The Reasoned Review

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Spinning in Iran

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The discovery of a second uranium enrichment site in Iran has again ignited the “debate” over nuclear strategy regarding that thorn in the Middle East. Once again, the conversation centers upon how best to prevent Iran from acquiring those dastardly weapons – no mention is given to why Iran should so badly wish to join the nuclear club, nor does our mainstream even entertain the notion of what might happen should they succeed. Iran must be prevented from “going nuclear” at all costs, according to the US media. Instead of a rational debate as to the causes and possible effects of this development, the newspaper-reading citizen is treated to a variety of doomsday scenarios and chest-puffing from our sensationalists-in-chief.

For instance, here is British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, doing his best impression of John Wayne:

Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain, and called the Iranian facility “a direct challenge to the basic foundation of the nonproliferation regime.” Added Mr. Brown, “The international community has no choice today but to draw a line in the sand.”

The Wall Street Journal’s front page features an essay entitled: “Israel’s attack plan for Iran”, while The Washington Post’s cryptic headline reads: “President’s focus shifts from engaging Iran”. We are left to guess what he is shifting to, although the article hints at “sanctions” and possibly “military action.”

Amid the bellicosity spewing from the western media, the question of why, after all the threats, after all the entreaties to the contrary, Iran should continue to desire a nuclear weapon remains unanswered. The unspoken reason is given to be sheer madness: Ahmadinejad is a “tyrant”, a “madman”, a crazy holocaust denier who wishes nothing more than the obliteration of Israel. That, and only that, is the reason for Iran’s nuclear ambition, and, as Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu thundered at the United Nations this week,

“The most urgent challenge facing this body is to prevent the tyrants of Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

But let us suppose, merely as an intellectual exercise, that Iran is not run by lunatics, but instead by reasonably sane politicians who, like all politicians, seek only the continuation of their own power. Then, a few very good reasons to pursue nuclear arms come quickly to light:

1) Insurance against invasion

It is an unspoken rule amongst policy planners that “nuclear weapons states do not invade one another”, a fact most recently illustrated by the delicacy with which the United States has treated North Korea. Nuclear weapons are the greatest safeguard against regime change. Considering that Iran is still part of the “axis of evil”, and especially in light of the fact that the US currently occupies the countries directly to its east and west (Iraq and Afghanistan), there should be no surprise that Iran seeks some sort of insurance against a US invasion. Particularly when one considers what happened to Saddam – who, after all, did not posses nuclear weaponsthe choice to acquire nukes should not be a difficult one.

2) Deterrence against Israel

Unlike Iran, who has had to enrich their uranium surreptitiously, Israel, by the good graces of the US, has been allowed to acquire nuclear weapons quite in the open. They now posses a stockpile of unknown quantity, nearly all aimed at Iran, and the American and Israeli media abound with aggressive articles that rather plainly state Israel’s intentions toward Iran.

3) Domestic Prestige

Similar to India in 1974 and Pakistan in 1998, a nuclear detonation is generally a splendid propaganda coup for a ruling establishment which finds itself losing its grip on popularity. The Ahmadinejad regime, by any reasonable assessment, has only a slippery grasp on its population, if the massive protests a few months ago are any indication. Add to the mix skyrocketing inflation, massive unemployment, and a general feeling of mismanagement, and it is not difficult to see why Iran’s leaders should wish to bolster their domestic standing with a nice show of power.

4) Energy

Most scoff at this reason as mere propaganda, but it is a fact that Iran, like everyone else, is seeking alternative forms of energy. But as this is likely the least of their motivations, I have placed it last.

Taken together, these reasons do not quite justify a nuclear Iran, but they surely help to see the situation from their point of view. If we are to seriously understand the stakes of this issue we cannot allow ourselves to be blinded by poor caricatures from our yellow press.

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