Newsweek’s Fareed Zakaria has an article online making a very strong case that Iran is not seeking a nuclear weapon. I realize that there is a split in this country between those who believe Iran is trying to get a nuke and those who think they aren’t, but I myself have never heard the argument made against them wanting a bomb for these particular reasons.
Everything you know about Iran is wrong, or at least more complicated than you think. Take the bomb. The regime wants to be a nuclear power but could well be happy with a peaceful civilian program (which could make the challenge it poses more complex). What’s the evidence? Well, over the last five years, senior Iranian officials at every level have repeatedly asserted that they do not intend to build nuclear weapons. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has quoted the regime’s founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asserted that such weapons were "un-Islamic." The country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral. In a subsequent sermon, he declared that "developing, producing or stockpiling nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam." Last year Khamenei reiterated all these points after meeting with the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei. Now, of course, they could all be lying. But it seems odd for a regime that derives its legitimacy from its fidelity to Islam to declare constantly that these weapons are un-Islamic if it intends to develop them. It would be far shrewder to stop reminding people of Khomeini’s statements and stop issuing new fatwas against nukes.
Following a civilian nuclear strategy has big benefits. The country would remain within international law, simply asserting its rights under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a position that has much support across the world. That would make comprehensive sanctions against Iran impossible. And if Tehran’s aim is to expand its regional influence, it doesn’t need a bomb to do so. Simply having a clear "breakout" capacity—the ability to weaponize within a few months—would allow it to operate with much greater latitude and impunity in the Middle East and Central Asia.
Iranians aren’t suicidal. In an interview last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the Iranian regime as "a messianic, apocalyptic cult." In fact, Iran has tended to behave in a shrewd, calculating manner, advancing its interests when possible, retreating when necessary. The Iranians allied with the United States and against the Taliban in 2001, assisting in the creation of the Karzai government. They worked against the United States in Iraq, where they feared the creation of a pro-U.S. puppet on their border. Earlier this year, during the Gaza war, Israel warned Hizbullah not to launch rockets against it, and there is much evidence that Iran played a role in reining in their proxies. Iran’s ruling elite is obsessed with gathering wealth and maintaining power. The argument made by those—including many Israelis for coercive sanctions against Iran is that many in the regime have been squirreling away money into bank accounts in Dubai and Switzerland for their children and grandchildren. These are not actions associated with people who believe that the world is going to end soon.
One of Netanyahu’s advisers said of Iran, "Think Amalek." The Bible says that the Amalekites were dedicated enemies of the Jewish people. In 1 Samuel 15, God says, "Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." Now, were the president of Iran and his advisers to have cited a religious text that gave divine sanction for the annihilation of an entire race, they would be called, well, messianic.
Now the religious angle of this issue might be the most persuasive if you ask me. The Supreme Leader can not get up and preach against the morality of nuclear weapons and call them "un-Islamic" and then wink and nod to his followers and have everything work out fine. One of the consequences of a theistic society is that the citizens follow the leader’s spiritual teachings for better or for worse. So how would they even find someone to work on a program that they have been taught will guarantee them a corner of Hell? And as Zakaria points out this isn’t something that Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has just said in passing. Its something that has been reiterated several time over the years.
Now we have to be honest with ourselves here. If Zakaria can figure this out then obviously people in the White House and in Congress surely can and have as well. I think the question now is how much will President Obama and his administration focus on the facts of the situation rather than continuing to rail against Iran for seeking a weapon that they have good reason to believe they aren’t actually trying to develop. I was one of those whom cheered on then Senator Obama’s position that he would try diplomacy with Iran and give that a chance. But honestly since he has taken office I have been more than a little disturbed with the rhetoric coming from both President Obama and his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, when it comes to Iran. Yes there has been outreach but there has also been a lot of hyperbole about Iran’s supposed pursuit of nuclear weapons.
I realize much of that has to do with our government’s relationship with Israel but the problem is people believe what a President says. That’s why they are usually the biggest movers of public opinion. So when President Obama or Secretary Clinton makes allusions to Iran seeking a nuclear weapon, the average citizen hears that and believes its a foregone conclusion. Just look at how reports of Iran test firing a conventional missle got conflated into "nuclear test" recently. People who aren’t political junkies or policy wonks don’t spend their time googling NIEs and transcripts of Congressional hearings. So what happens when public opinion grows for strikes against Iran even if they have done nothing to warrant them? What happens if Israel launches a strike on Iran preemptively and public opinion is that Iran deserved even if they decidedly didn’t? This has nothing to do with coming to the aid of Israel should she come under attack. In that event we will no doubt stand by her side. But this has everything to do with the old Bush doctrine of preemptive war on countries that have not attacked us or our allies.
I don’t believe our national security interests are being served well by the use of over the top rhetoric. Its about time that we demand to hear of any evidence our government has that Iran is truly seeking a nuclear weapon. And if there is none its about time that that fact was made well known to the public. We have enough enemies in this world that are real threats to our security without trying to invent one. And I think at this point we have all seen what happens when lies get repeated over and over so many times that they become accepted as the truth. We don’t need the kind of march to war with Iran that we had on the march to war with Iraq.
Now I am not saying that Zakaria is the the foremost authority on this issue and that just because he said it makes it true. However what I AM saying is that nobody has made a credible argument for why Iranians would be seeking a bomb other than something along the lines of "they are crazy mooslems." And yet our elected leaders are allowed to repeatedly make statements to the effect that they are seeking a weapon without ever having to quantify their position. It would be nice if our mainstream media sources would press our elected leaders to either put up or shut up. Especially after the embarrassment of the 2007 NIE which also said that Iran wasn’t seeking a weapon after years and years of politicians telling us they were. Either give the American people a plausible explanation for why they believe Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon or, if they can’t, knock off the fear mongering. This is one movie that doesn’t need a sequel.
Cross posted at Smooth Like Remy