Wednesday, April 01, 2009

It's Just A Game To These People

At least in their understanding of how the world works, if this from Joshua Muravchik via Matt Eckel regarding how to deal with Iran's nuclear program is any indication:

...if we bomb and do wholesale damage to its nuclear weapons program, then the clock starts running on the next round.

And I donʹt see any reason to assume that, technologically, Iran is going to beat us in the next round. That is, they will be trying to find new ways to fortify and hide and what have you, their rebuilt nuclear weapons program, if, in fact, they do attempt to rebuild it.

And we, in turn, will move forward with developing better bunker‐busting bombs or whatever else we need, and with additional intelligence, to find out where those things are and to have the capability to hit them ...

Okay so if you follow Muravchik here, we can essentially play a never-ending game of whack-a-mole with the Iranians, dropping a bunker buster now and again each time the little nuclear weapons program pokes its head out from under the ground somewhere. And who doesn't enjoy whack-a-mole, right? It's a great game!

Allow me to share with you an anecdote from my youth. Back in middle school and high school, my dorky friends and I use to love to play war games. We loved war games so much that we didn't want to stop playing them even when we were at school. So I created a sort of role-playing war game, which involved no board and where I served as something of a game master. My friends would issue "orders" to me at the beginning of the day, which I would then process that evening instead of doing my homework, and I'd give them a short newsletter the next morning that would explain the impact of their various moves. Generally our games involves us playing as various countries of the world, and inevitably these countries would end up at war until the players' countries were destroyed and players eliminated but for whatever coalition or player remained to claim victory.

As you can imagine, when a group of teenage boys play a completely open war game that ends only when they or their countries are obliterated, pretty much all the stops are pulled out in an effort to win. Diplomacy was often surreptitious, betrayal frequent, war inevitably broke out in short order, nukes were nearly always deployed, and no one blinked an eye at massacring whole populations in an effort to win. The craziness and brutality of attacks were limited only by what sort of retaliation it might invite and my lack of tolerance as game master for completely "unrealistic" scenarios. In one of these particular games, much joy was taken out of the manner in which players would execute the other players whom they had defeated. It was just that kind of game.

Now, in a game like that, the idea of repeatedly bombing your enemy to prevent him from developing some sort of technology would have been completely acceptable. If your enemy was weaker than you and could do nothing about your attacks, then of course you'd bomb him frequently and repeatedly. That might be the least that you do to him. This was feasible because in this game, you were the most powerful autocrat in human history; no one would contest your warmongering, because there was essentially no public to be angry with you and no rivals in your own nation to your power. No other powers would exert economic power against you, because there was essentially no economy in the game. No international bodies would condemn your violation of human rights, and if I had bothered to create such an entity in the game someone would have simply assassinated them for their trouble. No one would question the wisdom of bombing a country that is peripheral to your vital interests, because your vital interests is brutally subjugating and/or eliminating every rival to your power in the world. And it wouldn't matter what you'd actually do to rule those other nations, because once you won the game it ended. Nobody worried about what any of the actions they took would mean in "real life" because reality means nothing in a game. I tell you all this because it is only slighly overselling the point to say that neocons treat the very real and actual world as a game where the only rules that matter are the ones we create, and in which there are no consequences that we cannot foresee, work around, or ignore.

Now, I'm not saying that neocons like Muravchik think the world functions exactly like a silly game played by high schoolers. But neocons in general display a shocking inability to contend with reality, in a manner that is more befitting someone playing a silly war game. For them, all that matters is what the United States military is technically capable of. Everything else is irrelevant, or at least far less relevant. Could we, in theory, bomb Iran repeatedly indefinitely, for as long as it takes to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons? Perhaps. For Muravchik, that's the first and last question that needs to be asked. If I was playing a game in which there were no political, military, economic or humanitarian consequences for taking such an action, that's probably all I'd care about too. But I'm not, and neither is our country. Absent an unprecedented mass growing-up of neocons across the nation, it's time to put them and their childish ways aside. Running a nation isn't a game, and we don't need the advice of those who treat it like it is.

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