The debate regarding Iran’s nuclear program has focused upon pragmatic, tactical, strategic and economic issues regarding the feasibility and consequences of continuing and/or escalating military action against Iran. There have been innumerable articles discussing whether escalating a covert war of sabotage, assassination and aerial bombing of a few nuclear sites across Iran without boots on the ground – invasion – accomplishes anything long-term other than to drive Iran’s nuclear program further underground and strengthen its resolve to pursue weapons development in secret and in earnest. Many “experts” have speculated, authoritatively, regarding whether the consequences and repercussions of such attacks would transcend the borders of Iran and further destabilize the region. Talking heads flood the 24-hour cable news networks debating whether or not Iran is capable of blockading the Straits of Hormuz, causing oil prices to skyrocket and detrimentally impacting the US and global economies. Interestingly, there has been significantly less discussion, especially from the mainstream media, about whether America can afford the cost in blood and treasure of another war during an economic crisis, having already wasted some $4 trillion and some 6,500 American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.
While such discussions may have media and political appeal, they are premature and miss the point entirely. They either take for granted or completely ignore the more fundamental question of whether continuing/escalating a war with Iran is the right thing to do, not militarily or pragmatically, but legally and morally. To fully grasp the implications of war, we must acknowledge the relevance of law and morality. How do we conduct ourselves as a nation? What do we stand for as a people, and how do we assess our moral character? Are we truly a nation of laws, or are we 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, how many are 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, Israel is thought to have as many as 400 nuclear warheads. Not only does that also seem excessive, but it raises the question of why Israel has a nuclear arsenal at all. Certainly not for deterrence, as, at least up until now, all their traditional adversaries lacked a nuclear capability. Israel’s conventional arsenal, bolstered by some $3 to $5 billion in US aid 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, Hezbollah and Lebanon. It is especially troubling in this post-cold war era, when the world is trying to limit the number of nuclear-armed nations, that the United States has remained conspicuously silent about a nuclear-armed Israel. It is also troubling that Israel is not signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation 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 that the United States’ concern with the proliferation of nuclear weapons applies only to 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 not based on 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. Rather, the case for aggression is built on nothing more than speculation that Iran is in the process of developing the capability to build a nuclear weapon. This in spite of the facts that Iran is signatory to the NPT and that its nuclear program is constantly monitored by the IAEA, supposedly for peaceful reasons. Contrary to a recent inflammatory and misleading New York Times article, the IAEA has not concluded that Iran’s nuclear program has military dimensions. High-level US 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. Gen. 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 that, should Iran ever decide to build such a weapon, it would take at least a year for it 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? It is irrational, perhaps even paranoid, 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 were 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 any more a threat to the security and stability of the Middle East and the world than the United States and Israel, with their huge stockpiles of nuclear weapons and their histories 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 nations can and cannot possess nuclear weapons? Under what jurisdiction, other than “might makes right,” do the United States and Israel wage their 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 would maintain the right to territorial integrity and political sovereignty – that is, 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 refrain from violating them. Such rights and immunity, however, are not absolute; they may be overridden or 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 or escalate this preventive war against Iran, these devastating and unprecedented global sanctions and economic pressures constitute acts of aggression and state-sponsored terrorism. (Iran’s currency has already lost half of its value in less than three months.) If Iran’s skies are filled with drone spy planes, if its IAEA-declared nuclear facilities and infrastructure are destroyed, if its university professors and research scientists are assassinated, if its citizens are slaughtered, it will be a war based not upon just cause, but upon paranoia and speculation.
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. Wouldn’t Iran or law-abiding and rights-respecting nations of the world (or both) be justified in acting in national defense not to some paranoia-driven threat, but to clear acts of war and terrorism prosecuted by the rogue nations of Israel and the United States?
We have grown used to hearing about Israel’s perpetual insecurity and its gallant and relentless struggle for survival. Any change in the balance of power in the Middle East, such as a nuclear-weapons-capable Iran, is unquestioningly interpreted as an existential threat to Israel. In reality, a nuclear Iran would not threaten peace and stability or Israel’s survival, but rather, its total military dominance in the region, symbolized by its status as 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 the United States’ and Israel’s unrestrained use of military violence and terrorism.
Certainly the world can be a dangerous place and there are 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 the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (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, nor even from al-Qaeda or the Taliban. So, let us debate 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 Jewish, 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 same failed tactics of war and terrorism and expecting different results.