I haven’t blogged, as yet, about the issue of Iran’s nukes (and possibly U.S. use of nukes against Iran). Mainly, this is because I’m not enough of an expert on the issues involved to have an informed opinion; but also because the issue is so fraught with complexities, dangers, and unknowns that I’m frankly glad I don’t have to have an opinion.
Jeff Goldstein thinks that it’s insane not to see a potentially nuclear missile-wielding Iran and its crazy-talking president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an imminent threat that requires the strongest possible response. Jim Henley thinks it’s insane to see Iran as an a serious threat to our security and to respond with saber-rattling, let alone military action.
What do I think? I believe that in the present circumstances, with the mess on our hands in Iraq, with American politics a house more bitterly divided than at any point in at least my memory, it would be insanity to launch a strike against Iran based simply on the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran. (That’s leaving aside the moral debate about preemptive strikes.) If there really are, as Seymour Hersch reports, people in the Bush Administration who believe that “a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government,” that’s … shall we say, not very reality-based. (By the way, the mess next door in Iraq is not going to be very inspirational to any disaffected Iranians who might have welcomed U.S. intervention.)
At the same time, I don’t think the threat a nuclear-armed Iran could pose to the U.S., to Europe, and to Israel can be casually discounted. Ahmadinejad really isn’t helping matters by saying things like these, about Israel being “headed for annihilation” and being “eliminated by one storm.” I’m not as convinced as Jeff Goldstein that Ahmadinejad means every word he says — as opposed to spouting extreme rhetoric for his constituents — and that he’s a crazed fanatic who will gladly give his life in the cause of a nuclear jihad. (I still have fairly fresh memories of the days of the Cold War, when, for all my anti-Communist convictions, I couldn’t help being amused by the earnest belief of many American conservatives that the Soviet Union was run by fanatics drirven by Marxist faith in the inevitability of communism’s global victory — rather than by a bunch of sclerotic bureaucrats very attached to their power and their lives of luxury.) Nonetheless, the evidence of his fanaticism does merit serious attention. There are some legitimate questions about how much power Ahmadinejad really has in Iraq and how much damage he would be able to do; and it is also worth noting that so far, the mullahs’ Iran has not started wars of aggression. But there is still the question of what, in this situation, constitutes acceptable risk.
It won’t do, as Henley does in one of his comments on his thread, to deride those concerned about the threat of a nuclear Iran as “a bunch of scared little girls, starting at shadows” and “Annie Hall demanding that Alvie Singer kill every spider in the world before it can bite her.” (It is also telling that Henley takes possible nuclear saber-rattling by the Bush Administration very seriously but downplays and minimizes the significance of Ahmadinejad’s belligerent talk.) Insane or not, the regime in Iran is an extremist regime that supports terrorism. Such a regime with its hands on nuclear weapons is no shadow and no spider.
I’m certainly not advocating war, or offering any prescription. I think this is a problem that requires concerted international action. I don’t think there is any threat so imminent as to rush to judgment. But I do think there ought to be a middle ground between hysteria and hiding one’s head in the sand.