Top Videos
2008 Polls NationalIowaNew HampshireGeneral Election
GOP | DemGOP | DemGOP | DemHead-to-Head

Send to a Friend | Print Article

Misreading the Iranian Threat

By Steve Chapman

Iran is now led by an outspoken Islamic radical who arms terrorists in Lebanon, dreams of erasing the state of Israel and spurns demands to stop his nuclear program. The Bush administration says it's intolerable to let Iran proceed toward the acquisition of the bomb. More and more, it looks as though the only way to prevent that is for the U.S. to go to war.

But we are in danger of repeating the same mistakes that have mired us in Iraq. Back in 2003, we assumed we understood what Saddam Hussein was up to on weapons of mass destruction. We assumed that if he had them, he would be impossible to contain. And we assumed that we could solve the problem with a quick, neat application of military power.

On all counts, we were fatally wrong. So before Americans are talked into another war, we should consider the possibility that our assumptions about Iran may also be erroneous.

In the first place, it's not clear exactly what Iran wants or is willing to settle for. Though it has been enriching uranium, which could provide the fuel for nuclear weapons, it accepted a stringent international inspections program until earlier this year, and it has indicated it would accept such monitoring again, under the right conditions.

We may not be able to get what we want if we enter into serious negotiations with the Iranians. But if we refuse to barter, we're sure to get nothing.

The world would certainly be better off without a nuclear Iran -- just as it would be better off without a nuclear North Korea. But the example provided by Kim Jong Il is somewhat reassuring. Like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim has been known to sound belligerent and fanatical. But once he acquired the bomb, he found it didn't get him much.

The one value of a nuclear arsenal is relevant to the other surviving member of the Axis of Evil: It can prevent enemies, such as the United States, from invading your country. Having seen the fate of Hussein, the Tehran regime has sensible grounds to worry.

But nukes are useful only if they are not used. If Iran gets them, it will quickly learn -- if it doesn't know already -- what Kim, Mao Tse-tung, Nikita Khrushchev and Josef Stalin came to understand: Launching a nuclear attack guarantees your destruction. It violates the first mission of every government, which is self-preservation.

Alarmists say this logic doesn't apply to Iran, because Islamic zealots would be willing to accept the mass incineration of Muslims to advance their dark fantasies. But people thought similar things about Mao, who said he didn't care if half of humanity had to die to usher in socialism for the remaining half. Once he had nukes, though, he came to appreciate the appeal of personal and national survival.

We went to war against Saddam Hussein for fear he could not be deterred from using any weapons of mass destruction he might have. But he had already shown he could be deterred -- when he sat on his chemical weapons in the 1991 Gulf War.

Iran's rulers are not a different species from these other dictators. And they have not held on to power in a dangerous neighborhood for decades by blindly pursuing martyrdom. They know that using nukes, or giving them to terrorists, would amount to assisted suicide.

If we could easily eliminate Iran's nuclear program, it might be worth doing. But the risks of that course are enormous. An air campaign may not get all the essential facilities, because we can't be sure we have located them all. Iran's response might force us to mount a ground invasion, with a military that is already grossly overextended. And that war would be far more formidable than the Iraq occupation.

The administration, however, may once again let wishful thinking be its downfall. Time magazine reports that some U.S. officials think a bombing campaign might cause Iranians to reject nuclear weapons or even overthrow their government. Anyone who believes that is probably still expecting grateful Iraqis to shower us with tulips.

President Bush ought to be using every means short of war to dissuade Iran from building a bomb. But if he can't, there are worse things than having to coexist with a nuclear-armed enemy. As we may find out.

Copyright 2006 Creators Syndicate

Email Friend | Print | RSS | Add to | Add to Digg
Sponsored Links
 Steve Chapman
Steve Chapman
Author Archive