An argument commonly made by Iran's ruling mullahs for pursuing nuclear technology is Iranian national pride. Along with future domestic energy needs, the ayatollahs have used national pride and prestige as their primary propaganda line to stir up popular support and sentiment for their nuclear ambitions.
My main objective here is not to discuss the validity of IRI's claims as to the real goals of their nuclear program. I am not out to argue that the mullahs do or do not really want to possess The Bomb. And since no one has found clear and undisputable evidence to the contrary, for the sake of this article, let's assume that the mullahs are telling the truth. Let's assume that they are pouring billions of dollars and thousands of hours of skilled man hours into this endeavor to create a viable and self-sufficient nuclear power industry; an industry that will prepare Iran — a country with one of the world's largest oil and gas reserves — for a world without fossil fuels.
On the surface, a shiny and modern energy industry sounds like a great idea. But a news flash this morning quickly sobered me up to the sad reality of every day life in Iran. It showed what is badly missing and really needed. I saw another earthquake report from Iran. More than 300 lives were lost in predictable and preventable fashion!
Watching the earthquake news reports on TV, the first thing you notice is the obvious and painful lack of equipment, emergency services, infrastructure and proper building codes. A person from thousands of miles away can watch a 30-second news footage on CNN or browse the Internet for 20 minutes and find out, very quickly, what Iran's resident leaders have chosen not to see: Iran is a country in desperate need of large public works and infrastructure overhaul projects in almost every sector imaginable.
In one of the most quake-prone countries on Earth, the most basic building codes are non-existent in all but the largest cities. And even in the cities, they are widely ignored and drowned in the ocean of municipal corruption and mismanagement. A uniform and capable public emergency assistance system, like fire, paramedics and civil defense corps can be a national project of utmost importance that will improve and save thousands of lives, way ahead of the country needing to worry about generating electricity from enriched uranium!
Creating and enforcing a protective building code for urban as well as rural areas can be a project of national pride and importance that will create hundreds of thousands of jobs and save countless souls in future earthquakes that are sure to keep coming one after another in a country like Iran.
Iran's health care industry and welfare regime is in ruins. The most basic prescription drugs require the patient or a friend or relative to stand in long queues for days to purchase substandard medicines at back-breaking prices. Repairing the health care system does not seem to be a matter of national pride and prestige for the ayatollahs.
Long term urban planning is all but non-existent in Iran. They do put elaborate plans on paper, but implementation is often dragged out for years on end, due to mismanagement and corruption. For example, with the exception of some districts in Tehran, and one or two other large cities, modern sewage systems are non-existing. Sewage goes untreated and into the ground. Building sewage systems does not seem to be a matter of national pride and prestige for the ayatollahs.
Iran's roads and highways, though in a much better shape than most of its neighbor states in the region, are in need of repairs and expansion. Thousands of Iranians lose their lives on the roads annually due to poor road conditions and safety enforcement.
As a young country faced with the challenges of a post-revolution baby boom, Iran's elementary, middle and secondary schools are over populated, under staffed and in a state of disrepair. Teachers are under paid and in some instances not paid at all. This is a national disgrace for a government that is reportedly swimming in cash, thanks a sharp increase in oil prices in recent years.
Ironically, Iran's energy industry is one of the better developed and more capable sectors. But the mullahs have deemed Iran's future energy production a priority. The examples I gave above and countless others make any reasonable person question the merits of pouring billions of dollars into a dubious nuclear program as a matter of national pride.
How can you be proud of a gazillion-dollar Russian-built money-pit-of-a-power-plant in Bushehr that has been sucking petro dollars for generations without generating so much as a flash light's worth of power. How can an Iranian youth be proud of a warehouse full of gas centrifuges, when her elderly mother has to stand in long lines outside of a poorly stocked government pharmacy in freezing weather to buy one month's worth of her heart medicine at the cost of two week's pension pay?
So, if Iran's nuclear program is really and honestly a peaceful project for generating electricity, then it's seriously mismanaged and badly in need of resources. It's a bad idea for the wrong nation at the wrong time. People question their leaders' ability to think clearly, let alone rule their great country.
And if the nuclear program's goals are not peaceful and indeed aimed at building a nuclear arsenal, then God help us all!