Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dithering Won't Stop Iran's Nukes

Amir Taheri, The New York Post:
'Unhelpful": So British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw described Iran's announcement that it has now joined "the nuclear club." Straw's French and German colleagues did no better. One saw Iran's provocative move as "regrettable the other preferred "disappointing." The European trio was echoing earlier comments from Washington that had chosen "unacceptable."

Well, as the late Raymond Aaron liked to say, when you say that something is "unacceptable," you have already accepted it as a reality. As for "unhelpful," that adjective is normally used in conjugal disputes when the aggrieved spouse wishes to say something without causing further aggravation.

Any thought that such moaning might make the mullahs shake in their sandals, let alone abandon their strategic quest for a nuclear surge capacity, would be naive to say the least. It's "so far, so good" for Tehran. The Islamic Republic has thumbed its nose at the "international community" at no cost to itself.

Why should it stop when the going is so good? READ MORE

Let us return to the central question in all this: Why does the Islamic Republic want a nuclear arsenal?

Anyone familiar with the history of proliferation would know that all of the seven confirmed nuclear powers decided to go nuclear in the context of conflict, actual or potential, with a clearly designated adversary. The United States developed nuclear weapons during World War II. Later, the Soviets developed their own bomb as a deterrent against the Americans. Britain and France, and later China, each sought an independent deterrent against the USSR. Then India, as a deterrent against China - and Pakistan as a deterrent against India.

No nation allocates huge resources to building a bomb and the means to deliver it without some real or perceived strategic imperative.

So what is that imperative for Iran?

The shah's regime sought a nuclear surge capacity with an eye on making the Soviets deem it too risky to attack Iran. Sometime in the early '90s, the Islamic Republic decided to revive that program as a counter to the United States.

The Islamic Republic, as the embodiment of the Khomeinist revolution, had assumed a messianic mission to conquer the Middle East and, later, the whole Muslim world, in the name of its brand of Islam. By the mid '80s, Khomeinist groups were active in 30-plus Muslim countries, while the Islamic Republic was engaged in a brutal war with Iraq.

The leadership in Tehran realized that there was one power that would not allow it to "export revolution" and dominate the Middle East. That power was, and remains, the United States.

In 1986-87, it was U.S. intervention that prevented Iran from breaking the Arab front by attacking Kuwaiti and Saudi oil tankers. It was also partly thanks to U.S. intervention that the Khomeinists weren't allowed to seize control of Lebanon and launch a long, low-intensity war against Israel.

With the fall of the Taliban in Kabul and the Ba'ath in Iraq, the old balance of power in the region has been shattered. President Bush wants to create a new Middle East that is democratic and pro-West. In such a Middle East, there would be no place for a regime like the one now in place in Tehran. The Islamic Republic is determined to sabotage Bush's plan and, instead, create a new Middle East that is anti-American, Islamist and controlled by Tehran. These conflicting ambitions make war a theoretical, if not an immediate, inevitability.

The Khomeinist leadership believes that it could hope to win in any prolonged conventional conflict if only because U.S. public opinion, as the Iraq experience has shown, lacks patience and is unprepared to accept even low casualty rates. That leaves tactical nuclear weapons as the only way for the United States to break the will of the Islamic Republic in any war. Thus the mullahs' move to develop their own deterrent.

A United States that is unable to fight on the ground for any length of time and deterred from using nuclear weapons for fear of retaliation would, so the mullahs hope, do what it has often done: run away, leaving Iran to emerge as the regional superpower.

The Middle East is passing through the most decisive moment in is history since the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918. The options are clear. One is to let the Khomeinist regime dominate the region and use it as the nucleus of an Islamic superpower which would then seek global domination. The other is to go for regime change in Tehran as a strategic goal. (A third option - creating an Irano-American codominium in the region - might not be acceptable to the Arabs and Turkey, let alone Israel.)

All three options are hard to contemplate, especially for the United States and its European allies - powers that wish to set the global agenda but are reluctant to fight for it. The problem is that by refusing to stand up against the Khomeinist regime now, the Americans and Europeans (and their allies in the Arab world) may later have to fight an even bigger and costlier war against a nuclear-armed foe.

Amir Taheri is the former executive editor of Kayhan, Iran's largest daily newspaper. He is a member of Benador Associates.