Jeffrey Goldberg, reporting in the Atlantic on an interview with Israel’s new prime minister:
“The Obama presidency has two great missions: fixing the economy, and preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu told me. He said the Iranian nuclear challenge represents a “hinge of history” and added that “Western civilization” will have failed if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons.
In unusually blunt language, Netanyahu said of the Iranian leadership, “You don’t want a messianic apocalyptic cult controlling atomic bombs. When the wide-eyed believer gets hold of the reins of power and the weapons of mass death, then the entire world should start worrying, and that is what is happening in Iran.”
Unfortunately, our current leadership in Washington does not see this issue with anywhere near the clarity that Netanyahu does…indeed, Obama seems more upset by American nuclear weapons than by the prospect of nuclear weapons in the hands of the Iranian regime. The same is true of a substantial number of Americans, especially those who consider themselves to be political “progressives” and who work in the media and in academia.
Ralph Peters: One of the most consistently disheartening experiences an adult can have today is to listen to the endless attempts by our intellectuals and intelligence professionals to explain religious terrorism in clinical terms, assigning rational motives to men who have moved irrevocably beyond reason. We suffer under layers of intellectual asymmetries that hinder us from an intuititive recognition of our enemies.
Paul Reynaud–who became Prime Minister of France just two months before the German invasion of 1940–incisively explained what was at stake at that point in time, and why it was so much greater than what had been at stake in 1914: People think Hitler is like Kaiser Wilhelm. The old gentleman only wanted to take Alsace-Lorraine from us. But Hitler is Genghis Khan.
Obama and his acolytes seem to think we are dealing with Kaiser Wilhelm-like figures in Iran and North Korea. It is a shallow and dangerously naive way of looking at the world.
Why do people who are highly educated, and often fairly intelligent, so often fail at comprehending and predicting the behavior of thugs and fanatics?
In his 1982 book Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design–a work whose relevance is considerably broader than might be imagined from its title–Gerald Weinberg briefly discusses a contemporary book called How Real is Real?–An Anecdotal Introduction to Communications Theory. Although he finds value is many aspects of this book, Weinberg strongly objects to a passage in which the author (Paul Watzlawick) suggests ways in which communications theory could have been used in the Patty Hearst kidnapping case. Watzlawick suggests that the authorities should have used “Erickson’s confusion technique” as follows:
the same channels of delivery as the abductors, it would have been relatively simple for them to deliver to the mass media fake messages, contradicting the real ones but similarly threatening the life of Patricia Hearst if they were not complied with…Very quickly a situation of total confusion could have been set up. None of the threats and demands could have been believed, because every message would have been contradicted or confused by another, allegedly coming from the ‘real’ abductor.
It’s very difficult for me to believe that Watzlawick ever thought critically about this idea for fifteen seconds, but its naivete is typical for this genre of speculative systems writing.
…and goes on to suggest that a good way to consider the possible real-world consequences of ideas like this is to imagine a movie (specifically, a thriller) based on the situation and the proposed actions, and to imagine how the plot might develop.
The heiress is kidnapped and the investigating authorities put the confusion technique into action. then Field Marshal Cinque, not being constrained by the niceties of the upper classes, simply authenticates his next message by sending along one of his captive’s fingers!
Weinberg’s remarks in Rethinking are principally concerned with computer-based information systems. But I think it’s clear that these points about the limitations and vulnerabilities of abstract thinking applied to real-world situations are also highly relevant in the political sphere. There have been many cases of a refusal to believe that the opposition would do anything so brutal–so out of keeping with “the niceties of the upper classes”–as to send in the victim’s fingers…and I’m afraid we are about the encounter a lot more cases of this nature.
(Atlantic link via Sarah)
UPDATE: Don’t miss this cartoon…thanks to Ironchef of Oklahoma for the link.