Commentary Magazine


Is a Nuclear Iran a Good Thing?

Iran is going nuclear? Don’t worry, be happy. That, at least, is the message of this odd op-ed in the New York Times written by one Adam B. Lowther, identified as an analyst at the Air Force Research Institute at Maxwell Air Base in Alabama. He claims that a nuclear Iran will deliver all sorts of hidden benefits for the U.S.:

First, Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would give the United States an opportunity to finally defeat violent Sunni-Arab terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. Here’s why: a nuclear Iran is primarily a threat to its neighbors, not the United States. Thus Washington could offer regional security — primarily, a Middle East nuclear umbrella — in exchange for economic, political and social reforms in the autocratic Arab regimes responsible for breeding the discontent that led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

He takes this fantasy to another level by imagining that not only will the Arab states be empowered to defeat al-Qaeda — something they already have an interest in doing — but that OPEC will also crack up, the Israelis and Palestinians will settle their differences because they’ll both be so scared of Iranian nukes, U.S. defense exports to the Middle East will increase, the Arab states will bear more of the cost of their own defense, and Iran will become a more responsible actor with nuclear weapons than without them.

Uh, right. All this will happen about the time that Osama bin Laden converts to Zionism. This is the kind of thing that only someone in a university or research institute could possibly believe. In reality, while an Iranian nuclear program may spur some Arab states to draw closer to the U.S., it will also prompt many of them to do more to accommodate Iran as the new “strong horse” in the region and to do more to embrace Islamism to deflect Iran’s appeal to their own people. Iran will certainly be empowered to step up its campaign of terrorism. And many other regional players, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, and even Syria may go nuclear themselves to counter the Iranian influence. Far from spurring a “renaissance of American influence in the Middle East,” a nuclear Iran will be well-positioned to dominate the entire region.

Lowther’s article is hard to take seriously, but the fact that it appears in our leading newspaper and is written by a government employee is sure to lead many in the conspiracy-mad Middle East to imagine that it represents the views of the U.S. government. That will only further encourage Iran and discourage its neighbors. Not that Iran needs much outside encouragement. Its leaders are plainly convinced that the U.S. is not going to do anything substantive to stop its nuclear program. And they are probably right. But that is hardly cause for celebration.