Paper tiger?

For quite some time, I’ve been arguing that there are only two alternatives when it comes to Iran — sit back and watch the Mullahs develop a nuclear weapons capacity within a fairly short period of time or set back Iran’s nuclear program through military strikes and continue to strike thereafter, as necessary. Both options carry huge potential disadvantages, and it has never been entirely clear to me which one is less ruinous and thus preferable.

Fareed Zakaria has no such doubts. In fact, he doesn’t think we have anything to fear from a nuclear Iran. Why not? Well, China developed nuclear weapons and it hasn’t used them nor, according to Zakaria, has it even been able to leverage these weapons into regional domination. Moreover, Zakaria assures us, “Iran’s fortunes will wane” as “Arab regimes. . .get more assertive in responding to the rise of Irananian power.”

I find these arguments unpersuasive. The fact that China has not used nukes (yet) does not make it highly unlikely that Iran won’t do so. For one thing, China has no enemy comparable to the enemy Iran thinks it has in Israel. It’s one thing to rail against a concept, e.g., “imperialism,” as China liked to do. It is another to express blind hatred against an entity (and a people), as the Iranian leaders do now. I would also argue that history contains more examples than counter-examples of authoritarain states that, after achieving military superiority through technological breakthroughs or otherwise, have either started wars or used the threat of doing so to their great advantage.

Now it may be, as Zakaria, suggests, that Iran’s neighbors will ban together and negate Iran’s growing military advantage. But the most effective way for them to accomplish that might well be to develop nukes themselves. That would entail perils of its own.

This is not to say for sure that Zakaria’s conclusion — that we’re better off tolerating a nuclear Iran than trying to stave it off through military strikes — is incorrect. But Zakaria is far too sanguine about the likely consequences of the course he recommends.

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