Sunday, March 18, 2012

Iranian Nukes & American Guns

I read a lot of editorial cartoons; over the past few years they've become an essential part of my morning "news and comics" routine. While I do enjoy reading all the preach-to-the-choir strips by progressive and liberal cartoonists, I often find it just as informative and enriching reading cartoons by artist on the other side of the aisle, which provide a valuable glimpse into the mind of the modern American conservative. For the most part, they're a daily collection of straw men, disproportionate metaphors, and crass caricatures employed to explain and justify the politics of fear, prejudice, oligarchy, dogma, and willful ignorance. (Many of them can be found collected by patriot Philip Pangrac on a Tumblr page which he has aptly titled "Shittiest Editorial Cartoon of the Moment.")

Lately I've had the displeasure of watching conservative cartoonists' "IRAN HAS NUKES AND WE MUST ATTACK IRAN" strips practically develop into their own genre. (Mr. Pangrac is collecting these separately over here.) This stuff is bad for my nerves, and I suspect that's precisely the cartoonists' intent. (It's called "fearmongering.") But I'm much less afraid of Iran maybe perhaps trying to possibly build a nuclear bomb than I am of the prospect of the United States getting embroiled in yet another war in the Middle East because a bunch of right-wingers on either side of the Atlantic are afraid of everyone else in the world.

Actually, what strikes me as especially odd about these cartoons -- and the right-wing efforts to goad the United States into another foreign policy catastrophe -- is that those in this country who vociferate loudest about the unacceptability of an Iranian nuclear program tend to be the same folks who think gun control laws are an abomination.

I wonder: Are these two stances logically consistent?

Whenever some nutjob walks into a public place and shoots a bunch of people, you can always expect Second Amendment partisans to posit that it might have been prevented if more armed citizens were on the scene. When they say this, they don't necessarily mean that the most plausible contingency would be a firefight in which the shooter got killed before he could squeeze off any more rounds; rather, they usually argue that someone would be much more reluctant to take out his divorce on the McDonald's breakfast line with a Glock if he could expect to find all his potential victims packing heat. Good sense, responsibility, and the threat of punishment regulate everybody's behavior, and there are fewer gun deaths despite there being more guns, runs their line of reasoning.

So how is demanding that Iran shouldn't be allowed to possess nuclear weapons reconcilable with this principle?

The world's a dangerous place, after all; plenty of nations are packing atom bombs. Why wouldn't Iran wish for the most powerful defense possible, especially when it's cultivated some seriously bad relationships with a pair of militaristic states with a history of aggression and intimidation? Putting aside geopolitical ramifications for a moment, isn't a nation entitled to protect itself with a deterrent proportional to the weapons with which its enemies might threaten it? How many ground wars, do you suppose, have been ruled out because of the threat of nuclear retaliation?

The Cold War mathematics of nuclear proliferation and M.A.D. bear a striking similarity to the arguments of the gun lobby, do they not?

Yeah, yeah, yeah -- but Iran is a crazy theocratic place run by crazy religious zealous who don't care if they all get burnt to cinders as long as Israel gets destroyed in the process. Somehow I don't think that's the case. If the Iranian regime was really that irrationally, obsessively, irresistibly compelled to attack Israel in spite of all consequences, one would think they'd be going at it already, nukes or no nukes. Why aren't they? Ah, right -- because they know their enemies would blow them back to the bronze age in retaliation. See? They're already demonstrating that they're not insane. (And as I understand it, that is the minimum requirement for gun ownership in the NRA's ideal America.)

Ad hominem: what members I've seen or met of America's most zealous Second Amendment proponents display an aberrance of behavior on par with your average crazy person or religious radical, and they unnerve me just as much.

If Glenn Beck is correct and the right to bear arms is endowed upon us by our capital-g God, doesn't that mean that the Iranians also have the right to build weapons to protect themselves from some very well-armed people down the lane who really don't like them? Couldn't we safely presume that if (and yes, it's still an "if") the Iranian regime is developing nuclear weapons, they would cite as their motivation the need for a defensive deterrent? (Well, part of their motivation, anyway -- the leverage that comes with being a nuclear-armed state has got to be pretty appealing. It could help explain why the United States built more warheads that it could ever conceivably use and why Israel built its bombs in secret, and doesn't seem that concerned with denying their existence.)

Again: for the moment I'm not interested in foreign policy particulars or solutions, but in consistency of principles. It's strange to assert a Creator-endowed right to bear arms in one breath, and then immediately stress the urgency of lobbing ordnance at a nation before it can arm itself with the same weapons we have. Do we really believe the freedom to arm ourselves is somehow exclusive to us (and our friends) because of a backwards sense of national exceptionalism or the belief that we're the favorite people of our favorite deity?

And why do claims like these only sound offensive and unreasonable to Americans when it's someone from another nation making them? 

*Comic at top by Sakai. Further citation details unavailable.


  1. 1) Thanks for the linking.

    2) I think the difference in policy comes from the 2nd Amendment leading off with the argument that a militia is needed to prevent tyranny. That's what gun-proponents often cite as their main reason: they're worried about not being able to fight back against an oppressive government. Iran, on the other hand, does not want nukes for defensive purposes but for offensive purposes. They want to instigate, while law-abiding American gun owners just want the safety and security of a firearm.

    "I don't want to use my gun on another person, but I want it there just in case. But those crazy Iranians want to bomb Israel or even us! They're crazy!"

  2. I'll play devils advocate.

    1. A nuke is not a gun just like how a missile launcher or 30 pounds of C-4 linked to a heartbeat sensor are not guns.

    2. A gun really is defensive. You really would use it to defend yourself if you had too. A nuke is a deterrent.

    3. International politics is anarchistic. It doesn't really equate government policy. Americans aren't arguing for the right of citizens from other countries to carry guns are they?

    1. 1.) I wasn't talking strictly about guns. I was talking about arms. Armaments. Weapons.

      2.) A gun IS a deterrent; that's the point you keep hearing Second Amendment proponents make. If a person walks into a convenience store with a gun in his pocket, he's more likely to hesitate and back off if he walks inside and notices a group of armed policemen at the Slurpee machine?

      And there's no reason a nuke couldn't realistically be used as a defensive weapon -- we just haven't seen on being used as such. (Hopefully we never will.) A country with a bunch of tanks crossing its border could simply lob a warhead towards the invaders' capital. That's defense in the same sense as pulling a gun and shooting back at someone who's shooting at you.

      3.) What?

    2. I wrote the below... But I don't know. This is pointless. Just consider my argument rescinded. Seems a shame to delete it though.

      3.) American politics isn't international politics. You can't expect people to act the same for both because they aren't the same.

      Try and make this argument in the opposite: Americans are guaranteed the right to bear arms, therefore Iran should be allowed to have nukes.

      It's bad reasoning. Gun policy is one thing. Iran's nuclear policy is another.

      This topic seems like pseudo-reasoning to me. Like the package deal fallacy. If you want to make an argument against concealed carry laws, make it. If you want to make an argument for how Iran should have the right to posses nuclear arms, make it. But don't use your opponents seemingly different positions on seemingly similar issues as evidence of the illegitimacy of the positions they took.

      It reminds me of when people tried to point out how the OWS protesters as hypercritical for using Apple products.

      I don't think you should stoop that low to make your argument.

    3. Hmm. I wasn't concerned about policy and particulars, but the spirit of our principles in a very general sense. The text of the Second Amendment implies that the freedom to arm oneself as one sees fit is not granted by a legal document, but is a preexisting human right that should not be infringed upon.

      "Arms" doesn't mean "guns." "Arms" means "weapons."

  3. Personally, I think that a nuclear armed Iran would be a good thing. It would keep the Isralis and US from attacking them increasing regional stability. They "they're crazy" stuff is just nonsense.

    Also, while I disagree with all the recent wars I don't think it's fair to characterize them as disasters. I mean, sure, they are disasters. But they've resulted in exactly what the people who wanted them to result in. That doesn't make them good for the average American or person who's country is being bombed, but it worked out great for the political elite.

    1. How 1984. And by 1984 I mean "totally accurate."