclined to sell us lots of oil at awesome prices regardless of how often we pee across the border. Rational actors have consistent sets of preferences that they can rank-order, and they act in ways that they think will bring those preferences about. But let's hear from another NRO expert:

People who think Iran armed with nukes will be rational, and can therefore be deterred, invariably contradict themselves when asked whether Iran can be deterred from getting nukes in the first place, through the threat of military strikes. (I'm not even sure what this means) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Martin Dempsey thinks that Iran would respond to an Israeli attack by attacking American targets in the Middle East. But that would not be the response of a rational actor — on the contrary, it would be highly irrational for Iran to launch an overt war against the U.S. over something some third country did to it. (Funny, I thought the official NRO term for that policy was a "flub") If Dempsey really is afraid that Iran would react in such an irrational way, then how can he possibly think Iran is a rational actor?

It's hard to imagine a more deliberately stupid misunderstanding of a few basic concepts.  "Rational" doesn't mean "doing what the National Review thinks is a good idea." Rational states understand that they live in an anarchic world in which the strong do what they will. If you don't want Iran to have the bomb, you could start by not invading nonnuclear states on the pretense that they're just not telling us where their bombs are. Expecting Iran not to draw conclusions from the Iraq war is genuinely irrational -- and over and above the 17th-century racism that inspires so much current discourse about the Middle East, it has the potential to be genuinely destructive to US interests.

You don't have to like the Iranian regime to be a realist. (One of the cool things about being a realist is that you don't have to like anybody.) You do have to start by expecting states to have their own ideas about what they ought to be doing. One role of a properly functioning media system is to point that sort of thing out.
Save the Kadaffy Duck stuff for the editorial cartoons. If you want to afflict the comfortable, start by afflicting their conventional wisdom.

* As originally posted. The management is not responsible for random writethrus
** It was back again Feb. 22. Just so's you know..

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

Indeed and Bravo.

"Rational" does not mean "subservient". "Rational" does not mean "client state". "Rational" does not mean "does what we want.

Funny. The Axis of Evil - none of them actually had WMD. We invaded the weakest of them and destroyed it, and we're surprised that the other two decided to do something to deter us?

7:14 PM, February 23, 2012  

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