All-Purpose Update: Iran, China, Australia, Recession, TSA, Etc.

By James Fallows

While traveling I am reminded of that modern truth: we are omni-connected in a bad way (crowds staring at devices in their hands when walking, driving, talking -- people will start making fun of this pretty soon) without being reliably connected in a good way (being able to count on usable connections on a laptop when moving from place to place*). Thus today's catch-up grab-bag:

1) Iran The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg reminds us in this authoritative and news-filled interview/post about the fundamental problem with all "let's bomb Iran" scenarios: they would make the situation much worse rather than in any way "better." This is an evergreen theme for our magazine. In his latest report, Jeff Goldberg reports on a lengthy discussion in Israel last month with Meir Dagan, former head of Israel's intelligence service, the Mossad. A sample, with my emphasis added:

What angers [Dagan] most is what he sees as a total lack of understanding on the part of the men who lead the Israeli government about what may come the day after an Israeli strike. Some senior Israeli officials have argued to me that a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities might actually trigger the eventual downfall of the regime. Dagan predicts the opposite: "Judging by the war Iran fought against Iraq, even people who supported the Shah, even the Communists, joined hands with (Ayatollah) Khomeini to fight Saddam," he said, adding, "In case of an attack, political pressure on the regime will disappear. If Israel will attack, there is no doubt in my mind that this will also provide them with the justification to go ahead and move quickly to nuclear weapons." He also predicted that the sanctions program engineered principally by President Obama may collapse as a result of an Israeli strike, which would make it easier for Iran to obtain the material necessary for it to cross the nuclear threshold. 

This report, and a similar cautionary interview by Jeff Goldberg last week, for me are the conclusive response to yet another recent item from The Goldberg Oeuvre. That was his asking whether Barack Obama, with his track record of taking big, dramatic risks despite his super-deliberate reputation, might be expected to make a similar, "What the hell, let's try it" choice about Iran.

My answer is: No. He is not going to do this. Nothing in Obama's record reveals a willingness to make a choice with as much unbounded negative potential as this one. Running for President as a freshman senator? At worst he'd suffer a bad early loss -- as many ultimately successful candidates have done. Ordering the strike on bin Laden? Riskier, for his reputation and for relations with Pakistan -- but not in the sense of opening up a whole new military front. The commitment in Libya: hedged and contained from the start. Similarly with Iraq and Afghanistan. I won't go down the entire list but will say, Nothing in Obama's career illustrates a recklessness like what would be involved in  bombing Iran. (Readers from the Netanyahu government, please ignore this paragraph. I'm bluffing.)

2) China Two days ago, the Atlantic's editor James Bennet and I had a discussion at Atlantic HQ, hosted by David Bradley and organized by Steve Clemons, about China, China Airborne, and when my next article for the Atlantic was going to be turned in. The video is here.  This morning I talked Charlie Rose and Erica Hill, on CBS, about the same topics -- at least the first two. That video is here.

3) Recession In addition to Derek Thompson's very good piece on our site about what makes job loss in this recession so unusual, please see the "America's Hidden Austerity Program" by Ben Polak and Peter Schott of Yale. It has been widely cited but is too important not to mention again. Short answer: in all other recessions, public employment has helped pull us back up. This time it is pulling us down. 

4) Australia Sam Roggeveen, of the Lowy Institute in Sydney, has been doing an online Q-and-A with me about China, America, technology, and related topics. I think U.S. readers in particular would find this enlightening, for the difference in assumptions about and perspectives on China, as seen from the Antipodes. It's on Lowy's The Interpreter site: part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is in process.

5) TSA I have news, but it will wait. That is it for now.

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* On this point: I love Amtrak and take it whenever I can. But, really, Amtrak needs to stop advertising its east coast trains as having WiFi -- because they don't in any kind of reliable way.

Suppose Amtrak under-promised and said: You get to travel from downtown to downtown, with no TSA screening lines and in relative calm, plus with power outlets at each seat ... and from time to time along the route free WiFi service might be available! Then people would be happily surprised when it did work. Instead its promising sometime that its current technology just can't deliver, therefore creating needless Louis CK-style irritation when it doesn't work rather than appropriate gratitude when it does.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/06/all-purpose-update-iran-china-australia-recession-tsa-etc/258511/