Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
Deal With It
By David G. Young
Washington, DC, July 20, 2010 --
Iran is about to become a nuclear power, and there is nothing that the West can do to stop it.
When the crack-smoking former mayor of Washington DC was returned to office in the mid 90s, he had a message for the stunned and horrified Washington elite: "Deal with it." This message is equally appropriate as many of the same members of the Washington elite currently watch in horror as Iran steadily progresses toward nuclear capability.
The problem, in both cases, is the impotence of observers to influence the source of their angst. In the case of Iran, the country has succeeded in dressing up its nuclear program in civilian clothes. The country's Islamic government knows full well that it can master the ability to enrich uranium as part of a civilian program, and that once it does so it can easily turn this capability toward bomb-making. And there is very little that a disapproving world can do to stop them.
Yes, Western diplomats have been furiously working for years to get China and Russia to agree to implement tough sanctions in Iran. And Israel repeatedly rattles every saber in its arsenal to warn Iran that they may attack its nuclear facilities.1 Meanwhile, American intelligence agencies are doing everything they can to slow down and obstruct the Iranian nuclear scientists, including the recent back-and-forth fight over Iranian nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri.2
All of these strategies are doomed to fail. Despite provisional agreements, China and Russia are very unlikely to agree to real sanctions because they don't want to set a precedent that can be used to punish their own bad behavior. And even if the West does manage to get painful sanctions in place, Iran's regime seems perfectly willing to endure such pain in order to achieve its nuclear goals.
Israel is by far the most spooked about Iran, and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu might be hawkish and crazy enough to start a regional war by launching an attack on Iran's facilities. The problem is that the facilities are so scattered and some so deeply buried that any setback to its nuclear program would be quite temporary.3
The same goes for American and Israeli efforts to obstruct the program via espionage -- such efforts may slow Iran down, but they ultimately cannot stop a determined regime. It has been 65 years since American scientists figured out how to split the atom. As the decades draw on, it should be no surprise that more and more countries are achieving the technical capability of America in the early part of the 20th century. Attempting to stop ageing scientific knowledge from spreading across the globe is an ultimately futile endeavor.
Iran is clearly determined in its nuclear goal. Despite a robust internal opposition movement, most Iranians support their country's nuclear ambitions. Indeed, the main opposition leader, Mir Hossein Mousavi, has actively worked toward Iran's nuclear program when he was Prime Minister.4
Westerners must understand that Iran is a relatively large country that has historically been a great power. During the classical era, Persia was the main rival of Greece (the cultural ancestor today's Western world.) And it was only via the takeover of the Persian Empire that Alexander the Great was able to spread Greek (read Western) ideas around the ancient world. Today's Persians are quite aware of their fall from their historical zenith, and are keen to rise back up.
So long as nuclear weapons remain a hallmark of a modern power, Iran will seek to acquire a nuclear capability -- no matter what regime is in power in Tehran. In the bigger picture, America should not perceive this as a threat. Iran and America are not natural rivals -- they are natural allies. The countries are half a world away and share many adversaries -- Russia, the Arab World and the Afghan warlords. Once the radical mullah's are removed from power, a strong Iran will no longer bother Washington's elite. And if and when Iran's government finally takes a more liberal and broad-minded turn, the country's possession of nuclear weapons will hardly be frightening. Few countries tremble at the thought of France having the bomb, and fewer still worry about the Netherlands having the technical capability to produce a bomb.
The best the West can hope for is to slow down Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons at the same time as it speeds up the transition from a despotic, irrational theocracy to a more liberal and reasonable regime. Unfortunately, Western governments have limited ability to influence both of these transitions. Given this Western impotence, the best advice is that given by the onetime mayor-for-life of Washington DC. Iran is about to become a nuclear power. The West had better learn to deal with it.
Related Web Columns
They Don't Need Us, June 16, 2009
1. MSNBC, "Irrational" Iran can't get nuclear arms: Netanyahu, July 11, 2010
2. Radio Free Europe, Iranian Nuclear Expert Says U.S. Sought To Swap Him, July 18, 2010
3. Time, An Attack on Iran: Back on the Table, July 15, 2010
4. Wall Street Journal, Challenger Mousavi Has Conservative Past, June 17, 2009