Iran and Nuclear Hubris



The “Iran Nuclear Deal” was killed by President Trump on May 8, which came as no surprise to anyone who had heard a Trump campaign speech in 2016 or to those who were aware that Trump had recently hired John Bolton and Mike Pompeo.  Surprise or not, it was an imprudent move.

Ever since the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was finalized in July 2015, it has been a political football, and difficult as it is to say, the forces that were aligned in Washington against that agreement held in common one thing: an axiomatic and overriding commitment to the security of Israel.  I say “axiomatic and overriding” because desiring the security and well-being of the Jewish state (which is reasonable and humane) is not the same thing as making that desire the focus of U.S. foreign policy and pursuing it irrationally, unjustly, and at the expense of the safety and well-being of Americans.

Even if Benjamin Netanyahu had been correct in his ostentatious and conveniently timed televised assertion that “Iran lied,” there is no conceivable way that Iran could pose a direct threat to the United States in the foreseeable future.

Trump’s campaign line was that the JCPOA was the “worst deal ever,” because we paid the Iranian regime “$150 billion” (technically we returned Iranian assets frozen at the time of the overthrow of the Shah in the 1970’s, plus interest) and got not nearly enough in return.  Trump has hinted at what he might have considered to be “enough,” which amounts to a list of things that would have queered any deal from the beginning: the end of Iran’s ballistic missile program, no sunset on the prohibition against developing highly enriched uranium.  But the truth is that Trump, having “painted himself into a corner,” as Pat Buchanan put it, with his anti-Deal, anti-Obama, “Crooked Hillary” rhetoric, would have been satisfied with nothing short of the erection of a Trump tower in Tehran to house an Israeli embassy.

The Shi’ites pose a physical threat to Israel in the form of Iranian-backed Hezbollah and represent the greatest challenge to Saudi/Sunni dominance in the Middle East.  But in terms of the number of its adherents, Sunni Islam is already greater than Shia worldwide by a factor of five.  The Sunnis of the Saudi desert kingdom finance mosques in Europe and even in the United States.  ISIS is composed of Sunni Salafists, as is Al Qaeda.  This is the branch of Islam that produces the jihadists who kill Americans, here and abroad.

Defining the American interest in this morass of intractable conflict requires prudence.  And if we understand along with Aristotle that prudence is the virtue whereby man recognizes that truth and goodness exist, and that these must be pursued through the use of right reason, we must recognize that prudence is in short supply in all three branches of our government.

It is good for America and Americans to be at peace.  A prudent American government would see that as a worthy goal and pursue it.  But we seem incapable of imagining our own country as one country among many others.  To prioritize the security of Americans—including American soldiers, sailors, and Marines—is deemed irresponsible, even cowardly, by our enlightened, globalist elites, who see every economy in the world and every square inch of soil as falling within our “interests.”  This is the height of hubris, evidence that history has taught us nothing, proof that we are so enamored of “progress” that we think we can transcend unchangeable human nature by meddling in the affairs of centuries-old ethno-religious enemies.

Because we possess the Ring of Power, we have lost the ability to see ourselves as others see us.  Convinced of our own righteousness, we fail to realize that, because of our dominance of the air and the seas, we will remain the object of open hatred for anyone who chafes at our designs, who finds our hegemony to be less than benevolent.

Who wouldn’t chafe at our insistence that his country may not have what our country possesses in abundance—namely, nuclear weapons?

We opened Pandora’s box when we created the hydrogen bomb, giving ourselves power that sinful men should not wield.  Our excuse was that Hitler would get the Bomb anyway, and if not Hitler then someone else, and wouldn’t we rather be the first to steal fire from the gods?  Think of the good we could do.

The Bomb cannot discriminate between combatants and noncombatants, so in order to use it, we’ve had to jettison Just War Theory, which would require us to keep women and children out of the crosshairs.  And so, by embracing nuclear weapons, we plunged ourselves into a deep darkness.  For a nuke is an instrument of terror.  Push us too far, and we will destroy your cities.  We have that capability.  Now let’s be friends.

It should not surprise us that every country wants nukes: You’re not one of the big boys unless you can deliver that massive death blow to your enemies.  And of course those countries that already have nuclear weapons don’t want others to acquire them.

If you are in Country X, which has no nukes and is being told by the U.S. or the U.N. that you will never have nukes—that you must allow foreign inspectors to make sure you’re not trying to make them—you have been relegated to subservient status. It matters little whether all of this is couched in anodyne terms like nonproliferation: Resentment is guaranteed.

Maybe enough people in Country X are content to live in a welfare client state that is under Washington’s thumb.  Who wants sanctions?  People like to live comfortably.  But there are two factors here that most Western foreign-policymakers seem incapable of considering.

The first is that Western liberalism breeds envy.  With so much of the world having access to the Internet, it isn’t difficult for Facebook and Twitter users to see how the other half lives and resent the fact that the other half lives better.  Welfare dependents will always want more.

The second is religion.  Enlightened Westerners cannot imagine that religion (or pseudo-religious ideology) might mean more to an impoverished people than the acquisition of stuff and physical comfort.  We’ll promise them flatscreens, and they’ll welcome us as liberators.

Which brings us back to Iran.  Of course her leaders want nuclear weapons.  They don’t want to kowtow to inspectors and the threat of sanctions, the modern euphemism for siege.  They want the respect that accompanies possession of the Bomb.  Yet the Iran Deal, whatever its flaws, bought the world a 15-year delay in Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear warhead.  In scrapping the Deal, Trump and Bolton are betting that harsh sanctions will strangle the Iranian economy and result in a regime change.  It could happen.  What comes next?

Shi’ite regimes will always have the religious fervor of the faithful to appeal to, against the American “Great Satan,” Israel, and the Sunnis.  And whenever the promises of Western liberalism don’t deliver sufficient happiness to the masses, that appeal to religious solidarity and sacrifice, wrapped in history and ethnic identity, will grow and translate into rebellion and violence.

If Trump’s efforts do indeed effect a regime change in Iran, the disaffected of that country will immediately start plotting their coup and rousing resentments.  We’ve made this easy by selling billions in arms to their mortal enemy, the Saudi prince, and by assisting him in his effort to bring disease, starvation, and hellfire to the Houthis in Yemen, Iran’s allies.

Clearly, it is desirable that Iran not possess nuclear weapons.  But by scrapping the Deal, Trump has only increased Iran’s desire to obtain them.  He has also increased the likelihood that war will break out between Sunnis and Shi’ites, a war that could easily draw in the United States on the side of the Saudis and nuclear-armed Israel, and nuclear-armed Russia on the side of her Iranian allies.


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