The Israeli Defense Minister--Ehud Barak--last seen as Prime Minister having the rug pulled out from under him by Yassir Arafat--paid a visit to the Pentagon yesterday. There, Secretary of Defense Bill....er....Robert.....Gates stressed that "non-military actions" can deter Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.
I'm a little skeptical of this view, given how much coin Russia pulls in through its support for the "peaceful" nuclear program in Tehran, and how critical Iran feels a nuclear weapon is to its security.
We're in a tough position on this one. In order to appear states-man-like, we need to continue to push for these non-military actions, even though they are entirely unlikely to work. We need to be helpful and supportive of our allies in Tel Aviv, without giving them the green light to re-arrange some buildings in the Iranian outback. And we need to continue to adhere to the politically correct view that nuclear proliferation is something that can be controlled, even though there is gathering evidence to the contrary (yes, there have only been a few "new" nuclear nations in the past twenty years--but that's not none).
I wrote a paper once (available upon request) in which I advocated publicly welcoming Iran to the "nuclear club"--and then letting them know what the rules are. And we get to make the rules--it's like that when you invented nukes and you've got thousands of them. If you (Iran) pass your technology to a terrorist group--we'll vaporize Qom. If you attack a neighbor with nuclear weapons--we'll vaporize Isfahan. You see, the problem with Iranian aspirations for nuclear weapons is that there hasn't been any kind of public debate about the wisdom of it--and by that--I mean the responsibilities a nation takes on when it takes on nukes. Use doctrine--command and control, stuff like that. Iran has a relatively free press and a well-educated public. To this point, there hasn't been any kind of a public debate about whether having nukes is worth all the fuss. We could drive that debate by raising in the average Iranian citizen's mind serious doubts about his own security being hazarded by his government. We've seen the propensity of some citizens there to take to the streets--lets give them more to protest.
Of course--some of you are sitting there saying "a-ha---CW is NAIVE! If they take to the streets, they'll be protesting American bullying, not their own government's actions." And to that I say--"so what?". This is the big leagues--nuclear weapons. We once sat eyeball to eyeball with the Soviet Union and responsible policymakers used terms like "mutual assured destruction" and "flexible response". Now's not the time to go all wobbly on nukes. We may not be able to get the toothpaste back in the tube, but we damn sure can let the Iranian people in on how we'll expect their government to act when and if they do get the bomb.