Yelling ‘Fire!’ in the Nuclear Theater

The issue of Iranian nukes is far too important to be treated with glib soundbites.Those who cannot bring themselves to speak responsibly about such critical issues only reveal their lack of qualifications for national leadership and provoke one to wonder what their real game is. 

The mainstream American media is full of undefended assertions that the Iranian nuclear program “can” or even “must” be stopped. Even otherwise thoughtful articles that attempt careful analysis of U.S. foreign policy toss out such thoughtless remarks without detail as though the authors had been required to “praise Allah/Lenin/Mao” in order to get published. Glib and thoughtless reiteration of politically correct soundbites may just be comical if not serious but in reference to nuclear weapons constitutes something close to yelling “fire” in a crowded theater.

Can Iran’s nuclear program be stopped? Numerous thoughtful Israeli and U.S. military and intelligence officials have warned that it is not likely to be stopped by war. History has something to offer as well: several countries aspiring to have nuclear arms have accepted a negotiated end to their military programs, while several with such arms have–through negotiations–agreed to give them up. If we don’t like the idea of a nuclear Iran, the history of Brazil, Japan, Argentina, Ukraine, and other countries provide much food for thought. I believe it is fair to say that not one did so under threat of attack and that all did so in return for some benefits to substitute for the lost weapons and that they did so with the understanding that they could have security without those weapons. History also tells us something else: no weak country has ever used nuclear arms to enable it to launch a war of aggression that it could otherwise not have been able to win.

Those points suggest that it may indeed be possible to stop whatever nuclear militarization program or appetite Iran may have. Hysterical knee-jerk rhetorical jabs from Tel Aviv and Washington every time an Iranian neo-con general mouths off probably are not the way to achieve such an historic compromise, however. Let’s face it: Iran is under threat; it desperately needs either the appearance (if not the reality) of a nuclear defense option or an alternative means of ensuring its national security.

The other glib assertion is that Iran “must” be stopped. Why? Israel has not been stopped even though it has a far more aggressive, violence-prone foreign policy than Iran. Pakistan has not been stopped even though it implemented a massive proliferation business. India hasn’t been stopped–indeed, has been greatly aided–despite the near nuclear war with Pakistan. It would surely be wonderful if all non-nuclear countries could be persuaded that nuclear arms would not enhance their security, as it would be wonderful if all nuclear countries could be persuaded to scale back. But “must” is a word that does not apply to Iran any more than it applies to India, Israel, Pakistan, or North Korea…or perhaps even to that one country that actually has used these infernal devices in anger.

It is time to start writing about life-threatening issues with a bit more responsibility. Now, if someone wants to discuss how to design a nuclear “just say no” offer that a national security official, regardless of citizenship, could not afford to refuse, that would be something worth discussing.