Because We Can, Doesn’t Mean We Should
While such discussions may have media and political appeal they are premature and miss the point entirely as they either take for granted or completely ignore the more fundamental question (I tend to think the latter) of whether continuing/escalating a war with Iran is the right thing to do, not militarily or pragmatically, but legally and morally. In this article I will attempt to refocus this debate to reference the relevance of law and morality, of how we conduct ourselves as a nation, what we stand for as a people – our moral character – and whether we are truly a nation of laws or concerned only with national interest, power, profit, and hegemony.
According to the Obama Administration the United States has 5,113 nuclear warheads and is spending $55 Billion annually on its nuclear weapons complex. That’s $20 billion more, by the way, than it spent during the height of the cold war. Spending such large sums of money on weapons that we will (hopefully) never even contemplate using seems excessive especially during such dire economic times. Further, how many warheads are necessary to deter traditional nuclear armed adversaries like Russia and China from attacking us or our allies. Or, even more ominous, necessary to blow up the world? Seems like a waste of money, “overkill” if you’ll pardon the pun. Though I am no expert on world destruction, I would estimate 100 warheads, 150 tops should be more than adequate to accomplish the task.
Though no one knows for sure of course, Israel is thought to have as many as 400 nuclear warheads. Not only does that also seem excessive, but it raises the question why Israel has a nuclear arsenal at all? Certainly not for deterrence, as at least up until now, all their traditional adversaries lack a nuclear capability. Further, Israel’s conventional arsenal, bolstered by some $3-$5 billion in aid annually from its steadfast ally, the United States, has proven more than adequate both to deter threats to its existence and, when it felt the urge, to blow up Gaza, the West Bank, Hezbohhal, and Lebanon. It is especially troubling in this post cold war era, when the world is trying to limit the number of nations that acquire nuclear weapons, that the United States has remained conspicuously silent about a nuclear armed Israel, or that Israel is not signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), or that it has never been subject to an inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). One may reasonably conclude from this, I fear, that the United States’ concern with the proliferation of nuclear weapons applies only to non allied nations like Iran, nations that are perceived as threatening Israel’s dominance and hegemony in the Middle East.
Iran’s Nuclear “Threat”
Judging by the unprecedented level of global sanctions, economic pressures, assassinations, sabotage, and covert operations, one would think that a nuclear armed Iran poses an existential threat to the United States, Israel, and the free world. What is clear, however, is that the “justification” for these American and/or Israeli acts of aggression, is based not upon actionable intelligence that Iran is planning to wage a nuclear war against the United States and Israel, or even that Iran has, is currently building, or has yet made a decision to build a nuclear weapon, but rather, upon nothing more than speculation that Iran is in the process of developing the capability to do so. This in spite of the fact that Iran is signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and its nuclear program, which it claims to be for peaceful purposes, is constantly monitored by the IAEA. Nor, contrary to a recent inflammatory and misleading N.Y Times article, has the IAEA concluded otherwise. High level United States Government Officials have further undermined the credibility, and certainly the immediacy, of this Iranian “threat.” Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, recently testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that Iran has not yet decided whether to build a nuclear weapon. Lt. General Ronald Burgess, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, who testified alongside Clapper, said that Iran is unlikely to initiate or intentionally provoke a conflict but would respond if attacked. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, said recently on CBS’s 60 minutes, should Iran ever decide to build such a weapon, it would take at least a year to do so and another couple of years to put the weapon on a delivery vehicle.
In a world in which nine or so nations possess nuclear weapons including the less than stable non-NPT nations of India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel, why would the possibility, even probability, of Iran one day deciding to develop a nuclear weapon be viewed as posing a real and immediate existential threat against Israel and the United States and hence, warranting its liability to attack? It is irrational, perhaps even paranoia, for nations armed with 400 and 5,113 nuclear weapons respectively to feel threatened by a nation that has yet to develop even the capability to build a single bomb. Most importantly, what would Iran have to gain from attacking Israel and the United States with a nuclear weapon? Such an attack would certainly be answered in kind entailing Iran’s complete and total destruction. If Iran was so intent upon committing national suicide, why wait and endure further punishment and attack when it could effectively accomplish that end right now using its formidable conventional arsenal.
Further, why is Iran anymore a threat to the security and stability of the Middle East and the world than the United States and Israel, with their huge stockpile of nuclear weapons, and a history of unlawful invasion, occupation, and complete disregard for International Law? After all, Iran has never attacked its neighbors. Israel, on the other hand, attacks and occupies its neighbors at will and America is the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons on human beings . . . twice. Besides, who empowered Israel or the United States to be determining authorities regarding which nation can and which cannot possess nuclear weapons? Under what jurisdiction, other than the aphorism of “might makes right,” does the United States and Israel wage its covert war of embargo, sabotage, and assassination against the nation and the people of Iran?
The Rule of Law
In a civilized world community, one governed by moral and international law, nations maintain the right to territorial integrity and political sovereignty, i.e., an immunity against being attacked and/or warred against unjustifiably. Correlative to these rights are the legal and moral obligations of all other nations to respect and not to violate them. Such rights and immunity, however, are not absolute, i.e., they may be overridden/forfeited. Should a nation, for example, prosecute an act of aggression or terrorism against an “innocent” nation, the aggressor nation has acted so as to forfeit its rights and immunity and becomes liable to be warred against in national defense.
As was clearly demonstrated by the Iraq war and occupation, the critical reason Preventive War – the Bush Doctrine – has been discredited once again is that it sanctions, without real justification or cause, the use of military violence whenever and against whomever is perceived as a threat, however unsubstantiated and outlandish the “threat” may be. To continue and/or escalate this Preventive War against Iran, these devastating and unprecedented global sanctions and economic pressures (Iran’s currency has already lost half of its value in less than three months), filling Iran’s skies with drone spy planes, the destruction of its IAEA declared nuclear facilities and infrastructure, the assassination of its university professors and research scientists, and the slaughter of its citizens, a war based not upon just cause but paranoia and speculation, constitutes acts of aggression and state sponsored terrorism. Further, this blatant violation of Iran’s national rights indicates a disdain for international law, breeds increased hatred toward the United States and Israel, and further isolates them, not Iran, from the international community. As a consequence, wouldn’t Iran and/or other law abiding and right respecting nations of the world be justified in acting in response (national defense) not to some paranoia driven threat, but rather to clear acts of war and terrorism prosecuted by the rogue nations of Israel and the United States?
We have become conditioned to hearing of Israel’s perpetual insecurity and its gallant and relentless struggle for survival. Consequently, any change in the balance of power in the Middle East, such as would be the case were Iran to acquire a nuclear capability, is interpreted, virtually without question, as an existential threat to Israel. In reality, what is threatened by a nuclear Iran is not peace and stability, certainly not Israel’s survival, but rather its total military dominance in the region, symbolized by it being the sole possessor of nuclear weapons. In truth, we have nothing to fear from a nuclear Iran. In fact, it will probably prove an asset to peace and stability by providing a much needed deterrent to America’s and Israel’s unrestrained use of military violence and terrorism.
Certainly the world can be a dangerous place and there are, no doubt, those who seek to further their personal or national interest through war, terrorism, and intrigue. Israel may have its own agenda, but the United States must be vigilant and not succumb to the political blackmail and intimidation of any nation, or to the undue influence of powerful lobbying cabals such as AIPAC.
We do live in perilous times and the threat to America and to its people is real, grave, and immediate. But this threat is not from Iran, or even from al Qaeda, or the Taliban. So let us debate, therefore, the peril we face from the insatiable greed of corporate executives and Wall Street banksters, from the influence of the Military Congressional Industrial Complex, and from the corruption of our democracy by political leaders who represent and champion only the interests of the elite and the wealthy few at the expense of the many. Let us debate how we can become a responsible member of the international community, respected for our moral integrity and rigorous adherence to the law, not feared and hated for our military bravado and prowess. Let us debate the restoration of our Democracy and the values of freedom and equal opportunity for all. Let us debate an end to our policy of Gunboat Diplomacy and a beginning of the hard work of negotiating with those nations with whom we may have differences. And most importantly, let us debate the creation of a world in which all people, whether American, Israeli, Iranian, or Palestinian, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jew, are treated with respect, fairness and dignity. Some may say that such discussions are futile and the hoped for outcome unrealistic and impractical. While discussions of peace, understanding, and tolerance may certainly require skill and patience, they are no more unreasonable and fantastical than continuing the failed tactics of war and terrorism and expecting different results.
Camillo “Mac” Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. He is a former Marine Corps Officer, Vietnam Veteran, long-time activist for peace and justice, and the Coordinator of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for Peace. Articles by Dr. Bica have appeared in numerous philosophical journals and online alternative news sites including Alternet. His upcoming book “There are No Flowers in a War Zone” is scheduled for release in the Fall of 2012.