The issue of what to do about Iran's nuclear program has been much discussed recently; the leftist blogs have extensively discussed the way the top Democratic candidates are going to such lengths to be sure to say that the option of attacking Iran is not "off the table." The diplomatic theory underlying this, of course, is that our negotiating position is stronger if Iran thinks we might actually use military force, so we should never say we would definitely not do that. One problem with this line of thinking, as many have noted, is that constantly reminding Iran that we're willing to attack them is quite likely to make the government of Iran think that they need nuclear weapons to deter such an attack. I'd like to mention another flaw in the reasoning.
We have overwhelming military force. Everybody knows this. Thus, every country in the world knows that, potentially, the United States could use that military force against them. There is no need to say we're going to do that, or make a big deal of our willingness to do things like that, in order to ensure that other countries take this into account in their planning. Paranoia, plus the extreme badness of any outcome which involves us actually attacking, guarantees that countries are always going to take that into account, whatever our public rhetoric. Thus, it is frivolous to engage in saber-rattling in order to prove to our enemies that we're a threat; they know that perfectly well and need no proof.
Instead, the most likely consequence of publicly making threats is to guarantee that any concessions that our enemies make to us appear to the world to be made under duress. Since many of our enemies appear to be as neurotic about "appearing weak" as our own administration, this is only going to make them more reluctant to make any concessions.
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