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Missile Defense and Iran

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Michael Goldfarb dissents from my conclusions on the implications of the NIE on missile defense, and further asserts that liberals should love missile defense:

And finally, liberals fundamentally misunderstand the effect of deploying a missile defense system–it would decrease the likelihood of conflict, not increase it. Missile defense would provide decision makers with one more option in a world where options are the scarcest commodity.

Imagine the U.S. intelligence community, or more likely their Israeli counterpart, is able to determine with some degree of certainty that the Iranians are mere months away from an operational nuclear capability. Right now, they’d have two options: bomb or do nothing, aka diplomacy. But if those leaders could have some confidence in their ability to shoot down an Iranian missile, wouldn’t this strengthen the argument for doing nothing–the argument Farley would most certainly be making. As it is, the American people would likely demand military action, but missile defense would give liberals a fall-back position–‘it doesn’t matter if they build a nuclear missile, we can shoot it down.’

Uh… no.

Let me explain the concept of “deterrence”. Deterrence means the creation in the mind of on adversary the belief that the costs of an action will outweigh the benefits. In this specific sense, it means creating in the mind of the Iranians the belief that they’ll suffer drastic consequences for doing things like firing nuclear missiles at other countries. Now, I tend to think that the dramatic military supremacy of the United States over Iran in any conceivable military confrontation is enough to deter Iran from firing nuclear missiles at random European targets. As such, I reject Michael’s premise; because of deterrence, we don’t need to overly worry about the threat of Iran committing national suicide by firing a nuke at Paris or Berlin. Indeed, this has pretty much always been the liberal position on missile defense; even the job it purports to do can be done better by deterrence. Of course, it’s been a wingnutty article of faith that the leaders of Iran are not sensitive to costs, but whatever else it has to say, I think that the NIE has put that argument decisively to bed. Backing me up on that I have no less august authority than Victor Davis Hanson, who noted recently that Iran is not a suicidal state and is sensitive to costs. Now, a sensible reader might reply “but isn’t Victor Davis Hanson an unredeemed hack who can’t be trusted to supply reliable information about his academic specialty, much less the decision-making process of the Iranian state?” The answer is yes, but the point still holds.

So, since in my world liberals are against throwing money away on weapon systems that have dramatic and unsolved technical problems, that agitate foreign countries (while it might be objected that Russia is already irritable, that’s no reason to poke it with a sharp stick for no good reason), that are extremely expensive, and whose flimsy strategic rationale has vanished like an April frost, I’d have to say that liberals like myself are quite rational in our belief that missile defense is a pointless waste.

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