Dershowitz Peddling More Middle East Myths

Leaving aside his tiresome, and by now self-discrediting, reductio ad Chamberlinum argument, Alan Dershowitz's op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal is a useful reminder that his tendency toward dishonesty isn't limited to the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He's dishonest about Iran, too:

Regardless of his passage of health-care reform and regardless of whether he restores jobs and helps the economy recover, Mr. Obama will be remembered for allowing Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. History will not treat kindly any leader who allows so much power to be accumulated by the world's first suicide nation -- a nation whose leaders have not only expressed but, during the Iran-Iraq war, demonstrated a willingness to sacrifice millions of their own people to an apocalyptic mission of destruction.

Without downplaying the risks of a nuclear weapons-capable Iran, this is just nuts. Generally accepted estimates put war-related casualties for both sides in the Iran-Iraq war (a war initiated by Iraq, not an "apocalyptic mission of destruction" by Iran) at about one and a half million. I'm not sure where Dershowitz got the idea that Iran sacrificed "millions" of its own people. (Someone should probably check the footnotes of Joan Peters' From Time Immemorial, just in case.)

While a million and a half casualties is certainly a tragedy, Global Security puts this in historical perspective:

Without diminishing the horror of either war, Iranian losses in the eight-year Iran-Iraq war appear modest compared with those of the European contestants in the four years of World War I, shedding some light on the limits of the Iranian tolerance for martyrdom. The war claimed at least 300,000 Iranian lives and injured more than 500,000, out of a total population which by the war's end was nearly 60 million. During the Great War, German losses were over 1,700,000 killed and over 4,200,000 wounded [out of a total population of over 65 million]. Germany's losses, relative to total national population, were at least five times higher than Iran. France suffered over 1,300,000 deaths and over 4,200,000 wounded. The percentages of pre-war population killed or wounded were 9% of Germany, 11% of France, and 8% of Great Britain.

And then, a few years later, Europe had another huge war, in which millions more people were killed. But the West is civilized, whereas in Iran they wear turbans.

As for Dershowitz's repetition of the irretrievably stupid "Iran as suicide nation" talking point, this provides a good opportunity for me to cite my former colleague Andy Grotto's recently published article, "Is Iran A Martyr State?"

"The martyr state view rests on bold, even radical claims about Iran's goals and behavior that defy conventional expectations of states' actions," Grotto writes, "but no government in recorded history has willfully pursued policies it knows will proximately cause its own destruction":

Given the novelty of the martyr state argument, its major implications for policy, and how unequivocally its proponents present it, one would expect to encounter an avalanche of credible evidence.

Yet that is not the case. References are scarce in this line of writings, and certain references are cited with striking regularity.

Grotto determines that the "martyr state" view essentially rests upon a few neoconservative op-eds and a laughably shoddy report by a right-wing Israeli think tank, whose claims have been repeated again and again such that they now represent an article of faith for the "Bomb Iran" set.

The Iranian regime has demonstrated repeatedly that it's primary goal is regime preservation. As Grotto writes, "there are vivid episodes in Iran's history where it has confronted a clear choice between absolute fealty to religious ideals such as martyrdom and exporting the revolution, and regime survival," such as its decision to accept a U.N.-brokered ceasefire in its "apocalyptic mission of destruction" war with Iraq.

"If and when Iran crosses the nuclear threshold," Grotto concludes, "there is nothing inherent about the Islamic Republic to suggest that it cannot be deterred from using nuclear weapons or transferring them to its terrorist proxies."

The main risk of a nuclear Iran is not religiously-motivated nuclear war, but the traditional-and very grave-problems posed by the spread of nuclear weapons, including regional arms races, crisis instability, miscalculation, and the fact that nuclear weapons would reduce the ability of Israel and the United States to project conventional military power over it.

In other words, the prospect of a nuclear weapons-capable Iran is troubling enough without bringing in hysterical claims about it being a "suicide nation."