There seems to be quite a lot of talk about Iran this election and for good reason. We haven’t exactly been best buds for awhile and they’ve been planning to rearrange the furniture in their neighborhood for awhile. Of course, the fact that they’ve got a guy in power who may, or may not, be ‘cuckoo for cocoa puffs‘.
There’s been a lot of hand wringing, saber rattling, and general predictions of doom and gloom if Iran were to develop a nuclear weapon. While I agree it isn’t our desired end state, allow me to present a contrarin view…
First, it’s not like we can do a whole lot about it in the first place. They learned quite well from the Israeli strike on Iraq’s nuclear reactor. They spread out their facilities and built in redundancies. At best we could delay their effort and piss them off in the process.
Second, let’s not forget that Iran of 2008 is not the Iran of 1979. All revolutions, once they come to power, moderate and maintance of power becomes their primary concern. The French, Soviets and Chinese had some pretty crazy ideas when their revolutions took over and within 30 years had settled into fairly conventional nation states (not necessarily ones I would want to live in but that’s another issue). Yes, the Iranians cling to their revolutionary rhetoric but it’s not at all clear that they aren’t doing the same thing. Hold onto power and try to further your national goals.
Third, it would be dangerous to assume that the Iranian leadership is irrational. Just because they do (and say) things we don’t like doesn’t mean they’re crazy. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may be crazy or he may be stiring the pot and saying outrageous things about Israel for his domestic audience in order to boost up his approval and take their minds off of the fact that in face of $100 a barrel oil, they still aren’t making great headway economically. Also, it’s not like Ahmadinejad is the supreme leader of Iran and can make his word law. He may want to bomb Iran all day long but there would have to be a whole host of others in the government who agree with him before such an action could happen.
Fourth, look at Iran’s position. On their eastern border are about 70,000 troops (U.S. and non-Afghan coalition) and on their western border are over 140,000 U.S. soldiers. The U.S. has been a hostile power since the revolution in 1979 and ever since the end of ‘major’ combat operations in Iraq there’s been talk about hooking a right turn and taking Tehran.
So, is it really that irrational to try to get a nuclear bomb? Everyone knows that is the ultimate game changer. And a small number of bombs is a defensive move. Let’s say Iran gets 1, 5 or even a dozen bombs. What does it do with them? Unless you assume that Iran is headed by a Hitler-esqe (or Joker-esqe if you’re tired of Hitler analogies) freak who just wants to destroy the world, there’s no way you’d contimplate a nuclear strike against Israel. Even if you were to throw out the notion of American retaliation, it’s a widely held belief that Israel holds 100-200 nuclear weapons. It would be the very definition of Mutually Assured Destruction.
So what would a few weapons get you? A guarantee that the U.S. won’t invade. Increased prestige and a seat at the regional (and perhaps international) table. I suspect these are the things Iran really wants.
In order to be an offensive weapon, Iran would need to develop a first strike capability which would limit or eliminate Israel’s ability to retaliate. Given the distances and capabilities of Israel such an attempt is likely to end up as fruitless as the attempts by the U.S. and Soviets during the cold war.
So I generally agree with this article by Bob Baer:
I myself think a deal can be cut with Iran. During the last 30 years, Iran has gone from a terrorist, revolutionary power to far more rational, calculating regional hegemon. Its belligerence today has more to do with a weakened United States and Israel than with any plans to start World War III.
If we want to have any hope of influencing Iran in the future we going to have to engage with them. This idiotic idea we seem to have gotten that by somehow ignoring countries we don’t like will result in them running back to us, begging to give them just one more chance is ridiculous.
I’m convinced that our adherence to that policy has done more to keep tyrants in power (see Cuba, Iran, Syria, Lybia, Venezuela, etc.) than Soviet subsidies, radical Islam or expensive oil ever could.
So let’s cut the crap and start using some soft power…