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April 14, 2006

Iran: Calculated Madness and Common Sense

Posted in: Democrats,Iran

 (Guest poster from Needlenose)

Jane graciously invited me over to share some thoughts about the developing scare-a-thon with Iran, and considering the amount of required reading this has entailed, all I can say is … well, thanks.

An irony here is that I’m really not even the Iran expert on my own blog — that honor belongs to the equally pseudonymous Fubar, who posted in 2004 a pair of simple graphics that explained the issue from Iran’s perspective, including this one (the flags represent U.S. military bases or overflight privileges):

So you can see why the powers that be in Tehran might be feeling a little paranoid these past few years, and why they might perhaps be interested in developing nuclear weapons as a deterrent. Another reason is demonstrated in this graphic:

 

Do you think Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei wants to end up like Saddam, or thrive happily like Kim Jong-il? It’s not a hard choice.

Fubar had a stemwinder of a post yesterday detailing how far Iran is from being a genuine threat, but I would argue that Iran has also learned from North Korea in other ways. I wrote a year ago about how the Pyongyang regime has been scalding us by degrees with a mix of boisterous, seemingly unbalanced rhetoric and careful, methodical actions to increase its nuclear capabilities. That, in my opinion, is what is behind Iran’s perversely celebratory announcement of what in fact is a relatively insignificant accomplishment.

They’re not trying to defy us so much as to drown us out. Every time the United States tries to raise an alarm, Tehran responds with an equivalent flurry of sound and motion. Eventually, as North Korea has learned, the world tunes out the bluster on both sides as background noise, and declines to back a confrontation over minor violations… but over a period of several years, those small steps over the line add up to genuine progress to developing a nuclear arsenal.

The Bushites would like us to think that there’s just as much of a method to their apparent madness, or so goes the wishful thinking:

"Their Plan A is to put incremental pressure on Iran so it will cave," said retired Air Force Col. P.J. Crowley, a National Security Council aide under President Bill Clinton who now works at the liberal Center for American Progress. "And there is no Plan B."

Unfortunately, as Joshua Marshall has eloquently noted, we can’t be that confident:

… the evidence is there for the confluence of two destructive and disastrous forceshawks in the administration’s Cheney faction whose instinctive bellicosity is only matched by their actual incompetence (a fatal mixture if there ever was one), and the president’s chief political aides who see the build up to an Iran confrontation as the most promising way to contest the mid-term elections.

Even worse, as Josh noted in a follow-up, is a third dangerous element — Dubya’s "dimwit megalomania" (a subject which I’ve written about as well).  Throw in the decreasingly hypothetical war games our military is engaging in, and it’s clear that the danger is too great for any sane person to shrug off.  The specter of the Bushites using the threat of war to hijack a congressional election again is bad enough, but the all-too-real possibility of parlaying the Iraq fiasco in a disaster of exponentially larger proportions makes it a genuine moral imperative for Democrats to do whatever they can to derail a new march toward war.

But how?  Lots of good people have already pondered this question, including Christy and Parachutec on this blog.  Out of all those who have discussed the rhetorical aspect already, John Aravosis makes a particularly important comment:

I think the Democrats’ message and policy needs to be distilled into one single point. The Democrats always have ten pages of talking points, while the Republicans have a one-liner.

This is a problem that I had with the recent 123-page "Real Security" plan announced by the Senate Democrats — being reality-based, we always argue issues like we’re in a classroom or a court of law, where details and evidence matter.  What we need to get better at is conveying one-line messages that hit people in the gut, but still communicate the right meaning.

I’d disagree with John and others, though, who think that we should target our verbal fire at Bush himself as unfit to lead us into war again.  It’s obviously true, of course, but especially as the Wurlitzer cranks up the patriotism-versus-ominous-foreign-threat themes, it risks making Democrats sound petty and somewhat disloyal (since he is, after all, the only president we have at the moment).  Instead, we should communicate that there is way that Republicans do things that makes them inherently dangerous, and a way that Democrats do things that makes us better at keeping the country safe.

To succeed at this, we need to understand the values that separate Democrats from Republicans, then look for vivid imagery that conveys the difference.  Over at Needlenose for the past few months, I’ve been trying to contrast Democratic common sense against the bad judgment of Dubya and the Republicans — which doesn’t sound all that powerful on its own, perhaps, but try these soundbites on for size (from a post I wrote about the politics of the Iran threat in late January):

The first words out of any Democrat’s mouth when talking about Iran is that we shouldn’t do what we did four years ago, which was to talk tough and then dive into a war without thinking through what would happen next

… Four years ago, the Republicans scared people with talk of mushroom clouds just before a congressional election, and as a result we’ve lost more than 2,200 Americans in a country that didn’t have a single weapon of mass destruction. How has that made us safer?

… It comes down to this: Tough talk without hard thinking cost American lives. Common sense says that we shouldn’t trust our lives to that poor judgment ever again.

Does that work for anyone?  If you can stand one more attempt at an aphorism, you could also say it this way:  There’s a famous old American tradition, "Speak softly and carry a big stick."  The Republican approach has been to talk loudly and shoot themselves in the foot.  Let’s go back to the way that worked.


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