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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Jon Henke

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Jon Henke

Last Build Date: Fri, 21 Apr 2006 14:59:22 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007

The Archetype Fallacy

Fri, 21 Apr 2006 14:59:22 -0600

This invocation of a "new Hitler" -- what Glenn Greenwald calls a "cheap equivalence between Hitler and the tyrant de jour" -- has long been an unfortunate component of US foreign policy debate. Such hyperbole produces an "It's Munich again, see, and the times require gumption and spine and fortitude--not the cowardice of the Eastern Establishment" kind of juvenile chest-thumping that Gregory Djerejian fears will overwhelm serious foreign policy analysis within the punditocracy. Cato Institute Foreign Policy Analyst Justin Logan called the nonsensical "objectively pro-Hitler" aspect of this argument "The Fallacy of '39"... ...can we get a name for inappropriately invoking the appeasement of Nazis? This is a tactic frequently used by neocons and various sundry warmongers who wish to portray opposing various wars as morally equivalent to pulling up a lawn chair and a Corona to watch the Holocaust. The other main aspect of this argument is what I'll call The Archetype Fallacy: the tendency, when confronted with a foreign enemy, to "assume Hitler." It is, of course, manifestly true that there are important lessons to be learned from WWII, in which an overly conciliatory foreign policy allowed a clear threat to grow out of control. But before we man the barricades against our worst fears, let's recall that there are also lessons to be learned from WWI, in which an overly anxious foreign policy led Europe into a war they did not have to fight. A foreign policy which assumes the worst may prevent another WWII; or may only start another WWI. Hitler was the perfect model of an evil threat, and the temptation to use that archetype as a rhetorical bludgeon is powerful. (who, after all, wants to discount the next Hitler or be the next Chamberlain?) Certainly, it's important to incorporate that possibility into our foreign policy calculation of Iran. But that's far from the entire calculation, and there are many reasons to be far more cautious, including... • The likelihood that Iran is still years away from having a nuclear bomb. US Intelligence estimates place Iran 5-10 years away from nuclear weapons; Arms Control expert Jeffrey Lewis at lists various technical problems that offer reason to be skeptical, despite Ahmadinejad's boasts, of any near-term nuclear weapons capability. • The likelihood that a US attack would only strengthen our enemies and weaken our allies within Iran ("the worst of [Iran's] leaders positively want to be bombed--and are doing their level best to bring that about" -- Edward Luttwak, in Commentary) • The likely consequences of a US attack on Iran. As a CSIS report by Anthony Cordesman outlined, those consequences include... "Retaliate against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan overtly using Shahab-3 missiles armed with CBR warheads Use proxy groups including al-Zarqawi and Sadr in Iraq to intensify the insurgency and escalate the attacks against US forces and Iraqi Security Forces Turn the Shi'ite majority in Iraq against the US presence and demand US forces to leave Attack the US homeland with suicide bombs by proxy groups or deliver CBR weapons to al-Qa'ida to use against the US Use its asymmetric capabilities to attacks US interests in the region including soft targets: e.g. embassies,commercial centers, and American citizens Attack US naval forces stationed in the Gulf with anti-ship missiles, asymmetric warfare, and mines Attack Israel with missile attacks possibly with CBR warheads Retaliate against energy targets in the Gulf and temporarily shut off the flow of oil from the Strait of Hormuz Stop all of its oil and gas shipments to increase the price of oil, inflict damage on the global and US economies." • The likely failure of a US strike against on Iran. In war games, the outcome of a strike was consistently bad... The experts disagreed on some details but were nearly unanimous on one crucial point: what might seem America's ace in the hole--the ability to destroy Iran's nuclear installations in a pre-emptive air strike--was a fantasy. [...]