The basic fault in the Bush Doctrine and in Norman Podhoretz’s praise of it is that they both assume a state’s or people’s right to perfect security or 100% safety. This is impossible, because not everyone can simultaneously have such a right and still remain free.
To get 100% security, a state has to defeat and control its neighbors and eventually every last one of them. Even then, it won’t be 100% secure until it controls every rebellious element under its flag.
Extremism in defense of 100% security is a vice: wicked and immoral behavior. Such extremism stems from an erroneous moral philosophy in which one does not allow equal freedom to one’s neighbors, but instead one exercises power over them in the name of one’s own false conception of one’s right.
As an important example of this thinking and how it can lead to war, consider Israel and Iran. Trump and Pompeo have both made statements that support the neoconservative position of Norman Podhoretz. His position and theirs contain the flaw of making extreme demands for the extreme security of Israel that cannot be met without making war against Iran and suppressing their rights.
Here’s Norman Podhoretz’s thinking about Iran and Israel on December 11, 2013. The JPCOA nuclear deal was signed on 14 July 2015.
“I remain convinced that containment is impossible, from which it follows that the two choices before us are not war vs. containment but a conventional war now or a nuclear war later.”
Podhoretz was wrong in thinking “containment is impossible”. Being wrong on Iran is what he always has been, simply because he takes the position that Iran must grovel before Israel and abjectly kowtow to every Israeli demand; and even that would not be enough. He rules out containment from the get-go because to him it requires the surrender of Iran. He wants 100% security for Israel.
In the real world, Iran signed the JPCOA agreement on July 14, 2015. Iran agreed to significant restrictions and inspections, which I quote
“Under the agreement, Iran agreed to eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium by 98%, and reduce by about two-thirds the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years. For the next 15 years, Iran will only enrich uranium up to 3.67%. Iran also agreed not to build any new heavy-water facilities for the same period of time. Uranium-enrichment activities will be limited to a single facility using first-generation centrifuges for 10 years.”
Iran shelved its nuclear program since the agreement went into effect. The IAEA found no violations except some minor technical one. Iran still wants the agreement. Israel still has its nuclear arsenal, and Iran still has no nuclear bombs.
Podhoretz in 2013 could not imagine anything other than war on Iran for a good reason. He believes that Israel won’t ever be 100% safe until it militarily destroys the Iranian regime and puts in place a regime that is under Israel’s control. He wants 100% security for Israel, and the only way to assure it is complete military victory over Iran. Any degree of independence of any Iran regime will not suffice to achieve his goal.
This position is completely unreasonable, because no state has a right to demand 100% security for itself by suppressing other states, plus doing so forcibly. One has no right to achieve perfect security by means of aggression. One has to live with risks, threats, and possibilities, if others are to have the same freedoms and rights. The belief in this false right of one’s own security by means of invading the rights of one’s neighbors is the flaw in the Bush Doctrine. It is why Podhoretz praised the Bush Doctrine so much. It fit his own flawed philosophy. Both men, assured in their own minds that they are entitled to 100% security, are willing by any means of force to remove all possibility of future, current and incipient threats, even if this entails massive destruction of the rights of others.
The extreme position of Podhoretz is also the position of a cluster of neoconservatives who want American power to dominate the world. Trump and Pompeo at this moment have articulated positions that may easily tip over into full-scale war against Iran, because if they destroy what is now effective containment, what other course is left? Will Iran grovel and abjectly give in? Maybe, but it’s not likely.
“Given how very unlikely it is that President Obama, despite his all-options-on-the-table protestations to the contrary, would ever take military action, the only hope rests with Israel. If, then, Israel fails to strike now, Iran will get the bomb. And when it does, the Israelis will be forced to decide whether to wait for a nuclear attack and then to retaliate out of the rubble, or to pre-empt with a nuclear strike of their own. But the Iranians will be faced with the same dilemma. Under these unprecedentedly hair-trigger circumstances, it will take no time before one of them tries to beat the other to the punch.”
Podhoretz clearly assumes that Iran is irrational, where he says that Israel can’t wait for a nuclear attack. He assumes that Iran is willing to destroy Israel even if it itself is destroyed by Israel’s nuclear arsenal. What’s more likely is that each will deter the other. If Iran has already negotiated and signed an agreement and is abiding by it, isn’t this evidence that Iran is rational? Don’t we have more such evidence in the tolerance with which Iran treats its Jewish population? And if Israel is rational, could she not make concessions to Iran or both make concessions such as to enhance the safety of both countries? The thing that’s irrational is attempting to get 100% safety for oneself.
“And so my counsel to proponents of the new consensus is to consider the unspeakable horrors that would then be visited not just on Israel and Iran but on the entire region and beyond. The destruction would be far worse than any imaginable consequences of an Israeli conventional strike today when there is still a chance to put at least a temporary halt, and conceivably even a permanent one, to the relentless Iranian quest for the bomb.”
Here again, events proved him wrong. An agreement was reached that created a significant halt in Iran’s nuclear research and development. Its quest for the bomb turned out not to be as relentless as Podhoretz imagined it to be.
Did Podhoretz think that Israel could strike Iran with conventional weapons without causing Iran to declare war on Israel? If so, he thought that Iran would be rational in its non-retaliation because it would face Israel’s nuclear superiority. What if Iran reacted in the irrational way that Podhoretz earlier imagined was in its character? What if Iran retaliated? Then Israel might attack Iran with nuclear weapons; and it would almost surely attack if Israelis were dying or losses mounting. In other words, Podhoretz countenances a holocaust in Iran in order to assure Israel’s 100% safety. This is what follows from an erroneous moral philosophy in which 100% safety is regarded as a rightful goal that permits one to use force against one’s neighbors.9:18 am on May 6, 2018 Email Michael S. Rozeff