Prospect of a nuclear Iran: Critical but not urgent
At first glance, it would seem a straightforward thing to stop a relatively weak but volatile Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb. It would also seem to be something a concerned world community would be actively working to do.
After all, the Sunni Arab states surrounding Iran don’t want a Shi’ite nuclear power on their borders.
Europe, which isn’t all that far from Tehran and lacks a missile-defense shield, certainly doesn’t want to be in range of Iran’s missiles.
Israel can’t tolerate an Iranian theocracy both promising to wipe it off the map and then brazenly obtaining the means to do so.
The Russians and the Chinese, both already concerned about India, Pakistan and North Korea, don’t need another rival Asian nuclear power on their borders.
And the United States, already worried about Iranian threats to Israel and involved in daily military battles in Iraq with proIranian agents and terrorists armed with Iranian-imported weapons, doesn’t want a nuclear Iran expanding its Persian Gulf influence.
But in truth, most players don’t care enough to stop Iran from getting the bomb, or apparently don’t think it’s worth the effort and cost. Some may even see some advantages to a nuclear Iran.
The Arab Gulf monarchies, for example, know that their enor- mous dollar reserves would likely buy them some reprieve from a nuclear Iran, or at least bring in the U.S. Navy to offer them deterrence from attack.
Meanwhile, the current tension and ongoing fear of disruption in the Persian Gulf sends billions in windfall oil profits the Gulf states’ way.
Leaders of Arab states also have to fear their own populations’ reactions to any action taken against Islamic Iran. Despite his religious Shi’ite background, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is far more popular among Sunni populations in the Gulf than George Bush — and even perhaps more popular than the autocratic Arab thugs and dictators who run most of the Middle East.
The European Union, like the Arab states, believes as a last resort that its economic clout and deft diplomats can always work out some sort of arrangement with Tehran’s clerics, who, after all, need customers to buy their high-priced oil.
So most in Europe bristle at French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s warnings about an impending war to stop an Iranian bomb. Instead, they feel it’s an American problem to organize global containment of Iran.
Israel also has reason to fear a war with Iran. If Israel were to attack Tehran, it could find itself in three instantaneous wars — and be hit with thousands of missiles from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iran. That shower would make last year’s Hezbollah barrage seem like child’s play.
In Russia, Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy is nursed on grievances about a lost empire, America as the sole superpower and the independence of cocky former Soviet republics. In the thinking of oil-exporting Russia, anything that causes America to squirm and world oil prices to soar is a win-win situation. That’s why Russia supplies Iran with its reactor technology and stirs the nuclear pot.
China, like Russia, is a large nuclear power and doesn’t fear all that much Iranian missiles that it thinks are more likely to be pointed westward anyway. True, it would like calm in the Gulf to ensure safe oil supplies, but thinks it still could do business with a nuclear Iran.
And, as in the case of Russia, anything that bothers the United States can’t be all that bad for Beijing. While Mr. Ahmadinejad ties the U.S. down in the Middle East, China thinks it will have more of a free hand to expand its influence in the Pacific.
Then there’s the complacent situation here at home. After Afghanistan and Iraq, most Americans don’t feel we’re up to a third war. Some point to nuclear Pakistan and believe we could likewise live with Iran having the bomb.
A few on the left even feel that a nuclear Iran would remind us of our own limitations in imposing our will and influence abroad. They belittle the current warnings of George Bush and Dick Cheney about Iran’s nuclear program, shrugging that the two used to say similar things about Saddam and his nonexistent arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, much of the rest of the world, represented in the U.N.’s General Assembly, feels that a nuclear Iran offers comeuppance to a haughty United States, Israel and Europe without threatening anyone else.
Mr. Ahmadinejad may be viewed across the globe as a dangerous religious nut. But to many, he, like Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, also represents an anticapitalist, anti-globalization popular front against America and therefore shouldn’t be ostracized. So who wants a nuclear Iran? No one and everyone.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He is the author of “A War Like No Other: How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War.”