Given that Elliot Abrams was a high-ranking Bush administration official and is now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, I think we can conclude that neither substantive policy failure nor a record of illegally lying to congress is going to derail his career. He is all-but-certain to return to office more powerful than ever. Thus, I’m going to hope for the sake of the country that this argument he made during a debate on whether or not we should bomb Iran represents dishonesty rather than stupidity:
We are not talking about the Americans killing civilians, bombing cities, destroying mosques, hospitals, schools. No, no, no – weʹre talking about nuclear facilities which most Iranians know very little about, have not seen, will not see, some quite well hidden.
So they wake up in the morning and find out that the United States if attacking those facilities and, presumably with some good messaging about why weʹre doing it and why we are not against the people of Iran.
Itʹs not clear to me that the reaction letʹs go to war with the Americans, but rather, perhaps, how did we get into this mess? Why did those guys, the very unpopular ayatollahs in a country 70 percent of whose population is under the age of 30, why did those old guys get us into this mess.
Throughout the decades-long history of air power, arguments of this form have been made time and again by people who overestimate its strategic efficacy, and it’s never been true. Nor does it seem at all likely to me that it would be possible for the United States to engage in a thorough demolition of Iranian nuclear facilities without killing some civilians. But even if casualties were limited to Iranian military and intelligence personnel and to scientists and technicians working on the nuclear project, I don’t really see why we’d expect the Iranian population to regard that with equanimity. If Iranian agents were to blow up an American military base, I don’t think the American public would just say “well, fair enough”; we’d be pissed. And it’s in the United States—not Iran—where powerful elements of the national security establishment muse openly about launching unprovoked unilateral military attacks on other countries.
This all comes to me via Justin Logan who observes that it’s likely neither stupidity nor dishonesty but rather the toxic blend of the two known as self-deception, “If you’re interested in these type of arguments, I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of Jack Snyder’s Myths of Empire. These sorts of arguments are literally straight from the pages of Myths, a book where Snyder attempts to generalize the “myths” that empires endorse as they overexpand.”