Iran and the Bomb

by Justin

When the Goldman Sachs trial first claimed the headlines I wrote something about it being an opportunity for the Obama administration to bill itself as the hero to the GS villain. The parts of me that want the Democrats to do well in November would love for Obama to generate some sort of unassailable momentum. Financial reform, as it turns out, hasn’t offered the populist rallying cry some may have hoped – even with the SEC charges and criminal probe.

So at what should the administration aim its cannon? Iraq and Afghanistan are complete quagmires and should be avoided as much as possible in debates. China’s too economically important, bizarre, and secretly terrifying, so let’s stay friends with them. North Korea shows a little more promise – despot leader whose strength is ebbing, possible attacks against its southern neighbor, the disregard for human rights, the missile program… But it doesn’t seem like a global threat to me. Maybe that’s naive (educate me, please), and the human rights violations alone warrant a smackdown, but I feel like they’ll self-destruct soon enough. Which leads me to the belle of the ball, throwing an atomic eff you to the international community: Iran.

Before I get into the current nuclear landscape and the pressing issue of a proliferation, I’d like to take minute to introduce the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mr. A was sworn in for his second term last August in the midst of accusations of fraud:

In June of that year, the authorities in Iran announced that Mr. Ahmadinejad had been overwhelmingly re-elected, receiving more than 60 percent of the vote. The size of the margin, the speed of the announcement — which came only four hours after the last of some 40 million paper ballots was cast — and the contrast to a bitter campaign in which his chief opponent appeared to have greater popular support led to an outpouring of protests, which have continued into 2010 despite a violent crackdown.

That comes from the NY Times biography page. His cheerleading of nuclear development coupled with support for striking Israel and Gibson-style claims that the Holocaust never happened create one of the more terrible figures on the international stage.

I started paying attention when last year’s Qom debacle made headlines (a secret nuclear enrichment facility was discovered). At that point Iran lost all its credibility in nuclear discussions because it was obviously withholding information from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN organization created to maintain a peaceful balance among the world’s established and aspiring nuclear powers. At the time, tougher economic sanctions were hindered by a reluctant Russia and money-hungry China – but they’ve both agreed to play ball since then. Proposals to enrich uranium to medical research levels abroad and then return them to Iran were agreed upon and then abandoned by Ahmadinejad owing to some squabble over timetables and location. The issue is that moving uranium from say 5% enrichment to 20% is fantastically difficult and expensive, but from 20% to a weapon-grade 85% is a relatively easy leap (if you’re ready to think real hard, check out the wiki on enrichment). The Iranian announcement that it could enrich to 20% was cause for serious alarm in the international community.

Right now in New York the UN is reviewing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, forty years after its inception. The review opened more dramatically than in the past because the United States seems to have had enough and Ahmadinejad is dedicated to defending the indefensible. The problem with being caught in a lie is that its existence as a secret implies the awareness that it was wrong. Even if the sentiment isn’t shame, it’s certainly one of knowing it doesn’t agree with international protocol. If the agenda was exclusively about research reactors, why not transparency? This pulled from a longer piece:

In his speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad said that all nuclear powers tried to intimidate countries that had no nuclear weapons, but he called the United States the “main suspect” in fostering a nuclear arms race. It has engendered worldwide hatred for being the first and only state to use a nuclear bomb, he said.

First off, that makes it sound like you want nuclear weaponry, only it’s America’s fault. It doesn’t point toward an absence of war-mongering. Also, the first devastating uses of atomic bombs are precisely why no one else should ever do it. The IAEA has gone to some lengths at this conference to point out evidence that Iran is developing a warhead but obviously the lack of transparency or permitted investigations allow Ahmadinejad to dismiss this as mere speculation and more bullying by the United States. Ridiculous and cool statistic that the Pentagon released on Monday as leverage on its commitment to scaling back its nuclear agenda: the 1967 arsenal of 31,255 nuclear weapons is now 5,113 and dropping. The problem with Iran is that it rejects inquiries, refusing to answer questions about its missile program and denying entry to IAEA investigators. If you’re putting walls up, it probably means you have something to hide. The Boston Globe interviewed Ahmadinejad on Wednesday, and there seemed to be a pronounced jealousy of America – because the United States has over 5000 bombs and li’l ol’ Iran has zero. At a certain point you have to accept that as a given and move forward. When asked about the mistrust generated by current policy he hit the Globe with this:

You know why? As long as certain governments choose to use international instruments and bodies to impose their will and only the way they look at the world on others, there can be no trust. We need to respect everyone in the system, and to accept that when there is an international legal system, it has to apply fairly to everyone. In our region, mind you, the Zionist regime has been helped to be equipped with over 200 nuclear warheads. But they keep saying we are the ones of concern. Isn’t that unjust?

And that’s an interesting point, actually, because Israel never signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Along with Pakistan and India abstaining and getting their war on, this is a significant problem. Since Ahmadinejad (his name’s just too hard to type) has a pronounced dislike for Israel, the Israeli government has leaned upon the US to shut down the Iranian nuclear agenda as its activities escalated. It also points to another reason that Iran is likely lying about its plans in developing its nuclear technology. And yet even though he brought up the ‘Zionist regime’ and its nukes, moments later he dismisses the threat (a little too strongly):

Q: There is a lot of talk about a possible Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities in 2011. Is this something that concerns you?

A: Who? Who? Who would attack Iran? Who can possibly attack Iran? You don’t know Iran, or do you? Iran is a very vast country. The Zionist regime doesn’t even fit into our calculations. If they have time, they have to try to run Gaza and some nearby places. They don’t even have a place in our strategic doctrine of defense. We are not worried by them.

That’s crazy talk. Israel doesn’t fit into your calculations? Remarkable that a much more vast and powerful country like the United States is spending a considerable amount of time investing in discussions between Israel and Palestine. Strange also that you brought up their nuclear arsenal as a thorn in your side. Look, it’s not like Ahmadinejad was necessarily legally elected president. Maybe he’ll announce the invincible divinity of both himself and the Iranian state – Hirohito style. Kidding. He talks about the lack of trust between the US and Iran, and he’s right that relations are strained. But at some point he has to make a gesture of good faith and see it through. Some action that might let the UN believe that Iran has an agenda greater than its own might.

I know that this isn’t the most balanced of portraits. It’s worth reading the Boston Globe interview because you get him defending himself in his own words. It’s also true that the United States is kind of a bully, but that’s also because it is very often by default the global leader. The IAEA will do its toothless best to drive this issue forward and determine what link may exist between Iran’s nuclear agenda and its military. And the United States will likely back more crippling sanctions if Iran tries to shroud itself in greater mystery. Ahmadinejad seems like an egomaniac, one with a sense of entitlement for the Iranian state but with little sense of responsibility to its citizens come election time. The Middle East is what it is and another nuclear power is a terrible prospect. A warhead in this guy’s hands will escalate alarm in the entire region. It’s worth noting that I’m not addressing at all the radical nature of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – that’s a whole other disaster. I wonder how long it will take after this Non-Proliferation conference yields little change for push to come to shove.