July 20, 2010

Depends Where We Look... and Stop Looking

Justin Katz

It would presume too much to site the latter as disproof of the former, but in close proximity, last week, commenter Russ asserted that Iran has no designs on nuclear weapons and the following story broke into the news:

An Iranian scientist sought refuge in the Pakistani Embassy compound and asked to go home, an apparent defection gone wrong that could embarrass the U.S. and its efforts to gather intelligence on Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program. ...

Reliable and timely information about Iran's nuclear program is of enormous importance to the Obama administration and other countries seeking to stop the Islamic republic from getting the bomb. Beyond using diplomatic means to try to stop Iran, the U.S. and Israel have not ruled out using military force.

Look, when it comes to global intrigue, we have to assume that there are multiple angles to each incident at which we can only guess. I noted, in the comments, that the National Intelligence Council report that Russ cited as evidence (PDF treads carefully in such a way as to make the assertion that no "nuclear weapons program" exists in Iran... you know, per se, for sure, with that title on its letterhead. On the other side, one could suggest (I suppose) that countries that appear to take the threat of a nuclear Iran seriously enough to threaten military force are putting on some sort of political show despite the imaginary nature of that threat.

Frankly, I'll wager with my writing and with my votes, that the threat is real and that we ought to conduct ourselves, internationally, appropriately to that assessment.

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This issue comes up a lot at family dinners.

Maybe it's because I wasn't alive during the hostage crisis, but I seem to be the only one around who doesn't think a nuclear Iran would be a game-changer. Israel, Pakistan, India, Russia, and China (and possibly North Korea) already have them.

We built nuclear weapons with 1940s technology, I think it's folly to think that a determined semi-industrialized nation couldn't build their own nuke in the 21st century. We're just delaying the inevitable.

Big nations with strong ideologies tend to talk a big game, and interfere with other nations in ways they can get away with, The US and China's shenanigans in Central America, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Tibet come to mind. As far as Iran goes, if they behave like other nations, they'll continue their Hezbollah support, but they probably won't be sending nukes to their 'irregulars', if only to prevent Holy Hell from raining down on themselves.

So please, educate me. I don't think Iran is a Big Deal given all the other countries with bad records, dangerous leadership, and weapons of mass destruction.

Posted by: mangeek at July 21, 2010 9:08 AM

Ah, the black and white world of the neocon. Juan Cole has an excellent post on this...

Was Amiri a Double Agent who Hyped Iran’s Nukes?

I also "asserted" [read, quoted our National Intelligence Estimate] "that the [nuclear weapons] program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure", which "suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously," a conclusion totally contrary to your assertion that the Iranians are not "rational actors."

Posted by: Russ at July 21, 2010 10:14 AM


Your persistent (deliberate?) error is that I never made such an assertion. The post to which you initially commented suggested that Iran is behaving rationally to our irrational incentives.

In brief: The "international pressure" being brought to bear is pretty pitiful.

Posted by: Justin Katz at July 21, 2010 8:00 PM


I would offer two quick points:

1. Consider that one of the difficulties cited in the U.S.'s determination of what to do about Iran has been the number of troops that we have in the region. Now adjust Iran's leverage from conventional forces and terrorists to conventional forces and terrorists with access to a nuclear bomb. Now layer in the nations in the region with which we have tenuous relationships that might shift were Iran to go nuclear.

2. The argument from inevitability misses the very obvious fact that circumstances change. Every year that a nation like Iran does not have a nuclear bomb is a year that that other nations can (e.g.) side with domestic political reformers. A nuclear, but democratic and civically secular Iran is nowhere near the threat that a nuclear theocracy represents, not the least because a theocracy with a nuclear weapon may prove more difficult to remove from power.

Posted by: Justin Katz at July 21, 2010 8:07 PM

Ah, got it. My misunderstanding wasn't intentional. I read "folks who insist on seeing Iran's leadership as rational actors" as an indication that you believed they shouldn't insist on that.

Of course I might question the rationality of those who insist that the U.S. has the right to remove from power governments (in fact, among the most democratic in the region) U.N member states that don't comply with our demands, or that it's in our strategic interests to do so, especially given the two ongoing disasters that type of reckless foreign policy has brought us.

Posted by: Russ at July 22, 2010 10:36 AM
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