Monday, February 07, 2005

Iran and the Bomb: Can We Afford To Wait?

Israel Must Be Eradicated From The Annals of History”
— text on the Shihab-3 missile launcher
(From the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S) Website)

Reuters reported the following today:

Hassan Rohani, secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, also told Reuters there was nothing the West could offer Tehran that would persuade it to scrap a nuclear program which Washington fears may be used to make bombs.

Can the mullahs be any clearer? Iran has shown by their words and deeds that they are determined to develop nuclear weapons and there is no diplomatic way that we can stop it. So what are our alternatives?

Well, we can accept the fact that Iran will eventually “go nuclear” and resign ourselves to live with the consequences. What are those consequences? Well, here's what the leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamanei has to say:
“The foundation of the Islamic regime is opposition to Israel and the perpetual subject of Iran is the elimination of Israel from the region.”

I can't find the direct quote to cite, but another Iranian leader has, when asked whether Iran had nuclear capabilities, responded that the world will know the morning after Iran has a working Bomb because Tel Aviv will be incinerated. In other words, “Bomb today, mushroom cloud tomorrow.”

Now maybe all of this is hype. Maybe, despite the billions of dollars they've given to Hezbollah and Hamas over the years, and the deaths and damages those forces have done to Israel, the mullahs really could care less about whether Israel exists or not. Maybe all Iran wants is to replace Baathist Iraq as the Power Player in the Middle East, exerting its influence and coercing its neighbors. Objectively there is no regional threat to Iran, especially with the removal of Saddam Hussein from power. Iran is the largest (population-wise) country in the Middle East, with a burgeoning petro-economy and a strong conventional military. Except for abysmal misgovernment the country would be among the world's most prosperous. So, the only rational reason for Iran to develop nukes is as a counterweight to US military power—to negate the ability of the US to interfere with Iranian muscle-flexing throughout the region by threatening a nuclear response to any US attack.

The Iranians know that only the United States can successfully interfere if they decide to invade a neighbor or threaten military force unless the Gulf states follow their policies. The lesson of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, to the Iranians, was “don't risk a military confrontation with the US unless you have strategic nuclear weapons.” Hence, their desire to domestically have the capability to create every technology required for an independent nuclear weapons program, from gas centrifuges to breeder reactors to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Now that Iraq is no longer an effective counterweight to Iranian power, no other Gulf state has the conventional military wherewithal to withstand Iran. More to the point, no other Arab regional power has an effective counter to Iran's nuclear capabilities, and thus a nuclear Iran becomes the hegemon in the Gulf. These countries will be in the same situation that Kuwait was vis-a-vis Saddam Hussein; get with the program, or else. Only Israel has nuclear capabilities and thus the military ability to withstand pressure from Iran, and they are neither a neighbor of Iran nor are they hegemonic or imperialist in their intentions. Contrary to Arab assertions, Israel doesn't want to project power. It just wants to be left alone.

The United States' declared policy is that a nuclear weapons-capable Iran is not acceptable. If we're not bluffing, it means that we will not rule any option out to prevent Iran from developing and possessing nuclear weapons... including the use of military force. If we're serious about this, if we're going to use force, then we need to do so before Iran gets the Bomb in order to minimize US casualties and prevent a nuclear conflagration. Iran has threatened to respond massively to any attack on its nuclear facilities and it is not unreasonable to assume that if Iran had nuclear capabilities it would use them.

And thus we come again to the possibility of a pre-emptive war; an attack on another country before they pose an imminent threat, because once the threat is imminent the price we'll pay to eliminate that threat will be very high. Chances are, our earstwhile "allies" in Europe will not support us, as they didn't support us in Iraq. Will the American people?

We know the anti-war folks will condemn any move against Iran. Some will ask, why not North Korea? After all, they purportedly already have nukes. My answer would be that North Korea is strategically much less of a threat to us than a nuclear Iran is. North Korea is broke, with no indigenous source of income (except for the selling of nuclear technology, and we are embargoing that). Our current strategy, of working with their neighbors to isolate them, is paying dividends. Recent news out of the country have indicated that the government is weakening and may well collapse without our active military involvement. If that strategy would work with Iran, then I'd be all for it. But it won't.

Iran, like Iraq and unlike North Korea, has a unique natural resource (petroleum) worth hundreds of billions of dollars on the open market. There's no way we can effectively press an embargo against Iran and have it stick, and since the mullahs know this and also know that we will be forced to escalate once the embargo proves worthless, their first reaction to an embargo or sanctions would be to openly accelerate their nuclear programs. As Rohani indicated above, there is nothing we can do diplomatically to stop them.

Other anti-war types will argue that we have no right to tell the Iranians they cannot have nukes when we have them. This argument demonstrates the same flawed reasoning used to support gun control; assigning morality to an instrument instead of the wielder. Like any tool a weapon reflects the morality of its user. A handgun used by a criminal to murder innocents is obviously being used to commit a bad act; the same type of handgun used by a police officer to prevent a murder is just as obviously being used to commit a good act. The reason we (and the rest of the civilized world) cannot afford to let the mullahs get the Bomb is not because nukes are evil. It is because the Iranian leadership does not have the same worldview that we do; what is unthinkable to us is perfectly acceptable to them. Intervening in Iran is protecting the civilized world's right to be free from coercion and nuclear blackmail.

We're in a race right now. Iran is fudging and hedging and using the negotiations with Europe (as well as the insurgency they're funding in Iraq) to buy time for their weapons program. Soon... probably before the end of 2005, we're going to come to a point where we either act, or we refuse to act. We will either pre-emptively intervene in Iran with a high chance of success or we wait... and either live with the consequences of a nuclear-capable hegemonic Iran, or face a probable nuclear war.

Over the past three decades, when we refused to act we got the fall of South Vietnam and the attendent horrors in Southeast Asia, the fall of the Shah and the rise of fundamentalist Iran and its attendent horrors in the Middle East, genocide in Rwanda, the slaughter of tens of thousands during the Shiite uprising in post-Gulf War Iraq, and the rise of Al Quaida and the resultant carnage on 9/11. When we acted, we got democracies in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, and Grenada, ended Libyan acts of terrorism against us, liberated Kuwait from its invader (and also ended the Iran-Iraq War), and a free Afghanistan and Iraq which held their first democratic elections in history.

Acting is painful in the short-term, but not acting is always more painful in the long term. We need to act on Iran, and sooner rather than later.

Addendum: Here's another related article I wrote last year.

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