Politics, Technology, and Language

If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought — George Orwell

Which options are on the table in Iran?

Posted by metaphorical on 5 March 2007

When it comes to military action against Iran, George Bush has said that “All options are on the table.” When asked, John McCain agrees, calling the president’s statement “entirely appropriate.” Hillary Clinton agrees as well, saying “no option can be taken off the table.”

Even John Edwards and Barack Obama agree. Edwards: “We need to keep ALL options on the table. Let me reiterate – ALL options must remain on the table.” Obama: “I think we should keep all options on the table.”

George Lakoff asks a simple question: Is one of those options a nuclear strike? The answer turns out to be yes. And so when all these politicians say “All options are on the table,” what they’re really saying is, “nuclear war is on the table.”

Lakoff is a professor of linguistics at UC Berkeley. So his article, over on Dissent, notes that employing the colorless, detail-free word “all” is a form of euphemism, one that politicians are using to avoid talking directly about nuclear war, and one that the press is giving them a free ride on by not forcing them to answer questions asked specifically about nuclear war. Dissent posted the article with the tag “Orwell,” which seems amply appropriate.

As Lakoff says,

A familiar means of denying a reality is to refuse to use the words that describe that reality. A common form of propaganda is to keep reality from being described.

His argument that “all” includes nuclear war is easily summarized. The administration is considering a tactical attack on Iran’s underground nuclear laboratory. Conventional bombing, using a GBU-28 bomb, or “bunker buster,” has a significant chance of succeeding, especially if several are used in succession. But there’s also a significant chance such an attack would fail to destroy the facility. If so, “a ‘low yield’ ‘tactical’ nuclear weapon, say, the B61-11, might be needed.”

“Tactical” and “low-yield” are of course further euphemisms. There’s nothing tactical about a first-strike nuclear attack; it would surely broaden the war in Iraq into a generalized war in the Middle East, and pushes us much closer to a general war between Islam and the West. And there’s nothing low about the yield of even a “small” nuclear weapon like the B61-11 which, Lakoff points out, can be set for a yield 10 times that of the Hiroshima bomb.

Lakoff suggests that George Bush has been more honest about the nuclear option than other politicians. At least once, he has uttered the “All options are on the table” mantra in the context of a question about a possible nuclear strike.

We need to force the Democratic candidates to acknowledge that “all” includes a nuclear attack, and then force them to say once again whether “All options are on the table.” We need for them to stop riding on the euphemism express and for the press to stop its lazy habit of letting them ride it for free.

22 Responses to “Which options are on the table in Iran?”

  1. Which options are on the table in Iran?

  2. Is diplomacy also on the table????

  3. Military planners plan. The devise plans for any contingency. They do not necessarily consider moral issues, but simply plan unemotionally to achieve the goals set before them. That’s their job.

    The act of letting Iran know that the United States is theoretically willing to use a first strike nuclear capacity to prevent Iran from building a nuclear warhead is in itself diplomacy.

    Of course all options must be on the table. The terms under which those options would be exercised are where judgment plays a part. I think it’s fine to say that “all options are on the table” as a way to let Iran know what the full consequences of a military confrontation could be.

  4. While the B61-11’s dial-a-yield feature can be set for hundreds of kilotons, it also allows for multiple setting under the 15 kiloton yield of the Hiroshima bomb. As a matter of fact, when configured to have a 10-kiloton yield and detonated 4 feet underground, the B61-11 can produce a shock wave sufficient to crush a bunker buried beneath 100 meters of layered rock.

  5. Blue Athena said

    Is there anyone out there who is smart enough to find an election booth that doesn’t know “all” includes nuclear weapons? Are we worried that Iran doesn’t understand this?

    Diplomacy is not about saying everything in cold blunt terms. Only George Bush even pretends it is…and this hasn’t worked well in the political arena. Diplomacy (aka “tact”) is about finding the right words to have the right impact, while allowing people to save face in front of their country or allowing one’s country to do what is needed without self contradiction. It’s not about “straight talking Texas shoot from the hip” speak. You can’t both claim that it’s all about tact one day and then bash Bush’s lack of diplomacy the next. Sometimes I think that’s the contradictory tact that some folks are taking.

    I believe that all means, roughly, “all”. The statement “all options are on the table” is the same as saying “we are not going to limit ourselves in any way before we see what happens.” This is the only sensible approach to take if you are suggesting a possible war of any kind. Unexpected events happen, and if the worst is required you need to be able to act without the additional risk of being called liars further down the line. If you suggest that you are unwilling, in case of war, to ever use certain weapons in your arsenal you have just wasted trillions of dollars.

    None of this, of course, touches on the question of whether anything the US is or has done in the region makes the slightest bit of sense. That’s a whole other topic…and clearly one heck of a lot of US actions are pretty idiotic. But there could arise circumstances, that don’t far stretch the imagination, where extreme measures would be needed to head off even more extreme threats. And I don’t expect any politician, at least any who plans to get elected, to tie their hands on issues of international security.

  6. On the other hand, if we were to use nuclear weapons there, we should probably just opt for the Powell Doctrine and turn the whole fucking place (meaning the middle east) into a big smoking black glass bowl. I mean if we’re going to use nukes. Plus, it’d be good for the environment as the loss of all of that oil would force the world to develop alternative fuels. Yeah, there’s the whole killing millions and millions of people, but I for one think the environment is worth it.

  7. “Is there anyone out there who is smart enough to find an election booth that doesn’t know “all” includes nuclear weapons?”

    That’s a good question, one that I think the conventional media would do well to ask, just as I think they should ask of Clinton, Obama, and Edwards, “Do you believe all options should be on the table, including (to use the Mambo King’s number) a nuclear weapon two-thirds the strength of the Hiroshima bomb?” My guess is that there would be some surprises in their answers, or as they refuse to answer.

  8. We need to force the Democratic candidates to acknowledge that “all” includes a nuclear attack, and then force them to say once again whether “All options are on the table.” We need for them to stop riding on the euphemism express and for the press to stop its lazy habit of letting them ride it for free.

    And what would be served by that? Other than prove they would not screw things up as badly as the Chimp has, I don’t see the point of the exercise.

  9. Blue Athena said

    I think I’m in agreement with Andrew here. It still isn’t clear to me what is to be gained. What are the “surprises in their answers” that you expect, and what do you anticipate this would mean?

    Each candidate will say whatever they think is appropriate for the demographic they have targeted for the primaries. The wording will shift based on public opinion in the general elections. Once in office they will say “all options” and include nuclear. Forcing any more detail at this point will just make them risk electability.

  10. Maybe my instincts are off, but I think Obama would shy away from saying nuclear weapons are an option in a strike against Iran, and I think Clinton would not. And I think some voters will be surprised and informed.

  11. Blue Athena said

    If that were the case I would think it said a lot more about the targeted electoral demographic than about any real opinion or stand once elected. Or perhaps about the candidates ignorance of how the democratic system works.

    But here you are talking about a situation similar to forcing a candidate to take a stand on “under god” in the pledge. Or on gay marriage or post-911 “should we support the president’s right to declare war”. There really *isn’t* a choice most of the time in how the candidates answer, and forcing an answer can, at times, be counterproductive.

  12. There’s also a risk when we never ask candidates tough questions and have no way to distinguish them. The play-it-safe strategy is what (among all the other things) lost for Gore in 2000; too many people thought there weren’t many differences between him and Bush. But you may well be right about this particular question.

  13. And I think some voters will be surprised and informed.

    There are a lot of questions I’d like to hear the candidates answer before “nuke Iran, on or off the table?”

    I’d rather see the candidates asked about whether they would continue the Chimp’s premptive war doctrine. Or whether they will continue funding of “bunker buster” nukes. Or why Israel should have a regional nuclear monopoly backed by the US. Or whether they know the difference between the Sunni and Shia Islam.

  14. Blue Athena said

    “Or whether they know the difference between the Sunni and Shia Islam”

    Ha. :) I’ve always wanted to see all candidates take the Foreign Service Exam. Don’t think we’ll get many takers, though. Since *very* top scores are not actually correlated to the best candidates, but rather mid-level high scores, I recommend a basic cut-off and that the population just be told whether they passed or failed.

    Ahhh…pipe dreams.

  15. ClaireDePlume said

    i have only ONE question to ask;

    Can the public deal with ‘the truth’?

  16. waitmyturn22 said

    I hope this will make my John Edwards stocks go up so I make some money on it :-) http://www.prediction-markets.info/rd.php?language=en&wordid=94

  17. jmac said

    Have any of you people ever played poker before??? Diplomacy is like a game of poker you never show your cards until the last minute, but you always play like you have an ace up your sleeve. “All options are on the table” can be a bluff its up to the Iranians to decide if they want to take the chance of being nuked or dismantle their nuke program, Im sure everyone in our govt and running for govt hopes they will choose the latter but talkin tough tactic that will hopefully scare them into choosing the second option.

  18. Maria said

    The Iranians invented the game of Chess. I think we are playing games with people that know all too well the game of bluff. The only way to keep them away is to flex our muscles. Then again they would all love to be martyred. There are 72 virgins waiting for every man that dies for his faith. No one has told me what the women get… Maybe it is their virginity!

    Tsk Tsk so unfair!

  19. How exactly do you bluff in chess?

  20. Maria said

    To bluff is to stay engaged with the game until you achieve your desired results. If you stay focused, you will learn much, not just about the game you’re currently playing, but about your opponent in general. So you watch every single move. You’ll get better at reading people. Always try to figure out who’s strong and who’s weak, and when moves are made you’ll get to verify or disprove your assumption and thus make the best move for yourself. I guess you can look at it in different ways but I personally feel it is having your planned moves ahead of your opponent.

  21. That’s an interesting understanding of the word. Mostly, the rest of us use it to describe, as the dictionary does, an attempt “to mislead by a display of strength, self-confidence, or the like: He bluffed me into believing that he was a doctor” and “to deceive by a show of confidence in the strength of one’s cards.”

    In chess, all the cards, so to speak, are on the table.

  22. Maria said

    There is nothing wrong with staying with- the rest of the people. Actually you are probobly correct. I just think that in any game of strategy there is the assumption of “bluff”.

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