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Mutually assured destruction.

Veteran Washington Post columnist Mary McGrory accompanied me on one of my futile visits to his office, where she spent better than an hour listening to us argue about “circular errors probable” and “MIRV decoys” and the other niceties of nuclear nightmare. When we were leaving, she, who had seen a lot of politicians in her long day, turned to me and said, “I think your guy Cheney is the most dangerous person I’ve ever seen up here.” At that point, I agreed with her.
What I was not thinking about, however, was the technique I once used to avoid being run off the road by Mexican bus drivers, back when their roads were narrower and their bus drivers even more macho. Whenever I saw a bus barrelling down the centerline at me, I would start driving unpredictably, weaving from shoulder to shoulder as though muy borracho. As soon as I started to radiate dangerously low regard for my own preservation, the bus would slow down and move over.
As it turned out, this is more or less what Cheney and his phalanx of Big Stategic Thinkers were doing, if one imagined the Soviet Union as a speeding Mexican bus…

And I wish to God I could believe it was nothing more than this; nothing more than a projection of implacable, irrational lethality, a bit of cakewalk brinksmanship, steely-eyed diplomats pounding tables to distract from the inevitable blink.

Some operations, apparently aimed in part at intimidating Iran, are already under way. American Naval tactical aircraft, operating from carriers in the Arabian Sea, have been flying simulated nuclear-weapons delivery missions—rapid ascending maneuvers known as “over the shoulder” bombing—since last summer, the former official said, within range of Iranian coastal radars.
Last month, in a paper given at a conference on Middle East security in Berlin, Colonel Sam Gardiner, a military analyst who taught at the National War College before retiring from the Air Force, in 1987, provided an estimate of what would be needed to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. Working from satellite photographs of the known facilities, Gardiner estimated that at least four hundred targets would have to be hit. He added:
I don’t think a U.S. military planner would want to stop there. Iran probably has two chemical-production plants. We would hit those. We would want to hit the medium-range ballistic missiles that have just recently been moved closer to Iraq. There are fourteen airfields with sheltered aircraft. . . . We’d want to get rid of that threat. We would want to hit the assets that could be used to threaten Gulf shipping. That means targeting the cruise-missile sites and the Iranian diesel submarines. . . . Some of the facilities may be too difficult to target even with penetrating weapons. The U.S. will have to use Special Operations units.
One of the military’s initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites.

—Seymor Hersh, “The Iran Plans

But we cannot trust the people we’ve put in charge of our country. Whether they’re thinking of Iran’s nascent nuclear program as John Perry Barlow’s speeding Mexican bus or not, the fact is they will not blink and they will not falter and they will not turn away.

A roadside memorial in Peru.

Can I be crystal fucking clear for a moment? The destruction I mean is not some tit-for-tat exchange of container nukes for bunker-busters. (It’s not like the people we’ve put in charge of our country will miss New York and LA all that much anyway.) —What I mean is if we do this thing, the audiences of tomorrow will cheer as their pulp heroes bravely square off toe-to-toe with implacable American stormtroopers. What I mean is, there is no difference in this world or the next between dropping enough conventional and nuclear ordnance to take out 400 suspected sites and flying a couple of passenger jets into office buildings on a cloudless autumn day. Either is so monstrous as to be beyond any possible, rational measurement or comparison.

Look! See! How good we have gotten, at fighting dragons!

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