Barbara Slavin’s op-ed in today’s San Francisco Chronicle tackles the question of Iran in order to rebuke what she considers as growing “war talk” within the Bush Administration–although the White House Press Office today strongly rebuked the Jerusalem Post for publishing an article that attributed such war talk to the President, and denied any of its assertions. After criticizing this newfound militancy, Slavin explains why Iran would not be so much of a problem for the West after all. In her defense of Iran’s motives and intentions, Slavin mentions Tehran’s nuclear nuclear program only once–though Iran’s nuclear program is the principal reason why an outgoing Bush Administration might contemplate at all a military strike.
There are many reasons why a military strike poses significant risks and has potentially very serious consequences. But to ignore the the consequences of the alternative–that Iran succeeds in its nuclear pursuit–is not the most intellectually honest thing to write, though it spares Slavin from the troublesome exercise of having to list the likely consequences of Iranian success. And this is what’s truly missing from the debate about Iran–what would happen if Iran succeeded in its pursuit? Slavin dismisses Iran’s comparison with either Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union–but while at some levels Iran may not be comparable to either, Iran remains wedded to a revolutionary ideology. A revolutionary power, by definition, will seek to change the regional status quo and to remake the world in its own image. In this trajectory, it will eventually find itself embroiled in war, even if that is the result of plain miscalculation. Slavin reassures us that the Iranians will not overstretch:
A country whose boundaries have barely changed since the 16th century, Iran is not able to or interested in recreating the Persian Empire and is not about to become a second Nazi Germany or Soviet Union. As Mohammad Atrianfar, a veteran publisher who is close to former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, told me recently in Tehran: “We are not going to stretch our legs beyond the capacity of our carpets.”
The problem with that statement is that neither Nazi Germany nor the Soviet Union believed they were overstretching until it was too late. Nuclear capability will give Iran the kind of umbrella of impunity that will allow it to double its mischief in the region without fear of retribution. Do you like the way Hezbollah and Hamas behave in their respective domains? You will love it when Iran has nukes! Do you find it hard to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict now? Try when Iran’s nukes enable its proxies to up the ante. Are you worried about Shia unrest in Kuwait and Bahrain? Prepare for more trouble when Iran’s nuclear bomb casts a shadow on those countries. Do you think oil prices are too high? Save for a cold winter, when Iran’s speedboats swarm the Gulf and harass supertankers. Do you really think anyone will risk a nuclear showdown for any of the above?
Consider this as well: Iran might lend its nukes and ballistic missiles to friends like Venezuela, to get San Francisco within range. It would not be overstretching–Hugo Chavez will surely pick up the bill to pay the costs of the exercise. Unbelievable? Why? Fidel Castro did it with the Russians in 1962–so why shouldn’t we expect a not a rerun, given that Iran’s revolutionary vocation, as an anti-Western power aspiring to change the world to its own image, does not need to overstretch. It will suffice to have some allies, friends and supporters to bankroll and supply, under its nuclear umbrella, in order to make this world an infinitely more dangerous place.
War might be premature–but war talk, as a reminder to Iran that it will pay a steep price for staying the course, is a better option than what Slavin has to offer.