USS Clueless - A letter from Tehran

Stardate 20031201.0147

(Captain's log): The following email seems genuine. (The originating IP belongs to a block which RIPE says is assigned to Iran.)

Though I often disagree with you, I enjoy your posts—they are thoughtful and provocative. But, sitting in my apartment in Tehran, I can’t help but oscillate between despondency and amusement these days. Do you not see what’s happening to you folks out in the yonder lands? Debating “final solution” are we? Mass murder in a cool, collected way? Killing over a billion, or is it perhaps just a few hundred million? Nuking a city or two, or is it only just the vicinity of a large metropolitan area? Issuing ultimatums to the world to take sides between mass murderers in ties or those with rags on their heads? Even here where passions run high and surrounded as we are by a bunch of religious bigots, I don’t hear discussions framed quite that way.

How long before your self definition and your idealized notion of yourself as a decent citizen of the America the Good will have become contradictory to the reality of the actions you promote or support? At what point does the reality—the price in blood, bones and flesh, and yes principles—will have been too much for you personally?

How much violations of civil liberties globally are you willing to tolerate and still believe yourself a promoter of the rule of law? How many people are you willing to see killed and still view yourself as a force for Good? How much torture are you going to tolerate in the interest of some anticipated favorable future outcome? What action or specific set of actions will it take to cross the boundary for you into the realm of the Dishonorable? No hiding behind an abstract idea of a country this time. No resorting to an unimaginative defense and an easy dismissal of questions as a manifestation of knee-jerk “anti-Americanism.” This is personal. Man to man. Citizen to citizen. You and me. I want to see what kind of people I share this planet with. At what point are you (you personally) going to say this is too much of a price for me?

War is an ugly thing. Horrible things are done in war, and everyone on all sides has to do them, even "the good guys", assuming there are any.

But no one is served well by refusing to think clearly about the alternatives. In order to make decisions about what we should do, as purportedly civilized people who wish to win while doing as little horrible as we can, we need to consider all the alternatives available to us, and coldly appraise what they would lead to. If we know one alternative has a high chance of a billion deaths in nuclear armageddon, and another alternative has much less chance of that happening, then obviously the second is a much better choice.

One of the reasons I wrote about how I thought the US would act in case of a nuclear attack against us was to make clear why it was that we had to do everything we can, NOW, to make sure that doesn't happen.

I know my nation. I know my people. We don't want to destroy you all. But if you (I mean "Muslims") place us in a position where only you or us can survive, it's going to be us, and you'll all be dead. We can do that; we've had that capability for a very long time. We don't want to, but we will if we must.

But it would be better, for you and for us, if it did not come to that.

If those fighting against my nation were similarly realistic about their analysis of the future, and performed a similarly cold appraisal of consequences of their actions, everyone would be in much less peril. Unfortunately, they refuse to do so because they're blinded by ideology and hatred, and some of them at least seem to be following the path which leads to the worst disaster scenario.

From my study of the history of war, I know is that if both sides refuse to think things through and coldly appraise the situation, then things can turn extremely ugly extremely rapidly. Thus I have been attempting to consider various scenarios, and trying to extrapolate what I think will happen in such cases, and how awful things could get, in part in order to make clear why it is that we cannot let those cases happen. The earlier we can become aware of such terrible possibilities, the greater the chance we have of avoiding them.

If my nation was made up of the kind of monsters who "debate final solutions" and feel no qualms about "mass murder", you'd already be dead, because Tehran would have been converted to a glowing crater about 12 hours after the collapse of the WTC towers.

How long before the cost in blood is too great? It's already too great. It was too great after the first person died on September 11, 2001. But that's when the war started. My people are not monsters; we didn't want this war. If you want to look for monsters, look no further than al Qaeda and ask them about mass murder, and ask them why they started the war.

If you learn nothing else about America, learn this and imprint it on your brain in glowing colors: we will never surrender. There are many ways this war can end. That's not one of them.

So if you want the war to end, then you better start working to restrain the worst and most militant elements within Islamic society which started the war against the US, and who continue to fight it. We're quite willing to stop and call it a draw, but we cannot and will not stop as long as the threat continues to exist against us, and we won't accept a "temporary ceasefire" with a later renewal of hostilities (which is to say, continuing terrorist attacks against us). As long as we think there are militant groups out there who mean to attack us, the war will go on. As soon as those militant groups have been rooted out and annihilated, the war will be over.

So the only question is how that will happen.

You can clean out the vermin in your own house, or you can have us clean out the vermin for you, or you can refuse to clean it and prevent us from doing so, in that case you will watch while we blow your house up in order to destroy the vermin, the extremist Islamic militants who started this war and who want to continue fighting it. Those are your only choices. But you better not plan on us giving up and letting your militants win, by letting them slaughter us when and where they want. We will not stand idly by while they plan attacks against us to slaughter us. As long as we face that threat, we will continue to fight.

It's not a question of my nation making a decision whether people will die. Islamic militants made that decision. America's only decision now is who will die, and where and when. If we stand by idly and passively, then it will be Americans who die, whenever and wherever the Islamic extremists choose to kill them, probably in huge numbers.

We don't consider that acceptable. That's surrender. That's not going to happen.

Instead, we're attempting to take control of events, in hopes that we can minimize the total number of deaths caused by this war. That's why we've embarked on the highly risky and unprecedented strategy we're following. If we were only concerned with minimizing American casualties and if we didn't care about anyone else, then every major Muslim city on the planet would have been vaporized by September 15, 2001, and the war would have ended in a week.

But we're trying to minimize the total number of deaths, not just American deaths. In particular, we're trying to minimize the number of Muslims who have to die. So we sent our young men into combat; we sacrificed some of our own in order to try to save Muslim lives – because we think you are important, and we want you to keep living. Our men are sacrificing their lives for you in Tehran, because what we're trying to do in Iraq seems to be the only way to keep the body count in this war from making WWII look small. Is it the act of a monstrous nation to sacrifice its own men to save the lives of people in hostile nations?

As long as we see a reasonable chance of winning this war with a relatively small body count, we'll continue on the path we've chosen.

But if we reach the point where we face the stark choice between surrendering and letting our people be slaughtered, or committing nuclear genocide, then you better kiss your ass goodbye.

Based on that analysis, don't you think it would be wise for you and your fellow Muslims to make sure my nation never reaches that point? How many deaths and how much blood is it worth to you? If we're monsters for sacrificing our men in order to avoid killing you all, are you not worse monsters for tolerating those who seem hellbent on trying to bring about your destruction?

We don't want to kill you, and we don't want you to surrender to us. We just want you to stop your fellow Muslims from trying to kill us. Do that, and this war is over.

Update: Drumwaster comments.

Update: TMLutas comments.
Brian O'Connell comments.

Update DSmith comments.

Update: Balasubramania comments. (IMHO, he should have read the entire thing. It might have made more sense to him.)

Update 20031202: Edward Morrissey comments.

Update: Jim Lynch comments.

Update: Crusader War College comments.

Update: Norbizness comments. (I am "foreign policy guru to the stars" and Glenn Reynolds is a "dimwitted quote-hound".)

Update: Mike Trettel comments.

Update 20031203: And now Kriston comes to the defense of Norbizness and Balasubramania.

Update: Solly Ezekiel comments.

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