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  • Deadly Naivete – Updated

    Posted by David Foster on April 6th, 2009 (All posts by )

    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.

    Weinberg responds:

    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.

     

    21 Responses to “Deadly Naivete – Updated”

    1. James R. Rummel Says:

      Good post.

      James

    2. ironchefoklahoma Says:

      Good post, as well.

      I think this is relevant.

    3. Tatyana Says:

      Few days ago I had talked to two Israelis who said that Netanyahu “thinks as American; he should think as an Israeli”. The opinion among my conservative friends is that relationship with US haven’t proved all that beneficial for Israel, who were often left hanging in the air; often US demanded unilateral concessions from Israel while her enemies were rewarded for their aggression against her.

      Sometimes I think the amount of misunderstanding, some of it deliberate, is so overwhelming, the mutual distrust is so big, the definitions of alliance are so mismatched that the line is already crossed. It makes one despair.

    4. joemarkowitz Says:

      I read Obama’s speech in Prague, and I did not see anything in there suggesting that he is most upset by American nuclear weapons. Perhaps you are reading something into the speech based on a pre-conceived notion of what you think Obama meant?

      What the president actually said was that he wants to work concurrently with Russia to reduce the stockpiles of both American and Russian nuclear weapons. That is no different from what Reagan said on that subject. He also said we need to strengthen the non-proliferation treaty, and we need to make stronger efforts to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists. And he also spent quite a bit of time talking about how to reduce the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons, and reiterated that we would build a missile defense system in the Czech Republic if Iran continues developing nuclear weapons. Were you reading the same speech I was?

      Link

      (edited to eliminate long, long blanks space…not sure if you were trying to insert something here, or what happened…Dave F)

    5. Mike K Says:

      He may be referring to Obama’s opposition to this new war head design. The Democrats opposed it once they took Congress and Obama has indicated opposition, as well. Without the new design, the existing warheads are unreliable and some parts are no longer available. The technology to make the polymer “cloud” material has been lost. This is part of the structure that holds parts in place. It has to be redesigned and tested.

    6. veryretired Says:

      Shannon has discussed this situation at length in several posts, and I will not attempt to reconstruct his entire, and very cogent, analysis here.

      Suffice it to say, western elites have become so enraptured with a reality that exists entirely in their own minds that they can no longer comprehend or deal effectively with the type of irrational, violent mentalities that constitute much of the truly dangerous entities that confront us.

      The intellectual, academic, and transnational political elites that define western, including the US, policy and diplomacy actually think that if they talk about something, that is the same as taking action. As an example, see Obama’s use of UN disapproval as a valid response to NK’s missle launch, or the group of 20’s utterly meaningless conference where they gave out some press releases and then pretended they had dealt with the economic meltdown.

      They live in an alternate reality in which, if one says the right things and holds the correct attitudes, everything will just work out. They can no more deal with lunatics like the regimes in Iran or NK than a properly progressive urbanite, who would never, ever consider carrying a weapon to defend themselves, can withstand a mugger’s violent assault.

      In fact, in both cases, the modern, progressive, multi-culti, PC response is to try to understand the mugger’s, or rogue regime’s, totally justified anger and frustration and take steps to mollify them.

      On the personal level, it’s called willing victimhood. On an international level, it’s called appeasement.

      Only a mental state divorced from reality could think either strategy might be successful.

    7. david foster Says:

      Joemarkowitz…a couple of data points:

      “I hate to speculate about North Korean motivations,” said Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for nonproliferation, adding that the North Koreans had announced their launch window two weeks ago, and that weather conditions favored today. “I’m not sure this is a deliberate calculated action on the part of the North Koreans.” (link)

      Could anyone really think the NK missile program is all about scientific exploration? What message does it send when a senior administration figure pretends that it might be?

      “(deputy national security advisor Denis) McDonough said the twin issues of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation provide the United States and its allies with a powerful argument to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons.” (link)

      Again, can any serious person think the Iranian regime would give up its nuclear plans if the U.S. & Russia reducee their stockpiles? (Well, maybe if *Israel* gives up all its nuclear weapons, so that the genocide longed for by the Iranian rules could be conducted by entirely conventional means..)

      Also, Obama has been quite hostile to missile defense…he may talk about deploying “proven technology”, but no real technology is ever likely to meet his standards for proven-ness. Was the radar-and-communications network that saved Britain in 1940 a “proven technology?” I suspect that if Obama (rather than Neville Chamberlain) had been in charge of making this deployment decision, he would have cancelled the deployment on grounds that the system had never been tested in combat.

    8. Shannon Love Says:

      Why do people who are highly educated, and often fairly intelligent, so often fail at comprehending and predicting the behavior of thugs and fanatics?

      Egocentrism. When the only tool you have is a hammer all your problems look like nails. When faced with a problem that isn’t obviously a nail but rather, say, a screw,you have two choices: (1) stand aside and let the guy with the screwdriver fix the problem or (2) convince everyone that pounding the screw with the hammer is the best choice. The egocentric person has to be at the heart of every solution. They cannot step aside. They try to drive screws with hammers rather than concede the power and status that goes with solving the problem.

      Talking/communications is the only tool that many people feel they have. To define a problem as one that cannot be fixed by dialog means that we define the problem as one in which those people will play no special role in resolving.

      By defining the problem of Iran as one of dialog, Obama defines the problem as nail that he and his ideological cohorts are best suited to deal with. Defining Iran as a problem as a screw means letting the people who break things have center stage.

    9. renminbi Says:

      Ego? . More like narcissism.Perhaps in a well run republic no one could hold higher office unless they had shown more than being able to bullshit people.

    10. David Foster Says:

      Also…if true, this is pretty disturbing / although not surprising.

    11. MAS1916 Says:

      Strong possibility that Iran is developing nuclear weapon technology and North Korea is developing the delivery system. Gee… where does Obama think Iran is going to aim it? But then again, Obama would watch a nuke obliterate Tel Aviv and then lead the chorus of outrage against the attack. He would still be talking while the Israelis would be enduring another holocaust.

      Obama wants to rid the world of nuclear weapons. Wow… this is so childish that it defies explanation. Iran and North Korea support the Obama mission to rid the world of nukes because they fully intend to keep theirs. Obama will only strengthen our potential adversaries and put the US and our allies at greater risk.

    12. Robert Says:

      Iran and NK are not a major problem. Sorry they are not. Iran is barley making its economy run and NK missles test have all failed. Comparing them to Nazi Germany is what is wrong. Nukes have re-written the rules. If Iran launches a Nuke we wipe them out, it is called MADD and it worked for 50 years against Russia. Iran is much more about respect and what is going on with the countries around it.
      As for NK they are a joke. I find it hard to think of them as nothing more than a mad 3 year old. Who cares what they do to there people, the people of NK have a choice.
      IS this cold? Yes. It is opposed to a more active roll in world polictics? Yes.
      In the end we would be better off to ignore them and focus on the bigger problems.

    13. Jonathan Says:

      If Iran launches a Nuke we wipe them out…

      And if Iran nukes Jeddah/Cairo/Frankfurt, do we wipe them out in that case as well? And if Iran uses its possession of nukes to extort concessions from other countries and expand its control over the Middle East, do we ignore that too?

      As for NK they are a joke.

      The countries that buy weapons from them don’t agree with you.

      Who cares what they do to there people, the people of NK have a choice.

      Yes, just as the animals in a zoo have a choice.

      Your moral and political reasoning are almost as good as your spelling.

    14. Ymarsakar Says:

      Iran is barley making its economy run

      Germany was barely making its economy run too. And you would have been one of those obstreperous Europeans back in the day saying that that was a good thing in nullifying the threat? That so long as the Treaty of Versailles kept the Germans bankrupted, Europe could disarm and live a life of peace and prosperity? I suggest you get some reality dosages: high ones.

      If Iran launches a Nuke we wipe them out

      Obama may be sociopathic enough to wipe out millions of women and children cause he didn’t like some nation’s leaders. He may be. Not sure why this makes the mullahs bunnies, since the mullahs are and will be far crueler, more ruthless, and more nuke happy than Obama will ever be.

      Who cares what they do to there people, the people of NK have a choice.

      It’s more like Robert has a choice. The village guru thinks he owns the village and thus everybody else in the world owns a village too.

    15. Gerald M. Weinberg Says:

      As a Chicago Boy myself, I appreciate your quoting my work–and even more your understanding it.

      For those readers who might be interested in seeing the original, go to Rethinking Systems Analysis and Design

      Gerald M. Weinberg

    16. david foster Says:

      Wow! Jerry, thanks for stopping by.

      I’d be very interested in your thoughts on Shannon’s post above the grid, above.

    17. Robert Says:

      Iran is barley making its economy run
      Germany was barely making its economy run too. And you would have been one of those obstreperous Europeans back in the day saying that that was a good thing in nullifying the threat? That so long as the Treaty of Versailles kept the Germans bankrupted, Europe could disarm and live a life of peace and prosperity? I suggest you get some reality dosages: high ones.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economy_of_Nazi_Germany
      Let see Nazi Germany had a massive economic expansion from 1933-1941. The Treaty of Versailles help destory the Weimar republic and help led to hyper-inflation which made the radicals more powerful.

      If Iran launches a Nuke we wipe them out
      Obama may be sociopathic enough to wipe out millions of women and children cause he didn’t like some nation’s leaders. He may be. Not sure why this makes the mullahs bunnies, since the mullahs are and will be far crueler, more ruthless, and more nuke happy than Obama will ever be.

      Yes there are crazy people in the world. There are single people who would be happy to nuke a city. Those people are in charge of Iran or North Korea. This people are playing games of diplomacy and using these issue to hold power. You want to be worried focus on China.

      North Korea
      An even more extreme example of third world country trying to act out. They can barely feed the people of there country. You want real progress ignore them. Don’t hype them.

      Germany Spent over 10% of its GDP on rearming. Iran spend 3%. The 2nd from the bottom in the region. Not mention the fact they are running huge deficits cause Oil is below the cost of them pumping it from the ground.

      Simply stated Iran ecomony is crippled. With Inflation running at 25%. All the talk about Nukes simple makes the people in power have a issue to hold power.
      http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/library/news/iran/2006/iran-060531-irna03.htm

    18. bustoff Says:

      Why do people who are highly educated, and often fairly intelligent, so often fail at comprehending and predicting the behavior of thugs and fanatics?

      Because the threat is not real to them. The State of Israel lives under the threat of attack every day, and their take on Iran is done from that perspective. American academia, however, is sufficiently insulated from such a threat that they can amuse and entertain themselves with abstract thinking.

    19. Jonathan Says:

      Germany Spent over 10% of its GDP on rearming. Iran spend 3%.

      Hitler had to spend massively because in the 1930s the only way to be a powerful country was to have a big army. But nuclear (and bio/chem) weapons are cheap. That is the whole point to having them. Now any country can afford them, even bankrupts like Iran and NK. If you want to know what the Iranian dictators really want to do, pay attention to what they are saying and doing. Hypotheses based on assumptions about who can afford what are meaningless.

      The Iranian mullahs have had a nuclear-weapons program for many years, have repeatedly threatened nuclear genocide against Israel, and haven’t reversed any of their positions. You brush it all off by saying that China is a bigger threat, as if that makes Iran a non-threat. Why don’t you tell us if you think the USA is going to nuke Tehran if Iran nukes a Saudi city.

      Or are you simply trolling?

    20. Robert Says:

      I think we would. We are very close to the house of Saud. Compare that number to Saudi Araba which spends 9% and could build Nukes if they wanted.

      http://www.saudi-us-relations.org/articles/2008/ioi/080209-lippman-nuclear.html
      And may doing so. Also they already really on us.

      My point is we are hyping a weak foe. We did the same with Iraq, we hyped how dangours they where and looked how that turned out.
      We are doing the same with North Korea.

      Till we have a real discussion about who to fear and what to fear we will continue to talk about Iran and NK which is wasting our time.

    21. Marty Says:

      Veryretired hits the nail pretty squarely, as do several other commenters.

      As to Obama, let’s not forget how he just said that the US is especially morally responsible because we’re the only ones who ever used nukes.

      2 thoughts:

      1. Let’s not confuse “educated” with “credentialed.” Some of the most appallingly ignorant people I’ve ever met had Ivy League or similar (U of C, Stanford, Berkeley, Michigan etc)degrees.

      It’s not like any college degree in the last 30 years or so means anything in and of itself, except maybe in hard sciences or engineering. You would have to drill down and see exactly which courses the person took, from which professors, how they really did (not just the grade, which is never less than a B in undergrad or an A in grad school). Or, talk to them and observe them for a while, which as a practical matter is all you can do.

      Barack Obama, just to pick a name at random, has an undergrad from Columbia and was Harvard Law where he was apparently well-regarded, yet is appallingly ignorant of history (like the circumstances under which we used nukes in 1945), economics and the “hard reality” of physical/natural (as opposed to social) science and engineering.

      2. Arguing about intentions is rather pointless, esp since it is almost universally acknowledged that our human intel on Iran sucks. All we really can go by is capability and actual behavior. So when someone tells me that the Iranians have too many economic problems to pose a threat, I basically dismiss that becuase it’s the capability that counts, and whatever I can infer from behavior. And the behavior has been to spend huge sums they can’t afford for about 25 years to develop in-house uranium enrichment capability rather than buy reactor-grade uranium from others, while simultaneously pursuing a reactor that can produce plutonium and working with NoKo to develop long-range ballistic missile technology. All this DESPITE their economic problems. Doesn’t add up unless they want nuclear weapons and the ability to deliver them at least as far as Europe to the west and India to the east, a radius that also includes almost all the Arab lands and most of the Sunnis except for Indonesia.

      Why might they want that capability? Don’t really know, but can draw inferences from public statements (which are a form of observed behavior)and history.

      What can they do with it once they have it? Nuke Israel? Threaten Arabs, Europe, South Asia? Increase support for terrorists like Hezbollah and Hamas, who become much more aggressive and widespread, with no fear of military reprisal? Gee, all good things.