Following on the recent release of the NIE, Michael Young, an editor of the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star, sheds light on the real game awaiting us with Iran. According to Young, the main issue is not the report’s accuracy, but rather Iran’s push for hegemony in the region and the reaction of the U.S. to that push. Iran’s rhetoric gives plenty of reason to believe that rationality is not the strongest feature of its rulers. On the other hand, Iran’s pursuit of nuclear power is very rational, given the country’s ambitions: a bomb (or the capacity to build it) would greatly enhance its power over the Gulf, the Caspian Basin, and the Levant. As Iran gained power, it would become an unignorable player in the complex game of Palestinian-Israeli peace.
The intelligence community has now concluded that the Iranians are no longer building a bomb. But is Iran, then, harmless? Of course not. The NIE shows that the Iranians were building a bomb in the first place, something that no official document asserted conclusively until now (the IAEA never went so far, saying only that it could not confirm the Iranians were NOT building a bomb). Given that the NIE says the Iranians halted the weaponization part of their program under pressure (while they kept working on the two more difficult elements of the program, enrichment and ballistic missiles), why should that pressure be let off now?
Even if one assumes the NIE to be accurate, the basic questions about Iran do not change. Can the U.S. afford to let the Iranians become the dominant regional power and have a say over all the crises the West wishes to solve in the Middle East? Can the U.S. afford an outcome in Lebanon solely dictated by Tehran? How Does Iran’s desire to be a player in the “peace process” square with that process’s nominal goal? And what about Iran’s support of insurgents in Southern Iraq ? And Iran’s bullying of other Gulf states? Young says that
Iran would gladly draw the U.S. into a lengthy discussion of everything and nothing, and use this empty gabfest as a smokescreen to advance its agenda. But diplomacy is not an end in itself; to be meaningful it has to achieve specific aims and be based on confidence that both sides seek a mutually advantageous deal. Nothing suggests the Iranians have reached that stage yet.
Focus on the bomb has led some to ask the wrong questions about Iran. Iran’s current agenda is a threat to Western interests—the bomb is just a tool to advance that agenda more effectively. Instead of accommodating Iran in exchange for a temporary reprieve in its pursuit of nuclear power, American foreign policy should focus on containing Iran’s push for hegemony.