We Should Follow Fareed Zakaria’s Advice
For anyone who is truly scared about Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon, I invite you to take a look at a piece that Fareed Zakaria wrote in Newsweek a little over a week ago. In it, Zakaria goes on a scholarly tirade about how overblown the Iranian debate has become, up to the point where some are afraid that an Iranian nuclear weapon would somehow hold the world hostage. Israel has been advocating this stance for years, a state that views Iran as an existential threat. Neoconservatives across the United States- the same people who lobbied the government to launch a preemptive invasion of Iraq in 2003- have taken up a similar belief.
Thankfully, we have some rational reporters (like Mr. Zakaria) that refuse to drink the Kool-Aid. From his judgment, Iran is not an existential threat. In fact, Iran is not even on par with the Soviet Union or Communist China when it comes to what Americans should be worrying about. Contrary to popular belief, Iran is a state that can be deterred if it indeed crosses the nuclear threshold. If the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and Israel can be deterred, so can the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Believe it or not, I actually wrote about this very issue a few months ago, when Iran became the primary topic on the Sunday talk shows. And thankfully, I am happy to say that my recommendation is exactly what Mr. Zakaria is advocating (not to pat myself on the back, because heck…If I was an expert, than perhaps my long manuscript would have been accepted by a major journal).
As Zakaria accurately notes, the main objective of Iran’s rulers is self-preservation. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are willing to do anything to stay in power. We saw this in a pretty brutal fashion this past summer, with Basij militiamen beating protesters over the head with clubs. We continue to see this today, with members of the opposition being summarily executed in show-trials, hoping that the threat of death will deter future anti-regime protests.
There appears to be nothing that the mullahs (and the IRGC generals) would do to hold onto their positions. Building a nuclear program and eventually getting nuclear warheads fits right into this calculus. With a nuclear deterrent, there is no way the United States would be foolish enough to promote regime-change through the use of force. Among the many reasons for an Iranian bomb, regime stability is one of the biggest.
But just as it’s foolish for the U.S. to attack an Iran with a nuclear capability, it would be downright suicidal for Iran to use nuclear weapons in the first place.
What could Tehran possibly achieve with a nuclear weapon? Spreading their influence across the Persian Gulf? Well, this has already been done. Iran has proxy influence in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, and in the Palestinian Territories. While it may be true that nuclear-armed Iran would be more aggressive in the broader Middle East, this same behavior would quickly tame down if the United States adopted a serious deterrence strategy.
What about the stupid neoconservative argument that Iran would secretly give nuclear material to a terrorist organization? This too is unlikely. It has taken Iranian scientists close to a decade to develop the infrastructure and technology needed for uranium enrichment. The idea that the Iranians would simply hand-over their most prized possession to terrorists is laughable. Any nuclear attack by a terrorist group would be solely blamed on Iran, even if there was a lack of 100 percent certainty. And the result would be nothing short of catastrophic for the Iranian Government.
And don’t even talk about “wiping Israel of the map.” This argument is the most ignorant on the list. Destroying Israel would only invite an even bigger wrath by the United States, with Iranian cities annihilated and millions of Iranian citizens killed. Nobody wins.
This is why deterrence is such a foolproof concept, and this is why Iran (despite its fundamentalism jargon and vehement anti-Americanism) is just as susceptible to deterrence as everyone else. Any offensive nuclear attack would be met with an even stronger reaction.
So let’s take Zakaria’s advice and stop worrying about things that are not going to happen. No one wants Iran to become a nuclear power, but the world won’t end if they do make that list.
-Daniel R. DePetris