It’s been a long time since I wrote about something I saw on the news, but this one hit a nerve. This guy really pisses me off, and even years after 9/11 it’s still a sensitive subject for me, so hearing that Iran’s nutcase president (who has implied that the Holocaust doesn’t exist, says Israel should be wiped off the map, and generally calls my country nasty names), was denied access to Ground Zero by New York City officials made my heart warm.
No country that sponsors terrorism (and there is no doubt in my mind that Iran does), or who glorifies suicide attacks (as Iran does), should be allowed to taint the memory of victims of terrorist attacks.
There is legitimate debate that could be had about many issues dealing with Iran. For example, the fact that they are a religous theocracy, while abhorrent to me, does not necessarily mean that Iran is illegitimate. And then there is the nuclear issue.
On the one hand, it’s the height of hypocrisy to assert that other countries shouldn’t develop nuclear weapons while owning the world’s largest stockpile. Non-proliferation is certainly a worthy and lofty goal, but there is no legitimate reason that soverign nations should not be able to develop the same military capabilities that industrialized countries have had for over fifty years. Sure it’s bad in general. Nuclear proliferation increases the chances of the actual use of a nuclear weapon, but it is not for any one country to say that any other country can or cannot do.
If anything, America has proven to non-democratic regimes the strategic need to develop these weapons as soon as possible. The lesson of the Iraq war that any government can draw is that if you DON’T have a strategic deterrent, then you’re vulnerable to targeting by the bullies of the world (be they American, European, or Asian). Our own actions have only served to increase the determination and speed by which countries who feel threatened are now trying to arm themselves.
Pick a fight against a bunch of guys with knives while carrying an M-16 and all you do is convince them to get a Kalashnikov ASAP.
If Iran gets the bomb some worry that it will spark an arms race. Syria and Saudi Arabia will then feel obligated to match capabilities or risk being called little girls (and worse, depending on American or European partnerships to safeguard their own strategic security). This is a legitimate scenario, and widens the realm of possibilities for a nuclear exchange.
Is it defensible to say then, “In the interest of the greater good of the world, to reduce the chance that nuclear weapons may at some point be used, we are going to pre-emptively strike to destroy anyone who we think is working to develop these capabilities”?
But will it really work? The concern with Iran is that they had the foresight to make many of their nuclear facilities hardened against conventional attack, plus, we don’t even know that the sites we are aware of are the only (or even the main) ones. Does anyone truly believe in our intelligence capabilities any more? So factor that into your cost/benefit analysis and the return starts to look pretty poor compared to the risk.
So what is to be the response?
Against a determined proliferator the Europeans favor economic sanctions. This seems unlikely to succeed in my opinion. The resulting rise in oil prices would punish the West as much or more than they would punish Iran. I just don’t see it working: Iran could weather a protracted sanctions period much longer than the West could sustain a 15%-25% increase in the cost of doing business and heating homes.
Force? Again, has only a limited chance of working with just airstrikes and then you go to war with a zealot nation. Not to mention the further PR damage and the widening of the pool of suicide bomber recruits. It may be possible to ban all Iranians from getting to America (unlikely), but are we going to ban all Syrians, Indonesians, North Africans, Iraqis, and all those former Soviet states as well?
My conclusion is that the whole thing is a mess and that trying to stop Iran from making a nuclear arsenal, although we should try to do it diplomatically, is futile. So the strategies should focus on dealing with hostile nations who have nuclear technology. How to keep them in check the way the Soviets were kept in check with mutual assured destruction.
And then we come to the real conundrum: how do you keep a country who is motivated by non-rational politics in check with a straightjacket made of rational arguments?
Too late at night to even begin.