Searching for the righ
THERE is a famous story about US president John F. Kennedy sending two advisers to South Vietnam to assess the situation and report back to him. One was a civilian from the State Department, Joseph Mendenhall, the other was a marine officer from the Pentagon, Victor Krulak. They went separately and gave JFK such divergent assessments on their return that he quipped: ‘‘ The two of you did visit the same country, didn’t you?’’
Reading Mohamed ElBaradei’s The Age of Deception: Nuclear Diplomacy in Treacherous Times and Ron Rosenbaum’s How the End Begins: The Road to a Nuclear World War III brought this anecdote back to me.
ElBaradei depicts the US and Israel as aggressive and hypocritical. The decision by nuclear non-proliferation treaty signatories such as Iraq (before 1991), North Korea (until it withdrew from the NPT) and Iran (up to the present) to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of the NPT he views with comparative equanimity. Rosenbaum is not at ease with anyone having nukes but is especially concerned about Iran’s nuclear weapons program as an existential threat to Israel and a probable trigger for catastrophic war in the Middle East.
A well-informed European friend remarked to me that Rosenbaum is ‘‘ a shrill alarmist’’ and ElBaradei ‘‘ a vulgar apologist’’.
But it is too easy to say the truth lies somewhere in the middle. For one thing, that merely raises the question, ‘‘ Where, exactly, then, does the truth lie?’’
More important, it encourages evasion of the disturbing questions raised by each of these books and also by the fact it is possible for two intelligent and well-informed observers of this terrifying subject to hold such divergent views.
How the End Begins is an apocalyptic book, but it isn’t a hysterical one and it certainly is not a hawkish one. Rosenbaum is a denizen of New York, born in Manhattan and reared on Long Island, who, having graduated from Yale with a degree in English literature, dropped