My sentiments precisely, Moe. Except that —

Allahpundit and Moe both extract an important point, although Allah doesn’t quite see it:

Another thing I can’t figure out is why Stuxnet, in Fox’s words, was “designed to allow the Iranian program to continue but never succeed, and never to know why.”

Moe knows:

Anybody can wreck a physical plant.  Wrecking the social network that a scientific/engineering project depends on to function properly causes a lot more damage.

A nuclear project is complicated. Lots of different things have to go right, and do so in synchronization with a lot of other things. You also need an army of technicians — no society, not even ours, produces enough highly-trained people to have PhDs or equivalent reading meters and twirling wrenches. None of those techs knows everything the others do, and many of them have to work more or less by rote knowledge, trusting their superiors to teach them the right things to do.

In a small country like Iran there can’t be all that many scientists and engineers who are capable of working on something that complex, and the greatest achievement of Stuxnet may very well be the sowing of distrust among that small community, and between it and the Government. A witch-hunt that tried to track down just whose thumbdrive brought it in would be an excellent way to destroy the needed social cohesion. Machines can be fixed with wrenches and screwdrivers and spare parts. Communities of trust take generations to build.

I’ve known some Iranians in my time, though not in their native habitat. One of them was a minor scion of the Pah-levi family, and insisted on being called “Persian” (which is amusing historically). Some of them were assholes, some were nice folks; which is to say, they were people. In an odd sort of way they resemble us Americans — thanks to millenia of conquest (in both directions) they have a lot of ethnic diversity, they’re much sharper technically and intellectually than Arabs mostly are, they owe more to the Old Country (in their case, the successive waves of invaders from north of the mountains) than they care to admit, and beneath their Shi’ia Muslim faith they use leftover bits of Zoroastrianism the same way we keep Christmas trees from our pagan forebears.

If, as we occasionally hear, there is resentment and distrust between the mullahs and the scientific and technical people, this will tend to exacerbate it enormously. There is probably no better way to destroy a community of trust than micromanagement by ignorant superiors. Not only is that likely to reduce their efficiency and decrease their success rate in that program, the relative smallness of the scientific and technical community almost guarantees that it will slop over into other areas, like their rocket design programs. In the end, the most long-lasting effect of Stuxnet might be social rather than technical. Letting the project continue, but not succeed, is an excellent way to achieve that goal by sowing frustration, fear, uncertainty, and doubt on the fertile soil of pre-existing resentment.

That’s a pity in many ways. All else being equal, I would have no more objection to Iranians having nuclear weapons and ICBMs than I would to Germans or Israelis or the French being so equipped. All else is not equal: I have strong objections to handing nuclear weapons to religious fanatics who object to the space program on the ground that Mohammed’s coffin might be disturbed as it floats between Earth and Paradise. A democratic, or otherwise Western-oriented, Iran would be a sometimes-ally, sometimes-competitor the same way the French are. An Islamic Republic led by the Shi’ia mullahs is an enemy, full stop. Destroying the internal cohesion of the class of Iranians we’re most likely to get along well with when/if the mullahs are gone is the sociological equivalent of firebombing Dresden. It might be expedient, it might even be necessary, but it’ll take a while to get over the collateral damage.



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