This appears to be the syllogism behind the Bush administration’s rationale for its Iran policy:
- Iran acknowledges wanting the capability to produce nuclear fuel itself (although it does not yet possess it, so far as we can tell — and we have tried our best), and
- Such capability can, under certain circumstances, be used to create nuclear weapons (although Iran says it has no interest in doing so, and the CIA says it would be two-to-ten years down the road, even if turns out they are lying);
- Iran has aided groups like Hamas that have used violence against Israelis,
- The Islamic Republic has a poor record on human rights internally, and
- Iran has opposed the United States on a number of issues (including the opening of the new oil bourse);
- Measures such as sanctions, bombing or other intervention are the prerogative, indeed the imperative, of the United States (or some combination of nations that would include the United States) in order to protect its people.
First, from a legal standpoint, there is an argument to be had regarding whether or not international agreements permit Iran to have nuclear fuel production capacity. (Clearly, a number of nations that cannot have such a capacity legally, in fact do have it, and some have produced weapons-grade fuel, developed weapons, even tested those weapons, and threatened to use them: Pakistan, India and Israel, to name three…although Israel does not so much threaten as it just acts.)
From a practical geopolitical standpoint, the success of sanctions depends on both their direct impact and on a certain question of credibility. Direct impacts, unfortunately, tend to impact (as with Serbians and Iraqis under the sanctions imposed on their countries) the most vulnerable in the society, rather than the leaders, who continue to eat, drink, drive and wear what they wish. Credibility — because if the other side does not trust that things will get better if they give in, they might as well grit their teeth and bear the sanctions — as Iranians have been doing all these years. After the “vanishing WMD’s”, the Abu Ghraib abuses and our tortured (no pun intended) Guantanamo legal defense, U.S. credibility is not high with anyone, except a large minority of American voters.
From a military standpoint, a preemptive strike is perhaps the least readily-approved action (within the international community) that a nation can take toward another nation (to oppose it is only logical, since any state could conceivably be on the receiving end at some later point. We certainly opposed it when the target was Pearl Harbor.) The U.S. invasion of Iraq met with criticism from most of the governments of the world (even in the neighborhood most directly threatened by Saddam), and large majorities of the populations of even our closest allies, such as the United Kingdom.
All of this policy posturing and operational planning is, of course, ultimately based on fear. But fear of what exactly?
Fear of a continuation of clerical rule in Iran? That is shared by many, but Iranians both inside and outside Iran feel even less willing to have a solution imposed from without than do the Iraqis. (Interestingly, in both cases, the populace suffered for years under dictators propped up by U.S. support — Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and the current defendant in Baghdad, Saddam Hussein; even if they want a change, why should we expect that they would look to the United States for help?)
Fear of terrorism? Iran was one country in the Middle East that actually helped us, directly post-9/11, in dealing with some of those who were fleeing U.S. forces in Afghanistan. None of Al-Qaeda has been traced to Iran (but we continue cordial relations with the countries they do come from; Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for example). And, Osama Bin Laden has not been sighted in Iran since he went to ground, to the best of my knowledge.
Fear of invasion? Iran has not invaded anyone in any recent millennium, much less the past century. In the past hundred years, what countries have been invaded by the United States? — well, how much time do you have? Just in that part of the world, both Afghanistan and Iraq (countries located on either side of what near-eastern nation… ??). (This is to say nothing of the U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey, Central Asia and Pakistan, to complete the encirclement of Iran.)
Fear of nuclear attack? Only one country on earth has used a bomb in anger; need I say which one? And only that one has an arsenal even larger than its list of potential targets, which is long. Iran may be harboring a desire to have a bomb (more than likely, that would, in fact, be one bomb, singular, with limited range for delivery — if they had one, which they don’t). Iran may be able to do the science, as Pakistan did, to develop one. Iran might test their bomb (but, of course, only if they had more than one… ). But, whom could Iran attack with that one bomb, without inviting massive and devastating retaliation? Iraq, where a majority are fellow Shi-ites? Israel, where the leaders would love a reason to blast Iran? Pakistan, where Islamic fundamentalism is alive and well? Turkey? Afghanistan?
Fear of Iran overthrowing our own government? There is a sort of precedent on this point… .except that it was the other way around — the US has acknowledged supporting a coup in Iran. (And, then there are other bothersome historical cases involving the United States, such as the fate of Allende in Chile.)
Fear of dwindling profits from oil or gas? Ahhhh! Now we’re getting somewhere. Can any of us think of an industry as profitable as big oil? Is there any region of the world more critical to the profit margin of those firms than the one that includes Iran? Isn’t there voluminous historical precedent for outsiders (Westerners) trying their darnedest to exploit Iranian natural resources?
This is not nuclear rocket science, folks, it really isn’t.