Prospect of a nu­clear Iran: Crit­i­cal but not ur­gent

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - VIC­TOR DAVIS HAN­SON

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.”

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