Over at Unbound, Chris Iosso has a timely post on the campaign to demonize Iran. The “mindset,” as Iosso calls it, serves to limit policy options and increase the likelihood of war, without due regard to circumstances. I share Iosso’s concern. After more than a decade of perpetual warring, the majority of Americans appear in no mood for another war. I worry, however, that our reluctance may be overcome by a combination of fear, self-righteousness, and arrogance. I’m not sure any of this rises to the level of sacrifice (Paul Kahn) or meaning (Stanley Hauerwas), but I do worry about the capacity of our politics to sustain genuine debate in the face of what we fear is a threat to our existence or that of Israel. I appreciate Iosso’s attempt to empower our critical capacities and it is in the spirit of appreciation that I offer these critical comments.
On the question of mindset, I wish Iosso would say more. Does this “mindset” relate to an American political theology? Do we Americans fear those we demonize or do we think it our special responsibility to fight them? Is this a form of American exceptionalism? If so, do we Reformed Christians have a special responsibility to act as critics? If Reformed theology has been secularized or otherwise co-opted, should we abandon the language of election, providence, etc. Or should we try to reclaim this language? Might God-talk offer any help in trying to resist the inevitability of war?
I ask this as one who thinks that war is sometimes tragically necessary but often folly. I appreciate critiques that point to the difference between God and country, that remind us that God, not the United States, is Sovereign. I worry, however, that such criticism has little traction with a body politic that prefers a god who simply affirms (and never challenges) our wishes, agendas, and plans.
If theological critique is one way of empowering resistance to the rush to war, practical judgment is another. Iosso recommends containment of a nuclear Iran through nuclear deterrence. While I appreciate the appeal to containment, I worry that such a strategy is too sanguine about life with a nuclear Iran. Should we really bet on nuclear deterrence with a nation that has demonstrated a willingness to support terrorist acts and that has sworn to destroy Israel? Such an argument fails to take the threat of a nuclear Iran seriously.
Imagine if this policy were adopted by an American administration. Can you go further still and imagine the Israelis‘ relying on our threat of deterrence?
In the case of Iran, deterrence looks less like realism and more like nostalgia for another era. The limits of nuclear deterrence push us to reconsider how to limit war and act responsibly in a world given to episodes of madness.