Diplomacy is doing nothing to stop the Iranian nuclear
threat; a show of force is the only answer.
By Joshua Muravchik,
Angeles Times" -- -- WE MUST bomb Iran.
It has been four years since that country's secret nuclear
program was brought to light, and the path of diplomacy and
sanctions has led nowhere.
First, we agreed to our allies' requests that we offer
Tehran a string of concessions, which it spurned. Then,
Britain, France and Germany wanted to impose a batch of
extremely weak sanctions. For instance, Iranians known to be
involved in nuclear activities would have been barred from
foreign travel — except for humanitarian or religious
reasons — and outside countries would have been required to
refrain from aiding some, but not all, Iranian nuclear
But even this was too much for the U.N. Security Council.
Russia promptly announced that these sanctions were much too
strong. "We cannot support measures … aimed at isolating
Iran," declared Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov.
It is now clear that neither Moscow nor Beijing will ever
agree to tough sanctions. What's more, even if they were to
do so, it would not stop Iran, which is a country on a
mission. As President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put it: "Thanks to
the blood of the martyrs, a new Islamic revolution has
arisen…. The era of oppression, hegemonic regimes and
tyranny and injustice has reached its end…. The wave of the
Islamic revolution will soon reach the entire world." There
is simply no possibility that Iran's clerical rulers will
trade this ecstatic vision for a mess of Western pottage in
the form of economic bribes or penalties.
So if sanctions won't work, what's left? The overthrow of
the current Iranian regime might offer a silver bullet, but
with hard-liners firmly in the saddle in Tehran, any such
prospect seems even more remote today than it did a decade
ago, when students were demonstrating and reformers were
ascendant. Meanwhile, the completion of Iran's bomb grows
nearer every day.
Our options therefore are narrowed to two: We can prepare to
live with a nuclear-armed Iran, or we can use force to
prevent it. Former ABC newsman Ted Koppel argues for the
former, saying that "if Iran is bound and determined to have
nuclear weapons, let it." We should rely, he says, on the
threat of retaliation to keep Iran from using its bomb.
Similarly, Newsweek International Editor Fareed Zakaria
points out that we have succeeded in deterring other hostile
nuclear states, such as the Soviet Union and China.
And in these pages, William Langewiesche summed up the
what-me-worry attitude when he wrote that "the spread of
nuclear weapons is, and always has been, inevitable," and
that the important thing is "learning how to live with it
after it occurs."
But that's whistling past the graveyard. The reality is that
we cannot live safely with a nuclear-armed Iran. One reason
is terrorism, of which Iran has long been the world's
premier state sponsor, through groups such as Hamas and
Hezbollah. Now, according to a report last week in London's
Daily Telegraph, Iran is trying to take over Al Qaeda by
positioning its own man, Saif Adel, to become the successor
to the ailing Osama bin Laden. How could we possibly trust
Iran not to slip nuclear material to terrorists?
Koppel says that we could prevent this by issuing a blanket
warning that if a nuclear device is detonated anywhere in
the United States, we will assume Iran is responsible. But
would any U.S. president really order a retaliatory nuclear
strike based on an assumption?
Another reason is that an Iranian bomb would constitute a
dire threat to Israel's 6 million-plus citizens. Sure,
Israel could strike back, but Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former
president who was Ahmadinejad's "moderate" electoral
opponent, once pointed out smugly that "the use of an atomic
bomb against Israel would totally destroy Israel, while [the
same] against the Islamic world would only cause damage.
Such a scenario is not inconceivable." If that is the voice
of pragmatism in Iran, would you trust deterrence against
the messianic Ahmadinejad?
Even if Iran did not drop a bomb on Israel or hand one to
terrorists, its mere possession of such a device would have
devastating consequences. Coming on top of North Korea's
nuclear test, it would spell finis to the entire
And then there is a consequence that seems to have been
thought about much less but could be the most harmful of
all: Tehran could achieve its goal of regional supremacy.
Jordan's King Abdullah II, for instance, has warned of an
emerging Shiite "crescent." But Abdullah's comment
understates the danger. If Iran's reach were limited to
Shiites, it would be constrained by their minority status in
the Muslim world as well as by the divisions between
Persians and Arabs.
But such ethnic-based analysis fails to take into account
Iran's charisma as the archenemy of the United States and
Israel and the leverage it achieves as the patron of
radicals and rejectionists. Given that, the old assumptions
about Shiites and Sunnis may not hold any longer. Iran's
closest ally today is Syria, which is mostly Sunni. The link
between Tehran and Damascus is ideological, not theological.
Similarly, Iran supports the Palestinian groups Islamic
Jihad and Hamas, which are overwhelmingly Sunni (and as a
result, Iran has grown popular in the eyes of Palestinians).
During the Lebanon war this summer, we saw how readily
Muslims closed ranks across the Sunni-Shiite divide against
a common foe (even as the two groups continued killing each
other in Iraq). In Sunni Egypt, newborns were named
"Hezbollah" after the Lebanese Shiite organization and
"Nasrallah" after its leader. As Muslim scholar Vali Nasr
put it: "A flurry of anti-Hezbollah [i.e., anti-Shiite]
fatwas by radical Sunni clerics have not diverted the
admiring gaze of Arabs everywhere toward Hezbollah."
In short, Tehran can build influence on a mix of ethnicity
and ideology, underwritten by the region's largest economy.
Nuclear weapons would bring regional hegemony within its
reach by intimidating neighbors and rivals and stirring the
admiration of many other Muslims.
This would thrust us into a new global struggle akin to the
one we waged so painfully with the Soviet Union for 40-odd
years. It would be the "clash of civilizations" that has
been so much talked about but so little defined.
Iran might seem little match for the United States, but that
is not how Ahmadinejad sees it. He and his fellow jihadists
believe that the Muslim world has already defeated one
infidel superpower (the Soviet Union) and will in time
defeat the other.
Russia was poor and weak in 1917 when Lenin took power, as
was Germany in 1933 when Hitler came in. Neither, in the
end, was able to defeat the United States, but each of them
unleashed unimaginable suffering before they succumbed. And
despite its weakness, Iran commands an asset that neither of
them had: a natural advantage in appealing to the world's
If Tehran establishes dominance in the region, then the
battlefield might move to Southeast Asia or Africa or even
parts of Europe, as the mullahs would try to extend their
sway over other Muslim peoples. In the end, we would no
doubt win, but how long this contest might last and what
toll it might take are anyone's guess.
The only way to forestall these frightening developments is
by the use of force. Not by invading Iran as we did Iraq,
but by an air campaign against Tehran's nuclear facilities.
We have considerable information about these facilities; by
some estimates they comprise about 1,500 targets. If we hit
a large fraction of them in a bombing campaign that might
last from a few days to a couple of weeks, we would inflict
severe damage. This would not end Iran's weapons program,
but it would certainly delay it.
What should be the timing of such an attack? If we did it
next year, that would give time for U.N. diplomacy to
further reveal its bankruptcy yet would come before Iran
will have a bomb in hand (and also before our own
presidential campaign). In time, if Tehran persisted, we
might have to do it again.
Can President Bush take such action after being humiliated
in the congressional elections and with the Iraq war having
grown so unpopular? Bush has said that history's judgment on
his conduct of the war against terror is more important than
the polls. If Ahmadinejad gets his finger on a nuclear
trigger, everything Bush has done will be rendered hollow.
We will be a lot less safe than we were when Bush took
Finally, wouldn't such a U.S. air attack on Iran inflame
global anti-Americanism? Wouldn't Iran retaliate in Iraq or
by terrorism? Yes, probably. That is the price we would pay.
But the alternative is worse.
After the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in 1917, a single
member of Britain's Cabinet, Winston Churchill, appealed for
robust military intervention to crush the new regime. His
colleagues weighed the costs — the loss of soldiers,
international derision, revenge by Lenin — and rejected the
The costs were avoided, and instead the world was subjected
to the greatest man-made calamities ever. Communism itself
was to claim perhaps 100 million lives, and it also gave
rise to fascism and Nazism, leading to World War II.
Ahmadinejad wants to be the new Lenin. Force is the only
thing that can stop him.
JOSHUA MURAVCHIK is a resident scholar at the American
Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times