Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Mikhail Gorbachev: The Madness of Nuclear Deterrence

The dangers have only become more acute in the decades since I tried to convince Thatcher.


By  Mikhail Gorbachev


‘Deterrence cannot protect the world from a nuclear blunder or nuclear terrorism,” George Shultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn recently wrote. “Both become more likely when there is no sustained, meaningful dialogue between Washington and Moscow.” I agree with them about the urgent need for strategic engagement between the U.S. and Russia. I am also convinced that nuclear deterrence, instead of protecting the world, is keeping it in constant jeopardy.

I recall my heated discussions of this issue with Margaret Thatcher. We argued about many things and often found common ground, but on this question she fought to the last. Nuclear weapons, she insisted, prevented World War III.

I asked her: “Are you really comfortable sitting on a nuclear powder keg?” I showed her a diagram representing the world’s nuclear arsenals, grouped into hundreds of squares. Each square, I told her, is enough to eliminate human civilization as we know it. I was unable to persuade Margaret Thatcher. We hear the same arguments today, including in the U.S. and Russia.

Yet nuclear weapons are like a rifle hanging on the wall in a play written and staged by a person unknown. We do not know the playwright’s intent. Nuclear weapons could go off because of a technical failure, human error or computer error. The last alarms me the most. Computer systems are now used everywhere. And how many times have computers and electronics failed—in aviation, in industry, in various control systems?

Nuclear weapons might also be launched in response to a false alarm. If the flight time of the missiles is reduced, leaving less time to detect a false alarm, the probability of a mistaken retaliatory launch is bound to rise.

Nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists. And who knows what other “surprises” these weapons have in store for us?

Those who believe nuclear weapons can save the world from war should recall the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. A dispute over the placement of Soviet nuclear weapons put the world on the brink of war. Recently published documents show how close the world came to the fateful line. It was not nuclear weapons that saved the world, but the sobering up of the two countries’ leaders, John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. I am sure they thought long and hard, then and afterward, and their perception of nuclear weapons changed a great deal.

What’s more, they reached agreement on ending nuclear tests in the atmosphere, in outer space and under water, thus slowing the qualitative weapons race as well as protecting the air from the deadly products of nuclear explosions.

The opportunity to continue progress in nuclear arms control was then squandered. The military-industrial complex won out over common sense. Only much later, toward the end of the 1980s, were we able to stop the arms race. Today, the U.S. and Russia are at a perilous crossroads. They must stop and think. The veterans of the Cold War have spoken. It is now up to our nations’ leaders to act.

Mr. Gorbachev is former president of the Soviet Union.



Sunday, April 28, 2019

US thinking ‘out of the box’

Regarding “Friedman to ‘Post’: US thinking ‘out of the box’” (April 25), US Ambassador David Friedman told The Jerusalem Post the Trump administration peace plan is an effort to “think out of the box and capture the imagination and hopes of both sides for a better life.” 

The problem with this statement is that Islam, in addition to being a religion, is also a political ideology, and “hopes for a better life” for the followers of Islamic ideology will never, ever, find common ground with the hopes of the adherents to a liberal Western democracy.    


Saturday, April 27, 2019

Victor Davis Hanson: The Case for Trump

I abstained from voting in the 2016 presidential elections. I could not vote for the corrupt Hillary Clinton who would have continued with the absurd and dangerous Iran Deal, nor could I trust the apparently unpredictable Donald Trump.

Apart from a few, most of my friends would cringe if I were to recommend them this book by Victor Davis Hanson.   But I am doing precisely that.  VDH clearly explains how Trump won:

“As it turned out, Trump would win three key swing states once deemed irrevocably blue: Michigan (by a 0.2 percent margin), Pennsylvania (0.7 percent), and Wisconsin (0.8 percent). Or in other words, Trump won the election because about eighty thousand voters in just three states swung his way”

And he explains why they supported him:

“Apparently, a third of the voters saw him as something analogous to chemotherapy, which after all is used to combat something far worse than itself. Such toxicity was felt to be needed to kill the cancer  (i.e. , the politics and bureaucracy of the proverbial deep state ), even as the dosage might nearly kill the patient ( the Trump voter) during the taxing therapy ( the 24/7 media obsession with all things Trump).”

Victor Davis Hanson’s book is a must for anybody who wants to understand what has been happening in the US.  I believe VDH  in this book gives a better insight into the Trump phenomenon than  Never Trumper  Bret Stephens has done in his anti-Trump articles .  Stephens with all his excellent analyses of  Israel related issues here and here, was somewhat blinded by his dislike of Trump. It was not Stephens’s only blind spot.

For me, the greatest move Trump has so far accomplished is the US withdrawal from the Iran deal.

As I put it in my post:

Thank you President Trump for withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. Finally someone found the guts to stand up to the spineless Europeans and show that the Iran deal’s sunset clause was so absurd that it alone justified quitting the deal. Now the US and Israel have to educate the rest of the world and quote Bernard Lewis’s warning “For people with this mindset, Mutually Assured Destruction is not a constraint; it is an inducement...”     

The good news is that Trump has now Michael Pompeo as his Secretary of State and John Bolton as his National Security Advisor.

“The addition of both the hawkish Pompeo and Bolton in early 2018 allowed Trump to switch from his prior “bad cop” role of threatening fire and fury and scarcely being restrained by his sober and judicious advisors.  Not now. Trump would talk more like “good cop” who warned foreign leaders that he might have to reign some of his team like Bolton and Pompeo, who wanted stronger reactions to perceived foreign   acts”.

I found Victor Davis Hanson’s characterization of Trump as the Tragic Hero fascinating .  He compares Trump to General George S. Patton,  General Curtis  LeMay,  architect  of the low-level  B-29 raids over Japan,  even to Achilles in Homer’s Illiad  and to Clint Eastwood’s Inspector  “Dirty”  Harry Callahan.

“What makes such men and women both tragic and heroic is their knowledge that the natural expression of their personas can lead only to their own destruction or ostracism from an advancing civilization that they seek to protect” 

VDH concludes his book with:  

“In sum, the Trump paradox remained as much a mystery to his progressive critics as it always had – and perhaps always will”.

And not only to progressives.  I remain skeptical about Trump’s grasp of the Middle East.  The answer I got from Rudy Giuliani about Trump’s proclaimed neutrality in the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a good illustration: “Rudy Giuliani answered (the exact wording I cannot recall)  that he had  known Donald Trump for many years and that Trump had this incredible tendency to say stupid things before he thinks. Trump had made an unfortunate comment but that he is a friend of Israel.

We have yet to see what Trump’s peace plan will look like. 

Friday, April 19, 2019

A surprise in Prague

Having spent as a foreign student 6 years in the USSR, not much in the history of Communism should come as a surprise to me. Yet I was completely shocked by the size of this monument to Stalin I had never heard of, the photo of which is displayed in Prague’s Museum of Communism.  The actual monument was unveiled in 1955 and destroyed in 1962.

Although Czechoslovakia was under the Nazis from March 1939 till the end of WWll, and under Soviet domination from 1948 till the Velvet Revolution of 1989, it has been free (as the Czech Republic since 1993) for the last 30 years! So all this is now history.  All the youth I saw in the Museum of Communism and the Cold War Museum have been born in freedom. I have become a dinosaur! I remember August 21, 1968, the day of the invasion!  

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Why I voted Bibi

They say that this election is not about issues but a referendum on Bibi.   

But issues do matter and in my mind there is only one issue to which all other issues are dependent on. Israel has to protect itself from an Iranian nuclear attack.  The issues of education, housing and corruption would be irrelevant in the rubble after a nuclear exchange.  

Iran hardly figured in the pre-election discussion. So it is not the obvious “Bibi fatigue” that is prevalent but the “Iranian nuclear threat fatigue” that dominates. However, Iran has not vanished and we were just reminded of it by president Trump last night when he designated Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as a foreign terrorist group. Isn’t it odd that the US is more concerned about Iran than Israel?

Out of the 4 leaders of Blue and White, Lapid and Gantz supported Obama's deal which was a disaster. Ya'alon changed his mind and now says that at this point, and in the foreseeable future, there is no existential threat facing Israel.  Gabi Ashkenazi along with Meir Dagan prevented Bibi and Barak from attacking Iranian nuclear sites in 2010. Then the breakout time was 6 months, now it is 3 months. By the time the Iran Deal expires the breakout time will be 0.

So the referendum should be on the person who is best prepared to preempt Iran if Iran goes for breakout.  The leader(s) who prevented Netanyahu in 2010 from attacking the Iranian nuclear sites, or Netanyahu who already proved that he can make a decision of this importance?  Take your pick.  I have.

Why is it so crucial to stop Iran from ever getting the bomb?  Norman Podhoretz explains

“Now I will give you my answer to this. That's' Bernard's answer to the question.   My answer to the question is to imagine a scenario which most people are horrified. I've tried this in speeches all the time, people shy away from it. Imagine that Iran gets the bomb. OK and the Israelis are sitting there and asking  themselves, do we wait for them to hit us and then retaliate out of the rubble or do we preempt it first?   The Iranians are asking themselves the same question. Do we wait for the Israelis to hit us or do we hit them first. We've never had a hair trigger situation like that since the invention of nuclear weapons. If you just imagine the rulers of Iran asking  themselves  that question. Somebody is gonna beat the other to the punch. And I can't see that unstable situation lasting for very long, maybe even as along as a few weeks or months”

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The election campaign ad Netanyahu should have used


Peter Robinson:
Norman Podhoretz,  in an interview in Arutz Sheva, how is it pronounced?  - 

Norman Podhoretz:

Aruttz Sheva 

Peter Robinson:

Quote, quoting you .. If Iran gets the bomb it is hard, if not impossible, to see how a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel could be avoided". Close quote. 
Now you know the answer to that . The Soviet Union had the bomb and we had the bomb and we sat facing each other for four and a half decades and did not engage in a nuclear exchange.

Norman Podhoretz:  

I will give you Bernard Lewis's answer to that question, and then I will give you my own. Bernard Lewis points out that deterrence worked with the Soviets and the Chinese because the Soviets were not  suicidal and they knew that if they launched a first strike there would be a second strike tha    which would annihilate them   --- mutual assured destruction 

Peter Robinson:

And it worked 

Norman Podhoretz  

Mutual Assured Destruction can't  work in relation to Iran because these are people who are in love with  death 

Bernard Lewis:
For them it is not a deterrent, it is an inducement      

Peter Robinson:

Truly? Truly?

Norman Podhoretz:  

Now I will give you my answer to this. That's' Bernard's answer to the question.  My answer to the question is to imagine a scenario which most people are horrified. I've tried this in speeches all the time, people shy away from it. Imagine that Iran gets the bomb. OK and the Israelis are sitting there and asking themselves, do we wait for them to hit us and then retaliate out of the rubble or do we preempt it first?   The Iranians are asking themselves the same question. Do we wait for the Israelis to hit us or do we hit them first. We've never had a hair trigger situation like that since the invention of nuclear weapons . If you just imagine the rulers of Iran asking themselves that question. Somebody is gonna beat the other to the punch. And I can't see that unstable situation lasting for very long, maybe even as along as a few weeks or months.

Peter Robinson:

And you would agree, here is what I find so striking. 

You  will hear it said among people who are not deep students of this situation that the notion that  glorious death is an inducement to the radicals in the Muslim world, not a deterrent,  and here I sit across the man who has devoted his life to the study of Islam, who is universally regarded as the greatest living historian in the world of Islam, and he says, yes as a matter of fact, that's exactly right, it is an inducement, deterrence would not work. You confirm that?

Bernard Lewis 

Yes I would do, yes, with those who are committed believers in the old sense.  

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Denial or fear to explicitly acknowledge the danger we are in?

Caroline Glick presenting the New Right platform

Last night I attended a pre-election meeting at BGU at which representatives of various parties explained their platforms and it was moderated by the Times of Israel's senior analyst Haviv Rettig Gur.  
The question I intended to ask was:
Professor Bernard Lewis, who by the way was here at BGU some 13 years ago,  wrote: "In this context, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, namely M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction) , would have no meaning.  At the End of Time, there will be general   destruction anyway.  What will matter is the final destination of the dead-- hell for the infidels, and the delights of heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an inducement..."
So, according to Bernard Lewis, Iran cannot be deterred. Why is this not  being discussed in the election campaign?   Only two Israeli politicians ever quoted Bernard Lewis - Benjamin Netanyahu at the UN GA in 2012 and Michael Oren in his LA Times article in 2015. Why is this a taboo subject? 
I was told by the moderator that my question was too long so I shortened Bernard Lewis's quote to its very essence.
The answers I got were not to the question I asked. Some said that there is a consensus in Israel on the Iranian threat. True, there is a consensus that there is a threat from Iran.  But few seem to understand the implications of the MAD doctrine having no meaning when it comes to Iran. It is the character and therefore magnitude of the threat that matters. The representative from the Blue and White party quoted Gantz's statement  that he will never permit a nuclear Iran, but he never explained WHY it is imperative to prevent Iran from getting the bomb. There was also a comment that it would be a disaster not only for Israel but for the whole world. I could not agree more.
But that was not what I asked. Nobody explained why Bernard Lewis, one of the most renowned scholars of the Middle East,  is not being quoted nor why there is no discussion in the campaign about his warning. The nearest to answering my question was Caroline Glick who said that this was a strategic issue and difficult to discuss.  It still does not explain why nobody, including her, ever quotes Bernard Lewis on MAD.  
Meretz and Labor kept emphasizing the "real issues" , i.e. education, housing, corruption -- however,  all this would have no meaning after a nuclear war, so I am afraid we all live in denial. Some have probably heard of what Bernard Lewis said but think that he is wrong since no Iranian mullah would be willing to sacrifice himself, they only send their followers to do so. Others probably believe that the very possibility that Iran gets the bomb is very slim so why bother what they would do if they do get it.  
I think we are in deep shit. We are either living in denial or are just too scared to explicitly acknowledge the danger we are in.  Would quoting Bernard Lewis help? I think it would, but there is nothing we can do to change minds on this.   


Bernard Lewis and Norman Podhoretz on Iran and MAD