Opinion and Editorial

Will US nuke Iran?

Jonathan Power
Filed on April 9, 2010

Assuming for the sake of argument that Iran builds itself a nuclear weapon what should the US do? Two senior members of the top foreign policy think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, James Lindsay and Ray Takeyh, have no doubts.

In Foreign Affairs magazine, they write: “Washington should be explicit in what it demands of Iran: no initiation of conventional warfare against other countries; no use or transfer of nuclear weapons, materials or technologies; and no stepped up support for terrorist or subversive activities. It should also make it clear that the price of Iran violating these three prohibitions could be US retaliation by any and all means necessary, up to and including nuclear weapons.”

It is difficult to believe that this could be written in today’s post Cold War world. Tell this to President Barack Obama and you would be pushed out of the door. Under no circumstances would he use nuclear weapons, yesterday’s cautious announcement about America’s nuclear policy to the contrary. Even a highly conservative president like Ronald Reagan let it be known he would never have pressed the button.

Neither, if the former chief of the military, Colin Powell, and General James Lee Butler, the former head of Strategic Air Command, the officer responsible for implementing a presidential order to launch nuclear weapons, are anything to go by there are many senior members of the military who would not implement such an order.

It is over 40 years since Defense Secretary Robert McNamara convinced President John F. Kennedy and his successor, Lyndon Johnson, that nuclear weapons should never be used. This was at the height of Cold War tensions.

No person with moral fiber or rational sense would use a nuclear weapon in the circumstances elaborated by Lindsay and Takeyh. Their argument does not reflect any strand of serious opinion. It is as if they were arguing for re-introducing the death penalty for 14-year-old boys convicted of stealing a chicken.

But what the article does show in its absurd way is that there is a panicky brigade in the US whose members are driving themselves crazy at the thought of Iran building a handful of nuclear weapons.

The first question to ask is what is Iran’s motivation, if it is? As is generally recognised, no nuclear weapons state can be invaded. Iraq would not have been invaded if Saddam Hussein had possessed nuclear weapons. Neither would Vietnam nor northern Korea.

The second question to ask is why the sudden panic? In the not too distant past the US never made much fuss about white South Africa’s nuclear armoury nor Libya’s, Brazil’s and Argentina’s bold attempts to build one. The US has obviously decided for the time being to live with North Korea’s half dozen nukes, even though some have constructed scenarios of North Korea attacking America’s Pacific coast.

Negotiations continue, but are endless. After President Bill Clinton practically had won an accord with Pyongyang not to go ahead and use its plutonium and enriched uranium to build a bomb, newly elected George W. Bush dropped the negotiations and then had to live with the consequences with the North testing and building its bomb.

The third question is who would Iran use it against? Israel with its over 700 nukes? Are the Iranians suicidal? Against America, ditto! They have watched what America has done to Iraq. Against Europe and Russia? They might be able to build a rocket to reach some near parts of Europe and Russia but no further. Besides, if they really wanted to hit such a target, they could drive a truck armed with a bomb right to the front door.

Indeed, what is the point of the ultra expensive European missile defense that NATO and Russia talk about? Same answer—watch the tens of thousands of trucks that travel between Iran and Europe—and don’t forget the boats.

Iran in a thousand years has never attacked another country. Why should it start now? It has been, even under the ayatollahs, a responsible power. Even though it supports militias in Iraq and Hezbollah in the Lebanon, it has not provided them with sophisticated weapons.

Obama appears to have pulled the US back from the confrontation that was building up under Bush. There is also talk of tougher sanctions, which is fine if it just means present export controls are better monitored and implemented, they don’t fall on the masses, but rather are concentrated on the hierarchy. Capital controls are also a good idea.

Nobody outside knows if Iran is building nuclear weapons, which is strange in a way since we all knew years before that China, Israel, India and Pakistan were. Why is it so difficult to gain intelligence on Iran when so many top officials are secretly pro-Western? Well, that is a question for another day.

Jonathan Power is a veteran commentator on foreign affairs. For comments, write to opinion@khaleejtimes.com

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