When Alfred Nobel read his obituary (mistakenly printed of course–it was his brother that had died) proclaiming that the “merchant of death is dead”, he set about to repair his legacy, to pay penance for having invented dynamite, creating in  his will the several prizes (peace, physics, economics, etc.) that are annually awarded to people deemed to have made significant contributions in the various fields.  Nobel died in 1896 at age 63, not having witnessed the carnage of World War One, the first war in which the efficiencies of industrialization were more or less fully applied to create efficiencies in killing people and destroying things, with dynamite playing heavily in the carnage.   It can only be imagined how his will might have read if he had been alive to witness the devastation.

But dynamite also proved quite useful for doing things other than killing people and destroying things.  It is still heavily used today in the construction and mining industries.  There’s no way to know whether, on balance, dynamite has been a bane or a benefit to human welfare, but the French newspaper that proclaimed Nobel the merchant of death was obviously a bit less than objective in its evaluation of his contributions.  Dynamite, used to create the first weapons of mass destruction, was detrimental to human welfare only according to the designs of the humans employing it, much the same as nuclear technology would be upon its development a half-century later.

It could be argued that Nobel may have done more damage to human welfare by creating his prizes than the net detriment, if any, caused by his invention of dynamite.  Nobel prizes are sometimes awarded for truly remarkable contributions to the advancement of human welfare and understanding.  They are also often awarded for the purpose of making political statements, particularly in the case of the Nobel Peace prize–by example, two of the most recent awards being to Barack Obama for the 2009 prize (upon his election to the presidency), and a joint award to Al Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007 for their efforts to disseminate information about climate change.  At the time of his award, Obama had done nothing except get himself elected.  Al Gore and the IPCC spread some truth, perhaps, but also a whole bunch of politically tinged bullshit. 

Even the science prizes are suspect.  Investigating the nature of the universe and of man within it is either a worthwhile enterprise or it is not.  Awarding a prize for successfully advancing understanding holds the possibility of a number of untoward developments.  The prestige that comes with a Nobel prize might make its acquisition, rather than the nature of reality, the focus of one’s efforts.  The award, while often split between several recipients, is still an award for individual efforts, yet cooperation is the keystone of scientific development.  No scientist has ever discovered any profound truths solely through his individual efforts.  He always stands on the shoulders of those gone before him, and depends on his contemporaries for feedback.  Einstein did not “discover” the Special Theory of Relativity on his own–it was in fact his attempt to resolve a well-known clock synchronization problem without needing a background ether, and he relied heavily on the Lorentz transformation and Michelson-Morley experiments in doing so.  (Einstein was not awarded the Nobel prize for Relativity Theory, Special or General, but for his discovery of the photoelectric effect.  By 1921, the Nobel committee still was not sure what to make of Einstein’s Relativity, but knew it had to award something to a scientist grown so prominent.)  In so far as a Nobel prize provides a human face for an intellect mythologized to demigod status, it rather impedes than promotes the scientific process. 

Alfred Nobel’s prizes illustrate the danger to the world when old, powerful men seek to burnish their legacies.  History is replete with examples, Nobel’s being a relatively tame one.  Imagine the suffering inflicted on the Egyptian slaves so the Pharaohs could have their pyramids.  Or, the suffering of the Chinese peasant so the emperor could have his terra-cotta army accompany him to the afterlife.  Though celebrated as remarkable accomplishments today, the world could have gotten along just fine without the pyramids or terra-cotta soldiers.  Their benefit to the ages is meek compared to the immediacy of the misery and suffering their creation imposed.   

Sheldon Adelson made his money preying on the inability of people to understand risk or to exercise self-restraint.  He is a seventy-eight year-old American casino magnate, said to be worth $22 billion.   His Venetian casino in Las Vegas practically defines decadent hedonism in a city built upon it.  Relatively late in life, Adelson took up the cause of “Zionism”, loosely described as the belief that land of Palestine rightfully belongs to the Hebrew nation as part of its covenant with God as his “Chosen People”.  It doesn’t take much imagination to figure that support for Zionism is to Adelson what the prizes were to Nobel–an attempt to burnish a legacy and fortune tainted by the means with which it was acquired.  What else could so focus a septuagenarian billionaire’s mind?  In effect, Nobel and Adelson are/were money launderers, washing away the sins of acquisition in the hope that they might be remembered for more than helping blow up people and things, or for scamming people of their excess money and dignity.  At least dynamite has some redeeming qualities.  It’s hard to see, except for a few casino jobs, how an empire built on gambling is redeemable.

Adelson has decided one of the best means of supporting Zionism is through supporting political candidates that share his views on the matter.  Thus, according to The Man Behind Gingrich’s Money, an article in the Sunday (January 29, 2012) New York Times, he has been a heavy donor to the Gingrich campaign, from the article:

That [casino] fortune is a wellspring of financial support for Mr. Gingrich, who has benefited from $17 million in political contributions from Mr. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, in recent years, including $10 million in the last few weeks that went to a “super PAC” supporting him.

The question of what motivates Mr. Adelson’s singular generosity toward the former House speaker has emerged front and center in the campaign. People who know him say his affinity for Mr. Gingrich stems from a devotion to Israel as well as loyalty to a friend. A fervent Zionist who opposes any territorial compromise to make way for a Palestinian state, Mr. Adelson has long been enamored of Mr. Gingrich’s full-throated defense of Israel.

In December at an event in Israel for a charity he supports, Mr. Adelson made a point of endorsing Mr. Gingrich’s assertion that the Palestinians have no historic claim to a homeland.

It would seem safe to assume that Zionists believing the nation of Israel has some divine claim to Palestine, the Promised Land, such as it was, that lies along the far eastern reaches of the Mediterranean Sea stretching inland to the Dead Sea and the Jordan River, necessarily also believe that any threat to that claim must be eliminated.   At the moment, the main threat to Israel’s claim to Palestine is perceived to lie several hundred miles to the East, in Persia, another land as ancient as Palestine itself, and a regular source of antagonists and conquerors to the peoples populating it, Hebrew or otherwise. 

A full-throated defense of Israel all but requires eliminating the threat that Iran might obtain nuclear weapons.   But there is no way to eliminate the threat of Iranian nuclear weapons without which a full-scale invasion of Iran is undertaken.  Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan has explicitly stated that eliminating the threat via air power is impossible.  And there is no country capable, not even Israel, as tiny yet powerful though she seems, that could invade Iran and eliminate its nuclear weapons program at its source, except of course, the United States.    Adelson is very generously supporting, to the tune of practically buying, a presidential candidate who he believes would order American forces to invade Iran in order to protect Israel.  The greatest legacy of his casino billions might be American troops on the ground in Iran. 

If so, Adelson is hardly the first rich and powerful man to use military conquest to burnish his place in eternity.  Even the Israeli leadership seems similarly afflicted with the same general impulse, from a New York Times Magazine (January 29, 2012) article Israel v Iran:

When I mentioned to Barak the opinion voiced by the former Mossad chief Meir Dagan and the former chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi — that the Iranian threat was not as imminent as he and Netanyahu have suggested and that a military strike would be catastrophic (and that they, Barak and Netanyahu, were cynically looking to score populist points at the expense of national security), Barak reacted with uncharacteristic anger. He and Netanyahu, he said, are responsible “in a very direct and concrete way for the existence of the State of Israel — indeed, for the future of the Jewish people.”

It would be hard to imagine more conceit and hubris than an Israeli political leader making the claim that the responsibility for the continued existence of the State of Israel and the future of the Jewish people lies solely in their hands.  For one, Israel could not hope to exist alone in the Middle East, such as it does, without the backing of some powerful benefactors, not least the US.  Aside from that, conflating the State of Israel with the future of the Jewish people ignores roughly three-fourths of Jewish history.  If biblical sources are generally correct historically, the nation of Israel existed long before it inhabited and controlled Palestine, and got along quite well after the Babylonian exile twenty-five hundred years ago ended its hegemony there.  The Jewish people are the most resilient and durable of any nation, rivaled perhaps only by the Chinese, and a great deal of their resilience and durability is owed to their abandonment of the idea that inhabiting any particular land was prerequisite to survival.  In fact, a colorable argument could be made that the Zionist obsession with that tiny strip of land on the Eastern Mediterranean coast is itself the greatest threat to Jewish survival.   Abandon Palestine and the Jews would survive and thrive, as always they have done, wherever they might be found.  But it gets worse with Mr. Barak:

As for the top-ranking military personnel with whom I’ve spoken who argued that an attack on Iran was either unnecessary or would be ineffective at this stage, Barak said: “It’s good to have diversity in thinking and for people to voice their opinions. But at the end of the day, when the military command looks up, it sees us — the minister of defense and the prime minister. When we look up, we see nothing but the sky above us.”

Seeing “nothing but the sky above us” is the rough equivalent of claiming a direct line to God.  If so, then there must be American military commanders sitting at God’s right hand, awaiting His command.  Israel, recipient of roughly $5 billion per year in military aid from the US, would not dream of attacking Iran without knowing it could rely upon America’s support in the breach.  Israel’s military adventures are the rough equivalent of a Goldman Sachs derivatives bet insured by AIG after the US Treasury takeover.  From the standpoint of either Israel or Goldman Sachs, there is hardly any risk involved, as they each have the full faith and credit of the most powerful nation in the world backing them up. 

The NYT’s Magazine article makes the claim that all three factors necessary for an Israeli attack on Iran have now been met–that Israel has the ability to cause severe damage to Iran’s nuclear sites and could survive a counterattack; that there is at least tacit international, i.e., American support, and that all other options for containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been tried and failed.  It’s arguable whether any of the prerequisites have truly been met. 

But what of America, whose defense chief, Leon Panetta, recently unveiled a plan to chop some half trillion dollars off the American defense budget over the next ten years?  Organizations, just like organisms in Nature, loath contraction.  The Defense Department, no matter its probable protestations to the contrary, will not relish the prospect of decreased importance that Mr. Panetta’s austere budget implies.  If war with Iran comes, all the budget limitations are thrown out the window, and the Defense Department continues to do that to which all organizations naturally aspire, accreting power and resources indefinitely.  The Defense Department may protest at having to fight another war, but really, war, not defense, is its reason for being.  The louder their protests, the lesser is their real reluctance. 

In the meantime, the overall American budget deficit, over a trillion dollars per year for the foreseeable future, will eventually itself become a security issue, which war with Iran would only exacerbate. 

But for this election cycle, it appears the matter will resolve to Obama; war with Iran will ultimately be up to him.  Obama is not like the string of his predecessors that treated Israel as if it were the 51st American state, but without the obligation to abide by the American constitution or support American imperatives.  Obama, of any candidate in the race except Ron Paul, is the least likely to go to war with Iran solely because Israel wants America to.  But, if it appears the race is tight, and if Obama needs to prove his bona fides with the AIPAC crowd, inter alia, in order to win, he’ll do whatever he believes may help, including deploying troops to Persia.   While Obama doesn’t seem to have the same existential presidential angst as did Bush, who apparently needed to exercise his prerogatives as commander-in-chief in order to feel presidential, he still is a politician, and will do whatever it takes to win, including launching a war.  The Iranians better hope for Obama’s reelection to be all but certain by late summer.