Originally posted 10/2/2004
In Wind, Sand and Stars, Antoine de Saint-Exupery refers to the legend of the monkey that dances for the boa constrictor–in the hopes that the snake will be so enchanted that it will let the monkey go on living. (St-Ex was making an analogy with a man he met in a village during the Spanish Civil War, who was trying very hard to be extra-friendly to his neighbors…in the hope that they wouldn’t shoot him for political differences.)
It strikes me that there is a lot of dancing for the boa constrictors going on it the world today.
In the debate Thursday night, John Kerry attacked President Bush for underwriting research into bunker-busting nuclear weapons. “I’m going to shut that program down,” says Kerry, arguing that we are not “sending the right message to places like North Korea” when we are pursuing such programs. Evidently, Kerry believes that if we provide the proper role model by abandoning such efforts, then North Korea and Iran will be more inclined to abandon their own nuclear programs.
Which makes about as much sense as arguing, in the late 1930s, that Britain and the U.S. should have provided a better role model for Nazi Germany by abandoning key weapons programs–say, the Spitfire fighter and B-17 bomber. Could any sane person believe that such actions would have led Germany to moderate its behavior? And today, could any informed person not believe that the leaders of Iran and North Korea are cut from cloth very similar to those from which the Nazi leaders were cut?
In this post, Bill Hobbs (link no longer available) explains the importance of the bunker-busting weapons. But to me, the key issue here is not whether building the bunker-buster is a good or a bad idea. The key thing is the absolutely stunning level of naivite that Kerry has demonstrated in thinking that the kind of people who run Iran and North Korea will respond in any substantive way to demonstrations of “good behavior” on our part.
Dancing for the boa constrictor. Maybe he’ll like me, says the monkey, maybe he won’t eat me–at least not yet.
Shannon Love has written a very astute post on this subject. Sample:
In Kerry’s world model controlling nuclear proliferation is about moral suasion. He would contain the threat of rouge nuclear entities by making nuclear weapons a moral taboo. To create this taboo, we must lead by example and refuse develop new nuclear weapons. Our shining moral example will create a world in which it will be difficult for any national or sub-national political entity to justify creating, stealing and using nuclear weapons of their own.
At his heart Kerry is a talker. His core skill is political persuasion. He wants fiercely to believe in a world where any problem can be solved with enough articulation. He honestly believes that he can convince anybody to do anything. In his model, the US does not need nuclear weapons, especially new types of them, because they are superfluous when moral example and negotiation can easily contain the nuclear threat.
Sadly, Kerry doesn’t understand that violence isn’t about moral standing, it is about physics.
Also read the comments.
Update 8/8/2012: And here’s Barack Obama, in 2009, giving a great exhibition of boa-constrictor-dancing by asserting that deep reductions in the US nuclear arsenal will somehow make the North Korean leaders want to give up their nuclear weapons.