And the Krauthammer Award for Lazy Mendacity goes to… Charles Krauthammer. In the process of using the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz to shill for war against Iran, Chuckie writes:
Didn’t it [deterrence] work against the Soviets? Well, just 17 years into the atomic age,we came harrowingly close to deterrence failure and all-out nuclear war. Moreover, godless communists anticipate no reward in heaven. Atheists calculate differently from jihadists with their cult of death. Name one Soviet suicide bomber.
Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, known as a moderate, once characterized tiny Israel as a one-bomb country. He acknowledged Israel’s deterrent capacity but noted the asymmetry: “Application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.” Result? Israel eradicated, Islam vindicated. So much for deterrence.
As Krauthammer undoubtedly knows, Cold War hawks regularly invoked the atheism of Soviet and Chinese leaders as justification for concern about Communist nuclear programs. Atheists, with no fear of eternal punishment and no hope of heavenly reward, could not be trusted to value life. In addition to providing a useful explanation for genocidal Soviet policies in Ukraine, the Stalinist purges, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution, the Communist-as-indifferent-to-life trope helped justify attacks on deterrence theory. If Mao and Stalin cared so little about human life that they were willing to kill tens of millions of their own people, then it made no sense to trust their rationality with respect to pushing the button.
And, as Krauthammer is surely aware, there were Soviet suicide bombers. On June 26, 1941 (at least in Soviet propaganda; the reality is murkier) a Soviet pilot named Nikolai Gastello plunged his bomber into a column of German tanks. Suicidal ramming was not an uncommon tactics by Soviet pilots early in the war, the official atheism of the Soviet state notwithstanding. And while I can certainly sympathize with (and even admire) the willingness of Soviet pilots to engage in suicidal self-sacrifice while fighting the Nazis, the question that Krauthammer poses is whether godless communists, who anticipate no reward in heaven, can nevertheless be motivated by nationalistic and ideological commitments to undertake suicide attacks. The answer is yes. The answer is also “yes” for Vietnamese Communists, who were sufficiently motivated by nationalistic and ideological commitments to undertake suicide attacks in several instances.
With respect to Rafsanji, I can only assume that Krauthammer appreciates that rhetorical invocations of an Islamic community aside, Iran has behaved far more like a nation-state than an apocalyptic death cult. Indeed, the Islamic Republic has, thus far, demonstrated remarkably little interest in committing national suicide in the service of “vindicating” Islam. And as Middle East watchers have long noted, while Iran isn’t shy about rhetorically embracing the tactic of suicide bombing (and supporting such tactics in proxies), actually instances of Iranians engaging in suicide attacks are quite rare.
At this point, I find the lazy almost more irritating than the mendacity. Krauthammer is a rhetorician, largely indifferent to the accuracy of the claims that he makes, but in the past he’s made at least a middling effort to distance himself from the rabble by striking an erudite pose. In his old age, this seems to be slipping. One would hope that the editors of the Washington Post would expect more from one of their front line columnists, but alas…