There’s a term in Political Science that I’m looking for (and if the LazyWeb speaks up, I’ll re-write this to accommodate it). It’s the technique of gradually shifting the center of a debate, first by introducing notions previously unthinkable at the edge, then gradually moving them towards plausibility. It seems to be happening right now, with the objective of dragging aggressive war against Iran to stage center. Just this last weekend, the LA Times ran an opinion piece with the admirably-straightforward title Bomb Iran, and Ha’aretz was right behind them in line with Bush: I would understand if Israel chose to attack Iran. There’s even a schedule: In recent talks with their Israeli counterparts, French government officials estimated that Iran would reach the “point of no return” in its nuclear program by spring 2007, in approximately five months. I am no lover of the corrupt theofascist oppressors in Tehran; and I suspect that nearly everyone agrees that we lose every time nuclear weapons cross another border. But still, are we so blind to history that anybody believes that such an attempt will succeed; or, whether succeeding or failing, improve the situation? [Update: The term I was looking for was Overton Window; check the comments for a pointer to Mark Pilgrim using it. Thanks LazyWeb!]


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: SKD (Nov 20 2006, at 10:16)

Also left unexplored in almost all discussion of Iran is whether/what circumstances Iran would use a nuke, if it had one. Would it _really_ nuke Israel, and contaminate Palestine, Jordan and more? Would it really give nukes to terrorists? Why would an Iran with nukes be more dangerous than Pakistan or North Korea?

Would I be happy about a nuclear Iran? No.

But have we even thought about containment/cooption strategies? Has there been any discussion about how our aggressive rhetoric makes a nuclear Iran even _more_ likely?


From: Justin (Nov 20 2006, at 10:19)

The term you're looking for is the <a href="">Overton window</a>, most recently used by <a href="">Mark Pilgrim</a>.


From: Simon Willison (Nov 20 2006, at 10:20)

That would be the Overton window. Mark Pilgrim wrote about it here:


From: Eric Meyer (Nov 20 2006, at 10:37)

"But still, are we so blind to history that anybody believes that such an attempt will succeed; or, whether succeeding or failing, improve the situation?"

History, hell. How about the actual present?


From: Bob Aman (Nov 20 2006, at 11:04)

I'm not sure you can really have your cake and eat it too on this issue. I don't think you can say, "The theofascists are a problem, and something needs to be done," and then turn around and say, "But military action is unconscionable, and we shouldn't even consider the option." Nuclear weapons are a really big freaking deal. You simply can't afford to take the military option off the table, but it is something of a catch-22. If Iran is certain that you'll attack, they'll double their efforts to build that weapon, and if they're certain you won't attack, they are sure to see you as weak and too spread-out and they'll just build the weapon anyways. Uncertainty is probably the best strategy we've got right now.

What we we know is that a military strike against Iran will be incredibly costly, in terms of military and civilian lives lost, monetary cost, and political capital, but we also know that a single nuclear detonation would almost certainly be costlier still. Probably by several orders of magnitude. I personally don't like the whole idea, but I like mushroom clouds even less. We owe it to ourselves to question the statements made by the Bush administration, given their exceptionally poor performance thus far, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that they're entirely wrong on this one, and pushing the possibility of a weapon back by two years is still two years. The real question is how high a price are we willing to pay for our oil, because if push comes to shove, Iran is going to start sinking tankers. At least, they will if the US is involved. Which is probably why the "Israel option" is starting to look more attractive in Washington.


From: David Megginson (Nov 20 2006, at 13:07)

Unless President Bush is encouraging Israel to use their own (unacknowledged) nuclear weapons, a successful strike against Iran doesn't look likely -- it's over 1,000 miles from Israel to Iran's suspected weapon sites, and the last I heard (2004), most of Israel's air force didn't have the range to make it there and back without a few refueling stops, even assuming that they were allowed to overfly the Arab Muslim countries on the direct route in-between. Israeli long-range missiles didn't have enough of a (non-nuclear) payload to do significant damage, either.

Israel could do some token strikes with longer-range aircraft (e.g. a government building or convoy here or there), but the effect would be purely symbolic, especially since the planes would be so loaded with fuel that they couldn't carry much explosive, and the strikes would do nothing to stop or slow Iran's nuclear program. Would the symbolism help or hurt the U.S. cause?


From: Ben Donley (Nov 20 2006, at 13:09)

My introduction to the Overton window was from the "Swords Crossed" blog, which has apparently taken it down. It's still <a href="">right here in the Google cache</a> for the moment.


From: Daniel Haran (Nov 20 2006, at 16:08)

Wow, the LA Times op-ed (first link) is insane.

Iran IS indeed trying to achieve some regional supremacy. All the talk about Iran by the US is only making Iran look more important to its neighbours. A better strategy would be for the US to tone down the rhetoric.

There are other ways of making pressure, but I'm afraid the op-ed columnists and the current "leadership" at the White House wouldn't be able to understand them.


From: Joel (Nov 20 2006, at 20:25)

A fiber supplement for the Bushco pablum we're being spoonfed by the MSM:



Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more?


From: Tony Fisk (Nov 20 2006, at 21:06)

This doesn't sound like a window that should be left open.

Maybe this BBC report will close it?:

'No Proof of Iran Nuclear Weapons'

Mind you, there was no proof of WMD in Iraq either!


From: vg (Nov 20 2006, at 22:31)

Umm, if the CIA said there were IMD in Iraq (slam dunk), and there weren't, and now they say there are no nukes in Iran, does that mean...


From: Dustin (Nov 21 2006, at 06:47)

The use of the Overton window is an example of psy-ops in effect.


From: Aristotle Pagaltzis (Nov 21 2006, at 16:34)

If the US hadn’t neutralised Iraq as a military force in the region, then maybe Iran’s leadership wouldn’t be feeling so frisky now about getting away with a nuclear propram.

Hitting Iran doesn’t seem like a question of “if” at this point, only a question of “when.” What I do wonder is how the strike is supposed to happen, since the US military is already stretched thin just dealing with Iraq. But Afghanistan was left to the vultures long ago, and is on the verge of falling into their hands, even if noone is talking about it (bad for the image, I suppose). It doesn’t seem unreasable to assume that the same fate awaits Iraq. What was the talk about punishing the Iraqis for non-cooperation all about, anyway?


From: Joel (Nov 21 2006, at 18:35)

The actual urgency of the "Iran matter" is that this is probably Israel's last opportunity to provoke us into another proxy war. There is clearly an opportunity to bring diplomacy, and international pressure to bear on Iran. Under the NPT Iran is completely within its rights to enrich uranium for atomic power.

Our shameful behavior in Iran, overthrowing Mossadeq and installing that "bulwark of human rights," the Shah, in his place, sewed the seed of our present predicament. What we did to foment, intensify and prolong the Iran-Iraq war which cost millions of lives, only threw fuel on the fire. Besides Hersh's article, people should also examine what Ray McGovern and Scott Ritter have to say about Iran.


From: Alex James (Nov 22 2006, at 01:05)

Being from outside the US I regard its politics and media with an external eye. Here in NZ one of our free to air TV channels reverts to a Fox News feed when it shuts down normal broadcasting.

The first time I saw it my jaw dropped to the ground in disbelief at the 'fair and balanced' coverage. However after a while I decided it was good to watch if only to provide a lesson in propaganda.

It seems Overton Window is one of Fox's key tactics, albeit in a highly accelerated form. I have noticed again and again, how Fox introduces a fairly controversial idea via some 'expert opinion' and how the idea transforms over the next 3 or 4 days until it is mentioned as if it is a given.

So it is nice to put a name to the tactic... Thanks.


From: Steven (Nov 27 2006, at 14:00)

Predictions of Public Opinions and Behaviors From Mass Media Text Analyzed by Computer

Monday, December 04, 2006

Presenter: David Fan

Affiliation: University of Minnesota

Time: 11:15 - 12:15

Location: EE/CS 3-125

Sponsor: External Speaker

Maybe run your media through this guy's UniBlab to determine the

next crazy behaviour.


author · Dad
colophon · rights
picture of the day
November 20, 2006
· The World (148 fragments)
· · Places
· · · Middle East (56 more)
· · Politics (174 more)

By .

The opinions expressed here
are my own, and no other party
necessarily agrees with them.

A full disclosure of my
professional interests is
on the author page.

I’m on Mastodon!