Are the Iranian mullahs close to acquiring the bomb? Has Iran violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty by restarting its conversion of yellowcake into uranium hexaflouride? The answer to both is no.
By a recent U.S. intelligence review, Iran may be 10 years away from a bomb. And under the NPT, Iran is allowed to enrich uranium for use in her own nuclear power plants.
Why, then, this talk of confrontation and pre-emptive strikes? Even if Iran had a weapon, to give it to a terrorist or to use it on a U.S. target would be an act of suicidal insanity by a regime that, no matter how militant, has shown no desire for war with America.
What is the worry? Just this. If or when Iran goes nuclear, she has a deterrent to intimidation. U.S. freedom of action in the Persian Gulf comes to an end. We would have to behave as gingerly with the mullahs as we do with Kim Jong Il, something intolerable to our neoconservatives and President Bush.
For the Israelis, an Iranian bomb would have the same impact as Stalin’s explosion of a bomb had on us in 1949. Israel’s invulnerability would come to an end. She would enter the world of Mutual Assured Destruction, like the one we had to live in during the Cold War. Thus, for Israel, the sooner the Americans pulverize Iran’s infant nuclear facilities, the better. But herein lies the problem for President Bush.
Britain, France and Germany do not want to take the first step to confrontation by asking the U.N. Security Council to vote sanctions on Iran for restarting the enrichment process. And even if the Europeans agree to go to the Security Council, a resolution calling for sanctions would face vetoes by Russia and China.
If the council then rejects sanctions, but America and her NATO allies impose them, the world will be divided between Russia-China-Iran on one side and the United States and its backers on the other. It would be interesting to see how many U.S. allies are willing to support sanctions on the third largest oil producer on earth when oil is running at $65 a barrel.
Moreover, if the present negotiations end in sanctions on Iran, then, just as North Korea sped up its nuclear program when talks broke down, Iran might do the same. That would leave the United States with the final option: air and missile strikes to destroy all of Iran’s known facilities for the enrichment of uranium.
But as Iran is permitted such facilities as long as it allows absolute freedom for U.N. inspectors, how could we justify such acts of war?
After all, we give a $160 billion trade surplus to China, though she is targeting our cities with nuclear missiles. President Bush cut a deal to help India develop nuclear power, though she has tested bombs. We give foreign aid to Pakistan and Israel, which had clandestine and successful programs that built atomic weapons. And we have a basket of goodies on offer to Kim Jong Il if he will shut down his nuclear facilities and hand over any bombs.
Where is the consistency here?
There is another consideration. Iran’s response to any U.S. strike is unlikely to be to go limp like a peacenik demonstrator. As Michael Mazeer of the U.S. National War College writes in The New Republic, Iran’s best strategy might be to lash out in retaliation.
What could Iran do? Plenty. Send Revolutionary Guards into Iraq to make that country a worse hell for the 135,000 U.S. troops. Incite Hezbollah to launch rockets on Israel to widen the war. Attack U.S. allies in the Gulf. Encourage the Shias in Iraq and Saudi Arabia to attack Americans. Mine the Strait of Hormuz. Activate Islamic loyalists to bring terror home to the United States.
In short, a U.S. attack on Iran could lead to war across the region and interruption of the 15 million barrels of oil a day that come from the Gulf, which would drive the world economy into instant cardiac arrest.
And as the United States lacks the ground forces to invade Iran and topple the regime, U.S. retaliation would be restricted to air and cruise missile strikes. But just as 9-11 united Americans behind President Bush, attacks on Iran might unite the Iranian people behind the mullahs’ regime, enhancing its prestige as it fought America to protect Iran’s equal right to pursue nuclear power and nuclear technology, an issue upon which almost all Iranians agree.
President Bush should think long and hard before yielding to the War Party a second time. Iran is a nation three times the size of Iraq and with three times the population. This would be no cakewalk.