Foreign Affairs:

In early October, U.S. officials accused Iranian operatives of planning to assassinate Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States on American soil. Iran denied the charges, but the episode has already managed to increase tensions between Washington and Tehran. Although the Obama administration has not publicly threatened to retaliate with military force, the allegations have underscored the real and growing risk that the two sides could go to war sometime soon — particularly over Iran’s advancing nuclear program.

For several years now, starting long before this episode, American pundits and policymakers have been debating whether the United States should attack Iran and attempt to eliminate its nuclear facilities. Proponents of a strike have argued that the only thing worse than military action against Iran would be an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. Critics, meanwhile, have warned that such a raid would likely fail and, even if it succeeded, would spark a full-fledged war and a global economic crisis. They have urged the United States to rely on nonmilitary options, such as diplomacy, sanctions, and covert operations, to prevent Iran from acquiring a bomb. Fearing the costs of a bombing campaign, most critics maintain that if these other tactics fail to impede Tehran’s progress, the United States should simply learn to live with a nuclear Iran.

But skeptics of military action fail to appreciate the true danger that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose to U.S. interests in the Middle East and beyond. And their grim forecasts assume that the cure would be worse than the disease — that is, that the consequences of a U.S. assault on Iran would be as bad as or worse than those of Iran achieving its nuclear ambitions. But that is a faulty assumption. The truth is that a military strike intended to destroy Iran’s nuclear program, if managed carefully, could spare the region and the world a very real threat and dramatically improve the long-term national security of the United States.


Years of international pressure have failed to halt Iran’s attempt to build a nuclear program. The Stuxnet computer worm, which attacked control systems in Iranian nuclear facilities, temporarily disrupted Tehran’s enrichment effort, but a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency this past May revealed that the targeted plants have fully recovered from the assault. And the latest IAEA findings on Iran, released in November, provided the most compelling evidence yet that the Islamic Republic has weathered sanctions and sabotage, allegedly testing nuclear triggering devices and redesigning its missiles to carry nuclear payloads. The Institute for Science and International Security, a nonprofit research institution, estimates that Iran could now produce its first nuclear weapon within six months of deciding to do so. Tehran’s plans to move sensitive nuclear operations into more secure facilities over the course of the coming year could reduce the window for effective military action even further. If Iran expels IAEA inspectors, begins enriching its stockpiles of uranium to weapons-grade levels of 90 percent, or installs advanced centrifuges at its uranium-enrichment facility in Qom, the United States must strike immediately or forfeit its last opportunity to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear club.

Some states in the region are doubting U.S. resolve to stop the program and are shifting their allegiances to Tehran. Others have begun to discuss launching their own nuclear initiatives to counter a possible Iranian bomb. For those nations and the United States itself, the threat will only continue to grow as Tehran moves closer to its goal. A nuclear-armed Iran would immediately limit U.S. freedom of action in the Middle East. With atomic power behind it, Iran could threaten any U.S. political or military initiative in the Middle East with nuclear war, forcing Washington to think twice before acting in the region. Iran’s regional rivals, such as Saudi Arabia, would likely decide to acquire their own nuclear arsenals, sparking an arms race. To constrain its geopolitical rivals, Iran could choose to spur proliferation by transferring nuclear technology to its allies — other countries and terrorist groups alike. Having the bomb would give Iran greater cover for conventional aggression and coercive diplomacy, and the battles between its terrorist proxies and Israel, for example, could escalate. And Iran and Israel lack nearly all the safeguards that helped the United States and the Soviet Union avoid a nuclear exchange during the Cold War — secure second-strike capabilities, clear lines of communication, long flight times for ballistic missiles from one country to the other, and experience managing nuclear arsenals. To be sure, a nuclear-armed Iran would not intentionally launch a suicidal nuclear war. But the volatile nuclear balance between Iran and Israel could easily spiral out of control as a crisis unfolds, resulting in a nuclear exchange between the two countries that could draw the United States in, as well.

These security threats would require Washington to contain Tehran. Yet deterrence would come at a heavy price. To keep the Iranian threat at bay, the United States would need to deploy naval and ground units and potentially nuclear weapons across the Middle East, keeping a large force in the area for decades to come. Alongside those troops, the United States would have to permanently deploy significant intelligence assets to monitor any attempts by Iran to transfer its nuclear technology. And it would also need to devote perhaps billions of dollars to improving its allies’ capability to defend themselves. This might include helping Israel construct submarine-launched ballistic missiles and hardened ballistic missile silos to ensure that it can maintain a secure second-strike capability. Most of all, to make containment credible, the United States would need to extend its nuclear umbrella to its partners in the region, pledging to defend them with military force should Iran launch an attack.

In other words, to contain a nuclear Iran, the United States would need to make a substantial investment of political and military capital to the Middle East in the midst of an economic crisis and at a time when it is attempting to shift its forces out of the region. Deterrence would come with enormous economic and geopolitical costs and would have to remain in place as long as Iran remained hostile to U.S. interests, which could mean decades or longer. Given the instability of the region, this effort might still fail, resulting in a war far more costly and destructive than the one that critics of a preemptive strike on Iran now hope to avoid…

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City Journal:

Spend any time on a university campus, and the official culture will become obvious in short order. Bigotry and prejudice against blacks, gays, or women simply isn’t tolerated. Even a hint of racism or sexism is met with quick and decisive punishment. But anti-Israel rants on California’s public-college campuses seem to be tolerated, politely ignored, or even tacitly condoned by the powers that be.

Consider the case of David Klein, a math professor at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). Klein maintains a page on the university’s web server having nothing to do with mathematical physics, teacher education, or standardized testing, his main areas of research. Rather, the page is devoted to the evils of the state of Israel. Students and other members of the university can learn that “Israel is the most racist state in the world at this time” and that the Jewish state engages in “ethnic cleansing.” Visitors can discover, furthermore, that the answer to the question “Aren’t Palestinians equally responsible for the violence?” is an emphatic “No.” Klein provides links to an assortment of Israel haters and, of course, calls for a boycott of Israeli products and U.S. companies that do business with Israel.

It isn’t hard to imagine what would happen to a professor who used the university’s website to post content opposed, say, to illegal immigration or legal abortion, especially if the subject was outside his academic field. Administrators would demand that the pages disappear, and they’d cite the university’s policies, chapter and verse. We know university administrators would loudly condemn a professor who maintained a website off campus that had a “deleterious effect on the university’s reputation.” That’s what happened in 2010, when CSUN erupted in outrage over economics professor Kenneth Ng’s personal site,—which, his critics claimed, promoted illegal sex tourism in Thailand. Both the Gender and Women’s Studies Department and the Asian-American Studies Department publicly denounced Ng, and several students and faculty demanded that he take the site down or lose his job. But while university officials blasted the site, they stopped short of forcing Ng to take it down. Ng removed the site anyway, after weeks of public pressure. “I think he realized he’s putting the university in an awkward position,” CSUN provost Harold Hellenbrand told the campus newspaper, adding, “We expect that [faculty] act at a higher level than their profession requires.”

Yet no one within the CSUN community has condemned Klein, and his webpage remains active—though it clearly violates university policies, which state that “use of computers, networks, and computing facilities for activities other than academic purposes or University business is not permitted.” The university also prohibits associating its name with boycotts and other politically motivated activity. CSUN further retains the right to remove “any defamatory, offensive, infringing, or illegal materials” from its website at any time…

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The New Republic:

David Hume was born three hundred years ago, in 1711. The world has changed radically since his time, and yet many of his ideas and admonitions remain deeply relevant, though rather neglected, in the contemporary world. These Humean insights include the central role of information and knowledge for adequate ethical scrutiny, and the importance of reasoning without disowning the pertinence of powerful sentiments. They also include such practical concerns as our responsibilities to those who are located far away from us elsewhere on the globe, or in the future.

Hume’s influence on the nature and reach of modern thinking has been monumental. From epistemology to practical reason, from aesthetics to religion, from political economy to philosophy, from social and cultural studies to history and historiography, the intellectual world was transformed by the enlightening power of his mind. In his own time, Hume’s ideas encountered considerable resistance from more orthodox thinkers. One result of this was his being rejected for philosophy chairs first at Edinburgh University and then at the University of Glasgow. Yet the influence of Hume’s ideas has grown steadily and powerfully over time. Indeed, as Nicholas Phillipson remarks in his insightful biography David Hume: The Philosopher as Historian: “David Hume’s reputation has never been higher.”

And yet some of Hume’s central but more iconoclastic ideas have not been brought adequately into contemporary discussion. This neglect continues despite the veneration of Hume as the quintessential “grand philosopher” of the Enlightenment. Many of Hume’s widely cited statements, which are often seen as “David Hume in summary,” fail to capture the largeness of the “understanding”—to use one of his favorite words—that Hume presented to us. The job is not made any easier by Hume’s tendency to make occasional remarks that suggest that he is “forgetting, or mis-stating, his [own] normative beliefs,” as Derek Parfit has recently pointed out in his farreaching philosophical work On What Matters. The issue is of importance, since some of the points that Hume seems to overlook in his occasional remarks had received decisive argumentative support in his own writings.

I BEGIN WITH a perspicacious remark that Hume made in 1751, in an essay called “Of Justice,” to be published later in An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals. In the early days of the increasing globalization in which Hume lived, with new trade routes and expanding economic relations across the world, Hume talked about the growing need to think afresh about the nature of justice, as we come to know more about people living elsewhere, with whom we have come to develop new relations:

Again suppose, that several distinct societies maintain a kind of intercourse for mutual convenience and advantage, the boundaries of justice still grow larger, in proportion to the largeness of men’s views, and the force of their mutual connexions. History, experience, reason sufficiently instruct us in this natural progress of human sentiments, and in the gradual enlargement of our regards to justice, in proportion as we become acquainted with the extensive utility of that virtue.The remark is of interest in itself, and also helps us to understand the general idea of justice, and its particular application to global justice, that can be seen to be part of the Humean line of analysis. But it can also be used to illustrate Hume’s general arguments for the need to interrelate ethics and epistemology, and moral reasoning and human sentiments.

The underlying approach to justice here contrasts with the influential view of Hobbes, according to which there has to be a sovereign state for us to entertain any coherent idea of justice. Hobbes was moved by the idea that institutional demands of justice can be met only within the limits of a functioning sovereign state, which is needed to establish and support the required institutions. While Hume was deeply concerned about the importance of institutions, on which he made many penetrating observations, he was reluctant to allow the idea of justice to be narrowed by the boundaries of sovereignty, as if there were no issues of global justice that could take us beyond our national borders.

The overarching concern in the idea of justice is the need to have just relations with others—and even to have appropriate sentiments about others; and what motivates the search is the diagnosis of injustice in ongoing arrangements. In some cases, this might demand the need to change an existing boundary of sovereignty—a concern that motivated Hume’s staunchly anti-colonial position. (He once remarked, “Oh! How I long to see America and the East Indies revolted totally & finally.”) Or it might relate to the Humean recognition that as we expand trade and other relations with foreign countries, our sentiments as well as our reasoning have to take note of the recognition that “the boundaries of justice still grow larger,” without the necessity to place all the people involved in our conception of justice within the confines of one sovereign state.

As it happens, contemporary theories of justice have largely followed the Hobbesian route rather than the Humean one. They have tended to limit their considerations of justice within the boundaries of a particular state. In an important essay in 2005 called “The Problem of Global Justice,” Thomas Nagel explained that “if Hobbes is right, the idea of global justice without a world government is a chimera.” The most influential modern theory of justice, namely John Rawls’s theory of “justice as fairness,” presented in his epoch-making book A Theory of Justice, concentrates on the identification of appropriate “principles of justice” that fix the “basic institutional structure” of a society, in the form of a cluster of ideal institutions for a sovereign state. This confines the principles of justice to the members of a particular sovereign state. It is worth noting that in a later work, The Law of Peoples, Rawls invokes a kind of “supplement” to this one-country pursuit of the demands of justice—but in dealing with people elsewhere, Rawls’s focus is not on justice, but on the basic demands of civilized and humane behavior across the borders.

Nagel, too, confines his analysis of global propriety not to the demands of justice, but to a “minimal humanitarian morality,” since he, too, takes the view that it is “very difficult to resist Hobbes’s claim about the relation between justice and sovereignty.” Hume’s exploration of how “the boundaries of justice” must “grow larger” in a more globalized world contrasts quite sharply with the Hobbesian way of thinking, and thus differs from the approach chosen by most of the contemporary theorists of justice. His approach has many implications for the way we should explore the idea of justice…

Read it all.

Iowa State Fair

December 30, 2011

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


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