Progressives at the Poker Table
A comparison of the progressive approach to the threat of climate warming and that of a nuclear-armed Iran offers interesting insights into the progressive mind.
Let's start with climate warming, which according to the best measures, inconveniently stopped about 18 years ago. First, what is the magnitude of the threat? The most alarmist predictions of future catastrophe are based on computer-generated climate models that have been consistently refuted by events of the real world. According to the alarmists, there would be fifty million refugees from global warming by 2010. Never happened.
Those models are based on a variety of assumptions about "feedback mechanisms" generated by increased CO2 in the atmosphere trapping more heat. NASA satellite date from 2000-2011 showed far more heat escaping the earth's atmosphere than predicted by the computer models, according to study in the peer-reviewed journal Remote Sensing.
Nor is clear to what extent the global warming of the 20th century was generated by anthropogenic forces – i.e., increased CO2 emissions. Many leading climate scientists now think that solar activity -- about which we can do nothing -- may be a larger contributor to temperature variation than carbon emissions. That would be consistent with the wide fluctuations between warm and cold periods over the last millennium, even prior to the onset of the Industrial Resolution.
Scientists at CERN, the European Organization of Nuclear Research, which involves 600 universities and national labs and 8,000 scientists, have shown that cosmic rays promote the formation of molecules that grow and seed clouds. And clouds trap heat in the atmosphere. The magnitude of cosmic rays emitted by the sun depends on variations in the sun's magnetic field.
Finally, that which the alarmists consider an unmitigated disaster -- higher levels of CO2in the atmosphere may have many beneficial effects. A 2012 statement signed by 16 distinguished scientists from universities like Harvard, Princeton, MIT, and the Hebrew University, pointed out that CO2 is "not a pollutant," but rather a "key component of the biosphere's life cycle." Higher concentrations of CO2 spur plant growth.
In sum, the threat, if any, is one for the indeterminate future, of unknown magnitude and causation, and may not even be subject to ameliorative action. Yet climate alarmists propose a Global Green Carbon Treaty of such cost and intrusiveness that Yale's Walter Russell Mead compares it to the 1928 Kellogg-Brand Pact outlawing war for sheer folly. He describes GGCT as less a treaty and more a constitution for world government regulating all economic production in every country on earth. That constitution would be for a "global welfare state with trillions of dollars ultimately sent by the taxpayers of rich countries to governments (however feckless, inept, corrupt or tyrannical) to poor ones."
These proposals are put forward seemingly oblivious to the economic cost or loss of liberty involved. In his 2001 book The Skeptical Environmentalist, Danish statistician Bjorn Lonborg calculated that enforcement alone of the Kyoto Treaty would cost $150,000 billion a year, money which could save tens of thousands of lives annually.
The above-mentioned statement of the 16 scientists cited the work of Yale economist William Nordhaus, whos showed that the highest benefit-to-cost ratio would be achieved via a policy of fifty years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. The least developed countries would benefit most by being able to share some of the advantages of material well-being -- i.e., health and life expectancy -- with the more developed world.
NOW TO THE OTHER SIDE of the comparison. Even President Obama admits that under the unsigned understanding reached at Lausanne, Iran will have zero breakout time to a nuclear weapon thirteen years from now. (Today, he puts the breakout time at three months.)
That fact alone creates a world with as many tripwires leading to war as Europe on the eve of the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in August 1914. Only this time the weapons of choice will be nuclear.
The proposed agreement with Iran means the end of nuclear non-proliferation. If the world's leading rogue state and sponsor of terrorism can have its nuclear weapons program effectively endorsed by the members of the U.N. Security Council, every other nation that was dissuaded in the past by international pressure from expanding its civilian nuclear program to include enrichment to weapons level – e.g., South Korea, Brazil – will reconsider.
The most rapid nuclear proliferation will take place in the world's most volatile region, the Middle East, in which the millennial hatred of Sunnis and Shiites still burns hot. Saudis have made it clear that they will purchase nuclear weapons off-the-shelf from Pakistan, as per a prior agreement, to counter Iran's ability to obtain nuclear weapons. Egypt and Turkey will almost certainly follow suit.
An already aggressive Iran would become vastly more so with the hundreds of billions of dollars in revenues from the lifting of sanctions and the ability to provide a nuclear umbrella for its regional proxies. As a consequence, the Middle East would become all the more volatile.
The nations most likely to acquire nuclear arms and unstable, which increases the possibility of terrorist groups acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran has long eyed the "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina, and is already stirring up the Shiite population in Saudi Arabia's eastern, oil-producing provinces and in Yemen on its southern border. Egypt cannot feed its population.
And Iran might find it useful to supply some of its non-state allies, like Hezbollah or Hamas, with dirty nuclear weapons that do not require missiles to deliver. Non-state actors are far harder to deter or hold accountable.
A nuclear Iran should terrify not only Israel, which it has repeatedly threatened to obliterate. Iranian leaders have publicly speculated for years about the grim calculus of a nuclear exchange with Israel: one bomb wipes out Israel; Israeli retaliation still leaves us with tens of millions survivors. Former CIA Director James Woolsey and Peter Fry, a member of the congressional EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) Commission, stress the vulnerability of the United States. The recent "understanding" (the terms of which are unknown and perhaps unknowable given the wide divergence between American and Iranian descriptions of what has been concluded) makes no reference to any limitations on Iran's ballistic missile program, on which it works closely with North Korea.
Iran may soon possess long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States or the capacity to launch a nuclear-armed satellite above the United States. Even one nuclear weapon detonated above the United States could potentially knock out much of the national power grid. The congressional EMP Commission estimated that a nationwide blackout lasting one year from such an EMP attack could result in the deaths of nine out of ten Americans, with ISIS-like gangs ruling the streets.
Nor are traditional doctrines of nuclear deterrence relevant to the Middle East, in general, and Shiite Iran, in particular. Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Schultz ask in their devastating critique of the recent agreement how will traditional doctrines of deterrence based on stable state actors "translate into a region where sponsorship of non-state proxies is common, the state structure is under assault, and death on behalf of jihad is a kind of fulfillment?"
As the dean of Middle East scholars Bernard Lewis has pointed out, for Shiite fanatics awaiting the return of the "hidden Imam," after a cataclysmic event, the destruction of nuclear war might be an inducement rather than a deterrent.
WHAT DOES PRESIDENT OBAMA offer as the response to this description of a nuclear tinderbox waiting to be lit? Pure fantasy.
He and Secretary of State Kerry have made repeated references to a fatwa of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameini against the use of nuclear weapons, which does not exist and certainly is credited by none of Iran's enemies.
And he speaks hopefully of a newly mellowed Iran after the conclusion of an agreement. What is it about the Supreme Leader's repeated chants of "Death to America" and insistence that current negotiations have nothing to do with reconciliation that the President can't hear?
One option that the President has completely excluded is an air campaign to destroy Iran's nuclear infrastructure and cut of the "head of snake," as Woolsey once described the Revolutionary Guard to me. Obama has repeatedly accused the opponents of the Lausanne understanding as being advocates of war.
Clearly, then, all the tough talk about "all options are on the table," "a bad deal is worse than no deal [followed by military attack]," "I will never allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons," had the same truth content as "If you like your plan, you can keep your plan."
Yet no one doubts that the United States has the capability to destroy Iran's enrichment infrastructure. (If Russia goes through with the delivery of advanced anti-aircraft batteries, as a consequence of the Lausanne understanding, the task will be complicated.) And there will be consequences that cannot be fully known in advance. Iran has terrorist sleeper cells around the world. But it also has lots of assets, besides its nuclear infrastructure, which would be subject to further attacks if it unleashes those cells.
Whatever the Iranian response, the price to be paid will certainly be less than consigning all humanity to live in a world perpetually poised on the cusp of nuclear war.
SO WHY in the case of global warming are progressives willing to incur unbearable costs to combat a future threat of unknown magnitude and immediacy, and against which their solutions may well prove futile, while with respect to the easily identified and imminent danger of a nuclear-armed Iran, they write off from the start a clear and known remedy?
For progressives the solution of worldwide government, run by the executive decree of "the best and the brightest," is not a cost too great to be contemplated, but rather the fulfillment of the progressive dream. But they will never countenance military action, even to save millions of lives down the road. Churchill's dictum, "If you want peace, prepare for war," remains foreign to them.