Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Iran's Nuclear Fixation

I'm going to posit an idea that is certain to have people screaming incoherently or, conversely, fainting in shock. All I ask is that as you read on, you make a concious effort to set aside your knee jerk reaction and consider my points as fairly as possible. I realize that it may be a radical idea, on the surface, but I firmly believe that if you listen to my reasoning calmly and without snap judgement, that some of you may be surprised how much sense this makes.

America has, along with much of the industrialized world, been conducting a long diplomatic battle with Iran over it's nuclear program. Iran claims that this program's primary aim is the creation and nurture of nuclear power. They state publicly that they are not seeking nuclear weapons. Now we know this is a lie. Iran knows that we know it's a lie. Of course they want nuclear weapons! This is not a surprise. But Iran continues to pretend, in public, that this program is civilian in nature. They continue this pretense because to admit the truth, for all to hear, would send the west into an absolute tizzy. Why, I'm not sure, since as I stated earlier, we all know it's true. Sometimes the truth is only acceptable as long as we don't look directly at it. Call it human nature.

So we all know that Iran would like a nuke in their arsenal. This scares the hell out of us. After all, this is 'Iran'! The Iran that over-threw our friend the Shah in the late '70s. The Iran that subsequently took American's hostage for over a year. The Iran who has supported Hezbollah and Hammas against Israel. And the self same Iran who, from all available evidence, appears to have disregarded the popular vote in the last Presidential election and returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office for a second term. And we all 'know' he is a nut! Or at least sounds that way in his speeches.

So, of course, we must prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear capability at all costs! Or do we? That's certainly the conventional wisdom. To listen to the pundits and politicos tell it, a nuclear Iran would be the end of the world as we know it. Just this side of apocalyptic. Really? Why? Has anyone really thought this through? I'm not saying that I trust Iran to 'do the right thing' but what would happen if they had a couple nukes locked away in an underground bunker?

First, lets remember that this is a sovereign nation. In other words, not likely to just do whatever they are told. As such, the only way we could ultimately stop them from obtaining nuclear capability is by a military invasion and occupation. Even Israeli air strikes will not be able to stop it from eventually happing. It is inevitable. Why? Because a significant percentage of the Iranian people want it. They are convinced that being a part of the world's nuclear fraternity will give them prestige and influence. They know that it will set them on a different level, politically. And then there is the natural human response to being told in a firm, commanding voice that it's not allowed. So the pressure to gain nuclear status is too high to stop without an invasion.  And as bad as Iraq has been, An military operation like that against Iran would be ten times worse. Both in the initial attack and subsequent occupation. It would be a mistake of mythic proportions. Not to mention that to do so would be against everything America, and the democratic West, stands for. Not that this has always stopped us at times in the past. We would be telling the world that we are no better than the Soviet Union at it's height or any of the countless dictators around the world. Willing to jettison our ideals anytime it was convenient. That way lies madness and the destruction of all that is good about America.

Another point is that Iran is probably the closest thing to a democracy in the Islamic Middle East, despite the recent election. I don't count Iraq, since they haven't managed to get out from under American coat-tails yet, so are hardly a stable example. Iran is much more democratic than some of our closest allies, like Saudi Arabia. My point being, that Ahmadinejad is far from an iron handed dictator. Even the 'Supreme Leader', Ayatollah Khamenei, was hard pressed to deal with the public outrage from the election debacle. That election showed everyone, in and outside the country, that the Iranian people are not mindless drones, following the whims of their government. They are an educated people who are not at all ignorant of the outside world. This is not a country lost in the 'stone age', as some would like you to think. Listen to the journalists who've spent time there. I've seen interviews with Iranians who seemed far more knowledgeable about the world than some Americans! My point is that this idea of Iran being a bunch of ignorant fanatics, who can barely be trusted with fire is ludicrous and insulting.

The biggest mistake that people make, when talking about Iran and nuclear weapons is forgetting that this is a nation, not a terrorist group. Yes, they may support groups that perpetrate terrorist acts in Beirut and Israel, but that is not the same thing as being a terrorist themselves. I know, I know! This is one of those ideas that is likely to send emotions flaring, but please try and consider my points before you judge. We can all agree that some extremist groups like Hezbollah,  Hammas and Al Quaida shouldn't have access to matches, much less a nuke. And I suggest that Iran would agree fully with that as well, believe it or not. Even those who support the aims of some of these groups would never want them to get their hands on nukes. It's one thing to use a bunch of nut-jobs to undermine an enemy. It's quite another to give them nukes! I don't think even a stoner like Kadafi would do something that crazy.

Finally, the most important point to consider. Gaining a nuclear weapon is not the trump card so many seem to think it is. Most people just see the power of a nuke. They think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Images of the nuclear tests at Bikini Atoll and other locations. But that is jumping way ahead. Remember, that although more and more countries have gained nuclear capability since 1945, nukes have still only been used twice . . . ever! That's right, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Sixty-Four years without a nuke being detonated in anger. Why? Because within a few years of that first use, the reality of Mutual Assured Destruction prevailed. Every nuclear nation knows that to pull the pin on a nuke would be tantamount to suicide. Having a nuke is one thing. It puts you in a different league. It forces a certain level of respect and gets you a chair at the big kid's table. But no nation ever wants to actually use one. The only groups that would ever want to use a nuke are landless, decentralized extremist groups on the model of Al Quaida. They have no goal beyond chaos and destruction. And no home to worry about protecting. Even Hammas and Hezbollah have no use for nukes, as to use one would be, for them, essentially setting it off in their neighbor's back yard. A clear 'Con' in any Cost/Benefit analysis.

Once a nation obtains that genie in a bottle, a cold bitter wind of reality sweeps in. First and foremost comes that 'someone walked over my grave' sensation as every nuclear power on the face of the Earth adds you to their master target list. That's a point that can't be underrated. There's nothing that says, 'You've Arrived' on the world stage quite like knowing every major city in your country is now on a contingency target list for everyone else's ICBMs.  There is no going back from that. And there is no way you are going to give nukes to a terrorist organization. Partly because, nobody trusts any of these groups, especially not the ones who've employed them in the past.  Hell, they know better than anyone how flaky these wing-nuts are. But mainly because, if it can EVER be proven that you did hand over a nuke to a fringe group, . . . well lets just say that it wouldn't take more than one MIRV equipped SLBM to erase the Iranian nation from the planet. That's not the kind of risk, even 'rogue' nations are going to take. They may not be the West's bestest buddy, but that doesn't make them insane.

Then you have to securely store your new 'ultimate weapon' since you now have to worry about all the fringe groups who would like to steal it, or it's raw components. After all, every nation has it's own brand of extremists to worry about, in addition to all the random groups roaming the world's back alleys. Next you have to make sure it can't be detonated accidentally and blow yourself up. That's a serious loss of 'cool points'. You can get away with improperly storing a rack of 500 lb bombs. Worst case, you destroy a bunker. You screw up with a nuke and you can kiss the entire military installation, as well as anything in a 20 + mile radius, goodbye.  You'll need a place to at least test the first one and that's not a location you can then repurpose for farmland when it's all done. So there's a ridiculous amount of overhead just to own one.

There are really only two reasons to have a nuke. One is to show that you aren't just a second class, hick country. That you've 'arrived' on the world stage and have to be taken more seriously. And two, to ensure that no other nuclear power will ever use them on you. Really, that's it. In all other respects, it is a complete negative. Financially, the costs of developing one are staggering. But that's nothing to the cost of maintaining and securing them over time! Think how many Tens of Trillions, yes Trillions, of dollars America has spent on nukes, alone since 1945. Money spent on a weapon that we had no plans to EVER use and prayed no one else would.

My point is that a nuclear Iran is unlikely to be any more dangerous than a non-nuclear Iran. It might even mellow them out a bit once they actually realize what kind of demon-genie they have stored in the basement. Some of Iran's leaders may screech extreme rhetoric, but they aren't going to pop off a nuke at Israel, as much as the idea might appeal to some of them. Why? Self preservation. Israel is widely believed to have it's own nuclear capability. And no matter how much joy some in Iran might get from seeing a mushroom cloud over Tel Aviv, that would be vastly overshadowed by the knowledge of how short the celebration party would be. Even if they silenced Israel, the US would very likely 'test' some ordinance in retaliation. Hell, I doubt Russia would sit on their hands for that either. The rules of conduct in using a nuke ain't as relaxed as they are for a few sticks of C-4. And, as mentioned above, supporting a nuclear program is certainly going to drain away a good chunk of their GDP. Less money to send to fund fringe groups.

No, I would rather they not have nukes. But what everyone must accept, is that it's inevitable.  Anything the industrialized nations could do to stop it would probably be far worse in the long run. Look, it's way better to have a nuclear Iran, whom we have decent relations with than a bitter enemy who is still going to obtain nukes one way or another anyway. Wouldn't you rather they got nukes in the light of day instead of tinkering in an underground bunker on a shoestring, black-ops budget? Because if we force this issue, they'll still get nukes, but they'll likely do it with emphasis on secrecy instead of on safety. And who knows how secure that would be?

All this being said, I don't think Iran actually wants to use a nuke anyway. I think they are desperate for respect. To stop being seen as a desert nation of rag-head extremists. I'm not saying there aren't some Iranians who meet that description, but it's hardly an accurate assessment of the country as a whole. So I say we stop pushing to the point of insanity. Back off this 'Line in the Sand' rhetoric. Do I think that Iran would supply high-explosives to Hammas to use against Israel? Good chance they would. Would they hand over a small nuke? No friggin' chance in Valhalla!

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