(Updated for clarity, h/t JPD)
David Patrikarakos on why, when it comes to Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, isolation, increased economic sanctions, and (especially) bellicose threats of military action by the West are ultimately fruitless unless supplemented (or, re: military force, supplanted) with a promise of “real, sustained engagement”:
The reality is that hardliners in Iran believe the West is in decline, and that the United States, so recently bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, won’t risk a third war in a time of financial crisis. Israeli threats are a concern, but Tehran calculates (probably correctly) that Israel doesn’t have the means to effectively strike its nuclear facilities. In fact, many hardliners welcome an attack. Damage would likely be limited and it would give them the excuse to go for a bomb. Perhaps more importantly, in a time of increasing domestic oppression following the 2009 fraudulent elections, not to mention the severe financial hardship many Iranians are facing, it would give them an excuse to rally an understandably hostile populace to their cause in the face of a common enemy.
Military action is not the solution, but nor will merely increasing financial pressure on the Islamic Republic stop the nuclear program. Khamenei and those around him have staked too much political legitimacy on it to climb down now without risking a dangerous loss of credibility. An increased inspector presence and supervised, limited enrichment (to civil levels ”“ 5 percent) on Iranian soil have all been suggested and are workable and sensible solutions. But they don’t deal with the real issue, which is not a technical but a wider political problem between Iran and the West.
Iran isn’t North Korea; it resents international isolation, which it views as an affront to its great history and self-perceived role as a major international player. ”œWe are a great nation with 5,000 years of history” Iran’s Ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, pointed out to me in 2010. This statement goes to the heart of what drives Iran and its foreign policy.
And this offers hope because in the end, what Iran wants is greater involvement. Sanctions are effective, but they are only half the battle and they are only ever a short-term measure. In the long-term, only real and sustained engagement will work because re-integrating Iran back into the international fold is the only real solution. Involving Iran in regional discussions on wider issues affecting the Middle East, and assisting it with securing membership of international organizations (like recent U.S. and Israeli support for its World Trade Organization membership) have also been suggested and must be pursued.
Related: Even though Patrikarakos fully outlines the futility of military action against Iran, he still accepts the conventional wisdom that “[a] world with a nuclear-armed Iran would be a far worse place than it is now.” But is that really true? Paul Pillar argues that, contra Patrikarakos, “[f]ears of a bomb in Tehran’s hands are overhyped”:
Given the momentousness of such an endeavor and how much prominence the Iranian nuclear issue has been given, one might think that talk about exercising the military option would be backed up by extensive analysis of the threat in question and the different ways of responding to it. But it isn’t. Strip away the bellicosity and political rhetoric, and what one finds is not rigorous analysis but a mixture of fear, fanciful speculation, and crude stereotyping. There are indeed good reasons to oppose Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons, and likewise many steps the United States and the international community can and should take to try to avoid that eventuality. But an Iran with a bomb would not be anywhere near as dangerous as most people assume and a war to try to stop it from acquiring one would be less successful, and far more costly, than most people imagine.
As they say, read the whole damn thing.
(Also, this. No nukes is good nukes.)